Tag Archives: korea

Notes on Korea

Sometime in the last 25 years, hanja seems to have disappeared. That makes Korean a lot easier to read for us non-Asian types who didn’t spend 12 years learning Chinese characters in school.

You won’t get mugged in Korea, but you might get run over. It’s the only place I’ve seen someone talking on the phone while riding a motor scooter. On the sidewalk.

Korean people don’t seem given to wearing shirts with bizarre English on them the way Japanese people are, but almost every shirt I saw with writing on it was in English, usually an American brand of some sort. I think some of them were fake brands (one shirt simply said “Authentic Genuine”), but they looked like American brands. That seemed to be the main thing.

Passport control was just a matter of taking fingerprints and a photo (Japan did that too) and stamping my passport. Customs just took my form and put it on a pile without looking at it. I think it was the easiest entry I’ve ever encountered.

Other than the traditional hanok-style buildings with the sweeping roofs, there isn’t a lot of what you would call architecture in Korea. On the train from Seoul to Busan, the cities I saw were all miles of high-rise apartment buildings done in what you might call a Soviet style, with a smattering of Christian church steeples.

Everyone in Korea is doing something on their smartphone at all times. It goes far beyond anything in the US. Not surprisingly, most of the phones are Samsung or LG.

In Busan I saw a man wearing a shirt that said, “The Funniest Man in the World.” So that’s where he lives. Busan.

DMZ Wrap-Up

From the tunnel we went straight back to the USO and I took the metro back to Bong House.

Although I suppose it makes sense financially, it’s surreal for a decades-long military standoff be the subject of a tour. It’s almost like a theme park.

They were selling these shirts at the Dora Observatory. If they’d had adult sizes, I would have gotten one.


The Third Tunnel

North Korea dug at least four attack tunnels under the DMZ. Three of them were discovered in the 1970s and the fourth in 1990. According to a defector from the north, there were 20 tunnels planned, but no others have ever been found.

We went to the Third Infiltration Tunnel, which is the only one close enough to visit on a tour.

First we watched a seven-minute video with terrible audio that summarized the history of the tunnels. Then we rushed through a small tunnel-themed museum and crossed the parking lot to the tunnel itself.

We all got helmets and walked down the interception tunnel, which was dug by the south to intercept and block the tunnel. It drops 73 meters over a distance of 358 meters. Once at the bottom, we picked up the infiltration tunnel and walked along it until we got to the first of three concrete barricades. There we had a few seconds to look through a small opening to see…the next concrete barricade. Then it was back the length of the tunnel and up the steep interception tunnel.

The whole thing was a bit rushed, although they did allow us plenty of time to buy things in the gift shop.

The infiltration tunnel is between five and six feet high. In some places there are supports in place that made the effective height even less. Hence the helmets. I’m 5’8″ and I had to duck most of the time, and I still hit my head several times. The guy in front of me hit his head over and over again. He didn’t seem to care. He had a helmet, so what the heck.

We weren’t allowed to bring our cameras down with us, so I left mine on the bus. Of course, one does have a cell phone, doesn’t one?