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  The Chatter Box : Travel
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North Korea by ayatollah on 10 August 2004 9:39pm
My first post got lost I guess. Here is another attempt. In 'Full Circle' a visit is made to the Southern part of the Demilitarized Zone. I've written this piece after I visited the DMZ in North Korea.


The bus ride from Kaesong to Panjumon is is a full hour drive on a badly maintained road. We stop after half an hour of driving to pick up a retired colonel from the Revolutionary Peoples Army. He's willing to show us around the Demilitarized Zone for a package of cigarettes and a bottle of whisky.

Before we are allowed to visit the DMZ we have to make a visit to, what is known in North-Korea as one of the foulest crimes of the South Korean puppet regime. A 240 km long concrete wall, dividing Korea into two nations like a Berlin wall. The wall cannot be seen from the ROK itself because the South Koreans (read the American imperialists) have covered it with grass and trees on their side. The North Korean side apparently shows the existence of a 20 feet tall wall. Well, if the weather permits it. When we arrive at the military building to take a look through the binoculars provided by the RPA our colonel makes deep apologies. The weather doesn't permit us to look any further than 100 meters. But, he assures us that 3 kilometers behind the clouds of fog, the wall can be seen. Of course we can't visit it, because the wall is technically in South Korea. A few of us take a peek through the binoculars. Nothing can be seen accept white fog.

No problem in North Korea. Inside the building behind us our colonel shows us a video on the course of the Korean war and a painting of the concrete wall. Apparently nobody has been able to take a picture of it up close or by using a satellite. One would think that a 240 km concrete wall doesn't go unnoticed. The video, like all information about the Korean war in North Korea, is pompous and elaborates on the heroic conducts of the RPA. At the end of the film we're asked whether we understand the magnitude of this vicious crime. Of course the South Koreans can't really be blamed. The US imperialists occupy their country and their puppet regime doesn't have the backbone to stand up to them.

Back in the bus we receive the final briefing from our guides. No pictures in the DMZ without asking permission or the film will be taken out, all of us will be transported back to Pyongyang and the wrath of Kim will come down on us and our families. We stuff our camera's back in our bags. When we arrive at the DMZ we have to form a line in order to pass the military check point. There are but a few achievements more difficult than having a group of Dutch people form a line. After a few attempts the colonel gives up on us and threatens to take us back to Pyongyang. It sort of helps and we pass the checkpoint in a somewhat uneasy and organised manner.

Our bus is inspected by two soldiers and when it passes the checkpoint we'll have to board it again. After a one minute drive the bus halts in front of a small building and we're directed inside. It houses the model made of the area. According to North Korean tradition we are first told that the model had been a gift from some military department and that it had been build voluntary by soldiers in their free time. They had built it in less than a month. After these vital statistics we receive the date when the Great Late Leader Kim Il Sung paid this building a visit.

Above the model against the wall is a huge map of the Korean peninsula. The DMZ is clearly marked. Our colonel explains the course of the Korean war and ends his talk by showing us on the map that the RPA had conquered Korea as far as below Seoul. That's where he leaves us to ponder on how on earth the DMZ is over a 150 km up north at the 38th parallel instead of way below Seoul. We have a closer look at the model and wonder if the concrete wall can be seen on it. Instead of pointing the possible position out to us our guide stresses once again the sickening crime of it all and concludes with the “ok, let us go”.

After this short history lesson our guides bring us to the building where the armistice talks were held. Again, this building was build voluntarily by members of the RPA as a way of expressing their joy and gratefulness towards the Great Leader and it had been build in less than three months. Expressing gratitude and building huge structures is a very popular combination in North Korea. At least we get the liberty to take as many pictures as we like in this room.

Our next stop in the DMZ is the barrack where the truce was actually signed in 1953. The colonel almost melts with anger when he shows us the UN flag on one of the two signing tables. The book on top of the table is a copy of the armistice treaty. According to him this was another cowardly and hideous attempt by the American imperialists to deny their scandalous defeat. Instead of acknowledging that they had lost the war, they had sent in the UN to sign the truce, pretending that the UN had fought the war. In reality the US army, backed up by 15 satellite states, had fought the war. (By the way, this barrack which is the largest we entered in the DMZ was voluntarily build by RPA soldiers in less than two weeks! Oh, and Kim had visited it somewhere in the late '50s).

