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:
After we got our tickets we had time to use up before getting on the bus. We headed towards an observatory deck.10 minute walk from Imjingak Station of Gyeongui Line (For an admission of Dorasan Station, tourists must pass through a separate procedure.)
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.
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.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".
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 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.