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The Last Frontier of The Cold War is Worth a Look-See

  • Mar 15, 2007
  • by
Pros: Good food, modern accommodations.

Cons: Gray, gray, gray.

The Bottom Line: A Place I would like to see again, if only to see some color.

As luck would have it my first duty station in the U.S. Navy was Pearl Harbor Hawaii. I was young㬏 years old as a matter of fact—but I was filled with the spirit of adventure. I had volunteered to ride submarine out of Pearl and one trip we laid over in Pusan (also known as Busan), South Korea with a broken propeller shaft. Pusan, is South Korea’s largest port city and the country’s second largest metropolitan area with a population of some 3.65 million.

As it turned out Pusan was and is a favorite watering hole for sailors, where all sorts of leisurely activity can be pursued. We pulled into Pusan on a cold rainy day in late October and the most striking thing about the city was its lack of color; everything it seemed to me at the time was gray, even the grass and trees. That impression left a lasting imprint on my mental image of South Korea that lasts to this day.

Since my first visit to South Korea I have went back three times over my fifteen year Navy career and each time I left with the same impression; I have not wanted to go back. The last time I visited I flew into Seoul, the largest city in South Korea with a population of over ten million people. Located on the historic Han River in the far north of the country, Seoul is only some thirty miles south of the North Korean border and the now infamous and heavily mined Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

I remember the city as a bustling metropolis, but with a small rural feel. All matter of fresh food is to be found on the streets along with grilled meats of all description. This activity is juxtaposed against modern skyscrapers, four-star hotels, and all of the other trapping of modern human society; the contrast can be jarring.

I, of course ventured to the DMZ from Camp Bonifas the Army base on the southern side of the border. The last time I was there, the U.S. Army was still manning the post in full strength, but has since pulled a large number of troops back from the brink, so to speak. These positions along guard towers festoon with barbed/razor wire and antipersonnel trenches and steel cross beams, are now manned by the South Korean Army. Being so near to a place where violence could erupt at any moment was chilling to say the least. I couldn’t escape the feeling of foreboding that seemed to creep into my breast and wrap its dark tendrils around it; the feeling didn’t leave until I left the city by bus.

On all of my trips I made a point of traveling—insofar as possible—by car or bus; this way I was able to see the land close up. One each trip that same grayness that greeted me on my first trip still seemed to cling to everything like dust.

The food for the most part was decent, as were the various hotels I stayed at in Pusan and Seoul. The people are mostly homogeneous and didn’t take well to outsiders, at least not in Pusan. I remember being stared at-a lot-and at one point while walking on the street in Pusan with a group of Black American friends a truck load of Korean soldiers drove by and shouted racial insults at us; that incident too stands out as a particularly unsavory memory of South Korea.
Would I visit South Korea again? Yes, I would.

Now as a civilian I can finally go places that where heretofore off-limits to me and perhaps see the country in a whole new light so to speak.


Best Suited For: Friends
Best Time to Travel Here: Jun - Aug

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About the reviewer
Vincent Martin ()
Ranked #189
I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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South Korea (/ˈsaʊθ kɒˌriə/  ( listen)), officially the Republic of Korea (ROK, Korean: 대한민국, pronounced [tɛːhanminɡuk̚]  ( listen)) and sometimes referred to simply as Korea, is a country in East Asia, located on the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula. It is neighbored by the People's Republic of China to the west, Japan to the east, and North Korea to the north. Its capital is Seoul. South Korea lies in a temperate climate region with a predominantly mountainous terrain. Its territory covers a total area of 99,392 square kilometers[5] and has a population of 50 million.

Archaeological findings show that the Korean Peninsula was occupied by the Lower Paleolithic period.[6][7] Korean history begins with the founding of Gojoseon in 2333 BC by the legendary Dan-gun. Following the unification of the Three Kingdoms of Korea under Silla 668 AD, Korea went through the Goryeo Dynasty and Joseon Dynasty as one nation until the end of the Korean Empire in 1910, when Korea was annexed by Japan. After liberation and occupation by Soviet and U.S. forces at the end of World War II, the nation was divided into North and South Korea. The latter was established in 1948 as a democracy.

After the invasion of South Korea by forces from the North on 25 June 1950, the resulting war between the two Koreas ended in an uneasy cease-fire, and the border between the two nations is currently the most heavily fortified in the world.[8] After the war, the South ...

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