Sunday, June 7, 2009

South Korea 7

(still June 4)

... I have never felt the way I did in Panmunjom before...

There are so many thoughts and feelings and sites and sounds to capture that I don't even know where to start. Being in a room where North and South Korea have met is intimidating. We saw the line down the middle of the table marking the MDL (Military Demarcation Line, or, THE BORDER) and realized as we gathered around that table that we were, by all literal and legal standards, in communist North Korea.

After that we moved to an observation area where the North Korean main building was fully visible (along with the guard on the front steps). We were free to take pictures there, and I (like every other tourist) took advantage. As I zoomed in, however, I saw that the North Korean guard had grabbed his binoculars and was glaring at me. The tour guide assured us that this is quite normal, but it took every ounce of my strength to force each small breath out of my chest.

As we continued from site to site we were accompanied by a U.S. soldier (in my journal I named him, but I will leave him unnamed here). I was raised in a family that thanked soldiers and I never knew how I felt about the practice. Just the presence of this soldier put me at ease. As Michelle told us that the other side of the Bridge of No Return held heavily armed North Korean soldiers, I was thankful for that U.S. soldier and I thanked him with each thanks that I had not uttered before to a soldier. The Bridge was the place that once held P.o.W.s from both North and South Korea who were being returned. As they stood on the bridge, they were given the chance to choose the side they would like to return to but warned that once they chose they could never go back.

Above all of these feelings, though, I was just kept breathless (and not in the good way) knowing that mere feet from where I stood were landmines. The frail North Korean dictator was no longer a frail old man who suffered a stroke in my mind but a man who brainwashes and manipulates children in North Korea to learn about his childhood before they learn basic hygiene. In school, the math lessons that North Korean children read are on paper so cheap that most children don't learn basic addition because of the faded figures and torn pages but can cleary read the quotes of their "father," the dictator, on high quality and expensive paper. The portrait of this leader painted in my mind by the U.S. media was replaced by the image held by many South Korean people; a man who separated families and cultures and strikes fear into the hearts of many...

... many more emotions cannot be written. The only thing I though on the bus going back to Seoul was how glad I was to be driving south instead of north.

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