Sunday, October 7, 2012

Look Ma, I'm in North Korea!

Ok it's time I write something I know it's been a while, but not much as happened since I came back from SD.

Two weekends ago SoKo celebrated it's version of Thanksgiving called Chuseok where they give thanks by bowing to their ancestor for either giving them a good harvest or simply for having food on the table.

The day before Chuseok families prepare tons and tons of food. They cook all kinds of food, but don't use red pepper or garlic (important ingredients in K cuisine); they do this because garlic and the color red scare off ghosts, but for Chuseok people want ghosts to visit. On the day of Chuseok, they put all the food on an especially decorated table, they bow and then they might leave the room so that the ancestors can come in and enjoy the food. Ten minutes later people come back and enjoy a nice meal.

All this happens at the husband's parent's house, not the wife's. sometimes the wives are not allowed to bow because she is not directly linked to those ancestors.

Sometimes children also get money and some people might exchange gifts. I got socks from the principal and I got a nice, and very much needed, hair product box set from a student's mother.

socks wrapped in a very fancy way

I kind of see Chuseok as a combination of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Día de los Muertos.

Since Chuseok and another holiday, Foundation day, fell really close to each other, most of us got a 5 day weekend. Originally I was supposed to go to Jirisan, the second highest mountain in SoKo but so many people travel on Chuseok that we decided not to because it was going to be complicated. So instead I decided to head to Seoul and visit Ana.

We hiked a mountain in Seoul. I did a little shopping. I had the most expensive dinner ever!  And I finally was able to go on a tour of the DMZ.
hiking in Seoul

46. The DMZ

entering the first checkpoint

 The tour took almost the whole day and it was a bit pricey but it was definitely worth it. One cannot enter the DMZ alone, you have to be part of a tour group.

After the first checkpoint by a K soldier we arrived at Camp Bonifas where an American soldier checked our passport again as well as our clothes. One cannot wear sandals, shorts, short skirts, sleeveless shirts and no torn jeans. They told us no sandals in case we have to run but they didn't explain the shorts? Doesn't make sense. Our guide told us that back in the day everybody had to wear a suit to go in...I can only imagine being there wearing a suit when it's mid-summer...gross!

After a brief slide show on the DMZ we were given a paper saying that we were entering at our own risk and that they were not responsible for any injury ...or death -_-....I signed the damn paper anyways...when will I ever get this chance again?

We were then transferred to a military bus that was going to take us deeper into the DMZ. The first stop was the JSA (Joint Security Area). We got off the bus and walked towards the Freedom House. It was built by SoKo so that families could reunite, but NoKo decided not to allow it's citizens to enter so it never got to be used for it's purpose.

From the Freedom house we took only a few more steps and we were at Panmunjom (aka the Blue Houses: the color is blue because the UN oversees them). This was such a weird-interesting experience that I can only compare it to visiting Auschwitz. We were face to face with the NoKo side. The American soldiers told us when it was ok to take pics, we only had a couple minutes. They also had warned us that if there were NoKo tourists on the other side, NOT to wave back or point. That if we wave back, NoKo might take pics and use them as propaganda, kind of like saying "Look! This foreigner likes us!" our guide made it clear to not do it at all. There was a group of NoKo tourists and they were waving, but we just stood there and ignored it...awkward. 

                                                                       see how the SoKo soldiers stand?

halft the table in SoKo, half in NoKo
I'm on the NoKo side

We then got our turn to go into one of the blue houses. The houses sit exactly half in SoKo and half in NoKo, so guess what? I got to step into NoKo! Well only a few steps, but I was there. Inside the house, a table sits exactly on the border, so when officials from both sides need to meet they each stay on their respective side. There were also 2 SoKo soldiers in there standing firmly without moving, like the Swiss guards at the Vatican.
proof I stepped into NoKo haha

The SoKo soldiers in Panmunjom look different from your average Korean. They are taller and more muscular. They are hand picked from their training especially to be here. SoKo does this to show NoKo how powerful and intimidating they can be. The soldiers standing outside behind each house stands with half his body hidden in the house in case NoKo soldiers shoot, they will have less visible target. 
After that, we got on the military bus, switched to the tour bus and made out way to the 3rd Tunnel. It felt a bit eerie down there to be honest. Not because I was scared that NoKo would attack at any moment, but more about the significance of it. SoKo discovered the tunnel 3 years after NoKo started building it. There are 4 known tunnels dug by NoKo, but SoKo believes there might even be as many as 10. 

this monorail took us down to the tunnel

Those mountains is NoKo

the most northern SoKo train station which also goes to NoKo

in Dorosan stattion

One thing I learned from the tour is that SoKo never really signed the agreement to divide, the UN (with the US) signed it on SoKo's behalf, so SoKo is still technically at war. 

The whole experience was amazing, I'm glad I got the feeling I did from it because I hadn't felt that at all in SoKo. I think it's due to being at a place of which I had actually heard of before...uneducated me -_-.

money from NoKo, doubt it's real though...

Anyways, that was my five day weekend ^_^


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