How can it be? How can it be a YoYo.... anything Adventure if a yoyo isn't thrown? Well, sometimes it isn't the time, or the place. On this adventure we visited THAT place, at THAT time.
Today, Nov 13 2017, news broke of a North Korean soldier was shot by his former comrades while defecting to South Korea
The soldier is reported to have left the North Korean guard post in front of Panmungak, on the border inside Joint Security Area (JSA) on the heavily-guarded border between the two countries and proceeded to move towards Freedom House on the South Korean side.
This is where our adventure took place.... less than 10 days ago.
North Korea is now off limits to US citizens. Visitors from other nations can access it via China and we know a number of people who have visited in the last 2 years. None of them recommended going. Since the capture and ultimate death US tourist Otto Warmbier its something we wouldn't consider doing.... but there is another way to visit.
Its safe they say. Organized tours leave Seoul daily shuttling camera toting tourists to the DMZ (demilitarized zone). This area is 6km back from where the battle line was when a ceasefire on the Korean Peninsula was called in 1953. Roughly following the 38th parallel, the DMZ stretches almost 150-mile-long.
Located within the territory is the “truce village” of P’anmunjom here North Korean and American soldiers stand face to face. This is part of the Joint Security Area (JSA) which is used by the two Koreas for diplomatic engagements and, until March 1991, was also the site of military negotiations between North Korea and the United Nations Command (UNC). Now its is used for posturing. Loud speakers blare propaganda, both directions.
While the military stands face to face, guns ready. So do tourists. From the South and North.
Its a bizarre scenario. The North Koreans don't get the opportunity to come down to the actual border, instead watching from a building (with a door locked from the outside) preventing anyone from defecting. From the south visitors get to enter the negotiation halls and literally step into North Korea, albeit briefly.
As with all travel, the understanding gained from an experience IS the reason why. Here we balanced the risk of visiting the front line of a technical war zone with the opportunity to share the feelings on the ground. While we felt safe every moment we knew events like this shooting do occur and that this was NOT the place to start busting out yoyo tricks.
While the American media portraits an imminent conflict, in South Korea life goes on. The have lived in the spectre of conflict since the ceasefire in 1953 and its no use hiding. It is not part of daily conversation or news cycle. North Korea has never changed its tactics. Brinksmanship or the 'chicken game' is a way of life. South Korean have shown a lot of compassion to the north. previous periods of the 'sunshine policy' offering aid and attempting to support joint trade initiatives may be dulled by current international sanctions but there is evidence along the DMZ a unified Korea is desired. Rail bridges, point of entry bus and rail terminals all modern and constructed in the past decade, exist ready for reunification. While 2.5million land mines will ensure that it is not an easy process, many hope for this day to come soon.
While our visit was brief, it was certainly memorable and while not significant on a geo-political scale we hope we have shared some insight into one of the most tense situations on the planet right now.