The CEO/Founder of Hyundai Motors was born in present-day North Korea. His family was very poor and they only owned one cow. After moving south, the owner became one of the richest men in the world. However, this did not stop him from remembering those still in present-day North Korea. Today, when you visit and enter the DMZ, tourists and military personnel cross the Unification Bridge, built by the founder of Hyundai.
The bridge not only serves as a functional way to transport military personnel over a river, but it was used to herd 1,001 cattle into North Korea. The Hyundai founder knew that the people of North Korea were still struggling and suffering and he knew the plight of many families, such as his own. I don’t know what became of the 1,001 cattle that were herded into North Korea, but after my visit to the DMZ, I was stunned to learn more about life for North Korean families through our tour.
On our way to the Joint Security Area (JSA), our first glimpse into North Korea was brought to our attention by our military guide. When he said “To your left, is your first look at Communist North Korea,” we all turned to see an enormous North Korean flag waving atop a tall flag pole. It was goosebump inducing. As we drove through rice fields on the South Korean side, Next, we arrived at the JSA, and we were able to look over and see North Korea’s “Welcome Area” for individuals
visiting the JSA from the North Korean side. On the steps on the Welcome Center stands one to two North Korean military police on guard. All that separates the two countries is a slab of concrete and a few blue United Nations buildings. This is an eerie experience as one is able to look (walk a few steps) into Communist North Korea (inside an approved UN meeting building).
However, the most powerful moment on the DMZ tour was atop a mountain observation (see photo on left). From the observation, we were able to look into North Korea and see the nation’s second largest city, despite a hazy atmosphere. During the tour, we noticed that at the North Korean border that all trees were gone and that the mountains were bare. We were told that trees are eliminated in North Korea for many reasons. However, this one was stunning “The trees are removed because North Korea is so poor that they need all the room they can to grow food. If a tree starts to grow, they pull it out from the root.”
Even in poorer rural areas in the United States, we are able to drive to the store in just a few minutes to an hour. Nothing is ever far away. We don’t pull down our trees to make room for food, we just move cans around in our cupboards. We can go to a church and ask for assistance or even benefit from government assistance. The issues in North Korea are widely unknown to us in the United States (mostly because of rampant isolationism in the North), and the country seems like another irritant in the news. We hear more about Northern policies and propaganda, but little about the people. For example, I didn’t know that trees weren’t allowed in North Korea because of the food intake/growth (and may you didn’t know either). It was a painful reality to discover.
Though North Korea may not change its policies in the near future, it still needs assistance. The next time you’re speaking with Our Lord (if you’re a Christian), be sure to mention North Korea. While the nation offers a front of strength and solidarity, there are so many more things that are needed within the borders of the neighbor to the north. Like 1,001 cows and the prayer of a righteous man or woman.
Geon bae from Seoul,