Bob Harris' photo diary of a trip to the North Korea border


52 Responses to “Bob Harris' photo diary of a trip to the North Korea border”

  1. gnosis says:

    Echoing the posters above – this is exactly the kind of thing that keeps me F5-ing BB all day long.

    Also, I’m obsessed with anything having to do with North Korea. I especially recommend the documentary “A State of Mind”. It follows a couple of young girls training for the Mass Games – but also provides incredible insight into the nature of how the regime keeps it’s destitute population faithful to Dear Leader.

    Plus the games themselves are jaw dropping on the level of the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony.

  2. buddy66 says:

    Korea is not one of God’s favorite places — and he’s not through with it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Um…. what is the 2nd guy from the left in the second pic holding?

  4. Nelson.C says:

    I think I went to the same tower last year, KoreanCracker. Just before, we had lunch at an eel restaurant by the Imjingang River, near where the Gloucestershire Regiment earned their South Korean Distinguished Unit Citation, then went for a walk near the river. Couldn’t actually walk on the river bank because it had a barbed wire fence and a concrete path for the border patrol, specifically to keep North Korean spies and saboteurs out.

    At the tower we watched the potemkin village on the north bank for a while, but saw no-one working or even living there. Very disturbing.

  5. 1up mushroom says:

    The guys who did “state of mind” are touring another one of their movies “crossing the line” to some universities in the US. Its about some US defectors to NK in the 60s

    Here is the schedule:

  6. neoscrum says:

    then, you can enjoy the movie of ‘JSA(Joint Security Area)’
    this movie is about the soldiers of southen and northen of JSA. it’s funny and sad. don’t miss it!

  7. stumo says:

    Just a quick note to say this is exactly the kind of interesting stuff I come to Boing Boing for; thanks Mark and Bob (Rob? Different names in title and first paragraph) for sharing

  8. mblitch says:

    Both locations mentioned in the story can be viewed in Google Earth. Unfortunately a lot of photos in the panoramio layer are misplaced (it irks me to no end when people put the placemarker at the location of the subject of the photo and not the spot from which it was taken). Anyone have links to companies that do the tour to JSA or the requirements/restrictions?

    As mentioned earlier by another, stories such as this are why I read boingboing. Interesting and different aspects of our world, though could do with fewer book signings. :)

  9. mdh says:

    MikeLotus – “Guess Rob Harris has never been to Gettysburg or Volgograd.”

    Actually, of all the people in the world I’ve heard of, BOB Harris is the one I would suspect HAD been to both of those places. He seems to have been to everywhere else too. He’s probably better traveled than BB’s own Xeni, and he is at least as interesting to read.

  10. TheMostHorrible says:

    I was there in the late 90s and it was quite a trip in every sense. I feel very lucky to have been able to visit there, as not everybody gets that chance. But it was disconcerting.
    Our guide told us how they were forbidden to interact with the N Korean soldiers when they occupied the zone at the same time. However the N Koreans would get intelligence on the US and ROK soldiers as individuals then call them by name and say crazy things to mess with them.
    He also talked about the extreme lack of food and even firewood over the border. There is this bizarre, fake and empty propaganda city across the way from which songs are blasted at all hours. Guards could look across with their thermal vision and see glowing handprints on the freezing walls of the N Koreans guardposts long after the N Koreans had quit leaning there.
    If it wasn’t cold hard reality that place would be a great thrill attraction the way it tends to spook you out.
    On our way out they finally told us the N Koreans had threatened to kidnap folks like us wandering around in the DMZ in retaliation for folks who had “been kidnapped” (defected) weeks earlier.

  11. TheMostHorrible says:

    I got some cool golf balls at that gift shop too…ostensibly from “the most dangerous golf course in the world.”

  12. Cool Products says:

    Wow, great photos and descriptions. That must’ve been a really interesting trip.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I was there 8 years ago. In addition to the nature preserve that’s been accidentally created in the DMZ (talk about your positive externalities), they are still finding bombs/landmines all throughout the area. Another reason not to veer off the beaten trail there.

  14. corwinlw says:

    On the other side of North Korea, in China, is Dandong. Even though relations between North Korea and China are a touch strained, things are pretty different there. Here’s their statuary:

    Kim leading the way

    Their border is a little less rigorous:

    although don’t get me wrong, I would have been shot if I had crossed

    And they don’t always like the United States that much:

    best museum ever

    But you’re always watched over by a great leader…

    even if he’s a little rusty.

