“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” 

Charles Dickens’ opening line in his book: The Tale of Two Cities reminds me of the DMZ in Korea – it is a point in history, a point of contradictions, a point of turmoil, a point of distrust, a point where the two countries sit eyeball to eyeball waiting for the other to blink. Even after 63 years since the Armistice was signed, the country considers it is “still at war”. The socialist North pities the capitalist South regarding it is  a puppet of imperialist powers. The reverse is also true: the prosperous South pities its Northern sibling for its years of struggle and achieving little. I wonder who languishes in the “winter of despair” while the other basks in the “spring of hope”. DMZ brings you the closest to the “two countries; two systems” parable.

 Visiting the DMZ from the North was surprisingly a touristy experience, not in the least “a risk to my life” at the most world’s most dangerous border, as the warnings go. The soldiers were lax, leisurely, completely at ease; almost sloppy. They took us through the staged monologue of how the country was divided up, escorted us to the North Korean Peace Museum where the famed Armistice Treaty was signed in 1953 and then led us to the Joint Security Area which looks over into South Korea.

While the soldier who was our escort was keen to know my nationality and requested another young girl in the group to be placed next to him for picture taking, the South side was probably busy briefing their group as they signed a document that states: “The visit to the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom will entail entry into a hostile area and possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action.”

Waving to the tourists is permitted from North Korea side but strictly prohibited from the South Korea side. I did wave and received a wave back from a brave dissenter, who was met with a sharp clap from the South Korean soldier. It felt funny being a loosely organised group on the North side while the group on the other side had a strict protocol with regards to the kind of attire to be worn, standing in two rows, not waving or pointing and many other expectations.

As we left the DMZ laughing gregariously, that was probably the only thing which must have echoed across the demarcation line. As for the smoldering guns, I think the world needs a bit of drama once in a while and the two sides put up quite a show.

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The North Korea Peace Museum is where the Korean War Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953 between General Nam Il of North Korea and General William Harrison Jr. of the United Nations Command in the village of Panmunjeom.

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The original UN flag during the signing of Armistice Agreement

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Blue houses are manned by South Korean soldiers and the silver one on the left and 3 more on the right (not in the picture) are manned by North Korea.

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Very rarely are tourist groups seen on both sides simultaneously. I dared to wave and received a wave in return to my delight. Probably caused a mini diplomatic row.

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Mother Mountain – a mountain in the distance that seems like a pregnant woman lying down. It is believed, one day she would give birth to a brave son who will carry forward the Joseon dynasty. The Japanese believing in the superstition have inserted many splinters like acupuncture pins in the mountain, which remain till today.

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The Arch of Reunification sculpture located along the road to DMZ. The North Koreans still believe in “One Korea”, as seen in the globe the two women are holding. It was opened in August 2001 to commemorate Korean reunification proposals put forward by the President Kim Il Sung

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