Monday, December 21, 2009

한반도 비무장지대 (The DMZ) or "Freedom Is Not Free"

The DMZ (or Demilitarized Zone) which serves as the border of North and South Korea is a pretty crazy place. It runs all 155 miles across the Korean peninsula (cutting it in half along the 38th parallel) and is the most heavily militarized border in the world.

Our tour, lead by American military officers, was scant on history but we were allowed into places many tours aren't permitted. Only about 40 minutes from Seoul, we first headed to Panmunjeom (home of the JSA, or Joint Security Area) where all negotiations and meetings between officers of the United States and South and North Korean armies have been held since 1953. We first went into the United Nations meeting room, half of which is IN North Korea. (I've been to North Korea!) Our "tour guide" Officer (Sergeant? Lieutenant?) Pearson was adamant that we not gesture, point or blow kisses toward North Korea.

After leaving Panmunjeom we went to a museum located next to a North Korean-dug "Third Tunnel of Aggression" dug to invade Seoul (five of which have been discovered since 1953). First, we watched a propaganda-filled film about how the DMZ fosters incredible wildlife and the U.S. Army is almost single-handedly responsible for protecting the freedoms and people of South Korea. (Ahem.) Then we went into the tunnel, 500ft below ground. A pretty incredible experience. Unfortunately, like many places throughout the DMZ, we weren't allowed to take photos in the tunnel. Don't want to go all Laura Ling on you people, I couldn't cut it in a work camp for 5 seconds.

North Korea is a pretty messed up place. After driving through one of many "peace villages" ( had a very twilight-zone feel to it...) inhabited by the "best marksmen in the Korean army," we went to a viewing area/point.  Kijong-dong, a North Korean "peace village" (known as "propaganda village" to the rest of the world) it is the only settlement in North Korea within direct eye and earshot of the DMZ and essentially, the West. A giant radio tower serves to block out ALL communication from the outside world. Famine and malnutrition are widespread. There is a nationally-mandated dress code. Most people live on about $1 a day. If you speak against Kim Jong-Il you will undoubtedly be killed. Like I said, messed up.

Over all, it was enlightening experience if not particularly educational. Did I mention it was about 20F? Just how I like my North Korea.

_MG_3434 copy
_MG_3452 copy
_MG_3447 copy
_MG_3456 copy
_MG_3471 copy
North Korean soldier (freakin scary).
_MG_3487 copy
Blue buildings are UN sanctioned, part of the JSA. The small gray building to the right is the "North Korean Rec" Building, this building holds no gym equipment however.
_MG_3489 copy
_MG_3494 copy
Matt is proving to be a very good sport about having his photo taken...Jasmine surely warned him.
_MG_3498 copy
_MG_3503 copy
Helen rivals Jon in photographability.
_MG_3517 copy
Peace, nature and harmony is just a Stalinist dictatorship away.
_MG_3532 copy
_MG_3535 copy

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Room With A View

_MG_3429 copy
5am shot from my new apartment window. The mountains are one of the many reasons I love Seoul. I'm shamelessly lucky.


_MG_3413 copy
_MG_3404 copy
A good day for a walk along a frozen river.


_MG_3398 copy
I had an idea for taking photos of all of my friends against this white wall. Said wall is now covered with a Phish poster.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

EPIC Fail.

I realize, upon Mr. Jarmon's watchful eye and scrutiny, that its been a while since my last post. If I were a better, more dedicated photographer, I would have no excuse not to lug my 2lb camera around with me everywhere, but I'm not. I will admit, its been cold. I just checked the temperature - its 19F, that is -7C, folks.... Granted its midnight, but where I come from, that is unheard of. Until yesterday I have been layering under my fleece...but lucky for me, my mom sent my HUGE SubZero parka yesterday. I promise I will take a picture in it. I look like the Jet Puffed Marshmellow Man. Alas, I am tougher than I thought.

Korea is rather gung-ho on the Christmas deal, as in America, a consumer holiday. I don't see much in the way of churches putting up mangers, but they do have those annoying Salvation Army guys in all the subway stations. My kids have all seen A Christmas Carol and know the words to "Jingle Bells."

Photos will undoubtedly be posted in the next few days and weeks. This Saturday I am going to the DMZ (Demilitarized border of North Korea). Pretty pumped. In two weeks I am visiting my good dear friend David Marshall Stout in Vietnam for my winter vacation. Though I'm pretty sad about not being home for Christmas (it will be the first in as long as I can remember that someone in my family won't be there) and the NATIONAL FREAKING CHAMPIONSHIP ROSE BOWL GAME, being on some of the most beautiful islands in the world will help ease the pain.

Miss you all. Happiest of Holidays.