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Summer 2004

 

Fire!

July 2004
On the Thursday before I was to fly to Japan to take my GRE and GMAT tests, I looked out the window of my classroom, and this is what I saw...
This fire apparently started on the fifth floor, but by the time the firefighters got the big equipment rolled out that you can see in this picture, the seventh and eighth floors had flames gushing out the windows. (The gushing flames ended just before I got my camera unlimbered, sigh.)
The fire went on from mid-afternoon until nine or ten o'clock in the evening. No one was hurt.

Quick Trip to Osaka, Japan

The last weekend of July I traveled to Japan to take the GRE and the GMAT tests. This is a street in downtown Osaka, where I took the tests.
To my eyes Korea and Japan are becoming more similar. Both are prosperous nations peopled with East Asian people. The streets are clean, and have comparable auto congestion. But there are differences. This is what I saw based on my limited exploring. (I had only a half day, and it was too hot to enjoy being outside, day or night.)
  • The Japanese use a lot more bicycles than the Koreans -- bicycles were everywhere I looked.
  • The Japanese alphabet used for signage looks like "hen scratchings" to me compared to the Korean Hangul alphabet which I can now sound out.
  • The Japanese restaurants I visited had English language menus, but they were stowed away... the waiters had to do a lot of searching to find them. The American fast food chains have not penetrated into the Japanese market as deeply as in Korea -- I only found a Mac Donald's as a familiar fast food restaurant.

 

   

 

North Kyonggi Province Tour

July 2004
   
In late June I had a chance to spend a day touring sites in northern Kyonggi province. This was an unusual opportunity because this area is close to the DMZ, and has been historically off-limits to casual civilian tourism. But, times are changing, and I'm taking advantage of those changes. This is a shot of "Propaganda Village" on the North Korean side of the JSA area around Panmunjom. But, I get ahead of myself....
The first stop on the tour was the tomb of King Gyeongsun. This was the last king of the Shilla dynasty. The Shilla dynasty was replaced by the Koreo dynasty. King Gyeongsun abdicated, and in reward was given a Koreo wife and allowed to die peacefully. But being part of the old regime, he was still "suspect", so he was buried here, in the middle of nowhere between the old capital of Kyongju and the new capital of Keasong, and forgotten as quickly as was decently possible by the Koreo culture. He was rediscovered when the Koreo dynasty was replaced by the Lee dynasty, and it was once again "OK" to be the last Shilla king.
The second stop on the tour was much more modern. This is a recreation of some North Korean commandos infiltrating the DMZ fence. They headed south from here, intent on assassinating the Korean general who was heading the government at the time. They got close, only 2KM away, before they were discovered.
This incident was a "9-11" for those in charge of the DMZ. After the incident they realized that the primary purpose of the fence had changed from anti-combat to anti-infiltration. There was a major upgrade to the quality of the fence.
Our guide and one of my fellow tourists discuss the weaknesses of the old style security fence. The fence was easily cut, and easily mended, so the infiltrators snuck through and left no trace of their passing.
Here I'm checking out the new style fence. It's much sturdier, and designed to be bolt-cutter resistant.
This area used to be the edge of the DMZ, but some time after the armistice, the line was adjusted a couple kilometers north. So, while this looks like the edge of the DMZ, it is not.
We get to the real edge on our next stop....

 

The next stop was an observation post (OP) on the edge of the DMZ itself. From here we could see the first discovered of the now famous infiltration tunnels dug under the DMZ by the North Koreans.
My earlier impression of the tunnels was that they were big, and went deep into South Korea. (I got this impression from exhibits I had seen on earlier visits to Panmunjom)
The reality is that they are small and only go under the DMZ proper, not into South Korea. Their main use was to help inflitrators sneak underground across the DMZ. Using these tunnels they could avoid mine fields and being seen.
This soldier gave us a nice briefing, and after the briefing we could look over the DMZ from the porch behind us. There we could see two of the tunnels.
I'd have shots for you but <sigh> the "no photography here" rule raises it's ugly head.
Finally, we got to the JSA and the peace talk buildings. This, historically, has been the only place tourists could visit in the North Kyonggi area.
Those buildings sit on the border with North Korea.
This is inside the building. This table is on the border.
This is one of our protectors when we go in the blue buildings.
As I like to put it, he takes "grim pills" before he comes to work each morning.

... but then again, maybe taking grim pills isn't that bad an idea.
This is a picture of a North Korea solider.... huh! The sneaky fellow, he snuck behind me!!
OK... here he is. This is the second highlight of the Panmunjom tour, spotting North Korean soldiers. After your first visit to the area, soldier spotting feels a lot like birdwatching.
The shot of propaganda village again, as we leave...
... and finally, a shot of our tour arranger "giving her all" for the tour. Our tour arranger is the one in shorts. She's in the shorts because the lady next to her was wearing them, and the soldiers would not let her into the JSA area wearing shorts. It's a Mickey Mouse dress code thing, but it's part of the eerie feeling you get when you visit Panmunjom for the first time.
The eerie part is: You know that Panmunjom is a propaganda show, but who's the show for? No North Korean sees us adhering to a silly dress code, so who are we dressing for?
That's the end of the North Kygonggi province tour. It was a fun tour, and I learned a lot.
--Roger
   

 

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