South Korea and North Korea (DMZ & JSA)

Today, along with three Americans and a handful of Japanese tourists, I visited the Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area that serves as the de facto border between South Korea and North Korea. We actually entered North Korea territory for two or three minutes. I feel more adrenaline now, hours later, than I did then, perhaps because the experience was so very surreal.

Security to the area is provided by the United Nations Council (and also the United States and South Korea). Soldiers there remain in a constant state of alert, in defensive Taekwondo martial arts poses, ready for inevitable conflict. The fists of the front line soldiers are literally clenched at all times, only about five yards from where we stood.

The immediate area has been home to violent skirmishes, murders and kidnappings for more than a half century and counting. As we exited the area, I spotted a uniformed North Korean soldier tracking our group with binoculars.

The sadness extends beyond the loss of human life over decades of conflict: Because the DMZ has many acres of live landmines, it is an accidental pristine wildlife reserve, and today we saw rare Manchurian cranes and vampire deer, in addition to plump pheasants and ducks, all of whom are only one wrong step away from death.

The waiver you have to sign before visiting the Joint Security Area; Demilitarized Zone, North Korea and South Korea.