USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences > Blog

July 24, 2014

A Tale of Two Koreas

Filed under: Uncategorized — geakorea @ 2:04 am

by David Shin and Bill Xu

Following the Korean War, a new line of division known as the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, was drawn between the two Koreas, more or less at about the same location as the previous one had been at the 38th parallel. Stretching a length of 155 miles and about 2 miles wide, a mile for each side, the DMZ is an impassable rift. With nearly a million mines and booby traps of which only three percent have been removed, the “Demilitarized Zone” may not have any soldiers within the wilderness as the presence, operations or installations of the military upon these grounds is in violation of international law, but it remains nevertheless an area densely filled with military contraptions, deadly and concealed.


For our DMZ trip, we had the privilege of visiting four locations: the Panmunjom that is formally known as the Joint Security Area or the JSA, the Dora Observatory, the Dorasan Station and the Third Tunnel. Prior to our entry to the DMZ, we were required to follow a strict dress code as well as heed instructions regarding desired conduct such as not making hand gestures to the North Korean guards and taking pictures only in designated areas.

The most important location we visited on the DMZ trip is the JSA, a point on the Western half of the DMZ where the North and South Korean soldiers face each other from just meters away. A historical location, the JSA is where Armistice Talks began on Oct 25, 1951 and were eventually signed between the Chinese, North Korean and United Nations Command Forces on July 27, 1953, the day the Korean War ended. Once the armistice was agreed upon, the Korean peninsula would be permanently occupied by two nations of different systems, capitalism and socialism.

The division of their country was not what the vast majority of Koreans wanted. Just as the saying “when whales fight, shrimps die” may suggest, Koreans were mere pawns in the Cold War, an ideological conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union of which the Korean War was a product. Ideology is powerful as it is the cornerstone on which governments and countries are formed. However, ideology is able to not only form countries but also sever them into separate parts. Such is the case for the division of Korea which has lasted for over 60 years and is still influential in international political relations worldwide, especially in the Northeast Asian region.

In order to properly understand Korean society and culture, the DMZ must be taken into consideration. More than just a physical line of separation, the DMZ cuts through the consciousness and emotions of Koreans in regards to their ideological and political standpoints towards the other Korean half as well as among people within the same half in relation to how they view the other Korean half. Virtually all areas of South Korea, such as its economy, politics and culture are influenced by the separation of the peninsula. There have been numerous victims and separated families due to the Korean peninsula division and the emotions of South Koreans are affected powerfully towards either side of the spectrum in viewing the North positively or negatively. Koreans either desperately wait for reunification so they can reunite their families or possess nothing but hatred and disgust for the other side. The Korean War and division have been the greatest forces in stimulating social change in recent Korean political history.

Joint Security Area or Panmunjom

From Ewha University, our class boarded a tour bus that took us to the Panmunjom Travel Center but could go no further because it did not possess authorization to proceed to the DMZ. Therefore, we were required to transfer to a United Nations bus before continuing our way to the JSA. After we passed the first gate on the way to JSA, the number of military trucks and personnel began to quickly increase in number. Around me everything suddenly seemed tense and serious. I could see Korean soldiers standing around absent of any facial expressions behind their dark sunglasses. The sight of them armed with weapons, a pistol by the waist or a rifle slung in front of them compelled me to sit at the edge of my seat anxiously. In the United States, most people can purchase and own firearm, but in Korea it is different—even the police do not possess such weapons. In fact, the last Korean person I saw armed with a gun was an agent in front of the Blue House, the residence of the Korean president. Further adding to the serious and daunting atmosphere were two adjacent rolls of barbed wire lining the fences.


Barbed wire


July 17, 2013

Journey to Jeju

Filed under: Uncategorized — geakorea @ 5:05 pm

By Olivia Hudnut at Hyun Taek  (Justin) Lee

Monkeys, a fort, and waterfalls…Oh my!

