Sunday in Korea

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

Sunday morning we opted to hang out at the hotel so that the boys could finally try out the pool. The hotel pool is in the middle of a huge and beautiful gym — the biggest gym in Asia, I was told. The boys liked the pool but were less than thrilled that they had to wear swim caps. I didn’t blame them. These caps were stretchy cloth, and looked exactly like men’s underwear minus the leg holes. I was delighted that there was internet poolside and got in a little blogging–finding writing time was a big challenge on the trip, for some reason! 🙂

The rest of the day was spent with friends of our who we’d met when they visited the U.S. 9 years earlier. Soon Ja and her husband have two daughters who are sophomores in college. The family arrived at the hotel in two cars, Soon Ja driving one car and her husband driving the other, so as to fit all 8 of us. The day’s plans included visiting the Korean Demilitarized Zone, visiting their home, and eating dinner with them.

The drive to the DMZ took a little more than an hour. I rode with Soon Ja, who speaks very little English, and her daughter So Hyun who speaks English haltingly, but understands fairly well. We all had to work to understand each other, but I think we did pretty well and enjoyed the visiting.

Imjingak was the DMZ area where we began. At first sight it looked more like the state fair than a war memorial site. There were food vendors, rides, picnic areas, and swarms of people. We started out with a picnic of kimbap and rice cakes, with something called ‘bundaegi’ for anyone so inclined. By telling myself that the crunch was due to deep-frying, I managed to eat two. But I ended up deciding that they weren’t my favorite, and was later told that they are silk worm larvae.

After lunch, Soonja bought us all ice cream in fun little packets, and we got onto a tour bus for a tour of part of the DMZ.

The DMZ is a 2.5 mile wide swath of neutral ground between North and South Korea, and according to wikipedia is the most heavily guarded border in the world. We had to show our passports to get bus tickets, and there were several points at which soldiers got on the tour bus and we had to be ready to show our passports again.

First stop was the third infiltration tunnel. Apparently North Korea has built a number of tunnels under the border, in preparation for an underground invasion of South Korea. At least three of these tunnels have been found, and it is suspected that there are many more, as yet undiscovered. After watching a movie about the tunnels, we were give hard hats (which I foolishly thought were just for looks) and escorted onto an open-topped tram so that we could ride down into the third tunnel.

We had to leave cameras behind, which is a shame because I really would have loved to get pictures of the ride. The the tram has bench seating, some facing forward, some facing back. The tunnel was so small that the tram filled it almost from wall to wall, with so little clearance that if you were sitting at the edge of a bench, you wanted to make sure your shoulder didn’t extend further than the bench, and even I felt like I needed to tilt my head in toward the center of the tram to avoid hitting my hard hat on the curved ceiling.

After a 5-10 minute ride, we were let off the tram to continue exploring the tunnel on foot. The tunnel was dimly lit. Uneven footing was covered and slightly eased by plastic mats. Water dripped everywhere. Low places in the ceiling (or potential cave in spots?) were protected by a framework of padded metal bars with mesh in between.

I am 5 ft 6 and spent most of the walk crouched down so as not to hit my heat on the ceiling– rather unsuccessfully, I might add, because my hard hat made contact with the ceiling at least 8 times. Part way through the walk, I got the giggles just thinking of how badly this place would fail safety inspections in the U.S. And yet we all walked through without harm, from parents carrying babies to elderly ladies supporting each other.

To get a better picture of the tunnel, click on this video link: 3rd Infiltration Tunnel. (View on mute if you object to mild cussing.) It was one of the most memorable experiences of my trip.

The next stop on the bus trip was an overlook where we could see into North Korea. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures past a certain line, but we were allowed to stick 50 cents into a viewer and have a peek. I am pretty sure I heard and saw gunfire on the North Korean side of the border (maybe military practice?)

Finally we visited a train station that was built by South Korea as an act of optimism, expressing South Korea’s hope for the future. It is hoped that when reunification happens, this northernmost train station in South Korea will be connected to another train station in North Korea, allowing all Korean people to pass freely back and forth.

Back at our starting point, after the tour was over, Soon Ja and her husband treated the kids to a ride on a swinging pirate boat– a definite highlight for the kids!

Then it was back to Soon Ja’s house for a brief rest and watermelon. Their family lives in a nice high rise apartment in a city which is undergoing lots of expansion. Roads are being reworked and many new apartments are being built all at once.

After a rest and a visit, they took us out to dinner at the prettiest restaurant I’d seen the whole trip. Weathered wood trim, flowers and greenery everywhere. The traditional Korean food included acorn jelly (it looked kind of like tofu), potato soup with chunks of sweet potato starch, BBQ’d pork with slivered onions, chicken stew, noodle soup, and of course several different types of kimchi. Dishes just kept coming and coming. The final course was a sweet rice cake with sweet bean paste filling.

When the meal was over, it was time to say thank you and goodbye. So Hyun and her dad drove us back to Seoul, while Soon Ja and Jee Hyun headed back to their apartment. On the way back, the 4 kids (all squeezed into the back seat) laughed over the video that my older son had gotten of the pirate ship ride at the amusement park. It had been another wonderful day, once again compliments of kind people who’d shown us great hospitality and kindness.

Part 8 | Part 9

{ No Comments }

  1. your DMZ trip was different than ours. we weren’t able to go into the tunnels for some reason i can’t remember now.

    certainly there wasn’t an amusement park!

    it was a memorable trip nonetheless.

    glad you had a full itinerary of sightseeing and memory-making.

  2. Ewwww – silk worm larvae – ewwwww! And why did they have to wear swim caps? Is that a cultural thing?

  3. How wonderful to have friends to show you around!

  4. My parents were missionaries in Japan. In 1966, we took a trip to Korea and went to the DMZ. It was a totally different experience. We did get to take pictures into North Korea, but there was always fear. I remember we could see NK military on the other side with their guns. They told us that an American girl had touched one of the NK buildings and they had taken her. There was much diplomacy to get her released. “Don’t touch any of the gray buildings!” they told us. I remember going into the building where the NK sat on one side, the SK on the other to do negotiations. The good thing about the whole trip was that we visited an orphanage. The children came running out and the missionary told us they were asking “Are you my mommy? Are you my daddy? Will you take me home?” I never forgot that. Many years later, we adopted our baby girl from Korea! She is 24 now.

  5. Thank you for sharing about your trip to Korea. I am taking my four boys to Korea next month for the first time. I was born in Seoul and raised in the US. Haven’t been back in 10 years! Have been praying about adopting from Korea…my husband is not there yet…it’s been three years. Your story gives me hope!

  6. I love it! My husband lived in Seoul for a year, and one of my favorite stories of his is the day he tried the silkworm larvae, after everyone promised it was delicious. He said it was the worst thing he ever ate. Another memorable story is the cow lung soup his friends made for him for his special goodbye dinner. 😉 But other than those, he loved the food, and I do too. There’s actually this sweet tiny Korean restaurant here- I’m going to take him as a surprise when he gets home. I love all of your Korea posts!