The Train To North Korea

On Sunday, I visited the DMZ and did the typical touristy stuff: walked through a North Korean infiltration tunnel, visited a museum, and looked into North Korea’s border city via binoculars. (Hint: the North Korean buildings are all fake.)

However, the highlight of the tour was Dorasan Station, a functional train station that connects North and South Korea. The rail was used to ferry supplies and workers from South Korea to North Korea’s Kesong City. However, transportation was cut off in 2008.

Dorasan Station is really interesting to me because it combines two of my weird interests: Asian history and political marketing/propaganda. It’s big, clean, and wholly unused. But the government maintains the station as a symbol of future Korean reunification. As a tourist, you can buy a ticket to stand on the platform and wait for a train that will take you to Pyeongyang. However, it will never come.

There are also posters everywhere with inspirational messages such as: “not the last station from the South, but the first station toward the North.”

Here’s the ticket I bought. It costs 500 Korean Won, which is a little bit under $0.50 USD. Apparently, the fees go toward maintaining the quality and cleanliness of the station.

Tourists can also take pictures with the South Korean military police. If you ask nicely, they will even take out their batons and pretend to hit you. Of course, if those hilarious pictures fell into North Korean hands, I’m sure they would be used for propaganda by the state-controlled media (e.g. “in South Korea, MPs hit poor travelers!!”)

However, the most strike thing for me was the visual difference between North Korean and South Korean land. On the North Korean side of the fence, the hills are brown and stripped of resources. Due to lack of efficient energy production, North Koreans chop down trees to heat their homes. The land is barren. On the South Korean side, the lands are not only green and fertile, but also dotted with huge modern skyscraper condos. The quality of a country’s leadership really makes a difference.

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