    In the middle of town is the Yalu Jiang Duan Qiao, which is a bridge leading across the river that was bombed out during the Korean War. Next to it is the new bridge, which carries the weekly train between Pyongyang and Moscow. From the edge of that bridge you can see into North Korea, where they put on a little show to prove how great it is. From the top of the Great Wall, not so far away, you can look in with binoculars and see cruel poverty.

  15. Agies says:

    @15 Yes, it is a fantastic movie. I was going to mention it but you got there first.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Not sure if anyone mentioned this, however I believe (a number of years ago) Soldier of Fortune put a $1M bounty out for capturing a piece of the flag atop the giant NK pole.

  17. Anonymous says:

    LOL at the guy “pleasing” himself, or is that a mortar round in his hand?

  18. Beedie says:


    The USO in Seoul offers JSA tours, open to civilians as well as military. They don’t have any real info on their site, though. Just the dress code, which is basically as described by Bob Harris. The dress code and restrictions (mostly meant to avoid provocation) were put in place by the United Nations Command. In many cases the rules stem from agreements between the DPRK and UNC concerning the conduct of either side within the JSA.

    I think there are other tour providers, but everyone says the USO’s is the best. At least everyone stationed at Yongsan says so.

  19. gnosis says:

    @1up mushroom – Yes, that one is good too, though in a totally different way. It’s also on DVD:

  20. The Dour Salmon says:

    To see WAY more of the insanity, check out the Vice Guide to North Korea.

    Those guys are INSANE. They also went to Darfur, chatted with Hezbollah, bought weapons in the Khyber Pass, and just generally go where everyone else refuses to go because it’s incredibly stupidly dangerous. And they do pretty well, usually. Check out their Travel Guide stuff.

  21. 1up mushroom says:

    Ive never seen it actually, but I met the guy who is presenting it here in the states. If your looking to go to DPRK (North Korea) i highly recomend koyro tours:

    They put on a really good tour and you can see all the stuff that the DPRK has to offer. It really makes for an interesting vacation, if your into North Korea.

  22. w000t says:

    #15 neoscrum

    I definitely agree with the recommendation of Joint Security Area. Very realistic portrayals of the JSA sets and the surrounding politics and cultures mixed with plenty of heart, humor, and a great plot. Surprisingly little known despite being around number 13 in the list of top-grossing Korean films.

  23. Beedie says:

    I was just there a few months ago, and surreal pretty much sums it up. I’m in a unit that will be among the first to head to the peninsula if the doo-doo hits the fan, so naturally we all hope for A) No war, and B) No implosion followed by chaos. Unfortunately, (B) will probably happen sooner or later. Hopefully for the better when it happens. The Koreans are awesome people and it pains me that so many of them have been deprived of so much for so long.

    Next door to the Yongsan Army Barracks in Seoul is the Korean War Memorial. A poignant sculpture in the park outside the museum pretty much sums it up for me. Pic here:

    I also thought it was pretty cool when Matt Harding of “Where the Hell is Matt?” danced in the conference room in front of the guard in his taekwondo stance. Maybe someday people from both sides can meet in the former DMZ and dance together. That would really be something to see.

  24. milovoo says:

    Michael Palin toured that border station during the “Full Circle” series. I think there was less amusement park then (in 1997), but other than that pretty similar. (plus, there’s also a ton of other great stuff in that series)

  25. Ghost Dance says:

    For a moment I thought it was Whispering Bob Harris. North Korea. Mmmmm….nice.

  26. Takuan says:

    implosion is coming, and nastier than the Fall of the`Wall. What thought has been put into the management of millions of refugees, of how to control the settling of scores by the outraged?

  27. Anonymous says:

    i spent a year-1968-69..on a mountain top with a great view into the was just assumed they were nuts and could and would do something at the the drop of a hat..and he was killed not trying to cut the tree down but just removing one branch that blocked the view..the ROK GI’s were “bad”dudes also..we kept away from them–
    i tryed to Google Earth our site but it’s fuzzed out..i hear the South has taken over that outpost..

  28. mikelotus says:

    I don’t think that the numerous large war memorials have anything to do with the war not being over. I would think its because almost the entire country was conquered, liberated, and then partially conquered again, then once again liberated. Lot’s of ROK soldiers died. Guess Rob Harris has never been to Gettysburg or Volgograd.

  29. Takuan says:

    with any luck, little Kimmie is dead and the dissolution has begun. Mark my words: when the North is finally free a consequence of that will be the unleashing of a criminal underground the like which has not been seen.

