South of the DMZ
Trip Start Aug 27, 2011
99Trip End Jun 01, 2012
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Where I stayed
Couchsurfed with Cody
The perfect tonic to my frustrations in China! No spitting, cars let you cross the road and the toilets smell fresh. I have to start with how lucky I was with the apartment I stayed in. I was unable to find a host on couchsurfing, so I set up an emergency request and within ten minutes Cody, a US Navy Officer based in Seoul, responded. His apartment was very central, very safe, had coffee shops and restaurants in the basement, I had my own room and bathroom and best of all a large bed.
After sleeping for weeks on very thin mattresses, I now was unable to wake up in the morning, let alone get out of bed. I think I was still suffering from the two hills Lauren and I climbed but also a lack of proper rest had finally caught up on me. Cody is from Virginia, has been based in Seoul for two months and his next location in ten months will be Naples for three years. He's from Virginia and has been to 44 states in the USA. A great guy to talk to and very innovative with technology. He has signed up to timeline on Facebook, connects his laptop to his plasma tv and has all sorts of gadgets. I know my brother Pete would have loved chatting technology. Lastly, I've saved the best till last, I got to spend four days with a ginger Korean cat. Eeps took a liking to my instantly and even one night, I didn't bother go out as I was having too much chasing him around. He would sit on my itouch when I was emailing, would walk over my head when I was sleeping and loved being tickled (scagged)! I'm always very grateful and thankful to all my hosts and even more so to Cody for letting me hang in his apartment whenever with my four legged ginger brother!
I really like Seoul. I know if I spent my four days with Lauren (Xi'an, Chengdu and Emeishan) then I would no doubt have fallen in love with Seoul.
The highlight was my visit to the DMZ. I had to book a tour and it was pretty expensive
but totally worth it! The initial drive from Seoul up to the DMZ included 30 minutes where we could question a young girl who defected from North Korea. She defected 13 years ago but still, had an interesting insight into a country and life we know very little about. I asked her two questions, where in the world would she like to visit and what job would she like to do? Her instant reaction to the travel question was Berlin. She wants to see where the wall was and the progress made in Germany. She also wants to be a policewoman as well. She wasn't allowed to go too close to the DMZ so we dropped her off and entered the JSA (Joint Security Area). We saw a small museum dedicated to all those who served in the Korean War. The majority were from the USA but also the UK, Canada, Luxembourg, turkey, Poland, Sweden and another six more. You board a bus run by either the US forces stationed there or ROK soldiers. We had a guy called Muniz from Texas, USA. He pointed out many sights to
view, there are a couple of cultural villages where you are only allowed to reside there if you have heritage there. There is a tall pole with a south Korean flag, though later the North Koreans built a bigger one, that on windy days is pulled down because it is too heavy! We entered the camp and are under instruction to take no pictures unless instructed to do so. Aldo, our clothes were assessed for appropriateness. If they are short or showing skin, North Korea uses that image as propaganda to show that people from South Korea and the west can't afford clothes to cover their arms or legs.
We walked in two rows to the Mac building where meetings are held between the two sides of Korea. For sightseeing, only one country can enter at a time. Before we enter the building, we see a tour on the north Korea side run by north Korea. A guy with a large video camera filming the guests. We were also very lucky to witness north Korean guards on duty, apparently it is rare to see. We're only given two minutes to enter the Mac room and I step into North Korea, albeit very briefly!
We're driven slowly around the 1984 tree incident and saw the memorial to two USA soldiers axes to death while cutting down tree branches that impeded the view between outpost 3 and 4. We also see a patch of ground which was where a Soviet defector ran and caused a fire
fight! Fascinating, something I've never read about before.
For lunch we went to the local village of Panmumjon and enjoyed a small beef buffet lunch. I think they cooked too much so luckily I was on hand to help out!
The afternoon part of the tour consisted of walking tunnel 3 dug by the North Koreans. Another north Korean defector informed the South about many tunnels being dug underground for a surprise attack on Seoul. It took years to find these tunnels, only by drilling holes and filling them with water did they find the first one. Tunnel 3 was interesting but no camera was allowed. The tunnel was pretty low so you knew it was Korean at least!
We finished the tour at an observation point where one could look onto North Korea. I saw a farm, a small town, factories and some guy walking!! Again no pictures, well, within a 5 meter perimeter, thanks! It was interesting to say the least. I wonder whether my nephew will see a joined up Korea in his lifetime? We also visited Dorasan train station, the last stop north of south Korea. The line can connect as far ad London, so, one day soon, I hope, that journey will be possible.
The rest of my time in Seoul was spent at sone temples, looking at famous statues and walking in the middle of a demonstration. There were thousands of riot police on stand by!! Yikes!
I also climbed up to Mansan tower. My kegs are still feeling funny after the hikes in China but I made it to the top and enjoyed the view with a very large Korean cornetto.
My last night, I joined a couchsurfing event and planned to go drinking with them. I even got as far as the bar, but I just couldn't be bothered. So, I went back to the apartment, chased the cat for three hours but luckily, found myself hosts in three cities in Japan. So, a very productive night without beer.
I have to say, I am enjoying Korea very much and can't wait for my next stop!
Next stop, Daegu.