The traditional view of the DMZ.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

After watching a documentary about one of the saddest, strangest, most heart-wrenching stories I’ve ever heard, I was compelled to finally update my blog with what we’ve been doing and where we’ve been going these last couple months.  I’ll start with the DMZ, an important part of said documentary.

The movie Crossing the Line was about James Dresnok, a U.S. soldier who defected to North Korea in the sixties.  Yes, defected to North Korea.  I’d never heard of him or the story of the handful of soldiers like him either.  It told of his awful childhood, his entry into the military, his miraculous survival despite many brushes with death, and his eventual life in the North.  Weird, and every word a thesaurus would pop out to go with it, pretty much describes it.

This story would have barely caught my attention had I heard of it when it appeared on 60 Minutes in 2007.  But living where I do now and being educated from a first-person perspective, I naturally just had to see it and recommend that everyone else do the same.  I think you can find it on Youtube.

Oddly, it’s narrated by Christian Slater.  I wondered the thought process in choosing a former heartthrob who now gives the same pinched someone-peed-in-my-Cheerios delivery (as Steve says) to voice such an incredible tale.  But that’s neither here nor there.

Back to the demilitarized zone.  Seeing that it behooves English teachers that work in South Korea to visit the DMZ at some point during their stay, Steve and I went there a few weeks ago.  It’s been called one of the scariest places on Earth, and I can see why.  Not in the same imminent danger sort of way you feel when you experience something that makes your heart race out of your chest.  It’s not like that.  In fact, it’s rather quiet and even a bit cheesy with its gift shop of North Korean souvenirs.  But I’ll get to that.  The scary part is the idea of what it stands for.  That at any moment the Korean war could be set right back into motion.  That there are thousands of men who go to work everyday to stare at each other from their respective sides ready for just that.

I wouldn’t call a tour of the DMZ a fun time.  It’s a 9-hour day filled with bus stops, one minute for pictures here, two minutes for pictures there, and various other annoying tourists.  But it is historical and educational.  The weirdest part for me was seeing the same view that every journalist captures of the exact line between the two sides brought to life (see above).  It didn’t seem real.  Were those 20 cameras on top of that building really all working?  Did those two guards over there really have devices that magnify the sound of our conversations?  Did that guy with the binoculars really wish he could just blow us all up?  It couldn’t be.

I wondered what would happen if we all flash-mobbed into spontaneous line dance.  Would they really pick us off one by one?  But I’m not the kind to start wars, so I just left it as a thought in my head.  Unless they had mind-reading devices over there, too.  Then I guess I’m screwed.  At any rate, like the bazillion other tourists that have been there, I can technically say that I stepped inside North Korea for 5 minutes.  And then I went to the gift shop.

So yes, they do sell souvenirs in the scariest place on Earth.  It’s all the obligatory keychains and alcohol and “I came to the DMZ and all I got with this lousy t-shirt” type stuff.  After the seriousness of the day and being reminded that there are active land mines on the property, it was comforting to end on a positive note.  Even the stoic guards who saluted the bus on the way out made the typical Korean happy hands and heart symbols with their arms as we looked back.

But those guards had to wake up the next morning and do the whole scene all over again.  Just like they’ve been doing for the last 50-some years.  Just like they will do for who knows how many more.  Will it stop in my lifetime?  Possibly.  Will it be in my time living here?  Doubtful.  Whatever happens, I’ll always hope for a peaceful resolution for the country I’ve come to love so much.