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D (a)M(a)Z(ing) – Vacations on the Korean border

Soldiers at train station“… and the defector said to me ‘yes, the poor do eat the bodies of dead people.’”

Ordinarily Japanzine holidays in snowy places to inexpertly glide on planks of wood, or in sunny resorts with infinity pools, staffed by beautiful waitresses ferrying trays of pina coladas. This vacation was different.

The 38th parallel is one of the most famous four kilometre-wide patches of land in the world, yet there are no plush hotels, no poolside resorts and no quaint little restaurants with the most delightful waiters who were most definitely flirting. No, what the Demilitarised Zone that divides the Korean peninsula has in spades is propaganda.

“I’m short,” states-the-obviouses our diminutive guide, as our tour bus skates the icy barbed wire that lines the frozen river parting the two nations. “But the North Koreans are shorter than me. And the guards? Not as tall and handsome as ours.”

Staring out across the expanse of derelict angst as a South Korean soldier with a South Cali accent points out the differences between the north (bad) and the south (good), a man can feel lucky that it’s not him driving the ox and cart down the other end of the telescope. He can feel depressed that he’s not in the Alps or on the Great Barrier Reef, but lucky nonetheless.

But the differences. Because there are differences. For a start, there are two villages down there in no man’s land, beneath the circling hawks and the growing animosity, but no one lives in Propaganda Village (North). No, no one lives there because no one can be happy in the North. Oh, and there are no windows. There are people living in neighbouring Freedom Village (South) though, and all of the residents are obviously happy and well paid, because everyone in the in the south is successful and cheerful.

Apart from the tall, handsome, South Korean soldiers that is. “They get bored,” informs our guide, “they have mental problems.” It is then that Nagmag/Japanzine (delete as appropriate) starts to edge away from the precipice that overlooks the wasteland. It’s the North that’s supposed to be scary, supposed to be mental, proper bat-shit fucking nuts. We’ve seen it on Team America so it must be true. But what if it’s not? What if it’s the South that are all crazy and here we are on the wrong side of the barbed wire?

It’s a thought that occupies our mind as we are burrowing under the ground, deep under the DMZ in a warm, moist tunnel that the North are alleged to have dug to start the big push over the top, under the bottom. We are heading towards the centre, there are concrete blockades, there are little windows, we are calling hello to the ugly little fuckers on the other side, but they can’t hear us, or aren’t bloody answering anyway.

Back above ground we pose for pictures in front of jaunty DMZ statues and scour the gift shop – the fucking gift shop! – before piling back onto our overheated buses to find lunch in Michelin starred restaurants amongst the happy, contented, good looking Seoul shoppers. No ox for us.