North Korea is a brutal regime that terrorizes its own people – but you’d never know it when looking from this South Korean tourist park.
Less than an hour’s metro ride from Seoul, the tourist park at Imjingak, on South Korea’s side of the border, is a carnival atmosphere. The main attraction – looking over the Imjin river that separates the two Koreas using high powered binoculars for the cost of just a few won. While many days are foggy, if you look closely enough, you can see guard towers on the other side – which most likely have guns pointed on the other side in case of a border skirmish.
The place is a much different atmosphere from the DMZ, where both side are armed to the teeth. And on the South Korean side, there are no armed guards or military in the tourist park.
Being here is truly surreal – while North Koreans are brutalized and starved by their own government, South Koreans bring their kids here to eat from food stalls and run around the place. Live Ponk-chak music – Korean um-pah music that old people love – blasts through loudspeakers. Old ladies stroll around moving their shoulders and heads to the beat of the music.
While North Korea’s missile tests and threats to nuke Alaska grab headlines in the U.S., the South Koreans have lived with the threat for so long that they are used to it by now.
Kids run around, their parents spend a few won to have them look through paid binoculars to see over the river.
The park is also home of the Mangbaedan Alter, where South Koreans with relatives in the North go to perform traditional rituals and ancestral rites facing their hometowns in North Korea.
Ethnicity plays a central role in the identity of both North and South. The concept of being a “pure-blooded” Korean is strong on both sides – even though, lets face it, Koreans share the same genes as many other nationalities in the region, just like most other nations of the world.
Still, many on both sides of the border long for the day that the two are unified, particular elderly Koreans who left family back in North Korea in the chaos of the Korean War.
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