Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Korea Conference Day 1 - Demilitarized Zone

Regular followers of this blog are no doubt thinking, "What's up with this? Loring goes to a conference and all we get is lousy kim chee videos and a JPEG of a front-page. Where's the detailed coverage? And what's with this crazy J.G. Ballard and Black Lips stuff?" Well, organizing all my videos and photos is a massive task, particularly with the laptop still under repair. And giving a data dump on the entire conference without a few short subjects to break it up would have been a bit stiff. Anyway...

We took a bus to the DMZ Thursday morning, guided by photographer and author Lee Si-Woo. It was a sunny, cool spring day, with a fairly good view across the Han River at the Ohdusan Unification Observatory. It was also the day North Korea expelled IAEA nuclear inspectors from North Korea, which may have helped explain the news media presence.

Lee has spent time in jail for refusing to give up photos that the South Korean government deemed a national-security violation, a case he eventually won. He also has fought to win the right to sail small boats up the Han and Imjin rivers, directly into the border zone. He explained about the model villages the North Korean government maintains directly across the river, a favorite gawking spot for the many tourists. We were surprised to discover that the more public observation spots on the southern side of the DMZ have been taking on a Disney quality in recent years, with plenty of tourist attractions. The "bridge to nowhere" where prisoners were exchanged even had waist-size dolls of North and South Korean soldiers (I'm posing at a soldier-doll with Todd Ensign, director of Citizen Soldier).

We were allowed to take our group inside the Civilian Control Line, where few tourists or even South Korean residents get to visit. A restaurant in the village within the CCL made everyone a meal prepared almost solely from food grown within the DMZ, including homemade tofu. Delicious.

After lunch, we visited a close-in observatory where we could see a maquiladora created by South Korean companies within North Korean territory, a fairly large North Korean city, and the competing massive flags of North and South Korea on either side of a UN observation post.

On the way back to Seoul, we stopped at a village where several residents have become amputees due to US land mines, and talked to one double-leg-amputee victim who is getting international help to bring suit for compensation. The US use of land mines around the DMZ is more dense than any other US use of mines by a factor of ten, and is much denser than the North Korean mine fields.

The day ended with a song and exercise session back at Seoul International Women's Plaza, led by Sung-Yong Park, Yumi Kikuchi, and Dopehead Zo.

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