We left Tokyo after about three days of getting accustomed to the drastic time change and jet lag, and traveled to Seoul, Korea. We arrived after dark so couldn’t see as much on the way into the city from Kimpo Airport, but the odors were overwhelming especially when we crossed the Han River. I would say that one’s first visit to Korea is marked by the smells – from kimchee, which is heavy on the garlic, to the human waste that is used for fertilizer. I am speaking of 1986 and things may be different today. If any of the readers served time in the Army in Korea years ago, you will probably understand what I mean.
Here is our team on the first day of work. I am in the group on the left and was from Sacramento, as were the two men on the right. The tall man in the center was my boss. The other three – were from Washington, DC.
The very Korean looking structure behind me is Dongdemun, and the suffix “mun” indicates a gate. Dongdemun is either the east gate or the west gate to the city. I got them confused when I was in Seoul, and I am still confused.
Here in the distance behind me is Namdemun, which of course, is either the east gate or the west gate.
We stayed at a Hyatt hotel which was very comfortable and deluxe. There were always security guards at the doors, and their main job seemed to be turning away the prostitutes who tried to enter the hotel. Nearby was Itaewon, the premier fun and shopping district – not premium merchandise, but typical Korean knock-offs. I spent a lot of time in Itaewon. Also nearby was the large Army post of Yong San. Our work was done at the Army Corps of Engineers Compound. We happened to be there for Organization Day, and while I have many photos I can’t find them. I have this one of me when I took part in a walk for charity. I wish I had that weight now, about 20# more than what I am today. I felt terrific then.
Here is the only picture I took of the Compound other than at Organization Day, and I wanted to show how the women carry their babies on their backs.
The team did a lot of sightseeing on weekends, sometimes together and sometimes in smaller groups. One weekend I went to Panmunjom and I think I was the only one of the team, although I am in several pictures and don’t know who would have taken them.
Panmunjom, as you know, is on the 38th parallel at which was created the DMZ after the truce between North and South Korea. It has been a shaky truce all these years, as the following photo shows. It is a jeep in which a soldier watches the “Bridge of No Return”. The jeep is kept running (imagine the waste of fuel) and his purpose is to drive over to block the bridge from onrushing North Korean forces should they decide to invade. (The North spent and probably still spends a lot effort tunneling over to the South, and one of the jobs of the Engineers is to detect and destroy these tunnels.
This is an observation tower we climbed to look across to the North. We were warned that we were under constant observation by the other side, and not to point or raise our arms in any threatening way. The drama of this place is nearly unbelievable, and I often thought it was done for show and suspense. Supposedly visitors have been shot and killed for such pointing and threatening, but major repercussions have been avoided.
This is looking across the border from the tower. The building on the right is where the truce was signed after weeks of argument over the shape of the table – should it be rectangular, should it be round, or what. I sort of remember that issue although I would have been pretty young when it happened. Maybe I just read about it.
This is down on the ground in front of the border, which is a line that goes across the ground in the exact center of the building where the truce was signed. American and S. Korean soldiers are everywhere on our side, and on the other side the N. Korean guards tend to stay out of sight and sort of sneak around the corners. The large building straight across was built strictly for show – there are no offices in it nor does it have any purpose except for intimidation. We were told that there were people everywhere watching every move we made.
I am so upset that I can’t find the rest of my photos taken in Korea, as I have one taken inside the truce building. We were permitted to go inside, and at one point we were able to walk around the table, which means I’ve actually been on North Korean soil. This has stood me well for a long time since I’m in a contest with my oldest son as to who has been in the most states, and who has been in the most countries. I have several countries in the Far East, including North Korea, although he is beating me in the Middle East.
My final picture taken in Panmunjom shows some of the poster art which hangs on all the barracks. Very macho, although I don’t know if you can see it very clearly.
I’ll write more about my visit to Korea another time, but will spare you for now.