Beyond the DMZ… to Kaesong

Last weekend, Jen and I ventured into the mysterious North once again. Last time, we went to the east coast to 금강산 (Geumgangsan, or Geumgang Mountain) for an overnight stay (and part 2). This was back in November, but recently, two and a half weeks ago, a South Korean tourist was shot and killed while on the tour because she left the designated tourist area.

The BBC and the NY Times, among others, have stories about it.

Not surprisingly, it is difficult to verify any details coming out of the North, but regardless of how truthful any of the accounts are, the fact remains that a tourist was shot and killed.

So, it was after a significant amount of discussion and some trepidation, that we decided to stay the course and go through with our second journey beyond the DMZ.

Our first trip to 금강산 was mostly a hiking trip. It was absolutely gorgeous, but we were VERY limited in what we were able to see. The tourist zone was also located in the middle of nowhere. It was very isolated. However, the trip to 개성시 (Kaesong-si) was a trip into the very heart of a living and breathing North Korean city.

Again, most of the time, we were not allowed to take photos, and when we were allowed to walk into the streets, we were limited to about a hundred meter strip. Despite these still stifling restrictions, we were exposed to much more than our mountain hiking trip.  Before exploring the city and some of the cultural aspects within though, we took some time to explore more of the natural beauty of the Korean peninsula and to visit a remote temple in the mountains.

Here’s Kelly and Jen at 박연폭포 (Bakyeon Pokpo – Pokpo
means waterfall).  It had been raining steadily for the past
week so the waterfall was full and beautiful. Check out the
Olsons’ trip for how it looks without a week’s worth of
rainfall to fuel it.

There were inscriptions in the huge rocks and cliff faces
everywhere we turned.  Although we weren’t able to read
the inscriptions, we’ve been told that these many inscriptions
are rife with propaganda about the glorious “Dear Leader.

Caption contest!!  Leave a comment with your thoughts!

A view from the top of Bakyeon Falls.

More Inscriptions – giant carvings in the mountain face
opposite to us.

At the end of our little hike, we arrived at a small temple
where there was a tiny grotto, holding a religious idol.

There was fresh mountain water flowing along all parts of
the trail.  Next to the temple, several stone basins were
constructed to collect the fresh water, which are said to
possess healing powers.

Although the past week had been very rainy, we were fortunate in that the rain subsided once we had arrived and we were able to walk the trails without getting drenched.  The fog and mist lingered though and it was somehow appropriate as we wandered about in one of the most reclusive states, constantly shrouded in mystery.  Politics aside though, this was certainly a beautiful place.  It’s difficult to reconcile the idea of a relaxing and peaceful hike to a temple hidden among the mountains, with the state within which it is situated, one that has so often been portrayed as a threat to the world.  But there you have it.

On a more personal note, I was actually just talking to one of my co-teachers today about my trip and we had a really interesting conversation.  Western media so often portrays Kim Jong-Il as very controlling, ruling over the nation with a heavy hand.  I’ve never thought how it could be any other way, and yet, my co-teacher told me that many Koreans see him as a weak man.  He does not possess the same strength as his father and he does not, in fact, control the nation as much as we all might think.  She told me that he does not control the military and that he wants to be more open, but that the military does not want to anything to change.  Although the South Koreans likely know little more about the shooting in Geumgangsan than the west, she said it wouldn’t be out of the question that this is an incident where the military might be acting against Kim Jong-Il.  Interesting indeed…

At any rate, I’ll post more about Kaesong itself soon.


~ by dawseng on July 30, 2008.

5 Responses to “Beyond the DMZ… to Kaesong”

  1. Caption contest!!

    There. Up there! That’s is where the Guru who told me the ‘meaning of life’.

  2. There. I shall go there to build my home and live on ginsing roots and papaya leaves for the rest of my days. It shall be there.

    Come, Jen, we go.

  3. Caption contest!

    “Hey… I see KIM?”

  4. Hehe… I was totally waving to the Kimster. He was planting the ginseng and papaya, and telling my new Guru neighbour to prepare for my arrival. He’s such a gracious host!!

  5. […] parts of the tour that held more significance than it did to us. We visited a temple (which we hiked to earlier in the day), the Pyochungbi Monument, the Seonjukgyo Bridge, and the Goryeo […]

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