Tag Archives: POW

Crossing the Border: Our Tour of the DMZ & JSA

You often hear news of foreigners being imprisoned by North Korea. But did you know there’s a place where you can safely cross the border? (Mostly safely.) I’ll get to that later.

After months of living in Seoul, I finally got to visit the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) and JSA (Joint Security Area) in Panmunjom. I shouldn’t be surprised that Koreans have made the DMZ a tourist attraction, but it’s still amusing to me that they allow steady streams of tourists into such a highly sensitive and politically charged area. In fact, our tour guide noted that, despite its name, the DMZ is the most militarized area in the country.

We booked a full-day tour that took us to the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel, the Dora Observatory, the Dorasan Station, the Freedom Bridge, the JSA and famous MAC Conference Room, and the Bridge of No Return. (Will had already been to the DMZ, but he hadn’t done the full tour, so some of this was new to him, too.) Here’s our spiffy tour bus.

Tour bus FTW!

The DMZ is only about an hour away from Seoul. At a certain point during the drive up, I started noticing barbed wire fencing and guard posts along the Hangang (Han) River. If you look across the river, you can see the mountains in North Korea, which our tour guide said are bare because they still use wood for a lot of construction. She also said they believe the dark green patches are places where the North Koreans are hiding weapons.

Barbed wire fencing and guard houses along the Han River

First views of North Korea

Another guard house Continue reading Crossing the Border: Our Tour of the DMZ & JSA

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If old prison walls could talk

This might seem like a morbid post for some of you, but I was intrigued by the Seodaemun Prison History Hall and the stories those walls had to tell. I don’t believe I’ve ever visited a former prison, and definitely not one that housed prisoners of war.

Seodaemun Prison is located at Seodaemun Independence Park in Seoul. It was built in 1908 and used during the colonial period of Japanese occupation to house Korean independence activists. (After the colonial period ended in 1945, it was used by the South Korean government until 1987.) I shouldn’t say “house,” since many of them were brutally tortured and then executed. The prison was built to accommodate about 500 people, but eventually housed more than 3,000 prisoners simultaneously at the height of protests. They were cramped, their cells had no heating in the winter and no cooling in the summer. They ate small rations of rice and were forced to work long days on the complex building bricks and military uniforms.

The prison is now a museum and a self-guided tour takes you through most of the buildings. You can step into regular cells and isolation cells. You can see the basement where the Japanese interrogated and tortured prisoners upon arrival (life-like scenes are recreated in case you can’t picture the torture clearly enough in your mind), including the various torture devices used. You can also visit the lepers’ building, the outdoor exercise facility and the execution building. Continue reading If old prison walls could talk