Fun Zone (North Korea)

North Korea ~ DMZ – 2014

It was horrendously cold on the winter day that I decided to visit the DMZ (demilitarized zone) of Korea – so cold that as I woke up (at 4pm or something crazy like that!) I very nearly thought fuck this I’m rolling back over, waking up after 12, and having a full on winter warmer duvet day…whilst that would have been wonderful, I am thankful I didn’t, as there is a lot of interesting and dare I say it funny stuff to see there – oh, for those who may not be aware or fully clear, the DMZ is the open land that separates the Korean peninsula, sort of a no man’s land between the north and the south. So, despite North Korea being famously difficult to get into, you can actually go up there in that restricted space, and have a look around!


Of course, as always, I had to make things more difficult than they ought to be…as soon as we got on the coach in Seoul, the tour guide announced:

“I hope you have your passports! We’ll need them for the border guards!”

“Oh shit…is that a joke? I don’t have it! Excu-“

“Anyone not have their passport?”


“haha, funny man – you’re just kidding, I know that!”

(Sits back down smiling, as I begin hyperventilating at the prospect of a North Korean firing squad.)

Thankfully this wasn’t much of an issue, the guards at various checkpoints always did headcounts (not sure what that was about) but didn’t ever check for identification or papers of any sort…phew, dodged yet another one! I am sure this all sounds rather intense, but most of the guards were young soldiers doing their mandatory military service – so as we passed by they were waving and taking photos…all with machine guns strapped to their side…little bit odd, but I waved back all the same. After all, they are literally in the middle of nowhere – when it comes to where you are placed for your service, I imagine that the DMZ is by far the shortest straw.

Every Korean male I have met has viewed military service as a major pain in the bum – actually I recall hearing two kindergarten kids debating whether boys or girls are better (typical!)…they were neck and neck, and asked me to decide which is worse: pushing out a baby from your belly – or forced military service. I honestly didn’t have a ready answer.

Anyway, I actually learned a lot on that day (not the answer to that question unfortunately), but this gem instead; did you know that North Korea were caught in the act digging a couple of tunnels that were headed straight for the South Korean capital, Seoul? Of course they intended to use these tunnels to launch a crippling surprise attack against their enemies – but when they were found out, they insisted that they were coal mines…except…there…well, there was no coal there! So what did they do? Well painted the walls of the tunnels black of course! Problem solved!

I mean, you couldn’t make it up! Imagine that conversation!

N. Korean Fella: “Oh…errr…yeah…hello.”

S. Korean Fella: “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!”

N. Korean Fella: “I’m…mining…for, err…coal.”

S. Korean Fella: “There’s no coal here! You’re clearly-”

N. Korean Fella: “There is! Just turn around please…just for a moment…”

(N. Korean Fella gets out the black paint and a big roller brush)

Ross Shh GIF

There were also a lot of bizarre propaganda films that we were made to watch during the course of the day…they varied in their messages, but I remember one very vividly – it seemed to announce that it was a fantastic miracle that the DMZ existed, as it has made a lovely little area for nature and animals alike…hmm, yeah great! It has effectively torn families and communities apart, left one country under a crazed rule, with desperately atrocious standards of living…but hey, at least the trees look beautiful once autumn rolls around! Absurd.

Although with that said, I respected the South Korean tour guide, he was very balanced with his view towards his country’s troublesome neighbor. He always stressed that they are just people, like you and I, looking out for their best interests just like everyone else…it was refreshing to hear that rather than an uninformed and wholly ignorant “I hate North Korea!” With no real reason other than that their leader is a bit of a plonker. He made me think about it in a different way, which is always a good thing.

There is a viewing platform in one part of the DMZ, which has binoculars that you can use to look across at the desolate expanse…he must have realized he had piqued my interest, so he adjusted it and passed it over to me –

“Can you see?

“Oh, err – no it’s all just kind of blurry…”

“Ah, you must have adjusted it – you see you can look over and see the North Korean people, going about their business, riding bicycles, collecting mail…it really puts things into perspective and I wanted you to see it for yourself!”

“Oh! Well yeah, that would be great!”

He then spent ten minutes adjusting it as I stood awkwardly at his side…lots of almost theres and ahh, nearly had its! I felt obliged to stay standing there, after all he had now invested all of this time…I JUST HAD TO SEE SOMEONE RIDING A BICYCLE, I JUST HAD TO!

When he finally got it right, he passed it over to me…and of course, it was once again just a blurry blank image. However, call it typical English politeness, social awkwardness or whatever you want…but I couldn’t face breaking this news to him, so naturally I just had to pull out some of my most creative thespian skills…as I stared at absolutely fucking nothing.

“Ohhh…oh yeah…I…I can see! It’s amazing! They’re like…riding…bicycles…”

“Yes, did you notice the baskets on the front? They use those to carry their mail and other items!”

Confusion Ed GIF

“Ohhh…wow! I hadn’t noticed that…but yeah, I have just noticed that…they’re like…carrying things…but in a basket…it’s wow…I didn’t know baskets could do that…”

This went on for ages, it could have been hours – it was probably just a few minutes, but you see I wasn’t sure how long to keep up the charade that I was in total awe…I had to think to myself, how long would I want to look at this if I was really looking at this? Thankfully he called someone else over to have a look too…I then slid off as fast as I could, so that I didn’t have to deal with that awkward conversation that would have started with:

“So you have just stood there pretending this whole time? Why?”


