Travel is enjoyable for a number of reasons. It sparks conversation, makes for incredible stories, provides genuine opinions, introduces us to extraordinary people, and most importantly, educates us about topics we might otherwise be ignorant to. Out of all the travel tales I have gathered, two seem to be most relevant when putting things into perspective.
DMZ, North and South Korea
Living in South Korea, I found it surprising that I often forgot who my neighbor to the north was. For the most part, I felt very safe. Only when visiting the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) near Seoul did I remember the chilling fact that these two countries are still very much at war today.
My friend and I did the typical tour of the DMZ. We visited a few peace villages, explored secret tunnels, and even got a peek into North Korea by paying 50 cents to look through a pair of foggy binoculars. But perhaps the most sobering reminder of the once united country came from visiting Dorasan train station. Although not in use today, it’s a fully functioning station built entirely from donations that runs from Seoul to Pyeongyang. The ghostly station is beautiful and fairly modern, yet it sits and waits until peace can be found between the north and south. A few employees work to keep the station clean and grant “tickets” and “stamps” to tourists who come in and out. Hopefully it will be put to use before a new generation is brought up in a country torn in half and Korean citizens can live in harmony once again.
The Killing Fields, Cambodia
Cambodia is another example of a country torn apart by its own citizens. Not too long ago, a genocide took place that destroyed nearly a fourth of Cambodia’s population. From 1975 to 1979 (just about 3 years and 8 months), 3 million Cambodians were killed. 3 million out of a population of 8 million, which is the equivalent of about 1 out of every 4 people being murdered.
While visiting Phnom Penh in Cambodia, a friend and I had the opportunity to visit “The Killing Fields.” Life altering wouldn’t begin to describe the experience and some of the horrors are too terrible to detail. Walking around the fields, we were able to listen to stories of heroic survivors, as well as learning about the history of the field itself. There were mass graves marked throughout the site where thousands of bodies were piled upon one another. Remnants of teeth, hair, and clothes could be found scattered around, having washed up from heavy rain and storms. Giant collections of bones were on display, as we were reminded that this was only one of hundreds of killing fields in Cambodia, several of which have yet to be uncovered.
After this, we were escorted to a high school turned prison and execution camp which now acts as a museum. Torture rooms and prison cells were left virtually unchanged from when they were in use. Of the 30,000 or so people who went through, only 7 survived, one of which died only months ago.
It was strange to walk through the killing fields and realize how incredibly calm and peaceful it was. There was a tranquil lake near the graves, the birds were singing, and there were butterflies in the high grass emerging from the place were thousands of people were buried alive. I suppose it’s a small analogy to the rebuilding process Cambodians and Koreans are forced to go through. To think, everyone has a mother, father, brother, sister, friend, friend of a friend, that has been affected by the genocide or the war. Both Cambodian and Korean people are so resilient, never did I hear them complain about their situation or the unfairness of it all. It’s important to remember experiences such as these, to be aware of other people’s circumstances, and to remember all you have to be thankful for each and every day.