Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Korea: Dorasan

I'm not going to get this story exactly right, but I'll try to get the main points. (And I'll ask Wikipedia for help on the rest!)

Before the division of Korea in 1945, there was a train line that ran from Seoul to Pyongyang. (The line was called the Gyeongui Line.) During the war, train service stopped and the original tracks were destroyed. After the truce in 1953 the country was divided with the 4-kilometer wide DMZ/no man's land along the 38th parallel north. Around 2000 there was a big push for reunification (remember hearing about the Sunshine Policy?) and part of the plan involved reconstructing the train line from Seoul to Pyongyang. In an act of faith, hope and probably desperation, many of the family members of separated families (siblings or parents/kids in the South, unable to contact those in the North) and other corporate partners, including the ubiquitous Hyundai Corp, which has a fascinating history, financed a new train station named Dorasan. It's on the southern edge of the DMZ, and when (if?) the two Koreas are able to open their borders, Dorasan will be the last train station in the former South on the way to the former North, although Koreans like to say it's not the last station, but the first (to a future of unity and peace.)

Dorasan is beautiful, the newest and cleanest thing I've seen in Korea. It's also empty and eerie and heartbreaking. There is a guard posted by the entrance to the rail platform, although trains do run three times a day from Seoul to Dorasan and back. (I'm guessing it's a lonely trip - there is nothing else in Dorasan besides the train, and you have to make special reservations to even go that far north.) Just like everything around the DMZ, you can only take pictures in certain (small) areas and facing certain directions. Being in the station made me sad thinking of all the divided families. I can't imagine the lives they have lived.

You can get your passport stamped at Dorasan, which is really interesting to me. It's another piece of the dream, because it's a stamp for the Seoul - Pyongyang trip, which doesn't exist. Yet. The stamp is beautiful (right hand side of the page), the circle has doves, barbed wire and train tracks, the three symbols of the project.

I was so amazed and interested in Dorasan, I couldn't ask enough questions. I feel lucky to have visited. Read more about it here.

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