As I have indicated elsewhere in reviews on this blog, the Joint Security Area within the Demilitarised Zone is where North and South Korean soldiers come face to face on a regular basis.
Ostensibly the soldiers are here to facilitate a peace negotiation process, and bring an end to a war which has now being running over 60 years. In practice they seem to do little more than watch each other, spy on each other and antagonise, out-do and outmanoeuvre each other to the maximum extent possible.
Soldiers here, on both sides, are hand picked. You will notice that they are larger and healthier looking than typical soldiers on either side. Off course, they are picked for their loyalty to their political masters and also their likely resistance to propaganda from the other side and defection.
While you will read much about soldiers standing face to face right on the border line it is actually rare that this happens in the sight of tourists. When Northern tour groups (like us) are visiting, Southern soldiers are no-where to be seen (naturally they see you though) and when Southern tour groups are there Northern soldiers while often seen (with cameras and video recorders) stand well back from the border.
It is interesting to note where soldiers stand when they are actually ‘guarding’ the border. With Northern soldiers, two stand right at the raised concrete border line while one stands between the buildings straddling the border facing towards the north (my main picture) – Yes that is a Samsung (South Korean) air-conditioner unit sitting in North Korea – this building is managed by the South! With Southern soldiers, two stand half hidden by the border buildings facing towards the north while a third stands, again facing north, between the other two (pictured immediately below – Wikipedia open license).
While the Northern soldiers are clearly more prone to a pot shot from the South they see their positioning as a show of bravery and a willingness to die for the fatherland while their southern counterparts are lily-livered cowards hiding behind brick walls.
The Southern soldiers adopt a supposedly intimidating taekwondo stance, wearing Ray Ban sunglasses and oversized helmets (picture 3 above – US Army public domain). The Ray Bans are to stop Northern soldiers looking them in the eye or knowing exactly where they are looking. Uniform-wise the Northern soldiers look rather daggy in comparison the their stylish Southern counterparts.
Interestingly, while photography of soldiers is prohibited elsewhere in North Korea it is perfectly acceptable here – in what is undoubtedly the most tense 1000 square metres on the Korean Peninsula. Photography is open in the North solely because it is very restricted on the Southern side of the border.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on my visit to Panmunjom (DMZ), North Korea. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Watching me, watching you. Panmungak/Freedom House – or to start this loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – If war resumes leave the area as soon as possible!