July 21, 2008

North Korea

Part of our Kaesong trip entailed a beautiful hike through a densely wooded forest to see one of the three most famous waterfalls in Korea (Bakyeon), the remains of an ancient wall and to visit a temple that managed to survive the communist regime (Kwaneum). The trek was not disappointing.

The trees were tall and old. The forest itself looked almost identical to what we are accustomed to hiking in around Seoul. That is, minus the trash, excessive population and noise pollution.

I have no doubt that these forests have seen much in their days with Kaesong being the capital city for some 500 years, not to mention it being such a pivotal city during the war and now with the insane control of the country and the citizens. I'm sure that there are stories that the world would pay anything to hear that only these forests could tell.

The water of Bakyeon Waterfall was fresh and clean; the waterfall itself seemed revitalizing, some say the waters in this area have healing powers.

The cliff faces and boulders along the path were, as in Geumgangsan, strewn with propaganda. While the forests and the mountains looked so similar they felt strangely haunting, strangely 'big-brotherish'. This feeling combined with the rock carvings of old songs, communist slogans and speeches from the 'great leader' and the 'dear leader' reminded us that we were indeed in North Korea and no longer in the South.

And, at Kwaneum temple we were greeted warmly by a 'monk' of sorts. I am told that normally monks have their heads shaved. At least this is what seems to be the global norm. So... I'm guessing that this kind man was not a monk but instead a nice old man who was playing the part for the tourists. Appearances, appearances, appearances...

As a point of interest, these rock carvings (below) had been scratched out by the government. With some of the carvings dating back to the early history of Korea, 1000's of years ago, we were pondering what they might have said that would make the North Korean government feel that it was pertinent to deface them? We inquired about the matter to the North Koreans guides around us and out of 7 North Korean nationals, not one of them knew or would confess to knowing; a religious statement perhaps or statements pertaining to a more democratic way of life? Either way it is a good example of the simple ways in which their government has control of everything.

It was a beautiful walk. All in all, this part of the tour greatly resembled our previous trip to North Korea. We were fully conscious that this may also be our last trip to North Korea for quite a while. We are just happy that we finished our tours before political relations crashed and tempers heated up.


Anonymous said...

my name is hee wook
The teacher photograph which is above is beautiful

Anonymous said...

rachel is good !!

The Olson's said...

Thank you Hee Wook! I like to take pictures and Korea is such a beautiful place!!