Our final stop in the DMZ is the actual border with South Korea. Three blue barracks stand in front of us and we are allowed to go inside the middle one. This barrack is still used for negotiation talks between the two states. Even though the door towards South Korea has no handle it is guarded by two soldiers. The microphones on the negotiation table in the middle mark the border inside the barrack. Much to our surprise we are quite free to take pictures in this building and even outside of the soldiers guarding the space between the barracks. They probably have to prevent us from running into South Korea or doing other stupid things. Looking at the painted flags in the middle barrack I can only conclude that in 1950 the coalition of the willing bore more reliable names than nowadays.

The visit to the 'concrete wall' and the DMZ lasts the whole morning. Our guides cannot stress enough that this is not a propaganda visit, but part of telling their side of the story. It just happens to be that their version is right. So they say. But that's just a coincidence.
Re: North Korea by George on 10 August 2004 10:52pm
Sounds like you had a very interesting experience. Your conclusions about the Korean War are exactly what would be expected after a visit with a North Korean colonel. The N. Korean view of history is... well, different. There are numerous websites devoted to leader Kim Jong-Il's silly notions. The situation would be funny if he didn't keep his poeple in poverty & threaten to blow up the world.
Re: North Korea by ayatollah on 11 August 2004 9:24am
Hi George,

The problem is that North Korea doesn't threaten to blow up the world as such. It's a black hole on the map and hardly any information comes out of the country. When it does, it comes as a missile that lands somewhere behind Japan. The silence they uphold about everything is creepy.

It would have been funny indeed if the population wasn't starving. Something the Koreans didn't want us to see of course when we were there. On the other hand, during our stay they never denied they have a food problem. In fact some guides and officials acknowledged that everybody lives on food rations and that most of the harvest fails each year. Some even wanted immediate reforms of the economy to prevent more disasters.

However, that doesn't stop them from worshipping Kim. He is their hero. They believe the South Koreans are suffering a faith worse than their own. At least the North is free in their eyes. The South Koreans are regarded to live under the constant repression and terror of the Americans. If you don't allow any information in the country other than state approved messages it's not that difficult to manipulate people on such a wide scale. That terrified me the most. For instance, people knew that Greece had won the European Championship footbal, but they didn't know Sadam had been arrested months ago.

Yet, when touring the country under constant supervision of two guides and a driver, it's hard not to fall into laughter. Especially when guides are attempting to explain away 'problems'. But I get into the same instant laughing hysteria when I hear Americans speak of 'challenges' and 'opportunities' when they're dealing with problems. It all depends of course on your point of view.

What's definitly not funny is the use of children in North Korea for propaganda reasons. When I visited a musical in Pyongyang I couldn't stop making a link between what I saw on the stage and nazi Germany. Fascisme. That probably describes the situation in North Korea.

I'm glad I've been able to visit the country, but unlike other destinations I wouldn't recommend it. It may be a visit you should make after you've been to other countries.
Re: North Korea by Godfather on 11 August 2004 11:22am
Interesting. I must admit that North Korea is not somewhere i'd want to go to. Does'nt appeal at all. But from an educational point of view in itself,i'm sure it's interesting. Your travels remind me of a program shown here in the UK not long ago. It too revealed the freaky side of N-Korea. A monuments where visitors would go, in which a professional announcer had a job to make it all sound so harrowing that she had to make the audience cry within a certain time frame. The way the kids were being brainwashed early on in schools with a certain version of history in which "they" are always the victim of evil United States etc etc.

The worst part of the program was where they managed to secretly interview some people who had escaped to South Korea. Ex military staff etc. Some talked of witnessing live human chemical experiments by military in the North,similar to Dr Mengale of the Nazis. One woman told how she saw women prisoners given a meal of cabbage loaded with deadly poision. They all scoffed it down unawares. She said within a few seconds the prisoners all began vomiting black blood and their insides literally melted in agony. They all died. Horrific stuff. She said how there were official observers who watched all this taking place from the rooftop greenhouse type viewing area. Again,these were people who had escaped to the south. So such reports always have to be taken with 50/50 because you never known people's intentions. But the emotion they were showing as they expressed this,made it look real enough.

