3 May 2013
We were the only bus on the long dusty road. After leaving the Reunification Highway and making our way down the more local roads, the drive started to feel rather long. We could feel that dead silence as we approached Panmunjeom.
This feels like the Cold War.
The small village of Panmunjeom unfortunately lies at the battle front of the Korean War. A tense atmosphere always linger around the area prompting Bill Clinton to call it “the scariest place on earth” in 1993.
We were asked to turn off our camera and devices as we inched our way into the area that divides the North from the South. The 4-km strip of land that separates the two appear to be tranquil not he surface but it won’t take long for things to take a bad turn. Land mines, barbed wires and stations scatter along the line- always on careful watch.
The Kingdom of Korea is now cut into two ( thank you foreigners for meddling once again in someone else’s affairs).
The DMZ guides showed us around and gave us a brief history lesson on the separation and the main function of the DMZ.
“Welcome to Seoul” HAHA (not surprised though)
We were very close to the South Korean border. Pyongyang and Seoul are not very far apart if you look at the maps and since we are in Panmunjeom, it is even closer.
According to Google maps, Panmunjeom to Seoul is only 50.7 km
We entered the hall where the truce was signed in 1953.
Although truce was signed in 1953, peace was never agreed to. From an official point of view, North and South are still currently at war with each other.
No direct gun shots or bombs being dropped….no crossing the border, just soldiers from both sides staring and giving each other the look.
It’s a psychological battle.
To lighten up the mood a bit, we went to a Royal Tomb before heading back to Pyongyang.
For our last afternoon in North Korea, our tour guides loaded us with Juche- the official political ideology of North Korea.
Mr Ren took us to the base of Juche Tower and said, “Self-reliance is important for an individual and even more so for a nation.”
“An individual is the master of his or her destiny and we are all responsible for our own revolution and construction,” added Ms Zhao.
Kim Il-Sung developed this ideology which became the government’s justification for all policy making and decisions.
One of the reason why Western Media has been somewhat creative in their reporting is the very mysterious nature of the country. The Kims are seen as gods, Juche and their own -isms are more like a religion and such Juche in politics, diplomacy, economy and defence makes the country even more isolated and thus, misunderstood.
There are criticism of this ideology however for the government, they see the Juche as having great international influences.
The Tower of the Juche Idea, situated on the eastern bank of the River Taedong is directly opposite of Kim Il-sung Square. 170-m tall with a 20-m high metal torch, the elevator all the way up to the viewing platform offer a wide view of Pyongyang.
Right by Juche Tower is the three idealised figures each holding a tool – a hammer (the worker); a sickle (the peasant)and a writing brush (the “working intellectual”). Many locals stroll along the bank of the river reading their newspaper / Kimilsungism books whilst watching the sunset in the Capital.
One final group photo. It has been a great trip- nice to discover this mysterious country with 11 other likeminded people and 2 lovely tour guides. Although there are more places that I want to see, it was not bad for the first trip.
Finally, a slice of ham in my hamburger – one last patriotic song, one last propaganda video and one last read of the Pyongyang Times. Goodbye.
I’ll be back- mwahahahaha!