Friday, 19 June 2009

A Ghost Train Statian, a Surreal Border and the Evolution of Taekwon-Do

Dorasan Station is the first train station between South and North Korea on the Trans-Asian Railway, which connects with the Trans-Siberian railway and so joins the Far East (and South Korea) with Europe. Well, in theory at least. The “war” between South and North Korea means that the railway between the Koreas is closed. Dorasan Station is fully equipped, spick and span, but a ghost station.

The photo was taken a little reluctantly. I don’t mind photos; I just didn’t see any purpose in taking one of myself with the station in the background. However, my Taekwon-Do instructor said that the station might not be there in a year or two, who knows with all the political upheaval recently, so I better get a picture taken before the station is destroyed by a North Korean invasion – this, of course, was all said in jest. So, to please him, I posed for the photo. Looking at it again now, I see that my face did anything but radiate excitement over yet another example of a common North-South checkmate. Also, I’ve never been a fan of “tourist”-sites and this felt very much like a tourist picture.

I went to the DMZ with my Taekwon-Do instructor and some friends last Sunday. I’ve been to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) during my previous stay in Korea and cannot say that I was tingling all over with anticipation. Nonetheless, it was a good excuse to spend time with friends and maybe see something I might have missed with my previous trip.

There were actually some changes since my previous visit. A very surreal change, I must admit. A theme park – all with merry-go-rounds, a swinging ship and a myriad of other fun rides. To fully grasp the queerness of this, one has to remember where exactly this is. The DMZ. The Korean Demilitarized Zone. The world’s most heavily fortified border. Hotspot for an estimated two million soldiers. Heavily buffered with landmines, barbed wire, soldiers with machine guns and mean sneers. And here is an amusement park with little children playing and eating ice cream, and grannies sitting on little blankets enjoying picnics. Adding to the obscurity is the American take-away selling “Louisiana”-style chicken, or the DMZ-only-white-chocolate, sold nowhere else in the whole wide world.

We did see a picture of Kim Shin-jo, a North Korean assassin that was part of the guerrilla team sent to the Blue House in 1968 to kill the South Korean president. Kim Shin-jo was the only of the 31 North Korean soldiers that survived. I find his story interesting for two reasons. Firstly, Kim has defected from North Korea and is now living in South Korea. He has converted to Christianity and is currently a pastor. Now isn’t that an interesting story? A North Korean atheist assassin becomes a South Korean Christian pastor. The second reason I’m fascinated with him is because while in captivity, the South Korean army made him fight against their soldiers. He frequently and easily won. Keep in mind that South Korea had in the meantime produced Taekwon-Do, which was developed in the military out of the Korean War. This one North Korean soldier highlighted some serious flaws in Taekwon-Do. Of course, Kim Shin-jo was not an ordinary soldier. He was one of North Koreas elite soldiers that could cover 100 km on foot with a gun and a backpack in one day. Still, the South Korean military had to take inventory of its combat system, and so Taekwon-Do was remodelled. What I like about this story is that it shows how Taekwon-Do has always been a martial art (i.e. military system), and also that it is open for adaptation. Of course, my research into the incident is still very scanty; nevertheless, I hope to look into this evolution of Taekwon-Do.

On our way back, my instructor and I were talking about martial arts and self-defence. I told him that my main interest in the martial arts is self-defence. He confessed that self-defence is usually not the reason for people in South Korea to take up martial arts. We didn’t talk about what the reasons are Koreans usually take up martial arts, but I understand why they do not take it for self-defence. Unlike South Africa where violent crime is a common occurrence, in South Korea it is rare. In general, the crime rate in South Korea is very low and the most common crimes are usually not violent (although I did mention the assault on foreigners in a previous post).

Well that was last Sunday. This coming Sunday I’m going to be a judge at a middle school speech contest. Yeah!

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