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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 14:31 GMT
One Korean's journey to the North
A rare glimpse of North Korean farmers
Tourists were forbidden from talking to North Koreans
The BBC's Kevin Kim joined the first overland tourist trip to North Korea, and reflects on his journey to the other side of the border.

About 10 years ago, before rapprochement on the Korean peninsula began, my family went on a summer trip along the eastern coast of South Korea.

We started from my hometown, Busan, and we drove north, enjoying the scenic coastal view.

As we got closer to the border separating the capitalist South from the communist North, I saw huge blocks of concrete stacked on the sides of the road.

I was really tempted to just open the window and say "hello" or "nice to see you"

My father explained they were anti-tank barriers to stop the North's tanks from freely rolling into South Korean territory.

My father served as an officer in the South Korean Army's Engineering Corp, and he had helped build them.

He was proud of his contribution to defending his country.

Finally we neared the DMZ, or the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas.

From an observatory tower that was built for tourists I caught my first glance of North Korea.

I took a hard glance, hoping someday I could actually go through the barbed wire fences and travel to the North by land.

Crossing over

And 10 years later that wish finally came true.

South Korean buses were welcomed as they crossed the border
Hyundai Asan organised the tour

I was on board one of 20 buses that crossed the DMZ for the first time.

As a South Korean it felt really strange, because up to now we were strictly forbidden from getting near to the DMZ.

The mountains on the North Korean side looked totally different from the mountains on the South Korean side.

It was very barren. There were hardly any trees.

North Korea is in an energy crisis right now and every single tree is put to good use, for heating.

The South Korean guide told us that while travelling through the DMZ we must not take pictures, wave outside, or show any South Korean newspapers or magazines through the window.

I guess that is why everyone on the bus was talking in a very soft voice.

Every few hundred metres there were North Korean soldiers with their rifles just looking on as the buses went by.

I was really tempted to just open the window and say "hello" or "nice to see you".

But I had been told by my South Korean guide that I could open the window but I could not say anything to them.

Dreams of unification

Like the words of the South Korean song, "Longing for Mount Kumgang", getting to North Korea and seeing its natural beauty has been something that people in the South could only long for until now.

South Korean tourists stand on a cliff bearing a slogan praising former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung
Mount Kumgang is a landmark for all Koreans

Unification, too, is something that Koreans have only dreamed about.

But having travelled through the most heavily fortified border in the world, I began to think that while unification in the Korean peninsula may seem impossible right away, it does not have to stay as a dream.

Who knows, in 20 years time we might actually be seeing the fences coming down.

It is wishful thinking. But Koreans are natural born optimists.


Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

TALKING POINT
See also:

16 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
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