Jeju is considered by Koreans to be the “Three Abundance Island” in reference to its rocks, wind, and women. Jeju is a volcanic island and a geologist’s paradise. The most common rocks found on Jeju are igneous rocks. Basalt and pumice are used commonly in structures and provide a natural harmony with their surroundings. Traditionally, Koreans built low-lying buildings with strongly thatched roofs in order to prevent wind damage. The women of Jeju are also famous for their unique profession of diving. Due to the dangers of sea that left many women of Jeju as widows, they turned to abalone diving off the rocky coasts of Jeju to support their families. The work is not without risk; they dive to depths of 10 meters without air tanks and use a unique bird call to signal to one another from underwater. The remaining divers are aging. With the youngest diver at 51 and the eldest in her 80’s, it is apparent that the young women of Jeju have turned away from this dangerous and difficult profession. This is a common trend in South Korea, with the younger population of Koreans heading to the cities, growing away from traditional culture and the rural areas of Korea. Only 20 years ago, Jeju was largely rural. The rapid implantation of PC bangs (game rooms), GS25’s (convenience stores), and hotels show the conversion of a once rural island to the high speed age of modern Korea. With an aging population, South Korea has faced several issues, including a loss of appreciation of culture and natural beauty.


A photograph of one of the famous Jeju women divers hauling a net filled with abalone

The stops we made on Jeju Island showed us the natural beauty of the volcanic Korean island, and the successes of the Korean people to preserve history and culture to this day. On our first day we explored Hallim Park, a Japanese fort, and Chung Jae Waterfalls.

Hallim Park

Hallim Park is unlike anything I have ever encountered before. It is an expansive park with thousands of species of plants and animals on display and two beautiful limestone caves. I especially enjoyed a small atrium where you could hold exotic birds, play with a baby monkey, and feed gophers and rabbits.


Here I am making friends!


We even got the chance to play with a baby monkey!


July 11, 2012

Weekend Trip to Kangwon Province

Filed under: Uncategorized — geakorea @ 4:41 pm

by Grace Dewson

Departure to Kangnung

This weekend we packed up to head to Kangwon province, the Mecca of hallyu tourism. This trip constituted the film and drama themed portion of our itinerary.

After many rainy hours on the bus, our first stop was at this posh hotel restaurant called “Abbey Road” at the base of Seorak mountains.  As one could guess, the menu is named after Beatles songs and the décor reflected a modern take on British interior design with framed pictures of the most famed albums of the 60’s/70’s British Rock era. Some people mentioned the identity crisis of the place, noting how it is a British-themed, seafood pasta restaurant in the middle of rural South Korea. This could be a result of local and international interests of Korea clashing at once. During the course of the trip, I have noticed how there is rampant physical idolatry of famous figures. Everywhere we go, the face of a Korean pop star cannot be avoided. Even at this rurally located restaurant/hotel, they had gold-framed pictures of famous Koreans who have stayed at their hotel for others to admire. In this particular case, the local cuisine of the area was mostly seafood, creating the strange result we were presented with. Perhaps because I was expecting to eat more traditional Korean food, especially considering we were nowhere near Seoul, I was a bit puzzled but I would learn it wouldn’t be the last time I’d feel that way. The arbitrary thematization of rural locations was disorienting, and at times conflicted with my own expectations of particular destinations.

Despite hopes that the rain would shift away, when we arrived at Mt. Seoraksan, it was pouring. Even with a rain jacket and an umbrella, I ended up with soaked legs and shoes. Our portion of the tour involved us taking a cable car up since it was the second highest mountain in South Korea. Within our car, there were both elders and young children anxiously anticipating going up the mountain. Before we left the station of the cable car, we were greeted by another huge billboard of 2PM happily prancing in outdoor gear. It seemed rather out of place to have a random advertisement in a natural setting and forced me to compare it to the many ads we have seen in Seoul.

Anticipating the ascension up the mountain

To be quite frank, I don’t think much would have prepared me for the hike up the mountain. With heavy fog, and rain flooding over most of the stepping stones, I could barely look at my surroundings if I didn’t want to end up on my face (most especially when coming back down). Once we got to the top, I was so relieved to finally make it and breathe the crisp air, yet I was somewhat disappointed because we couldn’t see very much due to the fog. But that’s the gamble that you take when visiting natural spaces; nature isn’t going to move out of the way for tourism.

Other people among the GEA Korea team exploring the top of the mountain.
For one, the mountain is a place of thought and reflection.