Here’s James taking a selfie as we set off on our day trip to the DMZ. I was so looking forward to this. The one thing I really wanted to bring back from the DPRK was at least one propaganda poster and we had been told that the DMZ was the best place to buy them.
As we made our way out of Pyongyang I snapped this shot of one of the many billboards around the city that depicts the two previous leaders. There’s no advertising anywhere to be seen, but they certainly ‘advertise’ Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
Just outside the city is the Arch of Reunification. This was built over the road that leads directly from Pyongyang to Seoul, though of course it stops at the DMZ. When we were in the bus, Un Ha got up and gave us a little bit of history as to the Arch and the Korean war and the DMZ.
First up, the road we were on was built by the express orders of Kim Il Sung after the devastation of the Korean War. It’s 6 (I think) lanes wide and it was built so that “when the two halves of Korea are unified, we can be in Seoul as soon as possible.” Is it a little cynical of me to wonder if maybe that news isn’t as welcome to the South Koreans as the North Koreans evidently believe?
Because it’s obvious that the Koreans deeply want to be unified with the South Koreans. The way their peninsula was divided is a deep hurt to them and they talk longingly of the day when the border will be swept away and they will all be one people again. Interestingly, given the DPRK’s deep devotion to the Kim family and Juche (self-reliance) ideas, Un Ha said that in 1993 Kim Il Sung came up with an idea as to how the reunified country would be governed, “as each side likes the way their country is run and neither side wants to give it up.” The link leads to a brief outline of the 10 point plan, which basically lets the two countries continue as usual, with a committee based in the middle to decide things, with equal power given to each side.
Even though we were just outside the city, we saw very few cars. We were scampering around all over the road with no danger of getting knocked down. After a little while, we jumped back into the bus and set off on our 2-hour drive to the DMZ.
Pierre, whose photos you’ve seen every now and then in previous posts, also makes videos. Matt, our Australian tour guide, and I were looking at one of them as we drove. This video below isn’t the exact same one that we were watching, but it gives you an idea. 🙂
After a while, we stopped at this roadhouse. People who’ve seen the documentary from Vice about North Korea would recognise this [lace as where the journalist played table tennis with the attendant. I didn’t see any table tennis tables, but we bought some coffee and had a chat with the 3 ladies who were there in the gift shop.
I took a photo of these to remind me of the sight I saw as we were leaving Pyongyang earlier that day. We were driving through the streets at about 8:45AM, with commuters queuing for buses, bicycling through the streets or walking. In a small square, I saw a group of women dressed in blue uniforms, drumming. I asked what was going on. Un Ha explained that they were housewives who volunteer to perform for the workers to help motivate them on their way to work.
I included this shot of a gardener outside the roadhouse to remind me of how the men in North Korea seemed to squat while they were waiting around for things. The thigh muscles of the male population must be incredibly strong!
We spent a fair bit of time on this trip going through the countryside. These garden beds with threes in them were very common, not just in North Korea but also in China too. They’re always ringed with white stones, always painted at the bottom and it seems as if they plant them in ordered rows like this, then periodically re-plant the spots where the trees have died. These garden beds were all done by hand… not with machinery.
And after a long journey, bouncing around on a very poorly-maintained road, we arrived at the DMZ.
Remember how I said in the War Museum post that the Korean War has never officially ended? North and South Korea are still technically at war and the De-Militarised Zone is the place where the 2 armies face off, every day for the last 60-odd years. It’s often touted as being one of the most dangerous places on Earth, with people who visit on the South Korean side being told not to talk to the soldiers, point their cameras (or indeed, their fingers) to the North Korean side and to be careful not to incite any problems.
It was a little different on our side…
When we arrived, the first place we went to was the gift shop. At last! Walter took this shot of me selecting my posters. I bought the 3 that you see in front of me. Aren’t they deliciously blunt?!? No subtle messages here!
As I was shopping, I glanced up and saw Niall.
“What on Earth are you doing?” I asked.
Happily grinning, he said in his Scottish accent, “I bought it. It’s mine.”
This dress was instrumental in making our trip to North Korea one of the best that the tour guides have ever been on. Cross-dressing is definitely NOT a thing in this country at all. Maybe it should be, though. It certainly brought our group closer together!
Once our shopping was finished, we were given a quick talk about the history of the DMZ and then we were told to go out into the courtyard, line up in twos and wait to be told to march onto the bus. So we went out. I had the feeling that the instructions were designed to keep the tourists on edge, but we all walked out stifling the giggles. Niall walked among us, happily striding along, the dress swishing as he walked.
I was at the front of the lines. Trying not to laugh, I looked at the soldiers lining the courtyard. They stood ramrod straight, eyes ahead. Then, one by one, they moved their eyes sidewards to glance at us. They’d do a quick double-take when they saw Niall, then they’d all, without exception, purse their lips together to stop themselves from laughing.
When we marched out of the courtyard and onto the bus, we were all vibrating with suppressed laughter – tourists and soldiers. Two soldiers got on the bus with us and we set off to Panmunjom where the armistice agreements and peace talks were held.
I bought hats for the boys and I. I’ve been wearing mine when I go on yard duty.
Before we reached the actual DMZ, we visited the place where all of the peace talks were negotiated.
There were a lot of displays and things.
Apparently, these are the actual flags and papers that were used, back in the day.
This was the U.N. flag.
My new friend.
Photo by @pierredepont with Wally and Niall.
Photo by @pierredepont Not exactly scary, is it?
Photo by @pierredepont I love this shot. A nice moment between the 2 guides, Matt and Un Ha, and the soldier.
Then we were off. The actual border is heavily fortified, with electrified fences, landmines and anti-tank thingamies. The blue bags contain my shopping.
We were led through to the ground level when we first arrived. If you look to my right, you can see where the two Korean leaders met just a week later and set foot into each others’ countries.
The blue buildings belong to South Korea and the grey ones belong to the North.
Here we all are, snapping away. It’s like we’re paparazzi.
After a little while, we were ushered back inside and brought up to the third floor. Here are the images of the leaders, this time with photos. We were getting very familiar with how they looked! There was a rumour floating around a while ago that the building on the North Korean side was only a facade, as the country was too poor to actually afford a building as large as this. Like quite a few things we hear in the West about North Korea, this is total rubbish.
View from the top. This is the usual view that appears to tourists. The two sides co-ordinate the tourists, with one side empty while another side has the tourists. However…
Photo by @pierredepont
I took one like this but Pierre’s camera is SO much better than my iPhone! All of a sudden there were heaps of people on the South Korean side. We could see cameras being aimed at us and I glanced across at Niall. It wasn’t as if he was hard to miss – that dress was pretty gaudy.
I said to him, “They must be thinking that they’ve never seen such an unattractive Korean woman before!!”
Just my usual selfie stance.
On our way back I noticed something…
Solar panels were all over North Korea. Apartment blocks were sometimes bristling with them, with a panel on each balcony, or propped up outside windows.
Here’s a North Korean tractor. Seriously. In all the time we were driving through the countryside or riding in trains, we rarely saw tractors or machinery of any kind. All of the ploughed fields – and every skerrick of flat ground was ploughed for crops – was usually being done with a farmer wrestling with a hand-held plough that was being pulled by an ox.
All done by hand. The colours of Australia…
This life looks very different to the city-dwellers in Pyongyang. You can see the raised walkways that edge each field. We often saw people walking or riding their bikes along them to get around.
Then we arrived at a regional city for lunch. To be continued…