Category Archives: Historical

Of Barbed Wire and Hope

Only a short distance outside the greater Seoul area, as you head toward the DMZ, barbed wire fences and security watchtowers appear every several hundred meters. As you continue down the highway, eventually you reach a security checkpoint, marking the furthest northern point you can go without clearance. The young looking soldier boards the bus, fully armed, checking the identification of all the passengers.

Within the area near the DMZ are a number of infrastructure projects undertaken over the last several years. A recently completed train station, along the rail line that will soon connect to North Korea (whether anyone will transit along it is another question), stands ready, glistening, with armed guards nearby. A four lane tunnel will allow motorists to drive at least near the border, if not over it. In the meantime, guard checkpoints and heavy objects block or slow down access along these paths.

Nearby lies one of the four tunnels dug by North Korean soldiers, in an attempt to infiltrate the South. Discovered in 1978, the Third Tunnel, which allows access to within three hundred meters of the North Korean border, runs for nearly 2 kilometers and was intended to extend for an approximately 8 additional kilometers, well beyond the DMZ. Today, after about three hundred meters underground, it lies sealed with several meters of concrete, a large water container, and a floor filled with mines.

A few kilometers from the Third Tunnel, within the Joint Seceurity Area (JSA), is Panmunjom. The JSA, one of the most sensitive areas within the DMZ, allows close contact with the North Korean soldiers. As we stood watching, across the line a North Korean soldier monitored our movements with binoculars as we entered and left the conference room where many discussions take place. Within the center building of Conference Row, too, there is an opportunity to briefly cross over to the North Korean side of the DMZ. Further down from Conference Row are two security checkpoints and the Bridge of No Return, scene of a brutal axe murder incident when the JSA forces attempted to improve viewing of the bridge by trimming a poplar tree. This led to a redesign of the area, including extending the actual DMZ throughout the entire Panmunjom area.

The entire area presents a scene of untenable calm, a sense that the situation as it stands cannot exist indefinitely. However it ends, though, the South Korean people I’ve met, from our tour guide to those on the street remain optimistic and hopeful that the country can be reunited soon. One woman said she hoped maybe within five to ten years it would happen, and while I would be as happy as anyone to see that wish come true, after standing on the edge, I would be very surprised as well.

Korea – Day 1

Late yesterday night, I arrived in Seoul, where I will be spending one half my week before finishing up in Japan. After completing two relatively quiet flights, the final Narita to Incheon segment was delayed for nearly three hours. Tired and jetlagged, the ground crew boarded the plane, with no air conditioning, as the flight crew nearly timed out. Had they not done so, our flight would have been cancelled until morning, leaving us in Japan. The issues were resolved, and we finally took off, arriving just before midnight in Korea. Many thanks to Jud, who provided a ride to the airport (with an unproductive stop at the Bridgewater Commons’ Verizon Wireless store).

However, arriving at midnight presents its own problems. The airport, about an hour from downtown Seoul, is only serviced by mass transit until around 11 PM. Since we didn’t land, let alone clear Immigration and Customs until after midnight, the only option left was an expensive (> $60) taxi ride. Northwest, though, provided shuttle buses, with a passive driver who didn’t announce any stops. So, at 1 a.m., exhausted and alone in a strange city where I didn’t speak the language, I found myself utterly lost on a bus going somewhere, but where that is I had no idea. The help of some polite passengers led me to get off at Seoul Station, and I was able to find a taxi to deliver me to my hotel.

Exhausted, sleep came quickly, but not before I made several failed attempts at dialing the US to indicate I’d arrived safely. Thankfully, while international dialing wasn’t working, I was able to use the free Internet access to IM a friend (Thanks, Ram!) to call home to let them know all is well.

With the adventure of merely arriving in Seoul over, I spent Monday wandering about the city. The city feels as though it is a cross between Hong Kong and Tokyo, a mixture of influence of both the Chinese and Japanese cultures, yet distinctly its own. A sense of optimism pervades Seoul, with a sense of both asserting their independence from U.S. policy while also remaining open to outside influence. I heard a distinct emphasis from one younger student about how Korea is modernizing, how these were our myths, but we don’t believe them anymore. How we used to use a fascinating under-heating system to keep the houses warm, but that many new houses use a central heating system. Concern around North korea exists from both a humanitarian and a security stance. But there is hope that the situation will improve and that reunification with occur within the not-too-distant time frame.

Tomorrow, I’ll be heading to the DMZ to see the border up close. The experience, I have been told, can be frightening.

Boredom

It used to not be this way. I used to be able to entertain myself for hours on end, reading, writing, fiddling with the computer, biking, driving, shooting basketball or pool. Tonight I find myself annoyed and confused, watching the clock tick away the minutes. With the packing done, there’s nothing to do now but wait.

Can You Hear Me Now?

One of the downsides of all this advanced communications technology (i.e. e-mail, instant messaging, cell phones) is that it creates an expectation of immediacy. The basic reason of being inaccessible no longer seems as valid when it’s nearly impossible to ignore all the devices. One of the only reasons there’s no response is that the responder just hasn’t felt the need to respond yet. This creates a kind of guilt on the part of the responder, whether or not the lag time is valid.

Insomnia

During the day, while the sun shines, my eyelids droop. At my desk, I am seized by yawns and slowly nod off. Sound becomes distant, echoing.

As dark falls, the yawns die down. Energy returns. When it is time to sleep, I toss and turn. I wake, look at the clock, and sigh. The hours pass. Slowly.

Welcome to insomnia.

Oh, Japan…

I’m really quite excited for the upcoming trip to Japan and Seoul. The DMZ tour sounds fascinating from everything I’ve read, and the idea of relaxing in a hot springs resort and catching a concert and some cosplay has me on edge with anticipation. Throw in my first flights ever in international Business Class, and May 29th can’t come fast enough.

Oh, can someone give ma ride to the airport on Saturday?

San Fran Last Weekend

I had a great time last weekend visiting Austin and Mark in San Francisco. Despite the fact that they remained home to stay with Buffy, their new dog, I found myself once again reminded of why I love the city so much. The cultural mix combined with the attitudes of the inhabitants is a great mix. It’s nice to see people that actually appear to care for a change. Plus, the weather is a bit easier to live with.

Sunday was the last day of the 2004 Sakura Festival in Japantown. Me being me, I was there, watching the Grand Parade, enjoying green tea ice cream (much, much better than the first time I tried it…I wonder why), and taking photos of the cosplayers. While I haven’t reviewed them yet, I’ll be posting them within the next week.

Changing Your Mind…

Changing your mind? Just another Democrat “flip-flopper”. An Iraqi veterna from the National Guard was to give the Democrats’ Saturday Morning radio address on his critique and experiences in Iraq. According to the NY Times, the Republican’s response is to circulate a CBS report from October 2003 where the same soldier indicates that vast potential exists for improvements in the lives of Iraqis.

Sure, that may be all well and good. But the last six to seven months have brought about huge changes as views have hardened and violence has escalated. I would not be surprised to find that many people in Iraq may have changed their minds about whether we should be there over the last few months, especially considering the opportunities that have been squandered so far by the Bushies.