“Is it possible to change our seats?” I asked for the fourth time. The person I addressed nodded her head to acknowledge she heard my request before disappearing off the bus. The rumbling of the bus’s engine and the swoosh of the door closing was the reply I received. Apparently there would be no exchanges for the duration of our journey.
Following the barbed wire-lined Imjin River, the peaceful northerly drive led us into Camp Boniface. The land within this American military outpost is oddly pastoral. Patches of earth immersed under a thin layer of water waited for the brilliantly green rice seedlings to be planted. Residents of the border town “Freedom Village” are given special benefits to tend these lands, but in return they have strict residency requirements imposed upon them.
After a briefing in which we signed our permission slips, still unnecessarily segregated according to which bus we rode, we continued on towards the Joint Security Area (aka Panmunjeom). The bus passed a lonely Christmas tree with lights still tightly wound around it before stopping before the Freedom House. Once again we received orders from our military escort to remain divided according to our bus.
Standing behind the demarcation line, the South Korean soldiers were menacingly positioned with opaque sunglasses and their hands balled into fists. While their counterparts were not out this morning a figure holding binoculars on the steps of the opposing North Korean building, Panmungak, could be seen. After a quick check to ensure our groups weren’t fraternizing, we visited an observation tower. The untouched land before us has become a haven for wildlife and migrating birds like the Manchurian Crane. In the distance, a ludicrously large flag pole rose from the small northern “Propaganda Village.” Many believe people are shipped in from neighboring Kaesong to make the place seem habited and prosperous.
While South Korea claims they want to unify, actions speak louder than words. Maybe a smaller project would be good practice, like unifying tour buses by allowing unrestricted inter-bus movement. Who knows, maybe this could snowball and the Korean peninsula would be united again. At the very least, my friends and I would appreciate being able to sit together.