Friday, May 4, 2012

DMZ picnic

Early May, fresh green everywhere, a soft and gentle breeze... No mosquitoes, no bugs, just a delicate snow of white petals cast by the large tree protecting us from the bright sun. And a korani: this panicked water deer took off right in front of us on our way to a peaceful picnic.

Peaceful? Like distant thunder from a dry summer storm, every twenty minutes or so, a cannon shot reminds us that we're in a restricted area. Same for those small triangular signs, which tell us the spot used to be a landmine. When the area is not cleared, a chaplet of red flags blocks the passage. The big red flags issue yet another warning: drills are under way here, and we're using live ammos. The large red signs with a number on them mark the line beyond which nothing can fly, no bullet can be shot.

Because the DMZ is like an onion, it has layers. Like these thick concrete walls running across strategic valleys to slow down North Korean tanks. South Korean tanks? We saw plenty of those as we toured the zone, along with packs of soldiers exercising, countless training ranges (even a real size JSA mock-up).

No wonder our korani felt a triffle nervous when it saw a group of humans. But we're not soldiers, nor even poachers. Just civilians attending a seminar with the DMZ Culture Forum*. More interested in how to promote AND preserve the DMZ's cultural assets - I'm stressing the "AND" because in Korea, promotion has a knack for being incompatible with preservation.

The DMZ's military heritage is already been taken care of. And technically, the war is not even over. Heck, officially, the armistice itself has not been ratified by South Korea (BTW the signature didn't happen in Panmunjom but in Kaesong).

The topic of the day was nature. And we experienced first hand what might be lost once this curtain is torn down. A Korea that vanished almost everywhere else. Charming valleys, pristine landscapes, no "apateu" blocks, no concrete messes ruining every single hilltop. Time suspended. A bballi-bballi-free Korea.

Of course, everything is at the same time as artificial as this owl guarding a peach orchard. Or as the only village of farmers residing there, a surreal Architectural Digest that tells a lot about the brighter side of living in an overprotected area.

Overprotected for whom? Ever the pleasant and pleasing guy, CHUN Doo-hwan arranged decades ago a scheme to help scores of Seoul friends snatch huge parcels of land for almost nothing: after the war, impossible to tell for sure who owned which land, and the man in charge stated that if three witnesses concurred in their accounts, cases could be settled...

Unless a moratorium is implemented before sounder policies are crafted, you probably can kiss those pristine landscapes a sad goodbye.

Seoul Village 2012

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*DMZ Culture Forum (DMZ문화포럼 -

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