A look into North Korea- Odusan Unification Observatory

We are all guilty of taking what we have for granted. We ignore what is on our own doorstep in favour of what is further afield. For four years I have been living in Paju, home of the DMZ.  Apart from the major attractions like Heyri Art Village and the DMZ itself, I have simply passed by the tourist signs and ignored all other attractions on my way to the Premium Outlets.

Slightly ashamed of this behavior, my friends and I decided to rectify the situation by dedicating our entire free day to truly discovering Paju. What we expected was a fortress and a few tombs. What we didn’t expect was to find ourselves standing just 2km’s from North Korea.

 Odusan Unification Observatory was first on our list.   According to the internet this was a fortress but it soon became apparent that it was an observatory we were looking for. It’s pretty well sign posted coming from Geumchon and we found that the GPS in my car was pretty much useless in getting us there.   The car park (2,000won) for the observatory is the same one as for Kart Land and the drive-in movie theater, a little away from the entrance itself.  

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Statue of Jo Min-sik

From there, we took a free shuttle bus on a mere 5 minute ride to the top. The day couldn’t have been any more perfect. Sunny with a nice breeze, the sky was clear and the landscape was breath-taking. The entry was a mere 3,000won and for the lack of crowds alone, it was totally worth it. The Peace statue and Unification Drum are two of the first things to be seen.

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This observatory is the place where the Han and Imjin rivers meet and flow into the West Sea. It’s also the place where the Goguryeo and Baekje Dynasty fought in the time of the three states. Built on the ruins of the fortress it is a place of great history and  impressing from the outset. This is the Unification Wishing Drum, a hard find behind all the buses but none the less beautiful.

 

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The centre provides information in many languages and there are plenty of exhibitions and pictures explaining the Korean war and significant historical events.A short movie on the Observatory and it’s location in relation to North Korea is shown in Korean on the 3rd floor and English, Japanese and Chinese on the 4th. Usually not very entertained by these sorts of things, I found myself glued to the screen with interest. Not surprising, we were the only ones in the theater!

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                                                                                                                                                                                    Where to sit? Janet and Pratishka enjoying the show.

Between the observatory and North Korea was a mere 2km stretch of water. It’s 2 km’s at the furthers point and less than 500 metres at the closest. The water at high tide is around 5 metres but during low tide the distance is almost walkable.

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What is most fascinating from the observation post if the sheer difference between the two countries. On one side you see and hear hundreds of cars travelling along the Jayuro and the high-rise apartment buildings lined up like lego pieces. On the other side, propaganda houses, mountains and fields. No noise, no signs of life to the naked eye, almost as if you were staring at a picture.

 

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Using the binoculars, it was clear that the unfinished and run down propaganda houses were very much in use. Luckily, I spotted two people walking along a country lane. Both wearing black, they were the only signs of life. No vehicles, idle or otherwise, no animals apart a bird or two. Quiet, eerie, incredible.

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North Korea

Looking out at what is undoubtedly the most secluded country in the world, I was filled with the realisation that this was as close as I am ever going to get. To stand just 2km’s from North Korea brought it home to me how close I really do live to this fascinating country. This observation post, that is ignored by so many and indeed by myself for so long is one of the finest destinations I have been to in Korea. And it was right on my door step. To get here took less than 20 minutes from my apartment.  An educational and eye-opening day, the small crowds make any visit here enjoyable and one to remember!

How to get there?

From Seoul; Take bus number 2200 or 200 at exit 2 of Hapjeong station. Get off at Seongdong Sageori, walk for 10 minutes and take the shuttle bus.

From Paju; Take the Gyeongui Line to Geumchon Station. On the opposite side of the road to the station, catch the 900 bus which brings you to the shuttle bus pick up. 

I had the pleasure of sharing this great day with my good friends Pratishka and Janet. To read about Janet’s thoughts of the day, check out her blog here, http://janetnewenham.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/stunning-views-of-north-korea/

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Dearest mother……

Dearest mother,

I received your letter yesterday and would like to respond to your numerous questions. I feel like maybe you have the wrong impression of this country altogether. We should clear this up before you visit otherwise you’ll be very disappointed.

Despite what you read, South Korea is a first world country so yes, we have clean, running water. It also comes in still and sparkling should you prefer to buy some in the shop. We use a monetary system to acquire our items so best bring some along. No, you can’t get it in Ireland, you’ll just have to wait until you get here.  I know you’re a fussy eater, but seriously, there’s no need to bring your own food, we can buy it here.  Times are tough, but not that tough.  We do have Rice Krispies but I’m not sure if they’re called Rice Krispies because I don’t like eating cardboard. I know I usually write letters to you but honestly we do have internet and phones.

You expressed fear about your Western fashion standing out.  Let’s have a little chat about this. Your fashion standing out should be the least of your worries. When people stare, it won’t be because you’re wearing the latest Dunnes fashion, it’ll be because you’re( sit down for this one) FOREIGN!  Since we have free choice as to what we wear here, chances are that they’ll be at least 5,000,000 people in Korea wearing the same t-shirt/shorts combo as you. And should you still be fearful after you’ve arrived, you can always buy your clothes from any of the 200,000,000,000 clothes stores there are here.

That’s if people even manage to see something other than your head.  There are a lot more people here than in Ireland. I mean a LOT more. Koreans are everywhere. So although I live in the “country” ,I really meant that it was more country that downtown Seoul. There are still a lot of people in Paju. You should prepare yourself for this. There’s no such thing as going out to feed the sheep in the morning. In fact, you would be hard set to find a sheep in my part of Paju so best of luck if you’re trying to feed them.

I’m sorry to have to tell you that you’ll be staying in a space a lot smaller than our house in Ireland. It may only have 2 rooms but it’s what I call “home” so it’ll have to do. If you see a house in Korea, you should take a picture, most people live in apartments.

About the safety thing. Mum, this may be Asia but apart from being half way round the world, it’s not all that different from Ireland. Just do what you do in Ireland and don’t do what you wouldn’t do in Ireland and you’ll be set.  But this image you have of thieves and gangsters roaming the streets is so far from the line, that the line is now just a dot.

Mother, mother, mother, have many times have I told you that there is no reason to fear our pesky friends up North? What would they want with you? Nothing, that’s what. If you were planning an emergency evacuation plan, don’t. You’ll only be here for two weeks and yes, we will go to the DMZ because why wouldn’t we? We’ll have a whale of a time, I tell you.

Anyway, pack well and remember that 20kgs is what I got to start an entire life out here so surely you can pack for 2 weeks and be under the limit. Don’t forget the tea bags and treats.

Love,

Shauna

p.s. Since we have cars and petrol here and roads that work, I’ll pick you up from the airport.