Monday, October 6, 2014

Seoul Day Two

Woke up early and was met by Rev. Paul who escorted us over to the Lotte Hotel to sign in for our tour to the DMZ. This is a tour I have been looking forward to for a long time. Duke Welliver, a member of St. Clement's in San Clemente has been there a number of times and recommended it to me.

When we got on the bus I was a little concerned as the four of us, in our preassigned bus seats (yes, really) were the only non-Japanese speaking people there. I got off the bus and found the Japanese tour guide who assured me there was an English speaking tour guide for us -- it was a shared bus. Three more english speakers joined the back of the bus where we were, and Jay, our English speaking guide joined us.

We first went to along the highway, and we're able to see the split between the two sides -- guard stations with guards posted looked over the river. We were told it was more heavily guarded at night.

Our first stop was the Dorasan Train Station -- the last stop before going into North Korea. We did indeed stop there -- our guide Jay (you can see him here pointing at the map) talked to us about the continuation of the line on the other side, and in the hope of re-unification of North and South Korea, the railroad would be ready to continue on. He pointed out different city locations on the map and talked about what we would and would not see along the way.

We stopped in the train station -- We were greeted by the sign that talked about looking forward to the time when this station will be a hub for transcontinental travel. I felt myself becoming uneasy.

I bought some postcards and there were stamps that we could and to our post cards, which I did. We walked around the area and got back on the bus.

The next stop was a point where we could look over to North Korea. The South Korean factory which was built in the DMZ a and hires North Korean workers (at a reduces salary from their South Korean counterparts) was pointed out to us, along with Propaganda Village and Freedom Village.

There were various tour groups from Mainland China. How do I know? They were speaking Mandarin and I asked them in Mandarin where they were from -- a few of the older men shouted something over the wall to the North Korean side that I couldn't understand. My uneasiness was growing.

My dis-ease grew more intense when we reached the parking lot of the third tunnel. Our guide Jay took us to the Exhibition Hall and told us how the South Korean Government learned of the tunnels. A defector, a surveyor from North Korea, told the South Korean officials about the series of tunnels ( apparently there are many more) which were designed to take the North Korean troops underground all the way to Seoul for a surprise attack. The way the South Korean Government found the tunnel was by the insertion of very long PVC pipes designed as blow holes. They filled the area underneath with water, and when the North Koreans dynamited an area underneath, it created a blow hole which lead the South Koreans to the tunnel. This was the third of four tunnels which they have found. Also surrounding the area are a very large number of land mines from the Korean War -- only 30% of them have been found and deactivated. There were danger signs all along the roadsides.

We were given blue hard hats to wear, and put into a tram to go down into the tunnel. Once down there, the bulk of the people had to duck down to walk the length of the tunnel to where the first of three barriers were placed to stop the North Korean army. For once in my life I was VERY glad I'm short -- I didn't have to duck down, but virtually all the rest of our group did. We were not slowed to take pictures.

There were gas masks with instructions as to how to wear them every few feet. There was yellow paint to point out the blast holes the North Koreans used to place dynamite.

It was a narrow pathway, and everyone was asked to keep to the right, single file, in whichever direction they were heading. It was like being in one of the mining scenes from Snow White and the seven dwarfs, but the further I walked the more uneasy I became.

Apparently the North Koreans painted the inside of the tunnel black and stated they were just mining for coal. According to Jay the tunnel is granite and no coal was ever found.

When we finally emerged from the tunnel I was very grateful -- I was overwhelmed by the feeling of loss, of separation, of death. I prayed there. I prayed on the bus.

We saw farms in the DMZ. These are the original families who lived in this area before the separation. They all farm. There is one elementary school and one church there. The people are older. No new families can move there, and the exiting families are subsidized by the government because of the anticipated danger there.

We then, believe it or not, were taken to lunch. The bus pulled into an area that looked like a small house -- very nondescript with chickens running around in the front yard. We went in and were greeted warmly, with Bulgogi boiling on the low tables (this was traditional sit on the ground low table style). The pot in front of us was for the four of us from our group. We were all hungry, but, at least me, a bit uneasy. I was unnerved by the DMZ, more than I thought I would be.

We were then taken to a park where we were able to walk around. We were able to see a bell -- I believe it is a peace bell. I was struck by its size. I was also struck by a group of older Koreans who held a sign as they sat and had their picture taken on the steps leading up to the bell. It was beautiful to watch them -- they were beaming as they smiled and talked with each other. Beaming as they had their picture taken. I was wondering what they were thinking -- what the bell, and this place, meant to them.

We returned to Seoul, riding silently -- I think I wasn't the only one who was unnerved. Some of the Japanese tourists on our bus left us after lunch and went to where the North Korean and South Korean armies face off on guard. I may want to see that at some time in the future, but I was unnerved enough by what I did see that I'm glad didn't add that to the trip today.

When we arrived in Seoul, Ella, who works in the Bishop's Office on education, met us at the hotel where we were dropped off. She was to take us on a walking tour of Myeongdong and Namdemon.

Myeongdong was VERY crowded with young people -- lots of shops and street vendors featuring food, fashion, and cosmetics. We made our way through there to the cathedral. There was a wedding taking place -- and tourists were allowed in the back. One tourist decided to cross the ropes, walk up the aisle, and take a picture of the bride and groom, and video of the audience -- no one stopped him!

We then went on to Namdemon, where Anna found her favorite fried rice cake with honey inside -- Steve and Ada joined her in this treat!

We then went back to the hotel to get ready to have dinner with the Archbishop.

We walked over to the restaurant -- in the former guesthouse where I stayed my last two times in Seoul. Everyone greeted us and we went in -- the restaurant has gotten so busy they changed the guest rooms into meeting rooms. Where we are is literally where I slept two and three years ago (my two former trips to Korea).

I talked with the Archbishop about ministry and about my time at the seminary, and my uneasiness at the DMZ. It was a good conversation.

We said our "see you soons" and headed back to the hotel.

I'm so grateful to have had time with the Archbishop to process a bit of our experience going to the DMZ. More, I'm very grateful to be a companion in mission and ministry with him and the Province of Seoul.

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