Thursday, October 27, 2011

Autumn at BIS

We've been busy at school getting ready for Halloween. All crafts this month have been Halloween related and this one was really fun. We made trick or treat baskets for the kids! Inside is a clear plastic cup to hold their candy! 

Serious faces

Working hard 

Best buddies

The girls

Finished product

How can you NOT love these little faces?! :)

Ghost day!

Jun and Daniel's birthday celebration

The best part of this photo is Daniel's tie (on right.) He came to school in sweatpants and an old shirt, while Jun was in this random suspender and pleated, plaid short getup. Anyways, the Korean staff decided he was just TOO casual for a birthday photo so they made him this tie from PAPER! Haha!

Too sweet

He was SO happy it was his birthday. When the other kids were "too slow" singing him happy birthday he started singing to himself! :) 


I LOVE Iris' face in this picture HAHAHA!!!

Halloween is in a few days and the teachers have been working hard on creating our Angry Birds costumes. The kids are OBSESSED with this game and we knew it was the perfect costume idea. We have been making them all from hand and they turned out WONDERFULLY! I will be sure to post pictures of all of us IN our costumes. 


The weekend before Mary and Steve left Seoul and headed off to China we went on a DMZ and JSA tour. The DMZ (Demilitarized zone) and JSA (joint security area) tours are something I have been wanting to do since moving here. I was just waiting for our first visitors, as I was sure they would want to go as well. We decided to go on a full day tour as we wanted to see as much as we can. What a full day. We left at 630am and didn't get home until almost 8pm! We saw the JSA in the morning, had a yummy Korean lunch then explored the DMZ in the afternoon. 

Korea is the only divided country in the world.  After the Korean War, it has been negotiated and then designated the DMZ 2 kilometers away from the truce line on each side of the border. The DMZ serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea , cutting the Korean peninsula basically in half along the 38th parallel. The DMZ is 160 miles long and is the most highly militarized border in the world.

Inside the DMZ, very near to Seoul, is a place called Panmunjeom which is home of the JSA (joint security area).  Panmunjeom is the site of the negotiations that ended the Korean War and is the main center of human activity in the DMZ

There are several buildings on both the North and the South side of the Military Demarcation Line, and a few are built right on top of the MDL. The Joint Security Area is the location where all negotiations (since 1953 when the Korean war ended) have been held. The MDL goes through the conference rooms and down the middle of the conference tables where the North Koreans and the United Nations Command (primarily South Koreans and Americans) meet face to face. We were able to go inside of this building which was pretty incredible. This was the point in the tour where we were basically "IN" North Korea, as the building is half in the North and half in the South.
South Korean soldier inside the conference room

Learning more about the area we were in while inside the conference area

Inside the conference room with South Korean soldier

This is the JSA. The blue buildings are the conference rooms where North and South meet together. The large building in the back is North Korean. The guide pointed out that you could see North Koreans watching us through the curtains and he was right. You could see curtains moving in the wind as North Korean soldiers were watching us through binoculars. The entire time we were in the JSA we all felt very watched and under scrutiny. The guards made it very clear, and it was very enforced, that we were not to make any movements or hand gestures, as North Koreans could take that as a sign of hostility or disrespect. In this are we all kept our hands in our pockets. :)

Another shot of the JSA

This is pretty incredible. This is the dividing point, in the JSA, between North and South Korea! We were so close!

Since November 15, 1974, the South has discovered that four tunnels crossing the DMZ have been dug by North Korea. This is indicated by the orientation of the blasting lines within each tunnel. Upon their discovery, North Korea claimed that the tunnels were for coal mining,however, no coal has been found in the tunnels. A truly amazing (and pretty freaky and claustrophobic) part of the tour was being able to go INTO one of these tunnels! We walked down a really steep and long tunnel and at the end were able to see down even further. There were many people inside and it was small, dark and wet. Overall, it was pretty creepy when you combine that with knowing the North Koreans had originally created this tunnel as a pathway to attack Seoul. Nonetheless, I am SO happy that I was able to see it. What an experience!! But, cameras were not allowed in or near the tunnel. Sorry! :)

