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Kimchee Capers – The 38th Parellel

I don’t have a solid grasp on the history of the Korean Peninsula.  It’s not something we were taught in school, nor did we cover this in my International Studies class in college.  I even took an Asian Political History class, but it primarily talked about Japan, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Korea didn’t make it on the syllabus.  And so, without apology, I claim to be pretty ignorant.  Why are there two Korea’s?

I am certainly not going to be able to explain the why’s of this to you in this blog.  But I am coming away from

the barbed wire fence

the barbed wire fence

my nearly three-week visit to South Korea with a much clearer understanding of  the events that led to the division of this peninsula at the 38th parallel;  Japanese Occupation, WWII, Korean War, China, USSR, USA – many factors bring us to today’s extremely different two Korea’s.

We have heard from Koreans who believe reunification is in the future.  We have heard from Koreans who think it will never happen.  It’s difficult to imagine that a regime such as the one in North Korea can prevail.  But the people of North Korea do not have the tools it would require to produce and sustain a revolution of any kind.

I just finished reading a book by American author Adam Johnson called “The Orphan Masters Son”.  This fantastic, Pulitzer Prize winning story is a fictional tale about life and death in North Korea.  Although fictional, the plot is created from hundreds of accounts of real atrocities happening within the borders of North Korea.

If you are like me, ignorant about this part of the world, please read “The Orphan Masters Son”.  And please send a copy to Dennis Rodman.

My eyes have been opened to the horrors of life in the DPRK.  Like Hitler’s Germany, Rwanda,Uganda, Syria (and many others) supreme rule leaves no room for human rights.

The people of South Korea seem to go about their daily lives, knowing full well their border with the North is

Gas mask stations in the subway in Seoul

Gas mask stations in the subway in Seoul

one of the most dangerous places in today’s world.  In the subway station you see gas mask stations at the ready .  Other than that though, everything about South Korea feels like any other place I have ever been; modern, cultured, fun.

As part of our visit to South Korea we took the tour of the Demilitarization Zone (DMZ) to learn more about the division of the peninsula and how the border is controlled.  We toured the tunnels discovered in the 1970’s that South Korea claims North Korea has built in an attempt to attack the South.  We visited the observation tower that overlooks the border 4km in the distance to the  North Korean town of Kaesong.

But the most startling thing to me was the abandoned train station at Dorasan.  This beautiful 40 million

train station with no passengers, only gawkers

train station with no passengers, only gawkers

dollar facility looks like something out of a movie set.  Built just over the border on the South Korean side in 2003, when the two governments agreed to run freight to the Kaesong Industrial Complex.  Hope was high to also provide passenger transit as well for South Koreans on into Russia,  but it was not to be.  Fluctuating tensions, as well as the murder of a tourist from the South, resulted in the borders being tightened again.  The train station sits idle, ticket counter empty, luggage scanner empty, platform empty, restrooms spotless.  The only visitors here are the DMZ tourists.

It was eerie.

This is what I have learned.  It is a fascinating part of the world, so dangerous but also so serene.  Beautiful and quiet, but like a timebomb.  After all, the reason my husband and I are here is because Boeing sells military airplanes to the South Korean Air Force.  Both sides are prepared for war.  What will the future bring?  Peace and reunification?  Death and despair?

평화
Peonghwa.
Peace.

 

 

 

 

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