Visiting the world’s most heavily fortified border: The DMZ

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Further in the distance, the Imjingak Railroad Bridge ran across the river, connecting to its greenish mountains which flaunt its beauty.

“Is that really North Korea?”

I signed to my Deaf Korean friend. “Yes, if we go any further, we would see North Korea right up close,” he said.  We were standing on the observation pavilion in Imjingak. The greenish mountains that surround North Korea seems beautiful; However, what lies ahead, I could feel an eerily darkness – as if you walk further and further, disappear into darkness and would never be able to return. Mixed feelings ran through me – I was in awe how close we are to North Korea, yet so far.

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The DMZ is where the heavily fortified border separates the two countries of the Korean Peninsula since the end of the Korean War in the 1950-1953. The border between North and South Korea is known as the most heavily militarized in the world. Technically, it said that both are still at war since 1950-1953, the war did not ended in a peace treaty but in an armed truce.  Both North and South Korean soldiers were patrolling everyday for any imminent conflicts.

Despite the dangerous zone and imminent risks, this place was intriguing. I missed visiting the DMZ when I first visited South Korea last summer, and fortunately, I had a chance to visit this time.

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A photo of JSA

However, to my disappointment, a tour to further places (such as the JSA) were all closed due to MERS, a recent outbreak in South Korea. Therefore, my friends and I were not able to see the border up close nor go other nearby attractions.

“Is it really closed? They said that?” I asked my friend. He nodded and jokingly asked, “why do you want to go much closer? “

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I wanted to see the North Korean, South Korean soldiers and the conference room. I wanted to see what is it like in North Korea – although I know I’ll never understand what it is like to be in their shoes. However, North Koreans live in the world where they assumed it’s normal, so I cannot judge, because that’s how they were raised. If they were raised like that and were living in a world where it shuts out the rest of the world, what do you expect?

Call me crazy, but I do want to visit North Korea one day.

It would be an eye-opening experience, to take a peak into their world – the world that lives in a shell. A world where many talks about. I want to see for myself and be more knowledgable about it and life in general, such as feeling appreicated for what I have. I thought it would be impossible to visit North Korea, until I recently came  across one travel blogger who went to North Korea  with a tour group for an entire week.

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I was lost in thoughts as my eyes wandered  at North Korea. Then my friend explained that tourists aren’t allowed to visit on their own to the border and must be guided – for obvious reasons.

“Have you ever been there with the guide then?” I asked him. He shook his head and explained

how Deaf people can’t join the guided tour.

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He explained that they do not provide interpreters for the Deafs. He and other Deaf Koreans were disappointed that they weren’t able to explore beyond this point, at Imjingak. He was hoping that in the future, all the Deaf Koreans will form into a large group and be provided an interpreter to explore their history, especially their history with North Korea.

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Eventually, it wasn’t until when I returned home to California. I was told by Korean-Americans friends that they have booked with a tour and informed them that they’re Deaf. Unfortunately, the tour company canceled on them. One of my Korean-American friend also mentioned that her Deaf Korean friend said it was possible, but it takes determination to find a tour company that would be willing to let Deaf people participate. Therefore, Deaf people have to try several different tour companies until they find one.

Can you imagine how frustrating  it can be when you aren’t allowed?

 

General tips:

  • Check what the weather would be like and wear apporiate clothing
  • It is recommended to book a tour, always plan ahead
  • Find out which attractions you’ll be most interested (JSA, tunnel, etc)
  • Bring your passport, just in case of any imminent tension or danger

Deaf tips:

  • Don’t give up, keep on trying finding one tour company that would accommodate with you
  • Try to request for interpreter ahead of time if possible
  • Otherwise, tag along with a Deaf Korean friend and let your friend explains the history

What do you think about my experience at DMZ? 

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