Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Who saw North Korea? I did! I did!!

I went on a group trip to the DMZ this weekend..the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. Alex brought back North Korean beer; I brought back a DMZ pine cone from a pretty garden alongside the fence. :)

I learned that there are many wildlife and plant species that only exist in the DMZ, since they are closed in by the fences. There are endangered species, like the Red-Crowned Crane, the Korean Tiger, and the Asiatic black bear that live within the heavily-guarded and mine-infested grounds. It's really a great thing, though, because, due to lack of human presence within the 250km stretch of land, there is natural isolation and, therefore, protection.  I wish I could've see some of them, though! I did, however, see North Korea, so I suppose that makes up for it. Okay, it definitely does, because witnessing North Korea with my own two eyes was an absolutely remarkable experience. I feel like I've learned so much about the "mysterious North" since deciding to come to Korea. North Korea was obviously something I was worried about, especially after the shots that were fired at the end of last year. After a massive amount of research, however, instead of being worried, I only grew more and more afflicted by the state of their people. Learning that there were babies suffering from glaucoma was probably one of the most upsetting things for me... People are starving over there -- and yet they live so close to a population with more than enough. Their imprisonment is heartbreaking. But what's ridiculous if the facade that North Korea tries to uphold. And I was able to witness it firsthand. 

Freedom Bridge, where people write
 messages for loved ones in N. Korea.
We were led to an observation deck where we could stand and look out over Kijong-dong, a small North Korean village. What appear to be multi-story buildings and nice apartments are really just concrete shells. It's all a part of the illusion. There are even crews, I learned, that go through and maintain the city. Or, uh, maintain the "image," at least. They want everyone to believe that they are living in luxury. But we all know the truth. 

There were scopes that allowed for a closer view. Alex saw a car going through the town and another one of my friends saw a North Korean farming in a field! I, unfortunately, didn't see anything like that, because I was busy trying to get a good shot with my camera. There was a sectioned-off area away from the wall for photographers to stand and take pictures from. Despite the hindrance, I still managed to get a good shot. :)

Gorgeous folk village
We also visited a traditional Korean folk village. The area was highly-agricultural and beautiful -- I very much enjoyed wandering through it, petting the bunnies, horses, and the cow (her rope was too tight and she was having trouble getting water, so Alex and I loosened it for her...we just love being a friend to the animals). I did NOT pet the chickens. I drank medicinal tea at the Korean herb pharmacy. I also made a mask, which was so much fun! There were some guys doing tricks on horses and other guys making kkultarae candy. Watch this:

16,000 strands! Right before my very eyes!

Hmmm...what else... Well, Alex and I went to Seoul after the group trip. Our friend, Cindy, came with us to this area called Hongdae. There are a ton of awesome things to in this part of Seoul. We visited the Hello Kitty cafe. Everything was hot pink and beautiful! There were Hello Kitty-shaped window cutouts inside the cafe, and even chandeliers! They also served up a perfect Hello Kitty face design on top of the coffee froth. It was cool. In Hongdae, we also went to a cat cafe where there are about 50 kitties just chilling inside. You drink your coffee while they come sit in your lap... Although I couldn't sit still because I had to pet them ALL, so I just floated around from cat to cat while Alex just laughed/got annoyed; laughed because I kept getting marked! (I'd like to think that they considered me a friend and, therefore, their territory!); annoyance, because I DID NOT want to leave! 

We found and ate at a really great Indian-Nepali restaurant called Yeti -- and then another the next day in Insa-dong (it's a big, tourist-y market area of Seoul). At one point, we wandered into a Thai massage place. I don't really know how we got there, we just sort of ended up at an elevator that had only one stop -- the fifth floor. We haggled our way to cheap massages, and they weren't the dirty kinds that are notorious in Korea (thank God!). These sweet Thai ladies stretched and popped us and walked on our backs. But it felt amazing! 

On Sunday, Alex and I went to Seoul Tower. 649 steps to the top. We took every last one of them...annnd... Exhaustion, that's what. This nice Korean man stopped us and could speak English, so he walked with us to the top and bought us Korean pancakes because "we looked hungry." Then he continued to walk along with us and carry my bag for the remainder of the time. What's neat about the tower is that there are millions of padlocks latched on to the railings all around. Couples or friends write messages or their names or whatever on the locks and then fasten them on. There are basically walls of locks--even several Christmas tree-shaped sculptures covered in locks. We came back down on the cable car, because we probably walked at least 10 miles over the weekend. I'm hoping to lose 10 pounds. Unfortunately, I know it's not gonna happen. 
There she is, ladies and gents. North Korea.

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