When the armistice ended (suspended?) the Korean War in 1953, the village of Panmunjom found itself right on the military demarcation line in the middle of the Demilitarized Zone. Accordingly it was cleared out and now plays host to the Joint Security Area and its conference huts that straddle the border. If Susan looks a little serious in her photo, it’s because she’s in North Korea at that point, and it doesn’t seem a fun place to be for long. The only obvious human connection of any kind with the northern side was the solitary guard who gave our tour party a good check with binoculars. Apparently there are others hidden away inside who are also watching, but we couldn’t spot anyone.
It’s a pretty sobering place – minefields, barbed wire, tank traps, listening posts. And surrounding that, beautiful countryside of rolling hills and woodlands, the leaves turning into autumn shades. Apparently the wildlife is wonderful too, although the deer and the landmines have occasional disagreements.
The South Korean guards (fellows in the helmets) are in a ‘modified taekwondo stance’ which seems a bit weird until you hear the stories of how many times the North Koreans have tried some funny business. That includes 1998, when they grabbed one of these South Korean soldiers from inside this very hut and dragged him out into the Northern side. He was hardcore enough to fight them off and escape, but you can still see the marks of the struggle in the building.
Later we went to the Dorasan Observatory, for a view out over North Korea. It’s a strange feeling, being right next door to the most isolated place on earth.