Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Flag of Korea Rep.  , Gyeonggi,
Saturday, July 21, 2012

The border between North & South Korea is 250 kilometres long, approximately 4 km wide and is the most heavily militarized border in the world. The coastline and islands on both sides of the DMZ are also heavily militarized. Apparently this precarious balance of power is maintained only through the diligent confiscation of diving knives at Incheon Airport (see my rantings in the previous post).

The Korean Peninsula was ruled by the Empire of Japan from 1910 until the end of World War II but following the surrender of Japan in September 1945, U.S. and Soviet administrators divided the peninsula along the 38th parallel, crossing at an angle. When North (DPRK, Democratic People's Republic of Korea) and South (ROK, Republic of Korea) Korea  were formalized it became a de facto international border and one of the most tense fronts in the Cold War. The situation escalated into open warfare when North Korean forces invaded South Korea on June 25th 1950. The conflict, which claimed over three million lives and divided the Korean Peninsula along ideological lines, ended in 1953 after international intervention, and pushed the front of the war back to the 38th parallel- right where the whole thing had started, What a tragic waste of life!.
In the Armistice Agreement of July 27, 1953, the DMZ was created as each side agreed to move their troops back 2,000 metres from the front line, creating a buffer zone 4 km wide. The Military Demarcation Line (MDL) goes down the center of the DMZ and indicates exactly where the front was when the agreement was signed. The MDL goes through the conference rooms and down the middle of the conference tables where the North Koreans and the South Koreans and Americans meet face to face.

North Korea military stats:
4th largest army in the world (1.1M)
25% of GDP spent on military
10 nuclear weapons
5,000 tons of biological & chemical weapons
21k land weapons
0 diving knives

South Korea military stats:
12th largest army in the world (650k)
2.6% of GDP spent on military
13k land weapons
0 nuclear weapons
1 diving knife (mine)

So we hoped in a van and headed to the DMZ expecting to see a heavily secured, solemn area that represents one of the most likely flash-points in the world today. What we saw instead was... another amusement park!! This should not have surprised us but it did. At our first stop there was an actual amusement park complete with rides, adjacent to the Peace Bridge and razor-wire covered fences. Many South Koreans separated from family located in the North had covered the bridges and fences with thousands of prayer ribbons with messages of hope, dreams and wishes for unification. Many other South Koreans used these same ribbons as background for silly photo poses, often winding the ribbons around themselves in pseudo-sexy poses when sexy was just not happening for most of them. 

Even the Military Police were encouraged to pose for photos with the tourists and seemed quite happy to do it (markings on their uniform would indicate how close they were to completing their mandatory military service and we were encouraged to find the happy guys who were just about finished). DH is always eager to jump into a police-friendly photo so we were obliged to join the crowd on this one.

We also walked the allowable length of Tunnel 3 accompanied by out-of-control kids and shouting parents. It detracted from an experience that should have been somewhat scary and thought provoking (although for DH, it did provoke some thoughts as to what she might do with a sealable tunnel full of screaming kids). Only 44 km from Seoul and 73 m below ground, the tunnel was discovered in October 1978 based on information provided by a defector. It was apparently designed for a surprise attack on Seoul from North Korea, and could easily accommodate 30,000 men per hour (must have been really small men) along with light weaponry.

So aside from the fact that you could get balloon animals in the parking lot is are there any positives linked to the DMZ?? Korea's DMZ is at once one of the most dangerous places on earth and one of the safest. For humans, its thousands of landmines and the millions of soldiers arrayed along its edges pose an imminent threat. But the same forces that prevent human types from moving within the nearly 400 square miles of the DMZ encourage other species to thrive. Manchurian or red-crowned cranes and white-naped cranes are among the DMZ's most famous and visible denizens. Nearly 100 species of fish, perhaps 45 types of amphibians and reptiles and over 1,000 different insect species are also supposed to exist in the protected zone. The DMZ, is home to thousands of species that are extinct or endangered elsewhere on the peninsula due to the years of war, critical exploitation of mineral and other resources by the Japan, deforestation, pollution and general environmental decline due to unchecked industrialization . The most dangerous eco-bubble in the world??
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