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Fairy tales prevail over nightmares at South Korea’s militarised border city


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SEOUL: A fifty percent-hour’s push north of Seoul, alongside a highway lined with barbed wire, lie two buying malls the measurement of a number of soccer stadiums, a stone’s toss from the world’s most militarised border.

The malls are in the town of Paju, gateway to the U.N. truce village of Panmunjom, where by armed service officers from the combatants of the 1950-fifty three Korean war examine armistice issues – when the two sides are on talking terms, which they are not these times.

“Fairy tales appear real in Paju”, is the promoting entice from the Korean Tourism Board. But it was nightmares that were all also real right here through the Korean war, when Paju featured some of its fiercest battles. Paju is home to the country’s only “enemy’s cemetery”, where by the continues to be of Chinese and North Korean troopers are buried.

Which is all but forgotten record now. On the rooftop of the Lotte Top quality Outlet, kids and their dad and mom can see North Korea throughout the Imjin River by way of binoculars. The mall also options a merry-go-round, cinema, and a mini-coach.

At Shinsegae Paju Top quality Outlet, about a dozen kids leap and scream close to a fountain inside of the mall on a scorching, July summertime day. Just a couple miles away is a village modelled right after France’s tourism centre of Provence, where by dining establishments, bakeries and apparel retailers are decorated like a children’s playbook.

Somewhere else in Paju, children carved wood to make Pinocchio dolls at a museum, though grownups tasted wine manufactured of meoru, a Korean wild grape, at a farm.

Paju, certainly, exhibits small signals of the tensions that have arisen given that North Korea marked the U.S. July 4th holiday getaway with a effective launch of what it claimed was an intercontinental ballistic missile. The missile test prompted the United States and South Korea this thirty day period to perform air force bomber workouts in the skies near right here.


But at Paju’s Provence Village, Kim Ki-deok, a forty one-12 months-outdated business employee from south of Seoul and father of a four-12 months-outdated boy, claimed he will not really feel any more risk from getting near to the border.

“If North Korea truly would like, they can shoot missiles significantly away,” claimed Kim. “I really feel refreshed and would like to appear right here again.”

The feeling of insouciance can even be noticed at the U.S. military’s Camp Bonifas on the outskirts of city, home to a 3-gap golfing program that Sports activities Illustrated as soon as known as the “world most harmful golfing program” because of the Korean War vintage land mines littering the area.

The Korean War, in which the United States fought alongside South Korea and China with the North, finished in a truce that has nevertheless to be changed by a peace agreement and has left the two sides technically at war.

It implies South Koreans have extended grown accustomed to dwelling in a doomsday circumstance, just one that features up to 10,000 artillery guns pointed towards the South and able at any minute, in the terms of North Korea’s propaganda equipment, of turning Seoul into a “sea of hearth” and a “pile of ashes.”

For thirty-12 months-outdated Park Chol-min, it is really absolutely nothing more than empty threats.

“It’s just a clearly show or efficiency. I believe North Korea has a lot more to eliminate than to achieve by turning Seoul into a sea of hearth,” claimed the online video activity producer from Seoul, checking out the Shinsegae mall with his girlfriend to get her a birthday gift.


Paju stepped up North Korea-linked tourism in the 2000s, when liberal governments launched a “Sunshine Coverage” of engagement with North Korea. Foreigners and locals flocked to Panmunjom to see stony-faced North Korean troopers on guard and an underground tunnel built by the North, and to Imjingak, which residences the Bridge of Independence, where by prisoners of war were traded at the stop of the war.

The tourism press took a huge leap late in 2011, when two large high quality stores run by South Korean retail giants Shinsegae and Lotte opened. Additional than twelve million site visitors went to the two malls very last 12 months – more than Seoul’s inhabitants of 10 million.

It was not extended right after the malls opened, although, when North Korea drastically stepped up the tempo of missile and nuclear checks under Kim Jong Un, who took electricity in Pyongyang when his father Kim Jong-il died in December 2011.

“The checks have not dented customer interest at all,” claimed a Paju town formal in demand of tourism, who requested not to be named. “It has come to be just component of a each day daily life, whilst it is unhappy to say so.”

Normalising the North Korean menace is component of a “defence system” for South Koreans, says Kwak Keum-joo, a psychology professor at Seoul Nationwide University.

“I really feel anxious about North Korea when I vacation abroad. As soon as I return to Korea, I forget it,” Kwak claimed.

Which is not so easy for 74-12 months-outdated Woo Jong-il, who life in a little village of Manu-ri, just south of the Imjin river that divides the two Koreas.

Woo built a bunker in his yard, just one of a number of inhabitants in Manu-ri who did so in the early nineteen seventies, when bullets fired from North Korea wounded a number of in his village and broken a residence future doorway.

“I don’t believe this is obsolete even now,” he claimed, showing a customer close to a dark basement shelter just huge ample to accommodate his 7 loved ones customers.

“I really feel anxious. How can I not be? We are at the entrance so we can be victims. If the partnership with the North worsens at any time, this bunker can make me really feel harmless.”

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