The Day I Crossed Into North Korea

Contrary to the title of this post let me make a disclaimer: no, I have not defected to North Korea; however, I did have the privilege to step a few feet into North Korean territory (while escorted by the toughest looking South Korean/U.N soldiers you’ve ever seen in your entire life) during my trip to the DMZ. For those of you who are unaware, the DMZ stands for the “Demilitarized Zone,” which serves as a no-arms 4 km wide territory that just so happens to be the border between the Republic of Korea (aka ROK/South Korea) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (aka DPRK/ North Korea). The trip started with the touring of excavated tunnels North Koreans dug under the DMZ going into South Korea under the ruse of being a “coal mining shaft” (in reality, they were built for impending NK  invasion plans, which were foiled upon their discovery in 1974). The trip 300 meters underground (which could be accessed via a trolley system or walking down a very steep ramp) was certainly not for the claustrophobic. The other major component was traveling to the JSA, the area within the DMZ known as the Joint Security Area (specifically “Panmunjom” –a complex of U.N and North Korean buildings that overlap the technical boundary of each country, also the location of the infamous Panmunjom Axe Murders in 1976). The shuttle ride between each area was surprisingly the only “nerve racking” component of the trip; perhaps it was due to the “WARNING: ACTIVE MINEFIELD” posts that outlined the wooded areas to each side of the road we were driving on? Panmunjom itself seemed more of a ghost town–one that had North Korean guards on the opposite side of the border, glaring at you through ridiculously large binoculars. We were escorted by our UN/ROK guards into a UN-controlled building that historically housed [failed] South-North Korean reunification efforts/peace negotiations. Then came my venture into the communist North–simply by standing on the far side of the building, I had entered the land of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Un (some buildings exist on each side of the border, this is how I technically entered North Korea). Of course, relaying this experience to my mother (via Skype) earned me a scolding, but who at New Paltz can say they have been to North Korea? At least one person can now.

Pictured: (Top Left) Yours Truly accompanied by a ROK solider during my “border crossing”;  (Top Right) Panmunjom, blue buildings are controlled by UN, building in the center is the North Korean headquarters of Panmunjom; (Middle Left) UN Guest Badge, sadly I was unable to sneak away with it as a souvenir (I was NOT going to go against the UN soldiers who looked like they could snap my neck with one taekwondo kick); (Middle Right) UN Consent Form, essentially a contract stating that I was aware that I could be kidnapped or killed by NK soldiers at any time and my family could not sue the UN over my death, fun times right?; (Bottom Left) DMZ Sign, self-explanatory; (Bottom Right) Wall of Well-Wishes,  a series of ribbons with notes from separated family members on SK side, peace advocates, war veterans, etc.

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