Oh and one more thing, I tried (and succeeded) in taking a photo of one of the North Korean guards…they didn’t like that, all started with a whole lot of NOE NOE NOE NOEs and hand shaking, and then ended with someone explaining that if we take photos of them they’ll confiscate our devices and/or remove the photos…maybe I have a future in the undercover photographer field, as I secured a quick snap with ease…albeit a blurry bigfoot style shot…but still.

Our secret though yeah?

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53 Replies to “Fun Zone (North Korea)”

  1. Absolutely, I’d have lied my English arse off rather than admit I couldn’t see, and then say I have really weird short-sightedness that means that what’s perfect vision for me through binoculars is just fuzziness to anyone else. Even if it meant I had to pretend seeing people on bikes.
    And they say the North Koreans are odd. :-/

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just wait a turn you back around……ta ta, it´s a coal mine! Don´t worry about getting shot though at least by the soldier in that picture, with the glasses he´s wearing I doubt he can hit an elephant two meters away. Can be a bit intimidating seeing young guys with rifles right? I´m sure you tell them one of your stories and they´ll role over laughing. You would probably be a great peace maker. Great fun post John, and quite an adventure you´re having. I don´t know if you´re going to want to go back to England and eating fish and chips after all this. Great read before I eat my dinner here, don´t have to watch now the comedy show for some laughs.


    1. huh? I thought I replied to this Charly, sorry mate! WordPress is messing with me these days I swear!

      haha I wasn’t too nervous with most of these guards ~ I think you’re totally right! Kids with guns…jheez, scary. I’m sure you know more about that than me.

      You could buy North Korean liquor at the border store there…don’t recommend it! I love a drink but anything but that! In fact I’d pick fish and chips any day!


      1. No kidding, North Korean liquor. That must be something going zig zag through the DMZ, I´d probably end up running zig zaging myself into the North. Imagine what the news would say.


  3. You know John.. I’m 21 and in the end of my mandatory service in the Israeli army it’s really a bum..i can get them(:


  4. Love the glasses of the guard hahaha! Great shot!
    Won’t tell 😉
    Hey read (on FB) about this guy wanting to write a comic om your blog! Wow!
    I thought why not bundle your stories into a book?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Shure! Your stories are great!
        You make people laugh, put a smile on their face! That’s what sells!
        I for sure would want on my bedside table. 😉 And I think many of your followers Do to! John’s book of shortstories!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. The most vivid impression I’ve got of the DMZ is that bit from the ‘where the hell is matt’ video, where he dances badly across the planet. He’s doing the dance for the camera, two unsmiling guards on either side. It’s at least as good as matt dancing with the new guinea headhunters. Thanks for your take on it — my inner image of this is larger now.


  6. This is so hilarious! It makes me want to go and see it for myself! The speculative conversation was hilarious! They really painted the tunnel black?! Hahahaha! Things you think would only happen in a Coyote and Roadrunner episode! Hahahaha! Humanity! 🙂


    1. haha, thank you ~ glad you enjoyed it! You should go…it’s err…interesting to say the least! There are so many little funny ways they tried to wriggle out of awkward situations, it’s just beggar’s belief how they thought they’d get away with it! Craziness!


  7. Oh, you crack me up! And you teach me things. Today I learned if someone toting a machine gun waves at me, I should always wave back. (And yes, you could absolutely write a book.) -Colette


    1. hahaha, you got me there! I totally thought you were commenting on some of the historical points…but YES, wave and smile, wave and smile! Unless they’re shooting at you. Hmm maybe this is bad advice.

      Oh and thanks for the vote of confidence! !!! Like, really 🙂


  8. Hey, thanks for liking my post that I put up moments ago! Good ‘ol WordPress for connecting us. Curious to see who my liker is, moseyed on over to your blog – damn, good stuff you got going on up in this joint! I like that the first post I saw was about North Korea, being a Korean-Canadian myself. Anyways, good stuff, will be following where you go next. Cheers! (You can tell I’m new to blogging – I personally creep my blog readers :p )


  9. Thanks for making me laugh (again)! I can picture you enjoying the most tedious, embarrassing and difficult moments, because you know how to turn them into a good story.


  10. Aw, what a sweet young man! You allowed the guard to be happy about revealing the North Korean’s lifestyle to you, even though he hadn’t. That was very thoughtful of you and amusing to those of us enjoying the story!


  11. i am dying over the encounter with you and the tour guide over the binoculars XD and the funny thing is, that is the EXACT thing i would do if i was in that situation. He sounded like such a sweet guy haahhaaha

    Liked by 1 person

  12. When the guide was explaining the basket reminded me of when I was working as a waitress a while ago, and when I was new, there was this old lady who worked there and she was showing me how the AUTOMATIC DOORS WORKED. like, seriously, it was as if they were a new invention or something. I think she thought I was a bit stupid or something…

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Love this story. I’m surprised they let you leave with that pic and your camera/phone. From what I know about the DMZ from family who were stationed there, there is still a lot of tension..young soldiers with hands on the trigger. The Eddie Murphy gif…perfect. ☺ Van


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