Sunday, November 9, 2014

The DMZ (Imjingak) and Tunnel #3

My cousin came to Korea for the first time and I offered to show him around on his single free day, but when the opportunity came for him to go to the DMZ instead of seeing local sites in Seoul, he was ready to jump at the chance, provided I could tag along. Yup, no problem. So off we went with another guest lecturer and their team coordinator. First we went to Tunnel #3, aka "tunnel of aggression" so named by the South Koreans after they discovered the tunnel in 1978. The North Koreans have tried to make the tunnel look like a coal shaft but according to my geologist cousin, hard granite can in no way substitute for coal. The whole time my cous was in the tunnel, he was scanning continually for any lose rocks that he could take back to the states and examine. I tried to find some too and when we got back up to the surface, our hands were blackened from the coal dust painted on the granite tunnel walls to make them seem like an abandoned coal mine shaft. 


Before entering the tunnel, we saw a very poignant passage on the wall concerning the Korean War: "The Korean War gave a great wound to our whole national resulting in 6 million casualties in 3 years and 1 month. [Here is] the truce line holding the pain of our nation's division and sorrows of brothers who died bleeding."

Dorasan, the last subway stop to North Korea

Dorasan is really not the last subway or train stop to North Korea, but one day it will be. Currently,  it is the last stop for four daily trains from Seoul before one must turn around and go back. However, back on December 11, 2007, freight trains started traveling north onward to North Korea to transport materials needed at the Kaesong Industrial Region and on the return they carried manufactured goods from the area. At that time there was a daily schedule (weekday only) to depart for North Korea. This, however, was abruptly terminated on December 1, 2008 when the North Korean government closed the border crossing after accusing South Korea of a confrontational policy. 

Bird's eye-view of the Mangbaedan (altar) and beyond it Freedom Bridge

After 36 years of Japanese colonial rule, the Koreas were finally liberated on August 15, 1945, thanks to the sacrifices of service personnel who fought for the nation's independence and who helped bring about an end of World War II. However, before celebration could break out, Korea was arbitrarily divided into north and south according to a unilateral decision on the part of larger powers, regardless of the desire for the Koreans, who had been unified for thousands of years, to remain so. By splitting the country -- an act resulting from the Cold War -- parents and children were separated, husbands and wives were split, life-long neighbors and childhood friends were sundered, and the division remains even after the end of the Cold War. 

In the initial months after the division five million people were able to flee from the northern areas to the southern before the demarcation was regimented and tightly patrolled. They fled their homes where they had lived for generations in order to avoid the Soviet army and the North Korean Communist Party's persecution and brutalities. Refugees and sundered families and friends henceforward gathered at Imjingak, overlooking the lands of North Korea, and made a makeshift altar for offering special prayers and wishes on every Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving day) to honor their ancestors and those they had left behind in North Korea, and of course to pray for reunification. As years passed and reunification was not actualized, the temporary altar was eventually replaced by this Mangbaedan Memorial Altar, which is surrounded by seven granite stone-folding screens carved with the historical characteristics as well as topographical features of mountains and streams of the five provinces of North Korea along with the unclaimed territories of Gyeonggi and Gangwon. These scenes are to remind the refugees of their home, and as the description says, "ease their homesickness".

A few meters to the right of the altar is a monument dedicated to a song "30 Years Lost" which continually plays. The lyrics by Gunho Park and music by Gookin Nam, sung by Woondo Seol were used as the theme song of the show "Search for the Dispersed Families", which was aired on KBS from June 30th to November 14th, 1983. This song was such a sensational hit that it became listed in the Guinness Book of Records. The show "Search for Dispersed Families" was aired live for approximately 3312 hours and 45 minutes over the rather short period of 138 days, and it made contributions in reuniting 10,189 dispersed families. "30 Years Lost", as the theme song for the show, ended up being a huge hit in South Korea and is also well known in North Korea. This monument, dedicated both to the song and the dispersed families, is a symbol for reuniting what was once a cohesive unified nation.

The fence in this area is webbed with both barb-wire and razor-wire. There would be no getting over the fence easily or quickly. Tied to the fence are colored streamers, many of which are yellow for mourning or sadness but other colors exist. The streamers blowing in the air represent prayers blowing in the wind -- prayers for reunification and prayers for the good health of those in North Korea.

While a long part of the eastern fence-line is covered with blowing prayer-ribbons, the north fence is bare except for strategically placed stones in and along the fence.

There are four types of cold stones employed in this wall. 
  1. Auxiliary stone - installed to drop if someone cut or applied much pressure to the wire
  2. Hearing stone - installed at the base of the wire fence for falling stones to strike against so as to easily be heard by patrols
  3. Patrol tag - one tag is placed at the top and two tags are placed at the bottom of the fence for the purpose of marking what area has been last checked. One side of a stone is white and the other is red. As patrols pass these tags, they spin the colors so when a mixture of white and red tags are viewed at the same time, the area has not been checked yet.
  4. Trace stone - flat stones painted with "l" but unclear as to their purpose.

A steam locomotive (Registered Cultural Heritage in 2004) runs parallel the beribboned fence. It remains as a symbol of the tragic history of the division of the Korean peninsula, after being derailed by the bombs during the Korean War minutes after leaving what is now the DMZ. According to the train operator at that time, the train was destroyed at Jangdan Station while making a retreat from the advancing Chinese Communist Forces on the way to Pyeongyang; it was making efforts to deliver war materials, when it was derailed. The bent wheels and 1,020 bullet holes prevented the train from being further used in the war effort, but it now stands as a testimony to the atrocities of war and as a symbol to avoid further strife by nations needing to come to an understanding and reunifying.

Freedom Bridge (Gyeonggi-do Provincial Monument No. 162)

Standing behind Mangbaedan Memorial Altar at Imjingak Square is Freedom Bridge, which takes its name from the return of 12,773 prisoners of war in 1953 in the first exchange of prisoners after the signing of the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War. Two side-by-side railroad bridges on the Gyeongui Line originally spanned the Imjingang River. Both bridges were destroyed by bombing, leaving only the pier remains. To enable the exchange of prisoners of war, using the original piers the west bridge was rebuilt as a temporary structure so that repatriates could cross on foot what is now called Freedom Bridge. Freedom Bridge is 83 meters long 4.5 meters wide, and 8 meters high. It is a wooden structure reinforced by steel and represents a "return to freedom".

Freedom Bridge is blocked off. It is no secret that walking Freedom Bridge to the north would be to give up one's freedom for such an act would equate to "no return".
The prayers streaming on Freedom Bridge are densely packed.
The prayers for reunification so far have gone unanswered.

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