As if a trip to North Korea wasn’t surreal enough, a standard part of every respectable “revolutionary tour” of the DPRK includes a trip down the so-called Reunification Highway for a quick visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). This very fact was all the more unreal to me, having had the chance to see the same heavily fortified DMZ, albeit from another side, some 4 years back from the south. It deeply intrigued me then. Said to be one of the most dangerous borders in the world, I saw it then as a gateway into a hermit-like nation that few people knew much about aside from its notorious reputation. Now that I was in the country with the notorious reputation, the trip down the DMZ now kind of became like a sort of irony. Instead of the DMZ serving as a gateway to the unknown, it now became that small hole into the so-called free world that I’ve been living in all my life. It was hard to believe that only some 100 kilometers away from that point where people worshipped Kim Jong Il even in his death, the streets of Gangnam in Seoul would be buzzing with Psy lookalikes and well-heeled South Koreans with the latest gadgets from Samsung.
Here’s looking at you, kid!
Rather than spend my time listening intently to the soldier talking about another one of Kim Il Sung’s heroic exploits, I spent my time making several feeble attempts at getting reception while at the DMZ (there is no roaming service at all in North Korea, and forget about the internet). And suprisingly, I did manage to get it… for a split second! So anyway, back I went to listening about the Korean War. I couldn’t help but notice how different some parts of it were to the version I heard during the DMZ Tour from the South, where an American soldier was giving an account of the same war. In the North Korean version of the story, it was the US-backed south that triggered the war by attacking first, while the western version involved Kim Il Sung making a first and bold move to recapture the entire peninsula by launching an attack. So what really happened? It’s anyone’s guess. But 60 years later, the war officially hasn’t ended yet. Only a truce was signed in 1953 and tensions have been on and off since then.