Friday, January 06, 2006

Hammy's 2005 Trip To Korea And Japan - Dec 7th

Up at 6:40am. Shave, ablutions and had a look at the paper [Editor's note - the paper reading didn't take long]. Woke Yu-Jin at 7:30 to get dressed and tell him to be a good boy. Ready to leave at 7:45 to meet the tour guide and just about to walk out the door when Seun-hyeun and Mr Kim appeared, quite shocked at the fact that they had slept in so much. She had wanted to make my breakfast but that wasn't a problem as I wasn't hungry anyway and was going to buy some snacks on the way to the meeting place. Mr Kim rang Mr Jo who hadn't arrived during the night and Mr Jo said that he had to have a coffee before coming. We had to meet the tour bus at 8:10 at Dongnimmun.

I bought some chocolate cakes and kimbap snacks with flavoured milk for the day. Arrived five minutes early and was met by Mr Hong Yoon-shik. There were two Japanese tourist from Fukuoka that were already waiting in the bus. Mr Jo was late and Mr Hong wanted to call him. I only had Mr Jo's wife's number so he called her and got his mobile number. He said that he was two minutes away. And so he was. Mr Hong spoke Korean, Japanese and English.

The following are notes for the DMZ tour as it was being taken.

Passed the World Cup Stadium and a rubbish dump that had been turned into a park. There was a shopping centre, gas and electricity generation - all built on 20 years of garbage. Passed by Yonsei and Ehwa Universities.

Main road north is called Freedom Rd and it travels along the Han River. Five lanes wide each way whilst still in the city. There are big lumps of concrete, some 10 tonnes, suspended above the highway called Dragon Teeth. If North Korea attacks then dynamite inside the structure will be detonated so that the concrete blocks the road and buys the South Koreans more time to mount a defence.

Naming convention isn't too great up this way. Il San Shin Do Shi - New City Town.

Barbed wire runs for 155 miles along the river and army patrols are used to detect North Korean (NK) spies. NK spies used amphibious vehicles to land and were killed not too long ago. I expected to see more army vehicles along Freedom Rd.

Interesting that the Korean National Soccer Team's training centre is opposite an observatory not too distant from the North. There are hopes to have both squads unified and training there.

The first view of NK over Imjin Gang (river) is of a fake city. There's a Christmas tree wth a Buddhist symbol shown to the NK's to demonstrate freedom of religion in the South. NK mountains have no trees as they were cut down for fuel. Not for Christmas trees as I thought.

You don't see too many restaurants north of Seoul whereas they are all over the rest of the country.

No photos were allowed to be taken on the bus in the DMZ. If you take a photo you will be removed to a "Learning Centre". And your film/memory card will be destroyed. Everybody on the bus will have to wait for you to get "learned". Only 60 US soldiers are in the DMZ as the rest are in Iraq, etc. Usually a lot more on duty. Also known as the JSA - Joint Security Area.

Civil Limit Zone - starts at Imjingang. There are 13 bridges between South and NK. There is the story of the founder of Hyundai who stole a cow from his father and fled to the South. He became mega-rich based on the stolen goods and once he had the power to do so he returned to the North bearing 1000 cows as payment for his debt of 60 years. Obviously his father wasn't still around to receive it.

Imjingak, where the tours start from, has a Bell of Peace and sees a lot of tourists.

Bell of Peace. You can book to ring it three times for 10000 Won.

Buses for Japanese tourists, schoolkids, at Imjingak.

Unification Village - free land use. No chemicals allowed (must be a distinct lack of terrorists operating in the area), everything is totally organic and the price of ginseng is very expensive.

Freedom Village - inside the DMZ, no tax, no military service, no land fees. Current population of about 200.

Only soldiers are allowed to build in the DMZ. It is a heavily mined area therefore the trees are untouched and it is a paradise for wildlife. Those that enjoy tiptoeing around unexploded ordnance, that is. Estimates are roughly 70000 mines left in the DMZ.

DMZ Theater - seven minute video to get you started. Rush into the next section before having a look at the monorail into the 3rd Tunnel of Aggression.

There appeared to be some American soldiers on the tour and about half a dozen Japanese as well with their own interpretor. The Japanese, not the Americans.

Monorail for 3rd Tunnel of Aggression inside DMZ.

A reunification statue.

NK on the top.
SK on the bottom.

DMZ Tourist Info - tourists are well catered for. Postcards are hideously expensive.

Inside the 3rd Tunnel you are not permitted to take photos. There is a camera to watch you at the end of the 265m of what is left of the tunnel on the south side after your 358m, 11 degree decline to reach the actual tunnel. Quite wet down below. Three lots of concrete 10m thick have been used to block the tunnel part that has been collapsed by the South. Not quite tall enough for me to walk through. Coated in coal to disguise usage. NK pretended it was a coal mine tunnel. Only once it was pointed out to them that the rock was granite and no coal existed, the drilling marks emanated from the North and the measurements knotched on the walls were from the North side did they accept responsibility for creating it.

Following the 3rd Tunnel Mr Jo wanted to have noodles. We had about 4 mins to devour them as the tour schedule was very tight. Mr Jo was not impressed.

