24-Jun-2001 -- The trip continues. In South Korea, preparation for ceremonies relating to the memorial of people who died in the Korean War is under way, as June 25th, 51 years ago, is the day when North Korean armies crossed the 38 Parallel and started the war. This day, called 'Yugio', Korean shorthand for June 25th, is still bitterly remembered.
The 38 Parallel, proposed by the American army and accepted by the Soviets, was meant as a provisional boundary between the Soviet and American forces that took control of the Korean peninsula once the Japanese colonial rule of Korea collapsed simultaneously with the surrender of Japan of World War II. The occupation of the armies was supposedly intended to drive remaining Japanese forces out of the peninsula, and prevent any significant violence while the new Korean government was set up. However, it did more than that, and effectively separated the peninsula to what we now know as North Korea and South Korea, as, because of the influence of the forces presented at the either side of the Parallel, two independent government was eventually set up in 1948, three years after WWII.
Thus, before the Korean War, the 38 Parallel was de facto borderline for the two Koreas. The North Korean armies crossing this line meant war, and three years of dreadful war went on until armistice was set. Neither side made much progress in 'recovering' the 'lost land', though, as the current border resides quite close to the original 38 Parallel. However, two of the three confluences along the Parallel now resides within South Korea, so you are reading this now. :) Okay, enough of history lessons and onto the trip.
I headed to the far north, taking a Gyeongwon Line train. This train line, which connected Seoul and Wonsan (Gyeongwon is a shorthand for saying Seoul-Wonsan), is now severed in the middle approximately at 38 Parallel, as Wonsan is now in North Korea. FYI, another train line, Gyeongui Line (Seoul-Sinuiju; Sinuiju is a big North Korean industrial city), is also severed near 38 Parallel, but because of the recent thawing of North-South relationship, the line will be reconnected in 2002 at the latest. Hopefully, Gyeongwon Line would share the same fate.
After getting off at Jeongok station which is just over the Parallel, I sought a local bus that would get me near the confluence. Alas, the frequency of the bus trips were far and few between, so I resorted to taking a taxi. The driver was initially perplexed at the vague location I was pointing to, but after telling him about this project, and some local info I've gathered about the landmarks that might be nearby, he decided to help me the best he can.
At first, we took the National Road #37, until the confluence marker showing up on my GPP was starting to get farther instead of closer. Then we followed an unmarked road into a forest that seemed to be headed to the confluence. The marker eventually came within 300 meters, but the road then passed on the spot, moving away from it. There was a small path that seemed to lead us to the spot, but then we were confronted with an army camp. We couldn't go this way. The army camps are typical of this area, as it is only tens of kilometers away from the North Korean army. Since we had no prior arrangement, access was prohibited. And this when we were only 250 meters away!
Not to be left satisfied with an 'attempted' visit, I then looked for alternate routes to the confluence. Near the camp, there was a small vegetable field that I oould walk over, so I decided to go this way. Following it, I came upon an entrance to a dense forest. The marker was now less than 200 meters away, but I still thought this wasn't yet an 'extreme circumstance' and moved further, although you might think otherwise. Eventually, I came upon a point where I could not move any further into. Truly, no one before me had gone this way. Luckily, the marker was now less than 100 meters away. 38 00.007N, 127 00.062E. Given the circumstances, I couldn't be happier.