6/23/2012 - Day Two in South Korea
Our OP Harry group's schedule had been changed so were scheduled to visit OP Howe to let us view OP Harry on Sunday June 24th. We had an early departure, so we had breakfast at the hotel's buffet dinning room. Buffet is not an apt term for the Ambassador Hotel's food service. It more closely resembles a gourmet food court with each station maned by skilled chefs who cooked each serving on demand, to each person's wishes and taste.
Omelettes, or eggs any style, broiled "breakfast" steaks, Korean specialties including a whole dazzling array of sushi prepared fresh, on site, and on demand. And, of course, an equally dazzling array of deserts all the way from fresh fruits to calorie laden specialties, including an always available hot chocolate fountain, ice cream, cakes, and cookies. Oh and yes for caffeine lovers, a do-it-yourself Espresso machine that automatically grinds the beans then brews the perfect Espresso cup at the press of the button.
Alcohol drinks and Internet connection in your room were added to your bill, if ordered. Meals, with all the trimmings, were included in the price of your room.
Nobody went away from this feast hungry -- and there was reliable, free, Internet connection available while lounging in the comfortable seats in the lobby.
Meanwhile, Jeong was working, conducting an interview with Shin Moon Jae and his wife, Kim Kyu Soon, in the Hotel's lobby with Rhonda assisting.
After Jeong finished his interview, we all headed out to the parking lot where bus #1 (our OP Harry contingent's bus for the duration of this visit) was waiting to be boarded. There were interviews while the bus was being loaded, then more interviews and camera work while on the road as we headed North from Seoul towards the 38th parallel.
The bus trip from downtown Seoul, across the Han river, and then north on the freeway towards the 38th parallel was our first experience being out of Metropolitan Seoul area into the outskirts (read suburbs) with agriculture using more land area as we went further north.
The 38th Parallel was a break/rest stop on our way to our lunch stop. It had been a long bus ride and the break was welcome. This was obviously a popular place for travelers going north towards the DMZ.
We stopped for lunch at an elegant restaurant and were treated to an elegant multi-course Korean meal. I didn't really realize what we had been treated to until, while showing these pictures to a young Korean Graduate student on her way to a economic conference in San Francisco with her accompanied by her professors looked at these pictures and said, in awe "That is very expensive."
The main course was prepared at our tables and, in addition to the elegant food, our tour guide Jade filled us in on the food we were eating explained what it was and the use of Kimshi in the Korean diet -- there are over 200 different Kimshi types popular in Korea today.
This was the highlight of our trip north to the DMZ. On the way to OP Chung Sung, we stopped as we crossed the Hantan river and looked for the spot where Route #19, as it was called in 1953, crossed the Hantan. It was the only viable route from the south across the Hantan for supplies and personnel to get to the front in our sector during the battle for OP Harry June 10th through June 18th, in 1953.
We didn't find the site of those temporary bridges, but did find Korean youngsters river rafting the rapids on the Hantan River.
Our bus was led away from the restaurant by a military police car with its lights flashing. We were on our way deep into the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where OP Howe is located. It became clear, as we continued north, that we were leaving the vibrant civilian society of South Korea and were going into a war zone. As we passed checkpoints, the roads became lined with chain link fences topped with concertina wire both razor and barbed. Behind the fences, as we got closer to the DMZ, was another fence that was decorated with little signs warning not to enter the area as it was mined.
So much for having a picnic in those woods.
When we returned to our hotel that evening, Seoul's local Chosun TV had aired a short clip of our visit to OP Howe. The clip is all in Korean, but the video tells the story.
The train station was used as a supply and troop movement station during the Korean War.
Some of the tankers in our group remember this station as it was where they made beer runs when the train came in from the south.
The station is no longer functional but is now a historic site. The only tracks were at the display of where the remains of badly shot up railroad cars that were on display.
The Labor Party Building is a South Korean National Monument as a reminder of Japan's brutal occupation and exploitation followed by the brief, but no less brutal occupation of South Korea by the North Korean Communists.
The Building is disintegrating with time and weather, but has been keep standing as a reminder of the past. It is on a paved road now with nearby snack shop; a change from how it looked in 1952 as shown in a picture on Martin Markley's web page.
This has been a long, fully packed, and satisfying day. It is both good to have seen and accomplished so much in a single day, and be going back to our hotel to get ready for tomorrow.
This day's tour made clear that South Korea is still on a war footing. You would not guess, if you judged South Korea from the very cosmopolitan vibrant Seoul that North and South Korea are at war. Ready at a moment's notice to start an armed conflict.
As we left Seoul and traveled North it became increasingly evident, mile by mile, that South Korea is prepared to defend itself. As we approached OP Howe, we passed through checkpoints where the bus was stopped and papers checked. The final checkpoint before entering the road to OP Howe was maned by guards armed with automatic weapons.