Having completed the 3rd Tunnel of Aggression tour it took a bit of convincing to get a photo of me with my helmet and Mr Jo. It's not as if I was going to pinch it.

Dorasan Observatory allows you a look at the North. Photos can only be taken about five metres back from the binoculars. Bugger. We were given a briefing by a Korean soldier with an unmistakably American accent. You can see NK's 165m tall flagpole which is a world record. The South gave up on outdoing them height-wise a while back. Unfortunately I couldn't get a photo of it. I saw the glint of a looking device from the North therefore there is a bit of life over there. Someone watching us watching them. Quite a few trucks in the Industrial Complex (IC) that 15 SK companies have set up in the North to take advantage of the cheap labour, er, build relations with the North. Employees are paid about US$200/mth. Next year another 90 companies will join the IC. Plenty of opportunities for NK workers who would be happy to get that sort of money. Quite a bit for them.

Daeseongdong - Freedom Village.
Gijeongdong - Propaganda Village.

Didn't see any NI except for the reflection. Could see Kaesong fairly clearly with the binoculars and by eyesight. It is the 3rd largest city in NK with 380000 inhabitants. Appeared to be smoggy. Must be using the last of the wood. NK's flagpole was considerably taller than SK's flagpole. Binoculars cost 500 Won for two minutes and one American girl let me finish off her time.

Mr Jo could understand all of the Korean tour guide's English, which wasn't flash, but only about half of mine. Hmmm.

Dorasan Observatory.

Army vehicle. Taken clandestinely of course.

Desolate countryside towards Kaesong in NK.

Propaganda Village. No windows as the buildings are uninhabited concrete shells.

Unification Village has 60 telephone lines to connect the South with the North. There is a three hour time limit inside the Civil Limit Zone.

Dorasan Station goes over Freedom Bridge and must be a very lonely post for the station master, apart from the tourists wanting stamps in their passports. Yes, I did get one.

Painting. Sorry.

Yours truly with a South Korean soldier inside Dorasan Station.

My guide, Mr Hong.

Another photo with a soldier. He doesn't look very intimidating.

Not allowed to take photos from the bus so here is one of the bus.

No photos are even allowed inside the barbed wire area but Mr Hong said that I could photograph from inside the vehicle. I had wanted to stop and take a photo of an army outpost. Normally there are signs disallowing photos but they had been removed for construction work.

Lookout post.

Razor wire. As far as the eye can see.

Long day for Mr Jo.

Last stop on the tour was an Amethyst shop. Mr Jo was mistaken for a Chinese tourist and they were quite happy to offer us a 30% discount. Shows how overpriced things normally are for tourists.

Following the early finish to the tour Mr Jo picked up the two Mrs Lees from the Kyobo Building (famous bookstore) and we had lunch near Gwanghwamun. Back to Seun-hyeon's place where Miky joined us. Mr Jo took us to So-eun's school to say goodbye before spending some 20 mins just trying to find the hotel we would be staying in before heading off in the morning. He even asked a taxi driver whilst stopped in traffic for directions.

We repacked our bags and set off to Shinsegae for tea and shopping. I had seafood and green onion pancakes. Miky had hot pot bibimbap. Great view from the restaurant.

View from the restaurant.

Department store decorations on a landing outside were lovely.

Had a strawbery smoothie (5000 Won) for dessert. Quite surprised that it was the cheapest thing on the menu as strawberries aren't cheap. Bananas are 198 Won/100g. Quite reasonable.

Took Yu-Jin for a haircut at Hair Bank. Got to use the Internet whilst waiting. Yu-Jin fell asleep during his haircut. Found out that Perth Glory's coach has departed. Wow - bit of a bombshell.

Yu-Jin being pampered and preened. All whilst asleep.

Miky asked us to "Wait here" and so we did for about 30 mins after the haircut, shampoo and blowdry. I got fed up with waiting, wrote a note for her and departed for the hotel. Arrived at Junggak station ok (next to our hotel) and took one of the exits. There was a guy begging and not showing his face. You beauty I thought as I had seen him as we entered the subway so felt comfortable that it was the right exit. Hotel should be just around the corner.

Walked for quite some way and realised that we weren't in the right place. Bit hard to see landmarks at night time. Asked a street vendor about the hotel, as I had the address on a business card, and she told me quite emphatically in Korean that I had a long way to go. Walked a bit farther and then asked another vendore. The bloke told me in Korean and with sign language that I had one more street to go and turn right. Walked past the right street and turned backwards a bit before noticing Mr Henry's Sausage Shop on the far corner and I recognised it from when we were looking for the hotel with Mr Jo. Found the hotel. All this time I had been carrying all of our shopping and had Yu-Jin in tow. I wasn't lost. I just didn't know where I was.

Miky had arrived only 10 minutes before and called hairdresser's shop and had spoken with the cleaner who said that there was a note but that she couldn't read it. Miky had seen the begger as well and made the same mistake as me. The bugger had switched exits. Then she turned around and told me she had said "Come home".

Lots of packing and repacking took place before going to bed at 12pm. Asked for a 7 o'clock wake up call.

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