AUTHOR Chuck Rogers

Blankets of Smog: A look into the relationship between North and South Korea

A thick layer of smog, blankets the mountains in front of the Dora Observatory at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Staring through the haze I begin to lose my bearings. I spot a sliver of red waving in the air. I look through a pair of binoculars that are attached to the viewing area of the Dora Observatory to get a closer look at the red sliver. Upon viewing, I stumble across several tall rugged buildings and barbed wire fences until I finally focus on the red sliver. The red sliver is the North Korea flag. Directly across from it lies the South Korea flag. Each side an enigma to the other. 

A map of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea

Furthermore, within the Dora Theater is a hallway full of buildings that remain in tact from the Dynasty Eras. The Dynasty Eras took place before the Japanese invaded Korea, in an attempt to strip the Korean people of their culture. These structures continue to withstand into the divide of North and South Korea from the Cold War Era: elaborate palaces, stone statues, and nature reserves. Most of these are found in the countryside of North Korea. The structures have managed to avoid the destruction of the Korean War, leaving a relic of what once was. It’s hard to look over at the empty skyscrapers and think about what is still preserved. 

End of Separation, Beginning of Unification Memorial at the DMZ

Currently our class is learning about South Korea’s relationship with North Korea and how both countries changed after the Korean War. Breaking families apart and the loss of essential human rights, severs the bond even farther. North Koreans have been isolated in a mold of their own culture–that is, what few elements of it that they are allowed to experience for themselves. With minimal contact from the outside world, due in part to the regime of the Kims’, North Korea is unrecognizable in comparison to its more modern neighbor. Freedom is restricted concerning fashion, access to transportation, and basic electricity.

As Pyeongang, the capital of North Korea, once struggled it is finally within a middle class standing; Seoul, South Korea’s capital, flourishes with the fastest growing GDP per capita. In class, we have learned about how North Korea has attempted to keep up with the ‘Korean Wave’ that South Korea has produced. From example, North Korea has created its own beauty brands, such as ‘N-Beauty,’ and K-Pop inspired groups that perform ‘N-Pop.’ North Korea attempts to give its people a sense of freedom, but this illusion falls flat at the end of the day. People in North Korea are also required by law to keep pictures of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in their homes. These extreme differences don’t seem obvious as my classmates and I stand at the Dora Observatory at the DMZ.

The North Korean border from the binoculars at the Dora Observatory

My class was allowed to apply the history and texts that we have studied about North vs. South into real context when we took our trip to the DMZ. Experiencing a segment of class out in the field, and getting the opportunity to look in depth on my studies has been beneficial, as it has grown my ability to relate complex concepts within culture and diversity. Seeing the DMZ, I got the impression of a hazy grey area, while North and South Korea remain black and white in comparison. There have been several attempts for the two opposing sides to find peace among the peninsula. However, people on both sides hold this agreement skeptical. Even with the impression of peace, the DMZ remains the most patrolled border in the world, leaving families straddling the border in search of the reunification that they were once promised.

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