Monday, January 9, 2012

Now I know my DMZ, won't you come and infiltrate me

I made the fun/harrowing excursion to the border between the Koreas the day before North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il died, and I can't help but feel somehow responsible.

This is a pretty popular tour (as popular as South Korean tourism gets, anyway) to see history in the making, and although it's usually pretty safe, it might be a little while before it's up and running again. South Korea's drafted 19-year-old soldiers have enough to worry about without being on the look-out for pesky, meddling tourists trying to take sneaky photos of the North Korean propaganda villages. (I'm just jealous because my own sneaky photos turned out so poor).

After visiting the Korean Demilitarized Zone (한반도 비무장지대) and getting an impressively unbiased overview of its 58-year history (and counting - probably for some considerable time to come), I can't say I was massively heartbroken to hear of the Great Leader's death. The last thing I'd want to do is incite all-out war and the annihilation of human civilisation, but you can't visit the DMZ without coming away with the distinct impression that North Korea's rulers and strategists have all the military skill and integrity of a seven-year-old child. Specifically, me.

Bridge of Freedom at Imjingak.
Oh... sorry

When I was seven, I did a bit of poo in my pants while showing off about my latest literary masterpiece to school chums in Mrs Jones' class. When Timkins asked what the unpleasant smell was, I had the genius idea of blaming it on the exercise book in which I'd written and illustrated Slippy the Snake Book 2 (or was it Book 3?), even going so far as to tarnish the reputation of the reputable and extremely reasonably priced Kings Stationers in Crewe's Victoria Centre by stating in no uncertain terms that all their products smelled like the faeces of a child whose primary nourishment consisted of cheap processed hot dogs and baked beans with a blue Calypso drink. How things have changed (I now prefer the orange Calypso).

The point I'm making is, North Korea's pathetic denial that it was responsible for digging several tunnels under the DMZ - that were discovered by South Korea in the 1970s and determined to be heading on direct course to Seoul - smacks of a seven-year-old in denial about his faecal crimes.

Once they realised the game was up, North Korea attempted to claim that the tunnels they had just remembered they'd ordered to be dug after all were for mining purposes only, and their final desperate act of spreading soot around the walls of the Third Tunnel during withdrawal would be like if I'd attempted to add credence to my Slippy the Snake/shit fable by surreptitiously obtaining some of the excrement from my pants and smearing it onto the book. You know, in case any sceptics demanded a smelling. I didn't do that though. It's just, the shop I bought it from, the books smell really bad there...

Korean Demilitarized Zone:
not actual size

Republic of Korea military personnel:
not actual proportions

North Korea's childishness didn't stop at refusing to admit culpability in the face of overwhelming evidence either. Their incandescence at South Korea erecting a national flag on its own side of the demarcation line (how dare they!) and subsequent drive to build a ridiculously tall flag on their side (the tallest in the world for some time) is like a jealous high school girl trying to upstage her more attractive rival by turning up to prom night in a really slutty dress, culminating in a cat fight and some precarious tearing of material... hang on, I might have strayed from the point slightly there.

Then you have the propaganda villages on the North Korean side that are just for show, built at a time when North Korean kids were still starving to death in their multitudes and human meat was reportedly being sold in the streets. It's like a guy buying a fake Rolex who delights in telling you it's fake, revealing a winning personality of shallowness and thriftiness. I was considering visiting North Korea last summer - even if that was still a realistic possibility in the current climate, the knowledge that I'd be paying for some of Kim Jong-un's imported whores would spoil the holiday somewhat. My money won't go where it's desperately needed.

The highly controversial and original point I'm making is that North Korea's rulers are dicks. Tune in next week when I reveal that Adolf Hitler was horrible and that soil should not form part of a balanced diet. And for more adventures from Slippy: The Snake Who Smells Like Shit.

Dorasan Station

This desolate train station represents an (as it turned out) over-optimistic vision of a unified Korean Peninsula, and is now only useful as a place where short-sighted tourists can pick up a novelty North Korea passport stamp and look forward to a delightful ordeal the next time they pass through United States immigration.



  1. I was once told a story about the North Korean side of the border: basically every guard has another guard not too far behind him, ready to shoot if he decides to make a run to the south. Is this true?

  2. I don't know about that, but they're obsessive about scrutiny (probably on both sides).

    My tour guide (South Korean obviously, but careful to stay neutral even when poked for more details) pointed out that the North Korean side of the border has no trees, as they like to have a clear line of sight for defectors. The north side also has lots of propaganda buildings that no one lives in, because that's intimidating or something.

    I didn't see any North Koreans.