About a year ago, I took a tour of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in South Korea. The most immensely guarded and most heavily linemined area on Earth. You have to sign up well in advance to go on a tour.
Two forms of official/government identification are required. There is a strictly enforced dress code. How strict? I witnessed a young South Korean boy being handed a pair of grey sweatpants to change into at the DMZ. He'd made the mistake of wearing camouflage pants.
Prior to stepping foot off the bus, tourists are informed that they will be watched by not only the North Korean soldiers from their side of the border, but closely monitored by U.S. Military personnel and their Republic of Korea (ROK) counterparts on our side of the border. Instructions about not taking photographs unless told otherwise was repeated at least half a dozen times.
The DMZ, especially for those who cherish South Korea, is a highly moving experience. I found my emotions charged and my soul deeply moved by the young (and I do mean young!) ROK men defending their border. Some looking barely out of middle school, much less high school, stood guard, willing to put their life on the line to insure our safety and South Korea’s continued freedom.
But, what shocked me the most about my experience at the DMZ was the arrogance of my fellow travelers. As we stood in two single file lines, facing one of the Earth’s most brutal countries, an older set of U.S. tourists suddenly started taking pictures. The U.S. Military personnel escorting us quickly barked orders for the couple to stop.
What were they thinking? What if the North Korean Guards had seen this as an aggressive act? What if the North Koreans were looking for excuse to pick a fight?
Years ago I worked at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, in order to make money for college. I learned that tourists can get disoriented, since they are not in their “home environment.” I wish I could use this excuse for the ridiculous behavior of this couple at the DMZ.
Being a “respectful traveler” means respecting those traveling with you. The stupid actions of the “happy snap” couple could have gotten me and all the others in our group killed.
Maybe we have become a society so enmeshed in our own worlds, that we can no longer see a bigger picture or consequences for our actions – even when faced with North Korean soldiers staring down at you.
I hope to continue to be a respectful traveler. Looking back on my experience at the DMZ, serves as a reminder that my actions affect others. I also hope whatever pictures the couple were able to take before being reprimanded were worth it. I will forever have a picture of them, in my mind, as a reminder of arrogant, disrespectful travelers.
Content copyright 2016. Flyga Twiga LLC. All rights reserved.