At the Edge of the North

My sixteenth week in Korea began with a trip to the DMZ (demilitarized zone) which separates North and South Korea. The two countries have been at war for almost sixty years and, despite its name, the DMZ is actually the most heavily militarized border in the world. However, no one is allowed into the DMZ itself, which has caused the animal and plant life there to thrive. There are plant and animal species within the zone that cannot be found anywhere else on the Korean peninsula.

My trip to the DMZ was arranged through a travel company called Adventure Korea and had the added value of some bungee jumping on the way up to the border! I left Busan on Friday night and took the train up to Seoul. After a night in the city, I got on the Adventure Korea bus with four other TaLK scholars from Busan and several more from other provinces who had coincidentally signed up for the same trip. Upon arriving in Seoul, I noticed how much colder it was than in Busan and the further north we went, the colder it got. At the border itself is was below zero (celsius) while in Busan it was at least 5 degrees warmer.

Our bungee jumping stop was a platform jutting out from a bridge over a small river. I wasn’t nervous until I stood on the platform looking down, ready to jump. Everything in my body was telling me not to jump but I did and it was so much fun! The adrenaline rush was huge and although it was over very fast, hanging upside down for a few minutes over the running water was quite peaceful.

The bungee jumping crew, very cold and ready to jump.

The first jumper gets ready…

…and leaps!

Bystanders…our camera crew.

Another jumper in mid-air.

Our next stop was a tunnel dug by the North Koreans underneath the DMZ. The tunnel was quite extensive but very uneven so it was a good thing we were given hard hats. I bumped my head on the roof of the tunnel at least three times!

Descending into the tunnel.

Always an encouraging sign.

Posing for a photograph with a South Korean soldier outside the tunnel.

I bought some North Korean money at a gift shop near the tunnel.

From the tunnel, we headed to an observatory where we got a fantastic view of the DMZ. It was a landscape unlike anything I had seen so far in South Korea.

Great view of the DMZ.

South Korean soldiers looking out over the DMZ.

The Adventure Korea group, composed mostly of TaLK scholars.

Posing on a tank outside the observatory.

The whole gang.

We also stopped by the Labor Party Building which used to be in North Korean territory, where prisoners were tortured by the North Koreans.

The Labor Party Building, which used to be in North Korean territory.

The marks of war.

Steps broken by a tank that rolled up the stairs.

One of the torture rooms.

The building is barely standing.

Wreckage of a train that was bombed by the North Koreans during the war.

Our final stop was a war memorial, where a South Korean soldier explained to us the symbolism behind various structures that had been built to artistically commemorate battles of the past and the sacrifice of many lives for the safety of the country.

A South Korean soldier explaining to us the significance of the war memorial.

A peace statue, in the shape of two hands reaching to the sky in prayer for an end to war around the world.

A peace bell, overlooking the DMZ.

The next weekend, I was back in Busan, where I made a 10 kilometer hike up Mount Geumjeong with another TaLK scholar. The weather was perfect and the views were beautiful. We could see the entire city from one of the higher peaks. The ruins of an old wall run in a wide loop around the mountain and we followed this wall for about three hours. We made it about halfway around the loop. Maybe one day I will complete the circuit! After our hike, we took the cable car back down the mountain to the subway station.

A great view of Busan from the Geumjeong wall.

The “Little Wall of Korea.”

Busan city in the distance.

Some Korean hikers admiring the view.

Beautiful Busan.

My teaching recently has been encouraging. Last week was the best so far. I have been able to see some progress in students that were very weak at the beginning of the semester and students that previously didn’t want to participate have seemed a bit more interested and willing to engage. I also had a cooking day with my students which they really enjoyed. There wasn’t much English-speaking that day, but it was okay since it was their reward for several weeks of good behavior! We made kimbap (Korean sushi-like rolls) using American sandwich ingredients (bread, ham, cheese, etc.) and cookie sandwiches with peanut butter and bananas.

Next blog post…a fantastic cultural trip to another province of Korea!

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