When I was on my way to the DMZ, I couldn’t believe how close the North Korean border was to Seoul. It was about an hour away – that’s like me driving from Los Angeles to Orange County. As you drive north, the scenery begins to change – less cars, less people, less buildings, and presence of barbed wire and watchtowers. I began to realize that the Korean peninsula is in a constant state of vigilance. It’s like someone pushed the pause button on war for the last 60 years.
When I heard I was going to Panmunjom, where the Joint Security Area (JSA) is located and where DMZ runs through, it all seemed so surreal. I’ve been fascinated about North and South Korean relations since I was a child. I never understood how the hermit country of North Korea could function and how the people endured the regime – and how it still continues.
When we reached the JSA, I noticed how quiet it was. It was eerie. The JSA is the only place on the demilitarized zone where North and South Korean soldiers stand face to face. This is not peace – it is a temporary standstill. I arrived at the Freedom House and before we left the building to see the North, we were told by the military officers to stay together as a group, not make any sudden moves, not gesture or point because we would be watched as soon as we stepped outside. When an armed officer tells you this – you listen.
When we stepped outside I saw the scene that has been published numerous times in books, magazines, and newspapers but to see it for myself was remarkable. This is what I saw…
The blue buildings belong to South Korea and the gray buildings belong to North Korea. The building in full view to the left with the doorway is the conference room where negotiations with North Korea are held. The two solders to the right of it are South Korean soldiers facing the North… basically, they are looking at this…
It looks like there is one North Korean soldier outside but it’s speculated there are more people inside the building watching what’s outside. Also, note the two video cameras on the building facing the south.
I couldn’t believe how clear this photo came out. I took it really quickly because we were being ushered into the conference room. When I got back to the hotel and uploaded my pictures I couldn’t stop looking at this photo because it was so clear. I couldn’t help wonder what he was thinking when he saw a group of multi-ethnic journalists documenting what they were seeing and experiencing. I hope he wasn’t thinking this.
(To be continued…)