Well, after a very restless night tossing and turning (my mind being unable to stop whirring), I got up around 4am. YIKES, did I just say "4am"?! Yes, indeed... it is a sad Saturday when I get up that early...
After getting ready and having a bite of toast, my dad and I left to head to our tour of the DMZ. I've been waiting for him to come to Korea to go on this tour and it was certainly interesting. We headed to the station and arrived a bit early around 6:50. The meet time was 7:00, load the bus at 7:15, and take off by 7:30am. I was pleasantly surprised that this schedule was followed quite well. However, when our tour guide got on the bus, I had a sinking feeling.
She was Korean. She spoke passing English, but it wasn't the best and certainly not fluent. She obviously had some facts memorized and tried to spew those out at us as the bus passed the Han River. Most of what she told us was common knowledge or not really that interesting... maybe I am disillusioned as a pseudo-local (is that a thing...?), but I was bored.
The bus ride to the DMZ was a little over an hour. Our first stop was the JSA - Joint Security Area. I am not going to put a whole lot of details because A)I would bet $100 that my dad put plenty of details and B)there are around 13,467 other blogs with all the same information you can find quite easily.
I was disappointed that the weather was so terrible while we were there. It was rainy in Seoul, and rainy at the DMZ, too. Before entering Camp Bonifas, we had to have a US Army MP check all our passports (for the third time that day), and then he escorted us to the JSA buildings. His name was Mitchell and he looked all of about 18 years old, but he was entertaining enough and it was SUCH a relief to listen to a native English speaker. I think I forget how wonderful it is when strangers speak your languages until the do again...
Anyway, we had about a 20-minute briefing in the conference room at the JSA, which I actually found interesting. It had a lot of history and photos. He said that some people go to sleep during the presentation, but I didn't.
After that, we loaded a different bus than the one we came on, and headed to the real-deal: North Korea. Well, not really North Korea, but area where North Korean military are literally feet away from you. It was a little freaky! We had to wait in the rain for the tour group ahead of us to finish their time in the conference room on Conference Row. We could see a N.Korean soldier on the steps of the N.Korean building ahead of us. It was crazy!
What made everything more real was in the conference room, they told us a story about N.Koreans trying to kidnap a S.Korean soldier when he was locking the Conference Room and that is why there are some marks on the wall. (It was more interesting when he told the story...) Anyway, my point is that there is a REAL threat posed by the N.Korean soldiers that are at this place. The S.Korean soldiers, we are told, are there for our protection. And that story made it real that we actually DO need protecting. This isn't a museum or memorial, it's a real active war zone (demilitarized, but who's counting?)
|Suffering in the rain to get my photo with Conference Row.|
After the JSA part of the tour was over, I wasn't sure what to think. I was a little disappointed because the rain prevented a lot of photos from being taken, and it was very short. I found it all interesting, but I was a tad grumpy from the weather and its affect on my photo-ops...
|Inside the JSA area where the briefing was held.|
Even more soaked and now hungry as well, I was in a bit of a state. Thankfully we headed to the restaurant/cafeteria for lunch. I had bibimbap and my dad had bulgogi. It wasn't bad but I wished my dad could have had excellent versions of these Korean staples for his first experience with them.
After lunch, we headed to the Dora Observatory. This would have been a really awesome part of the tour... if there had been visibility more than about 5 feet in front of your face. For example, the photos below: the one on the left (borrowed from We're Not There Yet Blog) is what you should see... The photo on the right is what I saw. Literally white nothing....
It was quite anticlimactic, and we headed then for our last stop: the Third Infiltration Tunnel. I was a little nervous about this because its a tunnel. And I am slightly claustrophobic. But, it also sounded super awesome so I put on my brave face. Once again this was a NO PHOTOS zone, so we left everything on the bus. The tunnel was not as bad as I had feared as far as size. However, the ramp down into the tunnel itself was quite steep. We were almost running without meaning to, because of the slant of the ramp. Once down in the tunnel it was a little tighter, but I managed fine. Poor dad hit his head on the roof (thank goodness for the mandatory hard hats!) but otherwise we came out unscathed. At the end of the tunnel was the first of 3 baracades and we could look through a little hole to see the second, and although it was not visible, there is a third beyond that one in case North Korea decides to test their tunnel-infiltration theory.
When we were in the museum area of this place, our tour guide seemed to have a battle with another tour guide for who could be the loudest. Our tour guide was pretty loud but she was so boring, it was ridiculous. I swear she just described the things we were currently looking at and could see for ourselves. At one point I started listening to another tour guide. In the 2 minutes I listened to him, I learned something my tour guide had not told us about at all! I was beginning to very much dislike our pathetic tour guide (whose broken English was grating on my nerves).
FINALLY we boarded the bus back to Seoul. It was basically lights out as soon as we sat down, we were so exhausted. After a little nap, when we arrived back in Seoul we decided to make use of our remaining daylight (joke, since it was still raining. -__- ) and headed to my favorite spa in Korea: Dragon Hill Spa (jjimjilbang or 찜질방) I had been a few times before but not in recent months. I figured what better time than when bringing a guest to experience its awesomeness.
After telling my dad the gist of the place, we changed into our provided clothes in our respective locker rooms and met back in the common area for some dry sauna rooms. We went to my favorite room: the Himalayan Rock Salt room. We relaxed there for quite a while. I sweated a LOT! Eventually, I decided I wanted to get a body scrub (Erin always raved about them), so I headed up to the women's area while my dad headed to the men's.
I found the area for the body scrubs and got "in line", which consisted of putting my wristband/payment tag on a table and then waiting in one of the nearby baths. When it was my turn, I got on the bed and the old ajumma worked her (slightly painful) magic. At first I was just trying to relax and wondered what kind of salt or sugar mixture she was using to scrub me since I could feel the little balls. I continued to lay there in pleasant ignorance until I turned on my side and saw the person next to me. For some reason, seeing her "salts" smacked me in the head as I realized "Um, that's not salt! That's SKIN being sloughed off!!" Which sounds like a no brainer, but it was a LOT and in pretty large hunks... It felt like if you were watching some kind of beautiful dance or something only to realize too late, after you've already admitted to enjoying it, that it is some kind of ritualistic slaughter! Okay, that's an extreme example, but does that make sense?! Like, I am loving this body scrub but felt so naive having believed her to have been using some kind of scrub on me but NO it was MY OWN SKIN! Horrified recognition!
Anyway, I got over the disgust in about 3 seconds as she continued to rough up and polish my skin. I opted to have an oil massage added to the scrub and that was nice. After the scrub I showered off all the disgusting skin and got into some of the medicinal herb baths. It was nice but by then my lack of sleep and ensuing hunger caught up with me. I met up with dad again and we decided to head back to my neighborhood for some dinner and an "early" night.
Considering we got up at 4 am, and its already past midnight as I write this, I'd say we're doing pretty well. Now if I can just get a good 8-9 hours tonight, I'd be set!
PS: I have about 100 more photos from this trip, but as I am currently struggling my way through learning Lightroom, I will have to wait to post more. Sorry!