I Finally Stood In North Korea

You could call me, in all my matourity, a DMZ veteran if you’d like, seeing as last weekend marked my 4th visit to that very very scary border to the North.

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I went once on Mama’s Schaeff’s birthday when sista came to visit me on my first birthday in the Koko. I went twice for 2 leisurely bike rides along the barbed wire majesty, and even got interviewed for all of Korea to witness. But, this last time, this last time I’ll have you know, is the most legit it has ever gotten, and will ever be gotten, unless I ever actually go to visit the North, which is highly unlikely. But never say never. 5 is a good number.

I finally got to check off that fatty trip to the Joint Security Area / Panmunjeom from my Korean Bucket List, and stood two feet in the North next to a soldier guarding the door to the Hermit Kingdom.

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I think many people are pretty out of the know when it comes to the two Koreas, so when they hear I live in Seoul and that it’s within an hour’s drive of the North, people are like WTF ARE YOU DOING, GET OUT OF THERE BEFORE YOU GET BOMBED. But it’s so not like that.  It’s so chill, and the North’s shenanigans are so far removed from anyone’s waking thoughts. 

I say this because I never get scared knowing that I’m so close to Kim Jong-un and his missles and $800 bottles of brandy.  But, last Saturday I could feel myself getting more and more tense as we reached the JSA. And honestly, it wasn’t because I thought anything would happen. But it’s just such an intense place, and the dress code was so strict, and the security just to get into the JSA required 2 busses, no pointing, no taking pictures of the building behind us, no walking behind soldiers and no touching of tables. There were so many rules and I really had to practice keeping my gestures to myself, because you know I like to gesture. I fucked up, as you’d imagine, but I’m still here so it’s all good.

The tour that we went on took us to 3 places at the DMZ. The first being Camp Bonifas, which, fun fact, is home of the world’s most dangerous golf course. One wrong move and your ball could land in a field of unexploded mines.  Camp Bonifas was named in honor of the Captain who, along with one other, was murdered by North Korean soldiers for cutting down a poplar tree, in what has since been deemed The Axe Murder Incident of 1976. Our tour guide could not stress this incident enough. Everything he spoke about, which I’m not sure his facts were all straight, always came back to this Axe Murder Incident.

First group shot at Camp Bonifas. Fun fact, the girl next to me refused to wear the skirt provided since her’s was too short.

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Just beyond Camp Bonifas lies the JSA, which is comprised of blue buildings that straddle a thin cement slab separating the North from the South, and are maintained by the UN. The particular building where tourists are allowed to enter is where the military meetings necessary to uphold the Armistice Agreement are hashed out. I’ve heard it can get pretty wild in there when they get going, stomping on tables and ish.

By entering the building on the left, you can legally say you have been in North Korea, but a photo will have to act as your passport stamp. Just beyond the blue buildings is North Korea, and if you look close enough, just up to the left of the soldier’s shoulder you can see a North Korean soldier standing post.

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Visitors from North Korea can also come to the JSA for a tour of the DMZ from the North, and apparently just the day before there were tons of North Koreans. We were told not to point or return any friendly waves or smiles if we encountered any North Koreans. Not because of anything malicious towards them, but because if we were to do so, they could take that as us believing that North Korea is great and use it to further brainwash their people. Pretty fascinating and I didn’t even think of that as an issue until told not to. Of course I pointed because my fingers have a mind of their own. Thankfully no North Koreans were in sight.

This soldier is standing directly on the border, and we found out the hard way that you are not supposed to walk behind him when Jenny accidentally did. Whoops.

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You’re also not supposed to touch or put anything on the tables, which again, we fucked up on. Well, Veny did. Triple whoops.

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No trip to a huge attraction would be complete without this guy, his big smile, and my “THIS GUY” face. We were also the last two out of the building. I’m seeing a trend since Dokdo. Token troublemakers.

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They also took group shots of us, where girls had to bend down like sorority girls. I’m also pretty impressed with their turbo airbrushing skills.

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Following in the haste of Dokdo, I almost forgot to get a picture of the room in its entirety, so here is the cockeyed shot I got as we were bolting out the door, last but not least.

