|The Third Tunnel - Courtesy of North Korea|
Traveling is a strange status symbol. If you ask the average college student what they want to do with their lives they will say, “Cure cancer via a liberal arts degree and travel.”
To me it equates to, “See me, seeing things.”
I hate traveling. It’s stressful and filled with turbulence. Literally. But I love my husband and he has to travel for his work—a lot. So . . . I travel . . . not as much as a lot, but once in a while.
His latest assignment has brought him to Korea and me too because I like him.
Korea is one of the three kingdoms; it’s China, Japan, and Korea. Folks in Korea will be the first to let you know that those other two kingdoms have been, on occasion, pains in their Korean backside, but still they are a unique, feisty, independent bunch, and it ain’t been easy.
Especially when half of the country is divided from the other half by a big hefty line called the demilitarized zone or DMZ or 38th parallel or Land of the Many Gift Shops.
A weekend trip to the DMZ left me having to process what I had seen for days. I have learned that North Korea is a mystery of totalitarian silence and myth. Who knows what’s really going on over there? It’s locked down like a teenager on lifetime restriction.
One of the tangible clues are the infiltration tunnels carved through solid granite, some big enough to drive jeeps through, heading from the communist north into the democratic south, built on the very ground that’s supposed to be off limits to all that sneaky monkey business. The North Koreans painted the walls of the tunnels with coal dust so they could claim that the tunnel wasn’t really a highway for invasion. It was really, really an abandoned coalmine. Oops. Our bad.
I know this because the South Koreans turned the “Third Tunnel” into a DISNEY RIDE. It’s true. I went on it. You put on a hard hat (blue) and you get on a rocket train (silver) and they roll you down into the tunnel (tight) where you then walk to the halfway point. Here you can look through a small window at the North Korean’s steel barrier which blocks off their half of the tunnel. I WENT ON A DMZ RIDE!
Our tour included an overlook where you can peek at North Korea and a train station to nowhere that the South Koreans have built, hoping one day to re-connect to their North Korean friends and family.
And at every stop on the tour there were GIFT SHOPS--also a memorial park, carnival rides for the kids, statuary, guides, buses, restrooms, fields of pinwheels, hikes, lectures, fountains, picnic areas, refreshments and GIFT SHOPS, many and much GIFT SHOPS.
I was boggled. I was so boggled I had to take a nap, but then I started to puzzle on it, and came to realize some important stuff.
The South Korean people face the confirmed possibility of nuclear catastrophe every day of their lives, living in the center of an unstable bull’s eye. Their beloved country remains slashed by division and uncertainty. They are at war, even now, as I type this.
Yet they continue to fight back. They continue to buy and sell and make and create. They continue to hope and wish and dream of something better. They go to church and worship, as they believe. And they fight back with GIFT SHOPS.
I don’t know when I’ve been so impressed with a group of people in my life and with their friends who stand on the line next to them, keeping watch in the night.
A lot of folks would be on their knees mewling about, bemoaning every day of their sad little lives and their tragic past and the tragic past of their daddy’s tragic past, and no doubt if you want to bad enough you’ll find that aspect of human nature here. But still.
They’ve turned bitter war and nuclear stalemate into a tourist attraction with gift shops! There were Three Musketeer’s bars and Pepsi and Kim Chi.
I bought a hat.
It was the least I could do.
Linda (Buy, Sell, Trade) Zern