Well… within 2 miles of it. And I was on a hill, so I could see North Korea easily.
Lots of people know that my Korean "hometown" of Ilsan is quite close to North Korea – the northwest suburbs of Seoul have burgeoned over the decades to the point that they basically touch the DMZ in some places. So the North Korean border is about 15 km from my apartment in a line pointing northwest, and it's reachable on the local bus system.
My friend Peter came to visit because today is a holiday (more on that in a later post, maybe). We took the #200 bus that stops a few blocks from my apartment building toward Gyoha, and after about 40 minutes we got off at 통일공원 (Unification Park), a neighborhood on a point of land that is the spot where the Imjin River joins the Han River and the opposite bank is in North Korea.
There's a museum and "observatory" there (통일전망대), where you can look through coin operated binoculars and watch the socialists going about their difficult lives in their cozy concrete burghs.
I find these "flexion points" of our global civilization fascinating. It's an uncrossable border, demarcated by barbed wire fences and fox holes and guard towers and, probably, land mines and hidden weapons caches, too. This is not the sort of border one crosses for an afternoon. But it's eerie how close it is – a local bus ride from my home is an utterly alien world, two miles distant across a river.
We walked around a lot, because finding the entrance to the observatory/museum area turned out to be a bit challenging. We walked on some trails in the woods, and there were foxholes and concrete and brick barricades snaking through the hillsides as if randomly. I speculated that, for all I knew, I'd dug one of those foxholes myself, 20 years ago, while on some field-exercise or another as part of my infantry support company of mechanics, as part of the US Army stationed in Paju County along the DMZ. I didn't have a clear recollection of all the various places where we encamped and trained and made foxholes and pretended to battle insiduous communists. I wasn't marking them on a map – I suspected that would have made my commanding officer suspicious.
Here are some pictures.
Here's the #200 bus, that was very crowded because of the holiday. A woman had vomited in the aisle behind us, and we missed our stop and got off at the next one and walked back, which is partly why we got turned around as far as finding the proper entrance to the place.
We saw golden fields of rice.
We walked down a country lane in search of the observatory.
We saw a wealthy-person's brand new house constructed in a traditional style.
We saw a statue of a man pontificating.
We saw treeless hills of North Korea.
We looked down the Han River westward towards its mouth. Right bank (north) is North Korea, and the Left Bank (south) is South Korea. Because of how the river snakes, jogging north, then south, then north again, you are seeing layers of South and North. The most distant mountains are Ganghwa Island, which is South Korean, but the mid-ground jut of land from the right (the interestingly denuded hills) is North Korea.
We looked back down the Han River southeast, toward Seoul and Ilsan. I live within the scope of this picture, somewhere (Ilsan is the very urban skyline area to the right in the panorama, disappearing behind the little hill).
We posed with North Korea in the background.
We saw a mock-up of a North Korean class room in the museum (note pictures of Kim Il-seong and Kim Jong-il in upper right above blackboard).
We saw a man sleeping in the grass beside the road.
We received important advice from a trash receptacle.