Tuesday, February 2, 2010

DMZ: Imjingak Park

As you know after I had lunch with JH's family I was told we were going to a park. It turned out to be Imjingak park which is a space directly near the DMZ. As I figured this out a grave feeling came over me. For in all my 1.5 years living in Korea I never considered visiting the DMZ.

It is not like I have overlooked the existence of it or disregard it's history is that I never really understood why people would want to go visit a place that represents so much horror and political strife. To me it seems surreal to treat a war-torn location as an amusement park. Yet, this is exactly, to some degree, how Imjinpark turned out to feel. In retrospect I am on the belief now that the park is more of a memorial with the goal of making peaceful thoughts in the minds of its visitors.

These days, it is possible to the vicinity of the DMZ. The DMZ reminds visitors of the tragedy of war, and causes them to talk about peace.

To add on to my surprise that I was going to visit the DMZ (we bought bus tickets for the tour that took us places very close to the DMZ) it was also a knock on the head that I was going to do it with JH's family.

I figured, however, to take this opportunity to share something special with JH and his family. When we arrived the winter air was cool and misty. We bought our bus tickets then took a tour around the facilities at the park. 
That picture of the ticket sign was taken after I came out of the bathroom. While I was in there JH's family bought tickets. It turns out, now that I have read the website, that foreigners needed to present their passports and make reservations in advance to take the bus tour. Somehow they managed to get past that and I got a ticket anyways.  However maybe we just took the "Lite" version of the choices of tours.

Because we drove there I want to post how one could get here by train. So just follow these directions:
10 minute walk from Imjingak Station of Gyeongui Line (For an admission of Dorasan Station, tourists must pass through a separate procedure.)
After we got our tickets we had time to use up before getting on the bus. We headed towards an observatory deck.
Below are the hand prints of Korean celebrities who I believe helped with the commemoration of this site. They were found along the walkway.
We walked up and up to the top where the observatory was.
At this point you can look out across the park and the Imjin river where you can also see the Freedom Bridge. 
The only bridge crossing Imjin River, and also the only one bridge connected between South and North Korea. The history says Since about 13,000 war captives crossed this bridge crying Hurrah for freedom, which gave bridge its name, "the bridge of freedom".
 Looking across the bridge you see the North Korean mountains near Kaesong. As I stood upon this platform and looked out into the distance I couldn't help but ponder about the people living beyond those hillsides.  "What were they doing?" "Were they suffering?" My thoughts seemed so useless considering that most people in North Korea are starving and probably freezing, while I stood there with my belly full of eel.

Yet the other visitors around me seemed nonchalant about this particular view. Maybe though the feeling was also a little solemn as they looked out through the binoculars.
JH shared with me information about the scenery and I talked to him about how it felt strange to be on this side of the border with all our privileges. He just seemed to laugh this off, which was the same response when I mentioned this feeling to his family. I thought it odd they would laugh when I was feeling concerned for the well being of the North Koreans. But I think they were just having a cultural moment of the "westerner" being odd. Yet it made me really want to know what was a South Korean's view of the state of North Koreans. Why did they visit the DMZ? To remember the tragedy? To believe that peace is possible? I couldn't help but wonder about all this as we made our way off the observatory deck.

That is a view of the Observatory building, which by the way had a Popeyes fastfood restaurant inside it, yet seemed like it was closed for Sunday.
JH liked the "J" in Imjingak so we got ourselves some snapshots.
We moved out to the memorial part of the park where several monuments were in place to commemorate both Korean and overseas soldiers who died and gave their service during the Korean War.

Within a circular area surrounded by flags from various nations (I suspect the nations that helped out..?) was a monument specifically for the US soldiers.
I found this to be very endearing and significant, since well because I'm American. But also because the park gave commemoration to many countries who lost their patriots to the war.
If you go back and read up on you DMZ history you will know that America played a very big role in creating it and also helping Korea defend itself from the North. 
Nearby the monuments was a little souvineer shop selling trinkets and of all things North Korean money and beer.
Going past this area one comes to the amusement park with typical carnival rides. We chuckled a little about how strange it was to have this nearby but we both remarked on how the park must be boring for kids.
Certainly it was an interesting contrast to see the colorful sites as opposed to the gray and serious colors coming from the monuments. In this sense color at this park denoted what was serious and what was playful.
Thrown together amusements parks, like this one, always seem to have a throwback style. The site seemed so vintage and quaint, which made it altogether more surreal.

 We came upon these contraptions that were meant to be used to view a little animation. What you see are binoculars you would put your face up to and speakers that would cup around your ears. These things certainly looked like a device from the past before one could carry cell phones around with video capabilities. I told JH how these are practically antiques and that I bet could be sold for a good sum on the American market. He laughed at this too! 
I was tempted to try one out but as I started to put a coin in the machine JH said, "No!" "They are just for show."
This ends the first part of my DMZ postings. In my next post I will show you the sites we saw on our bus tour. All in all, the experience was enlightening and spooky. 


  1. "I never really understood why people would want to go visit a place that represents so much horror and political strife."

    To SEE history.

    It's one thing to read about it and another to see the physical thing that represents what you've read about in the history books. Obviously, the 2nd thing leaves a greater impact.

    Using your logic, there's no point in having a 911 Memorial either.

  2. Hmmmm....I think the concept of "memorial" is respectfully understood in this post, it's the dichotomy of having an "amusement" section to this serious memorial park that strikes the note of discord in this post...the kiddie tank rider thing sums that up!
    What are they teaching kids by that? That riding on a tank (death machine) is a "fun" thing to do?!! Killing is fun?

    'observation' deck (would be preferred English) rather than observatory in this sense.

    Also....'foreign' military rather than 'overseas' military.

  3. S = Please understand I was just expressing my relationship with visiting the DMZ. By no account to I believe they shouldn't build a memorial for the World Trade Towers in NY. My thoughts were on how one approaches a memorial and whether they are hesitant. I am all for building memorials and now have gotten over my FEAR of visiting them.

    Hopefully you understand that.

  4. Thanks Mom ...you got it! hehe and sorry for those grammar mishaps

  5. Joy:

    I think the power and sober awe related to the DMZ is that it is an active war zone for one of the longest unresolved wars in history. It doesn't represent anything--it IS the site. Furthermore, you don't get the full effect of it from the cutsey-ified propoganda of the site you went to (it's a site designed to basically make South Koreans feel better about the DMZ, not to actually educate anyone).

    Take the time to take the real tour that walks you through panmunjeom (the Joint Security Area), the third tunnel, and other parts of the ironically-titled DMZ and see if you aren't moved and a little bit scared. BTW, parts of these areas are restricted for South Korean citizens (since it is an ongoing war zone), so if you want to see everything, go on a tour with non-Koreans that restricts their access.

    BTW, for most backpackers through Korea, the DMZ is the number one tourist destination. There really is no other site like it in the world. Your failure to appreciate this strikes me as a need to educate yourself better, not simply an issue of preferences.

  6. Diana ~ I did see the 3rd tunnel and other sites on my bus tour. I just haven't written about it yet. At the end of this post I mentioned this was a 2 part series and the rest is coming. Sorry you didn't see that.

    After I saw the 3rd tunnel and other sites my attitude definitely changed. I realized the significance of the memorial and why people visit it.

    In the future I might take a tour with non-Koreans. thanks for the suggestion

  7. I'm glad seeing them moved you and I look forward to that post.

    My brother and dad took the USO tour recently and even got their passports stamped into DPRK at the train station. Incredibly jealous? Yes, I was.


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