After going through a checkpoint our bus arrived at the Joint Security Area. We were then boarded by an American Soldier who is stationed at Camp Bonifas and assigned to work at the JSA. He wore a special armband designating him as assigned to the DMZ, and recited quite a few memorized speeches during our time there.
Camp Bonfias JSA water tower. No pictures allowed after this until told otherwise.
We rode in our bus to the Visitor's Center where we were shown a brief presentation regarding the history behind the JSA, and the seriousness of our visit there. There can be (and have been) incidents within the DMZ where people can get hurt, and there is a very strict protocol that must be followed. There was a dress code we were given when we bought the tickets-no logos or provocative sayings on clothing, no short shorts, women dress modestly, etc. I was told my Bermuda shorts might be too short, so I wore jeans.
After the presentation we were put onto a JSA bus, and driven up into the JSA. The building is called the Freedom House, and stands directly across from the blue buildings that straddle the Military Demarcation Line. You can see a better layout on this website.
This is the view from the steps of the Freedom House, over the blue buildings that were intended to be temporary when they were built. The large building you can see is the North Korean building where they gather their negotiators and distinguished visitors before entering the blue building. When our tour group was getting ready to enter the building, the South Korean soldier locked the door to the North Korean side, and stood guard. It can only be used by one side at a time.
The soldier is standing with half his body hidden behind the building so he can signal if he needs to without the North Korean guards being able to see him. These guards stare at each other all day long.
Inside building T2, the American soldier is explaining to us that within this building is the only place where you can set foot into the North Korean side of the DMZ. The South Korean soldier is standing at a position sometimes referred to as "ROK Ready"- it is a modified Tae Kwon Do stance. You can see their ginormous arm bands.
Running down the middle of the buildings is the MDL- you cannot cross this line. Actually, you used to be able to, but after a series of violent attacks, it was decided that both sides should stay on their side of the line.
Marshall is trying ROK Ready. It doesn't have the same effect somehow. Maybe it is the loafers.
The soldier peeking around the building.
It's hard to see, but in this photo there is a North Korean soldier at the top of the steps peering at us through binoculars. Hope he liked my jeans.
When we were done at the JSA Panmunjeom we traveled to an observation point where we could see North Korean observation towers.
The skies finally cleared enough that we could just barely see Gijeoung-dong Village, which is a North Korean village built for the sole purpose of propaganda. North Korea has tried to make this village look like a place with nice apartment buildings and people working in the fields, but it is obvious that there is no glass in the windows of the buildings, and the people working in the fields are transported in. Surrounding the village are powerful loudspeakers that sometimes send out propaganda messages or music. What you can see in this picture is the giant flag tower they built so that the North Korean flag could be visible from the South Korean side. However, the flag is so heavy that it sometimes rips under its own weight.
Here is a view down to where the axe murder incident happened.
This is a memorial marker, in the exact spot where the tree stood. Reading about this incident, and listening to the stories really goes to show how volatile this whole area is. That people would be killed over trimming a tree- how senseless.
Around the checkpoint you can see the entrance to the bridge that straddles the MDL.
This bridge is known as the Bridge of No Return. Soldiers were allowed to pass across this bridge only once at the end of the war, they had to choose which side they wanted to go to. But wherever they went, they could never go back. And what is amazing, is that it is now 2011, and they STILL cannot go back.
That concludes our pictures from the DMZ tour. I highly recommend it to anyone who gets a chance to go. It helps to understand why these countries are divided, and why our forces are still necessary here. I pray for peace for all Korean people, and that their country can be reunited one day.