When leaving the bus we were put into 2 lines and filed out of the building and directly faced North Korea. We were specifically instructed not to point or make any gestures whatsoever towards North Korea. Chris forgot and started to point at something and Robert and I just about simultaneously attacked him! :) Luckily he caught himself before anyone else saw.
(the cement line in the middle of the buildings is the dividing line)
First we entered the conference room. The building straddles the line so half of the table is in each country. When I said I was in North Korea, all I really did was stand on that side of the table :). There are doors on either end so that each country can enter and have conferences. We were guarded by soldiers at all times and though we were allowed to take pictures with the guards, we had to stay at least 17 inches away from them. They are trained to have completely blank expressions at all times.
We then stood on Conference Row where we were allowed to take pictures of North Korea. The entire time we were being looked at through binoculars by the soldiers on that side. The American soldier said, had they been having a tour that day as well, they would have had as many soldiers out as we did. As it was, there was only the one outside and one in the window. I kind of had hoped for more.
(they stand like this so they can easily slip behind the building if shots are fired)
(our tour guide)
When we were finished there we drove on the bus to a lookout. From here we were able to see "Freedom Village" and "Propaganda Village". The former on the Southern side of the DMZ and the latter on the Northern side. Each side has the same opportunity but the Northern side chose to use theirs for spreading propaganda and now hardly anyone lives in that village, while in Freedom Village, the people work hard and are exempt from taxes and military services. The criteria for getting into this village is extremely hard though.
(we were surrounded by North Korea on three sides)
(the original markers are still all that separate the two countries)
From the lookout we drove past the place of a tragic incident which resulted in 2 deaths by ax murder by the North Koreans.
(this was based on pictures that were taken during the actual riot)
And from there we drove to the "Bridge of No Return". It is named this because at the end of the war, they allowed some to choose which country, but once you crossed this bridge, you were no longer able to go back. As we were leaving, the South Korean soldiers that had been so stern and at attention, waved and smiled as we drove away. :)
(I wasn't expecting it so I didn't get a picture!)
We returned to the Welcome center and re-boarded our bus and headed to another lookout. It was a hazy day and therefore was really a let down because you couldn't see beyond a few hundred feet. From there we drove to lunch.
After lunch we went to a train station. Now, this seemed a little odd to us at first and then we realized the significance. This was one of many buildings built by the South Koreans as a step toward unification. The only problem is, they are not being used because North Korea refuses to forget the past and move forward. So, this beautiful train station, and many of the other buildings, is basically deserted because of pride and anger.
During the war, North Korea dug tunnels into South Korea to try to take over Seoul. Four of them were discovered and we got to visit Tunnel #3. You walk really far down into the ground and then walk for ages crouched over, as the ceilings are low. We had to wear yellow hard hats (unfortunately no photos were allowed at this point :() At the end of the tunnel, I must say it was a bit of a let down, as you simply looked through a hole into North Korea... excuse me? I just stood 5 feet away from North Korea and now I have to walk under ground for ages to see through a hole? Oh well. It was all part of the experience.
And finally we drove back to the USO station where our trip originated and the tour was over. Now, please don't think that I am some expert on world affairs or connection between countries but the whole thing was so sad. Here's something that happened long ago and these people refuse to let it go. They have allowed anger and bitterness to overtake them and rob them of advancements and securities. As I stood and looked at the line of demarcation, all I saw was a few little white polls and some yellow medal signs with Korean written on them... that's all.. that is what separates these two countries. And yet, between those little white polls, there is an invisible wall that is unsurmountable. For this wall to fall, men's hearts have to break and crumble. Where hatred was, love has to replace it. Where anger was, gentleness has to seep in. Where discourse was, unity and peace have to overtake it.