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On our way out of the JSA we stopped at the Bridge of No Return, which we were not allowed to get out and see, but just view from the bus.  As the Korean War drew to a close, prisoner exchanges were done here. They were given the choice to stay in the North or South, but if they crossed over from one to the other they were never allowed to return again.

We just take selfies here.

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And our final, final stop was at Imjingak, where I’ve actually been on all my trips before this. Imjingak is home to the Freedom Bridge, which was used after usage of the Bridge of No Return was shut down following the Axe Murder Incident.  I didn’t get a photo of the bridge, but we did get this sick shot. That’s North Korean soju that I’m downing on ‘G” for Garry.

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Last fun fact for you. While military service is mandatory for men in both the North and South, service in the South is just around 2 years depending on your branch, whereas 10 years of active duty is required in the North.

If you’re looking to catch a tour of the most heavily militarized border in the world, the tour group that we went through was called Tour DMZ. We originally wanted to do the USO tour group that sista and I went through when she was here, but that is sold out for months, so we got the next best thing. For a half day tour to only the JSA the cost is 85,000won. There is also a DMZ and 3rd Infiltration tunnel tour, and another combining the two tours. 

I’ll leave you with a pointer for the wise. If you are hurtin’ to purchase some North Korean liquor at the gift shop at Camp Bonifas, I’d probably advise against it, unless you want to burn yourself from the inside out.  Spend the cash monies on some North Korean wons instead.  Now you tell me! Have you been to the DMZ / JSA or even North Korea? What did you think? Were there any differences between this tour and your’s? 

 

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I’m a Celebrity

Well, not really.  But kinda.  Somehow I was nominated to be the waygook spokesperson and was interviewed (and air kissed on camera) last weekend when I went on that DMZ bike tour with Seoulites.

No one will be able to read this article, but scroll down to watch my debut Korean television appearance around the 30 second mark, and scroll even further to see the sexy group of folks I rode with.

The caption under the photo of all of us reads like this, according to Google Translate: “Fighting foreigners who participated in the DMZ bike tour is taking pictures and shouting.”  That’s exactly what we were doing.

My 2nd Journey To The DMZ

Yesterday I went on a bike tour of the DMZ, aka the most heavily militarized border in the whole wide world. I’ve lived in Korea for a total of 7 months so far, and already have been to the border twice in the past 2 months. What’s wrong with me? Anyways, this was far different from the actual tour I went on with sista a couple months back.

This time about 16 of us made the 1.5ish hour trek to the border.  Upon arrival we saw what I would definitely deem the happiest place on Earth.  I think it might even give Disneyland a run for its money. That would be the amusement park just grazing the border between North and South Korea. Weird.  There were like 2 people there.

Instead of paying $50 for the tour sista and I took, or $100 for the Panmunjom tour which grants you access into the Joint Security Area (where the North & South meet for discussions of sorts.  This is the only place where you get the chance to step into North Korea), we paid 10,000 won (~$9) to rent a mountain bike with tracker, helmet and a neon green tank top so we wouldn’t get lost or wander into a land mine and go bye bye. As you can see, I dressed appropriately for a strenuous bike ride. Anything in the name of fashion.

Apparently this bike tour happens once a month.  My Korean friends Keira and Jeewon organized it for a group of us to go, which was an awesome get-out-of-Seoul day. Though I must say, it was awfully strange to look to your left and see barbed wire lining the pot-holed road and having suited up soldiers directing you and watching your every move. Bizarre, but cool (?) way to see the border.  The ride really got my juices flowing and I worked up quite a sweat.  My ass is also killing me today.  Since Obama was also walking on the same land as us, we couldn’t bike on a bridge that’s normally part of the tour.  However, we were breathing the same air and looking at the same lack of scenery as Barack.  Kinda cool.

Here are some more highlights:

Spring water, straight from the border. I am a fan of the barbed wire detailing.

Ze group of waygooks and our token Koreans who organized it ^^

Stretching as a group with 300 Koreans and our bikes. Shake out your hands.

Let me know when you receive this Schaeffs!

Most of us were zonked on the return.

All in all, yesterday was awesome.  Twas a great group of people and a fun new thing to add to the list of Korean happs so far! And, I’m back in 1 piece with a new backpack that we received as a souvenir. Schaeffs, you better frame that postcard when it gets to the house as a souvenir from North Korea.