Both North and South Korea maintain peace villages in sight of each other's side of the DMZ. In the South, Daesong- dong houses Republic of Korea citizens, however they are exempt from paying tax and other civic requirements such as military service. They farm the land on in the DMZ and are paid the equivalent of $82,000 US dollars per year. They have certain requirements like a curfew at night and have to maintain residency there over 240 days per year. Students education is paid for, including college if they meet the requirements of admission.
To the North is the village of Kijong- dong which is commonly known as the "propaganda village" and houses many brightly colored, multi story fake buildings. These buildings have no floors, backsides of amenities. No one lives in these buildings. They are just a way to promote the illusion of activity in the North. They are merely there as as a way to "entice" South Korean citizens to deflect to the North. This area also boasts the biggest flag I have ever seen. It is over 600 pounds! This flag is the third largest in the entire world!
Until 2004, massive loudspeakers mounted on several of the buildings continuously delivered propaganda broadcasts directed towards the South.

Propaganda village in the North 

The border is marked with small white markers. Can you see them along this tree line? If you go past them you are in North Korea. 

A clearer shot of the propaganda village 

Something interesting is that in the 1980's the South Korean government built a 3232 feet tall flagpole in Daesong-dong. The North Korean government responded by building an even larger flagpole. Theirs was 525 feet tall and is the one that we saw on the tour. This was the largest in the world, but others have been built to now make it the third tallest. 
This has been called "The Flagpole War."
This is the flagpole on the North Korean side

Flagpole and North Korean propaganda village  

Josh and I in front of the North Korean propaganda village

The Bridge of No Return is located in the JSA and crosses the MDL between North and South Korea. It was used for prisoner exchange at the end of the Korean War (in1953.) The name comes from the claim that prisoners that had been captured by the United States did not wish to be taken back to the North. The prisoners were all brought to this bridge and given the choice to remain in one country or cross to the other. But, if they chose to cross the bridge they could never return. 

This is the Bridge of No Return!!
On our tour we also visited Dorasan Station, which is a railroad station on the subway line that once connected North and South Korea. It has been restored.Plans to finalize this have not been finalized, of course, but it was very interesting to visit the station and see the plans. The hope is to open this railroad service into North Korea and onto China.
It will be so interesting if/when this becomes a reality and we can look back on our visit here; before it was even opened for travel. So neat!

Inside of station showing plans for subway travel through North Korea and into China

The outside of Dorasan Station


Leah, Steve, Josh and Mary at the DMZ


Statue depicting unification between North and South Korea

Whew! What a blog post! If you are ever here in South Korea the DMZ and JSA tour is a MUST! Hope that all this information was interesting and not too boring. :)

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul

 Mary and Steve were in Seoul with us for 10 days and we had an awesome visit. Unfortunately Josh and I were working while they were here. We had some fun adventures and also had nice times just hanging out at home together. The first weekend they were here we went to the Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Gyeongbokgung is a royal palace located in northern Seoul. Translated to English, this palace means"The palace of shining happiness." 

Gyeongbokgung was originally constructed in 1394 by King Taejo the first king and the founder of the Joseon Dynasty. There are over 7,700 rooms inside this huge area! Nearly destroyed by the Japanese government in the early 20th century, the walled palace complex is slowly being restored to its original form. As of 2009, roughly 40 percent of the original number of palace buildings still stand or are reconstructed.
History here in Korea goes back so far and is very rich with culture. Visiting places like this gives us good opportunities to learn more about this country we call home. 

One of the many ponds inside the palace walls

Love this picture of us :)

The 4 of us in front of the entrance to the palace

Another shot of the 4 of us in front of the palace  

Josh and I with one of the guards. Just as we arrived the guards were performing a "changing of the guards ceremony" which was really interesting to see!

Palace entrance

Surrounded by beautiful mountains

Kimchi pots

Changing of the guards ceremony

Something that always amazes me about living in this country is the balance between the new and old- the ongoing struggle to embrace the present while maintaining a connection to culture and heritage. Many Koreans I have spoken to feel that this is a constant personal struggle as well. This palace was an excellent example of this balance as it was surrounded by mountains on one side, and high rise skyscrapers on the other. This palace, built in 1394 is pressed up against a major roadway and has a metropolitan hustle and bustle on the outside, but the inside is so calm and beautiful.  Definitely worth the trip if you are in this area!