Korea – a visit to the Border

Unification Piano with barbed wire for strings

South Korea is an energetic, efficient and scrupulously polite place to visit. I ‘discovered’ it on a one-night stopover and have now come for a slightly longer visit. The highlight of any time spent here must be a trip to the border with North Korea. On the way we learnt some of the history of the division, which is a source of great distress to people in the South. Those in the North can’t be all that happy either, if one accepts reports of starvation and lack of everyday freedoms. Only the army are well fed in the North – young men serve 10 years in the military and women serve seven. Ouch! We heard about Korean families who have been separated for decades, with absolutely no contact possible.

Putting the country back together

There is a demarcated area (the ‘Demilitarized Zone’ or ‘DMZ’) of two kilometers on either side of the border in order to avoid war-starting skirmishes. This no-man’s land is an ecological haven for birds and wildlife, has very clean air and great quality land. It would – there are no humans interfering with it. We were able to look across the border but it was snowing and so the visibility was very poor. However, the music continued – this is the ‘peace weapon’ of choice of the South – they broadcast loud music at their neighbours. We were able to walk into one of the tunnels. Tunnels are dug from the North with the apparent intention of attacking Seoul. Several have been discovered but it is likely there are many more – this seems to be the stuff of Holywood but is real enough here in Korea.

The South lives in hope of reunification and, to that end, have built a train line. You can ride the train to the border and they hope to extend the line North as soon as peace is restored. Everywhere that we stopped there are monuments and pieces of art reflecting the separation and the tensions. My ‘favourite’ is the ‘Unification Piano‘ in which the strings are replaced by barbed wire. Eeek!

On returning south to Seoul the contrast between the bleak border area and the bustling, colourful city is very striking. Here in Seoul there is the now-regular Saturday protest about the impeachment of their President. It is a lively, colourful event with flowers being used when protesters feel the need to throw something. I detect a theme here in terms of weapons of choice – music and flowers. I do love this country and hope its partition is resolved before too long. That seems optimistic but let’s be optimistic – they are!