The DMZ

How North Korea was displayed on Google Maps.

How North Korea was displayed on Google Maps.

Tuesday, 11 December, 2012

Seoul, South Korea

December, snowy weather, and being woken up at an ungodly hour can only mean one thing! Well, actually, as it goes, it can mean two. Either, your mate from the North Pole has dropped by, or you’re going to the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to watch soldiers do nothing – honestly, they move less than Vladimir Lenin.

Unless you have been living under a rock your whole life, you will know that Korea is divided into two sections – North and South.

Since their separation in 1945, the North has been cut off from the rest of the planet. Therefore, those that reside there know nothing more than the poverty and oppression their ‘beloved’ leader will allow them to see. The South, on the other hand, has developed primary industries such as steel and automobile manufacturing, enabling an extremely healthy economic growth.

I predict that in five years the South Koreans will have mirrors on their phones that can brush their hair and apply makeup. While the reflection on every mirror within the North will simply be Kim Jong-un’s silly, smiley face. I’m going to read this piece back in 2017, and if I’m right, I will give myself a tenner.

The tour was fascinating, particular wandering down sloped access shafts and seeing the secret tunnels the North Koreans moulded as invasion attempts – the South has discovered, and countered, four since the country’s split.

You know when you get a new puppy that just chews the crap out of everything, and your reaction is a frustrated shake of the head, along with the words, “Oh, bloody hell, Buster! Can I not even just put my feet up and read the newspaper for two minutes without you trying to tear a hole in my slippers?!” – Well, yeah, I assume that’s pretty close to a South Korean soldier’s reaction when they are informed about another tunnel.

The Third Tunnel of Aggression, as it’s known, is the most interesting of the four, getting the closest to the South – only found due to the notification of a North Korean defector. The tunnel is just a 265 metre walk underground for tourists. That said, it was pretty steep going down, and quite a challenge on the legs going back up – if you’re going to pig out over Christmas, this tour is probably a better answer than a January workout DVD.

The trip really made me analyse my life – the country in which I currently reside is potentially one decent tunnel away from attack. I’m not really concerned from a personal point of view – I’ve never lost a playground scrap – but I’ve made some good friends over here, I wouldn’t be able to protect everyone.

The tour also included a visit to the most optimistic train station in the world, Dorasan. This building is essentially a symbol of hope, representing the notion that the Korean people will one day be able to travel from the North to the South, and vice versa, in total harmony.

Dorasan Station is also the place we saw the soldiers previously referenced, who were essentially just picture ornaments. They didn’t once change their facial expression, not even to blink. I couldn’t help but think that this kind of discipline offers so many future options. For instance, these guys would get a hat full of money as a street performer, and they’d be very difficult to beat in most card games, too.

While the station currently merely exhibits a dream, I really liked its spirit – could you imagine if England was divided in such a way? The people of the south would probably never get to experience mushy peas on their chips or a pint of beer at a reasonable price again. I have friends that live in the south and I wouldn’t wish that on any of them!

dmz

While North Korea is deemed the far more bizarre of the two countries, and rightfully so, – among other things, they kidnapped a famous South Korean movie director, Shin Sang-ok, along with his wife, Choi Eun-Hee, and forced them to make films in the North; how insane is that?! – the South, in itself, is not completely short of weird.

On Friday, I had to teach a class about ‘fan death’. Before I get into how ludicrous the lesson material actually was, I will explain the various theories behind the electric fan being the deadliest murder weapon in South Korea.

Many people in this country believe that if you leave the doors in your room closed and your electric fan running through the night, the breeze generated will kill you. There are various theories as to why this will end your life; hyperthermia and the high levels of carbon dioxide are front runners.

Though, the passage that I had to teach (which was presented as factual by the way), was that the cause of death is suffocation – the person sleeping can only use the oxygen trapped within the closed room. Therefore, die due to a lack of fresh air.

It’s never really been completely confirmed as to where this peculiar misconception generated from, but it’s a legend that is taken very seriously over here. My students were certainly fully aware of ‘fan death’ anyway, happily sharing a few of their own horror stories. Here’s a quick counter argument for this absurd theory though, well, if one is even required, why has it never affected anybody in the world outside of Korea?

“Bob, did you bring the frigging guns? We can’t rob a bank without guns!”
“Never doubt me, mate. They were selling a couple of electric fans for half price in town! Forget the guns, Billy, we’ll just plug in the fans and they’ll crap themselves.”
Billy completely forgot about Bob’s summer trip to Korea, didn’t ask any questions, and instead just called to have him sectioned; concluding this short story of the Thornton brothers.

Due to the ridiculousness of this week’s unit, we finished all the textbook work within fifteen minutes – I simply felt it was too stupid to design an entire lesson plan around.

I instead spent the remaining thirty-five minutes of class time teaching them various British phrases – the only problem is, now whenever a kid gives a wrong answer, a fellow classmate will often ask, “Does that make him a plonker, Teacher?” And I reply, “No, it doesn’t. Believing that a turned-on fan can suffocate you, that students, is what makes one a plonker.”

In other news, I will be spending my New Year in Osaka, Japan, with a bunch of other expat plonkers – I look forward to that trip greatly.

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