DMZ Day Part Four: Footprints On The Tables

This is the fourth of many blogs from the most eventful day I’ve had in Korea, in nearly eight months since moving here. October 6, 2012…you were a beast.

Shutters click. Voices mumble in soft tones. There are footprints on the tables, clearly not cleaned off in a while.

Someone is asking where the footprints came from.

“When the North Koreans have their own tours,” Ahmed explains, “They encourage their tourists to put their feet on the tables and remove their shoes, in order to disrespect the peace process.”

In fact, the footprints are clearly visible, along with slightly smudged hand prints. It’s strange to think that the closest I might actually get to touching someone on the North Korean side might be to share the cold germs left on the table by their hands.

Ahmed announces that we have but two minutes left in the little room. I make an attempt at doing a “Where The Hell Is Matt?” dance in front of one of the ROK soldiers.

Where the Hell is Coleen?

It’s a lot harder than it looks to be so calm and goofy on the border of a major conflict, but then that’s somewhat the point of Matt’s videos…bringing humans together to experience this amazing world we have together, even though we have so many conflicts. Just dance, forget yourself, move on.

I want the soldier, standing so still that he looks fake, to know that I recognize him as human. He’s not just a piece of furniture standing in this room. Just like the one on the other side of the door, he’s breathing, thinking, and digesting. Probably thinking about what’s for lunch and not about what major international implications his job carries with it.

“Thank you,” I say to him on my way out.

Last look at the border.
Toward the North Korean Side, the area that their Rapid Strike Force occupies. Ahmed said that they haven’t seen much movement over there, and that the army on the South side jokes that they are the “Slow Strike Force.”

The rest of our time at the DMZ is mostly uneventful. We cram through a tunnel clearly made for people half our size at the Third Infiltration Tunnel, which turns out to be more of a hike than we had thought. It’s ridiculously cramped down there, and jammed with Chinese tourists of whom I am extremely envious for their much more suitable height.

Landmines. Landmines everywhere. Those trees conceal one of the most densely-mined areas in the world.
The Bridge of No Return
The unification building.

When we reach the Unification building at Dorasan, the guards suddenly begin yelling at us to get inside. Angry-sounding Korean crackles over the radio.

Walking quickly away, thinking we might be about to be part of an international incident.

“Go inside, go inside now!” says one of the young men in uniform, running toward us. I break right and immediately go for the nearest door, thinking that there might be some military reason for the urgency in his voice. I think there must be an international incident underway, maybe some of that shelling that they are always threatening on Seoul or a skirmish at the JSA. Little do we know that about a kilometer away, a North Korean soldier has just shot two colleagues and defected across the border.

The yelling isn’t about the defection, just below us on the highway. It turns out that he just wanted to make certain that we watched their informational video inside, and perhaps could use some work on his tone in English.

No photos past here.

We eat lunch, wander around the Dorasan train station, and then clamor onto the bus to head back to Seoul. After the JSA, the rest of the DMZ seems easy and somewhat boring. It’s definitely worth the extra money; I’d have been disappointed if I’d only gone into the tunnel.

End of the line.
205 km to Pyongyang.

 

The transition back to life in the city is quiet, and again we miraculously hit no traffic. The plan is to throw ourselves into the most opposite experience possible to the quiet, order, and loneliness of the DMZ…a massive fireworks display in downtown Seoul.

One Comment

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