[THE FOUNTAIN] Evocative Dorasan

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[THE FOUNTAIN] Evocative Dorasan

In the wake of the recent clashes between North and South Korea, a visit to Dorasan, not far from the southern limit of the Demilitarized Zone and only 14.2 kilometers from Gaeseong, was a refreshing reminder of the reconciliation process that began with the June 2000 summit. During President Kim Dae-jung's administration, the shell of isolation around North Korea began to crack. Nonetheless, upon arriving at this historic crossroad between Pyeongyang and Seoul, I felt overwhelmed with emotions realizing that the Gyeongui railroad stopped there, beckoning for rails from the North to complete it.

Dorasan Station, which boasts stunning architecture, echoes with hopes of peace and reconciliation. A result of President Kim's "sunshine policy" of engaging the North, it is also where President George W. Bush expressed his hope for an end to the separation that has cut through the heart of Korea for a half-century. But as many eager tourists passed through this historic spot, the stoic soldiers standing guard reflected the reality of uneased tensions.

From the station, we went to the third infiltration tunnel dug by the North Korean Army. A rail car took us down and traveled underground 200 meters to the north. The lights installed for tourists made the scene surreal, and I wondered how many North Koreans lost their lives building the tunnel. Despite talk of reconciliation above ground, this tunnel stretching from North Korea into the South reminded me of the enmity of Korea's past and the on-again, off-again diplomacy of its present.

Seeing North Korea for the first time at Dora Observatory was a bittersweet moment. Under the clear sky lush, green hills sprawled into the distance, with specks of civilization in view. A North Korean village was in clear sight, and I could make out the details of formal-looking buildings, tall apartments, and the North Korean flag waving proudly on a tall staff. From afar, the buildings seemed newly built, which I gathered was part of the show for onlookers from South Korea. I was struck, though, by the fact that not a single person was in sight. Everything seemed to be at a standstill. I could feel the utter silence, deafening and eerie, swaddling the village. Who knows how many people actually live there? For all we know, it could just be a ghost town, a visual trick for people like us. A Kim Il Sung statue marked the horizon. We could only envision what unfolded on the other side.

I recommend this tour to anyone, especially overseas ethnic Koreans. Seeing North Korea, even if only from a distance, drove home the need for unification and how close it really may be. Socioeconomic implications and the "axis of evil" aside, the emotional impact of a bridge linking the two sides is strong at Dorasan. Despite the complicated relationship between North and South, all that is temporarily suspended at the station. Before boarding the train, I looked back and saw the tracks brilliantly gleaming in the sun. Let us not lose this ray of hope.

The writer is a graduate of Stanford University, now an intern at the JoongAng Ilbo's Unification Research Institute.

by Susan Lee

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