The Korean Demilitarized Zone
Jay, Chewy and I met up early the next morning to checkout the Korean Demilitarized Zone, located a short bus ride from Seoul. Either I didn't pay attention in my world history classes in high school or the curriculum didn't cover the Korean War in depth. The tour of the third tunnel and the Dora Observatory was really interesting and informative (you can actually see Pyongyang through the binoculars). We need to change up our history lessons to incorporate more of the interesting tidbits and less of the endless names and dates because the tour was fascinating, like a History Channel program.
The wikipedia entry on the Korean DMZ includes much of the data thrown at me on the tour, such as the existence of villages within the zone, North Korea's Propaganda Village, and the Incursion Tunnels. No point in me repeating the facts so I'll just extend on some of the things not covered.
For example, the village, Daeseong-dong, was repopulated out of necessity. After the war, South Korea couldn't let such arable farmland lay fallow. So to entice citizens to live there and farm the landmine-filled land, they cleared the farmland as best they could and exempted them from taxation (and conscription, just found this out through the wiki).
The most fascinating portion of the trip was the history of the incursion tunnels, especially the third one which we got to visit. At some point a year or two before they found the tunnel, a defector who had intimate knowledge of the tunnels (think he was an engineer) informed the South Koreans of its location. In response, the South Koreans dug a number of holes and filled them with water. While on patrol, a South Korean soldier noticed water spilling out of one particular hole and informed the higher-ups. The cause of the water spilling out? Dynamite activity below ground nearby. To locate the exact location of the tunnel they dug more holes in the surrounding area and filled them with water. When one of the holes kept leaking water they dug an interceptor tunnel to infiltrate it. When the North Koreans heard the drilling, they painted the walls black with coal during their retreat.
When confronted with the findings, the North Koreans first denied the existence, then pinned the blame on the South Koreans stating that they were responsible for the tunnel and finally tried to pass it off as a coal mining tunnel. The South Koreans disproved it by pointing out that 1) there was no coal in the area (aside from the paint), 2) the fact that the tunnel sloped down towards the north (to prevent water from stagnating, which meant the North Koreans were digging South and up), and 3) all the dynamite holes point south. When you bore a hole and shove dynamite in it, it will blow out the end and leave the opening intact, this proved that the tunnel was being dug towards the south.
Following the DMZ tour, the lot of us along with an Australian we met on the tour walked over to Namdaemun Market from our drop off location (passing the scaffolding covered Namdaemun on the way). There I experienced another nasty side of Korea. A bunch of us were standing by an old lady selling vegetables in the middle of the street waiting for Jay to finish looking at some sunglasses. The reason we chose to stand by her was so that we wouldn't impede on the traffic flow. Chewy whipped out his camcorder and started taping the street when all of a sudden the old lady went hostile yelling and waving at us. When we wouldn't budge she took her umbrella and started poking me and Chewy with it, then she finally opened up the umbrella and swiped at Chewy's camcorder. 1) Incredibly rude, 2) We were OBVIOUSLY not filming her, why would we? 3) This shit would've never happened in Japan.
Food Alley @ Namdaemun Market
After that fiasco we walked further into the market to food alley and ate at a noodle shop pictured in this photo of Jay and the owner. We walked up the stairs to the top floor and though the restaurant looked ghetto, we were riding on the fact that all food produced in ghetto joints are usually better than the food in classy joints. That's why I'm big on street food in Asia. Anyway, when we were ordering, we had some issues communicating, especially since Jay couldn't understand that there was no chopchae (see the upcoming Busan post) available, yet he insisted on ordering it. After a few exchanges Chewy and I heard the waitress say something in Mandarin, we looked at each other and started cracking up. The waitress was Chinese afterall so we spent the rest of our time ordering in Mandarin. The food was great, just as advertised; apparently the restaurant was so good that it made it onto TV, later on we realized that basically everyone in Korea has been on TV once before, so common. When we left, the owner was so thrilled that we insisted on taking photos with her that she gave each of us a bag full of meat buns. What a deal! Myong Dong was our next stop but there wasn't much to the area. The most interesting thing I saw was a metal Adidas bench outside the Adidas store.
Rest of the Evening
The rest of the night is pretty hazy. Chewy and I chilled outside a bakery near Myong Dong waiting for Jay to get back from his date. The funniest part of the day was when Chewy started cracking up out of nowhere. Turns out three girls had just walked by and the uhm, largest one out of the three slowed her pace and craned her neck back towards the bakery to get a better look at the food on sale. The image in my mind still cracks me up to this day.
On the way to the subway, we passed by the Seoul Animation Center so we stopped to take the obligatory 'creative' photos with the statues outside. I think dinner that night was in an area called Chungmuro, can't remember what we ate except the place had a really nice courtyard. Afterward, we walked by the main gate of the Gyeongbok Palace which was under renovation. It had this crazy light display on its scaffolding, pretty creative and cool. We capped off the night with some drinks at an awesome jazz club in the northern section of Seoul. It took forever to get home though because cabs SUCK in Seoul. Getting out of a bar, lounge or club in the morning hours? Good luck finding a ride. Cabs will go around finding fares they deem worthy of the drive. So if you aren't going some place far enough for them to make some serious cash, or if they just don't like going to your area, start walking.
Additional photos of South Korea