Re: North Korea by PHILSON on 11 August 2004 7:19pm
I have to agree its an interesting story/experience, though also have no desire to visit N. Korea. In fact the closest I have been, and will ever want to get to North Korea is when I had a 6 hour stopover in Seoul a couple of years ago.

These 'commie' countries are a bit strange and can imagine as well as the whole of the Russian Union, Vietnam was possibly a little like this 10-15 years ago in some ways.

I exeperienced a bit of this hatred towards 'the American infidels/criminals' when in Cuba last year. You have to be a little careful with your opinions out there. Some people, mainly the students can be open with their discontent with their goverment and the countries policies, though be prepared to get your 'head chewed off' if trying to ask difficult questions/expressing your views to any type of official including a coach tour guide.
Re: North Korea by George on 12 August 2004 3:02am
Hi back Ayatollah,

Well, what I meant by "blow up the world" is mutally assured thermo-nuclear destruction. Whether or not Kim actually possesses weapons-grade plutonium or the missle technology to deliver them on our soil is debatable. However, what is not debatable is his hatred of all things American, his lack of respect for human life, and his 'wacko' ideas about western culture.
Re: North Korea by Gavinbryanjohn on 25 August 2004 10:34pm
I dont see why u guys are so worried about Kimmy. He has no tactical possibility to attack the States nor does he have the guts to do anything against NATO and NORAD. MAD is totally unprovable. Mutally Assured Destruction was only between the Soviets and the States in the cold war only becuase both of them could reach each other. I am more concerned about American Agression around the world and the fact that they have more nukes than anyone and an Idiot in charge of there country. North Korea is near the top of my list of places to go. If we are all afraid of these "Mean and Scary Commies" then we will never realize the true country and people in it. Sure NK has made huge mistakes and there leader is kinda crazy but to say that he hates all things american is wrong. He is a huge fan of American Films and Movies. And mabye the fact taht the US has trade sanctions on his country would make him mad. If the States put trade sanctions on me I would kinda feel resentment towards "Americans". Us as a Western Culture should not be run by fear and anger towards countries worse of than us. We need to be open and willing to accept and help change these countries for the better
Re: North Korea by Godfather on 26 August 2004 2:26am

>>but to say that he hates all things american is wrong. He is a huge fan of American Films and Movies.

Well Saddam Hussein also had a fondness for British Gentleman tweed jackets, hats,and shotguns.

>>>We need to be open and willing to accept and help change these countries for the better

Are you aware that schoolchidren in North Korea are systematically programmed from a young age to view the west as just a corrupting and evil force? You cannot reason with such a systematic programming because they are not willing to portray the west in any good light. So how can anyone from the outside ever convince that new generation of kids otherwise?. Their country is closed off to outside influence,and they dont want their citizens to know any different.
Re: North Korea by Gavinbryanjohn on 26 August 2004 6:43pm
>>> Are you aware that schoolchidren in North Korea are systematically programmed from a young age to view the west as just a corrupting and evil force?<<<

Are you aware that in the US the "Culture of fear" as Moore put it is not as openly but jsut as destructivly systimatically programing our culture to fear Muslims because they are terrorists and fear the blacks because they cause crimes. When was the last time that u ever saw an Islamic man in the middle east on TSN being portrayed as a really nice guy jsut trying to free his homeland. The Islamic movements around the world are often portrayed as terrorists and evil. Just as we viewed Communism. We as North Americans need to be aware that the same kind of Programing and Propiganda is going on in our own culture. I am not saying that Bush or Martin are as evil as Kimmy becuase Kimmy is one troubled individual and his country is suffering because of it. I just think that you need to look at your own country and see its flaws before you judge others.

P.S Bush has also has a fondness for Iraqi oil :)
Re: North Korea by George on 26 August 2004 10:43pm
Prejudice has always fascinated me. As an American from a large city, I am not particularly welcome in many rural parts of the country because there is an underlying assumption I am trying to spread the drug culture or "heathen" religion. I have German relatives who don't like Jews or Poles and Brit relatives who don't like Germans. My Jewish friends really don't trust anyone except others Jews. Prejudice is not a conspiracy, it's human nature. But, my point is, how do you act on your prejudices?

Kim Il-Son believes, or at least says, his father won WW2 by destroying the American army. Warped?? His stated objective is to rid Asia of all evil American influence by any means necessary. Several other countries would too, but they don't run their governments in complete secrecy, like he does.
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