Run DMZ: Touring South Korea’s Demilitarized Zone

Joint Security Area (JSA) South Korea Soldiers in the Demilitarized Zone

Joint Security Area (JSA) South Korea Soldiers in the Demilitarized Zone

Part II of Victoria Korosi’s piece on South Korea takes Jaunt Magazine’s readers on a tour of the DMZ. And no, that doesn’t mean the likes of Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, or Jason “Jam-Master Jay” Mizell. And when we say tour, we don’t mean free drinks and clever jokes through a loud speaker.

By Victoria Korosi

Use the word “tour” and I’ll cringe and run for the nearest public bus. Use “military escort” and that’s a conversation I’ll engage. Given my absolute love of borders, especially crossing the ones the US State Department will call me about later, there was no way I was going to get this close to North Korea and not go explore. Even if it that meant I had to tolerate a guide or two.

The border between North and South Korea is buffered by the DMZ – a theoretically neutral zone where both parties literally stand toe to toe on a white line drawn on the ground, grey gravel on one side brown on the other, an innumerable number of black belts and heavy artillery at the ready, and just stare at each other. Literally. Walking into this environment I can easily say I’ve never felt tension so palpable.

Soldiers in the Joint Security Area

Soldiers in the Joint Security Area

Getting to this point though was notably less climactic. In order to gain access to the Joint Security Area (JSA) coming from the south (and yes I did investigate doing the tour in the reverse from China and entering on the North Korean side) you have to be escorted by the US military. To graduate to that means enduring an entire day of numbingly boring videos, debriefings, and other tour bus activities that made me want to slit my wrists. If the end result of stepping foot (even if just the one) into North Korea hadn’t been as staggeringly powerful as it was I’d be back on my campaign full force for banning organised travel.

But it truly was that powerful. Standing in a room with six South Korean soldiers, their opposition on the other side of the door, all rigorously still,  eyes concealed behind pitch black Ray-Bans, aggressive Korean script on their helmets, I could feel the muscles in my legs turn to lead too terrified to move an inch. They just had this feeling about them that they’d explode into combat at any moment. Kind of like if you gave the guards outside Buckingham Palace tougher uniforms and Taekwondo lessons. Like that.

An intense end to a long day I made my way back to Seoul, defiantly via public transport of course. Even though it was a monstrously controlled space it does give a different perspective and gravity standing in a part of the world very different to what I know. And new respect for those on every boarder who maintain the serenity of that tension. But when it comes to costume design for this, I think we all could take a lesson from the South Koreans. Ray-Bans at the beach will never look the same!

USO Tour of the DMZ
http://affiliates.uso.org/korea/

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