Day 5 (4/19/17) – The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

That’s right, we went to the most dangerous place on earth on our Day 5 of Korea trip. It is also known as the DMZ – Demilitarized Zone. Now before I get deeper into our crazy day, I want to talk about the different zones near the North and South Korean border. I did not know there were three distinct lines including the real border.

The DMZ has three lines going either direction: MDL (Military Demarcation Line), which is the actual border, DMZ which is 2km either direction from the MDL, and the CCL (Citizen Control Line) which is 10km either direction from the DMZ.

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The three lines of the North and South Border

The CCL is there to protect any citizen from getting too close to the DMZ and MDL area. And within the MDL area is the JSA (Joint Security Area) which is where we actually went! So here we go on our adventure…

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Near Seoul City Hall

We woke up extra early for our DMZ/JSA tour. Like the day before, we had our Issac Toast (click here for the post), and walked toward the City Hall. We checked in at the President Hotel and waited for our bus. Once we got on the bus, we made our way to the War Memorial.

That’s right, we went again for the 2nd time!

We didn’t mind because there were so much to see, we felt like we got to see more that we would’ve been able to had we just gone once.

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The gang in front of the War Memorial

There were actually exhibits we had missed when we went the first time and we got to learn the whole history on how the Korean War started.

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Typical Soldier

My dad was there with us and he gave us a more deeper understanding. For example, because the Korean men were shorter than the Americans, the gear was very heavy and too big for most of them.

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Not a bomber plane

This is how the soldiers dropped bombs. They didn’t have enough bomber planes nor did they have the adequate training.

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Prisoner of War and the Bridge of No Return

It was especially weird knowing my grandpa was at this bridge. It was very sad thinking how overwhelmed my grandpa must’ve felt, trying to decide where his family was. He only had once chance to go either to the North or South.

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Actual Missile Launchers

We went outside and spent more time looking at the war vehicles, missile launchers, etc. Look how big the missile launchers and the missiles are compared to Maria!

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Inside the tank

We got to go inside some of the tanks. Most of them were too tiny for Joe. We found an extra big one and sat inside for a pose! The sign behind me says “danger”.

We also got to go inside the naval ship. It was very cool and I even got to sit on that chair!

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Bird’s Eye View and Korean Soldier

This was the view from the top of the ship. There also happened to be a group of army soldiers on a field trip. It made my picture even cooler! Anyway, we had to return to our bus to get to the actual part of our trip: DMZ.

When we actually found out what the DMZ was (the three lines I was explaining), we did not know we were going to the ACTUAL border, we thought we’d be at most in the CCL area, far from the main border, some of us got pretty nervous. During this time, the issue with North Korea was at a very high tension, and none of us knew what may happen. North Korea had been shooting many of the missiles into the sea and I know many of our family members back in the states were worried.

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A tank alongside our bus on the road

What really made me scared was I saw two or three tanks on the road right next to our bus heading in the same direction. I got worried something was maybe going down. Thankfully after a while, they went in a different direction and I sighed in relief.

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Welcome to Imjingak

We made our next stop at Imjingak, a park near the DMZ for some delicious lunch.

We had traditional bulgogi (stew version) for lunch. It was SO GOOD and inspired me to make my own at home – which I did and it turned out to be great!

After lunch, we were given some free time to explore the area.

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Memorial Service Area

This area was put up especially for families who were split. Even now Koreans have a memorial service to their ancestors during Korean holidays (ex. Thanksgiving, Lunar New Year) at the home town of the ancestor. Because they can’t go across the border, they come here and have the memorial service.

Some photos of people paying their respects, crying for their family. I felt very sad for everyone, including my own grandpa who is the only one on the South side from his entire family.

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Ribbons of hope

Many people leave ribbons, with hopeful messages, that one day the two nations will unite again.

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Hopeful Ribbons and the Korean Flag

It’s important to remember the past, never forget what our ancestors went through.

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Closer to North Korea than Seoul!

This shows that we are closer to a North Korean city than Seoul. It started to feel real about where we were about to go.

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Last Train

There was also a North Korean train that the south shot down to prevent the enemy from getting their supplies. Full of cannon holes and bullet holes.

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Quickly! Before the kids swarm back!

The Imjingak Park was full of people, tourists, students, kids. It was hard to get good photos but we were able to have about five seconds to take this photo before the kids returned.

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Amusement Park in Imjingak

From this point on, we couldn’t take any photos, even at the CCL. Our passports were checked twice at each check point, even at the DMZ. We were given three opportunities to take photos, each about few minutes long. Our cell phone services stopped as soon as we passed the CCL line, and we were told to stay quiet, no pointing, no taking photos.

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UN Conference Halls

As soon as we arrived in the JSA area, we were given a briefing and had to sign forms acknowledging that anything could happen, including death. The briefing also showed us that we were in the most dangerous area in the world. Not sure how much of that we believed it, but very probable. There are still mines everywhere along the border.

We went straight to one of the UN conference rooms (the blue buildings). The gray ones are controlled by the North, and the big building behind the blue buildings is a North Korean building – and also North Korea.

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No, he’s not a mannequin, he’s real!

There were two South Korean guards inside to protect us, and to prevent anyone from going past the door to North Korea. Technically in this photo, I am standing in North Korea! The guards are known to stand in this position for up to 3 hours without moving an inch!

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Division of North and South

The microphones on top of the tables is what divides the two nations in this room.

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Outside the conference building

We saw one lonely North Korean standing in front of the door across the way. Other than that, no North Korean presence. We did not talk much and just took photos when we were told. I think the whole thing lasted less than 20 minutes, but after the photos I was ready to get out of there!

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Back from the MDL, but still inside the DMZ.

We were given time to get some stuff from the gift shop and look at the museum upstairs.

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Night out in Gangnam

After a short break, we went to Gangnam to meet up with our friend Lina who lives in Seoul. It was great to see her again!

She took us to a really cool “tent” bar. It was inside but decorated to look like we were outside in the 60’s.

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Army Stew

We had delicious army stew for dinner. Why is it called army stew? During the Korean War, many people didn’t have much to eat. With leftovers from what the soldiers had, they would throw it in a pot and turn it into a stew! Still eaten today and very delicious.

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Unforgettable Soju drink

We got to try this delicious carbonated peach soju drink! It tasted pretty much like a soda with a hint of alcohol. Only 3% and also $1 USD!

We ended the night with indoor batting cage! It was a really fun experience! They projected onto the screen and it was like playing with Wii but with real bats and baseball. I had never played baseball before this and it was quite hard, but we all had a great time!

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