After four days straight of volunteering, we had a much needed day off. However, “no rest for the weary,” as we boarded a tour bus at 9:00 a.m. and headed to the DMZ, which is about a 45-minute drive from our “resort” (look for a blog on the so-called “resort” in the future). We came prepared to show our passports but our tour guide Jessica needed only a list of names and date of birth. No photos were allowed as we passed through the military gates, a rule we weren’t told until the soldier had boarded our bus and heard a camera click. The person taking the picture (cough, Jana) was simply asked to delete it.
First stop was the DMZ Museum where we took a tour of the darkened archives featuring border warning signs, landmines, photographs and other documents. Then we moved on to the Unification Observatory –a “look out” building and deck from where you can see the North Korean border. My imagined caption for the photo of the small mountains in the distance jutting out from the sea is, of course: “I can see North Korea from where I’m standing.”
The landscape at the “look out” was anachronistically beautiful: the mountainous border, small snow-topped mounds ringing the seashore, and pristine emerald green ocean water. The only reminder that we were just south of an oppressive Communist nation was the barbed-wire fencing that hugs the shoreline. (In fact, we drove along much of the East Sea (the Japanese call it the Japan Sea) and most of it was lined with barbed-wire except for intentional breaks).
Lunch was at a small coastal town at an authentic sit-on-the-floor seafood restaurant. The meal included rockfish soup (our table’s was extra spicy), fried mackerel, white rice, of course, and sides of potatoes, seaweed and kimchi. Some of our male students had a bit of a struggle sitting on the floor at the table as many couldn’t stretch their legs or get quite comfortable (and others coped by assuming a kneeled style of seating). Not all of the students seem to be enjoying Korean cuisine while others are taking on the culinary challenge. In fact, some even tried the “street fare” of steam silkworms at the DMZ Observatory. I took a pass on that one.
By Gina Daddario, Professor and Chair of Mass Communication, Posting from Sokcho, Korea