  30. laffmakr says:

    The statue actually looks a lot like the toy soldiers I used to play with. It’s hard to tell, but it looks like the kneeling bazooka guy on the right forgot the main part of his weapon.

    They even look like they’re the right color.

  31. koreancracker says:

    my family went to one of the border towers when i was 12, i remember putting a coin in a pair of binoculars to get a view of north korea. i did think it was kind of odd that the fence extended into the ocean.

    my grandma didn’t say much when it came to the war, although she told us about having to walk south to get away from it. she heard dying men crying for their mothers in english and korean.

  32. mdh says:

    I heart Bob Harris. I’ve been reading him for years now. What insight.

  33. dlelash says:

    Just wanted to echo that “Who Hates Whom” is a terrific book and should be required reading for any geopolitically-impaired American (which would be most of us).

  34. TheMostHorrible says:

    I wanna hear more from #24.

  35. KWillets says:

    My wife’s grandmother rode out of the North on top of a steam locomotive, in the dead of Winter. Some of her kids didn’t survive the trip.

  36. Kieran O'Neill says:

    #2: If the sculpture is titled “Ten Human Bombs”, I would think that neither he, nor artillery-round-on-his-shoulder on the right there, needs the main part of the weapon. :|

  37. neoscrum says:

    @20, thanx for your advice, but i can’t go there “JSA”. because i’m South Korean. even though i live in seoul, which is just few miles from there. despite of it, I love the movie “JSA” like another south koreans.

  38. Gag Halfrunt says:

    The sculpture bears an unfortunate resemblance to North Korean socialist realist art.

  39. robm999 says:

    I got to spend 88-89 in S. Korea with 4 months on a hill just east of JSA/Truce village keeping an eye on the North. On this map you can see JSA to the left of center and my hilltop to the right, Guardpost Ouellette. Map
    Speaking of nature preserve..Next time someone is up that way, ask about the tiger that is/was in the DMZ. I personally saw and played the IR video tape many times for visitors. :)

  40. Bad Horse says:

    I was there 8 years ago and it has been, and probably forever will be, the most surreal experience I’ve ever had. One thing in particular I did notice was the difference in size between the northern and southern soldiers; the South Koreans were much taller and much broader. If you ever get a chance, I would highly recommend a visit. Oh, and don’t pass up the opportunity to see the North Korean tunnels dug under the DMZ that have been discovered by South Korea…creepy, very creepy.

  41. 1up mushroom says:

    I was in North Korea last year for a 3 day trip, really a interesting place.

    #9 I dont know if the North Koreans actually drink the snake booze, but they sell it. Be forwarned, tho, you cant get it past american customs (animal parts).

    The DPRK guards on the north side of the DMZ say that the only time they go out and guard is when tourists are on the northern side, likewise with the south, the guards only show up for the tourists.

  42. 1up mushroom says:

    #1 South Korea says that he had a stroke, but is alive.

  43. Cori says:

    There’s an interesting discussion of the DMZ in Alan Weisman’s ‘The World Without Us’ — as an example of what happens to the earth when people are suddenly and permanently removed from a landscape.

  44. mikelotus says:

    Then why did he make such a stupid statements about why there are war monuments there MDH?

  45. csbmonkey says:

    21 – I watched that whole series as well, and The Vice Guide To Travel is some pretty amazing stuff. There’s a lot of places on this good ol’ planet that (1) ain’t easy to get to and (2) where we ain’t welcome.

  46. Ugly Canuck says:

    Did not this whole area get zapped by that ICARUS thing? The one in that Bond movie?
    Seriously, though, I hear N.Koreans drink some kinda good strong liquor with a snake in the bottle… a late commie cousin o’ mine used to go there (N.Korea) on vacations during the ol’ USSR days…
    ah, yes, back in the USSR. Them Ukraine girls…

  47. Takuan says:

    “En route from Seoul, there are numerous large war monuments, which is hardly surprising, since technically the war still hasn’t ended.”

    mmmmm (engaging Stupidity Detector), nope, just a`statement.

  48. Church says:

    #2, my thoughts exactly. I’m wondering if the crawling guy isn’t just too low to show up in the photo.

  49. flosofl says:

    “One thing in particular I did notice was the difference in size between the northern and southern soldiers; the South Koreans were much taller and much broader. ”

    Yeah, malnutrition will do that.

Leave a Reply