18-Apr-2004 -- We had the rare chance to go to North Korea and though we were still a long way from the confluence point we decided it was the best attempt we could do. We got as close as we could... Here is our story:
We were part of a tour group that has been allowed into North Korea to visit the 'Diamond Mountains" Kumgangsan. It has been going for the last 4 years, run by Hyundai, and allows tourists a tour of the sacred mountains and a small peek into the most reclusive country on Earth. As our dusty convoy rumbled towards the Southern side of the DMZ our enthusiastic, energetic tour guide named Bae began his instructions. To be sure the three foreigners understood he continuously squeezed his way past the soft elbows and knees of ajumas to get to the back of the bus where we sat. Dabbing his forehead and grinning he would rant - Okay guys you can never taking photos when this bus is moving. You must keep your chairs and do not walk. Never opening windows when moving from here to the Northern part of Korea. Never forget this. No pictures when the bus is moving and never using any curtains on the side of windows. Please do not forget this. On Bae's instruction we all gave a hearty wave to the smiling, camouflaged South Korean troops and rattled past the electrified, razor wire fence into the heavily land mined ribbon of land snaking across the peninsula from the East China Sea to the Sea of Japan. For the next four kilometers our caravan of 18 busses wound its way along a dusty dirt track slicing a pristine landscape untouched by humans for over 50 years. As we neared the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (oxy moron?) Bae stumbled back to us once more, "Okay guys, please listen, I have a present for you now. Now you will get to meet North Korean army".
Our green and pink Hyundai busses slowed and stopped. I sat at attention, aware of every move I made or didn't make as two armed troops boarded the bus. Their eyes were icy slits and their faces stone. Unspeaking and rigid, they strode down the isle (now not-surprisingly free of appendages) scouring each pink-windbreakered ajuma (old women) and golf-hatted ajashi (old men). I couldn't help but shiver (though the bus was hot and stuffy) when my eyes met the cold stare of the soldier. He paused briefly to consider the three of us and then marched off our bus. Then the soldiers carried on down the line of busses arms swinging, boots clicking.
The North Korean landscape was the Mad Max version of its Southern counterpart. Green, pined hillsides became arid tracts of dust and brown grass sporadically pocked by caves and machine gun nests. Hilltops were adorned with thorny crowns of heavy black artillery, half hidden by scrub fences, leering menacingly to the South like the burnt ribs of a giant beast. Only the rigid form of lone soldiers, stationed at intervals across the land like standing stones on a lonely moor, broke the sweepingly horizontal landscape of grass, dirt, stone and wind.
Further along the road we were able to see true North Korean people. They walked through fields in lines with shovels on their shoulders, sat on field terraces in dark groups and pushed bicycles past massive billboards of heroic propaganda. On a later trip we passed what seemed to be a work camp comprising of men in brown uniforms. A crew was digging a hole while pairs of others halfheartedly scraped the parched ground with a shovel and string. The one would hold the handle of the shovel and the other would tug the string and the blade towards him peeling a divot of earth and a puff of dust. Villages were comprised of identical whitewashed houses with classic tiled roofs and winged soffits, small windows and wooden verandas. Scrub fences separated each yard. I couldn't get over the lack of color, advertisements, cars, neon, and noise so common to the South. The only signs to be seen were megalithic paintings of strong, happy workers; muscular bronzed arms swinging mallets in front of a flowing flag.
On the Sunday morning before we left we took a tour to the coast. We were able to clammer of the rocks and take a few pictures all the while under the constant supervision of North Korean 'watchers'. These people were stationed on the beach to make sure we didn't touch anything or go anywhere we weren't supposed to go. We were unable to take pictures at most places we went but we were fortunate enough to get some shots on the beach. We, obviously, were unable to take a GPS across the border (along with any published work about N.K., a camera with a X16 zoom etc. etc.)
We still took shots in the cardinal directions and even zoomed in towards the spot. Unfortunately I don't think anyone, for a very long time, will get any closer to the point.