I photographed it during a day tour to the Demilitarized Military Zone – the ‘DMZ’ as it was usually known – a four kilometre corridor of land dividing North and South Korea.
It was one of the most tension laden borders in the world, a potential flash point, in this case the division line being ideology – communist dictatorship versus democratic capitalism – instead of religion or ethnicity.
On the northern side of the DMZ, the forests have been cleared so that no one can escape Northern Korea. Guards stand ready to shoot anyone who tries. The country is one big prison ruled by a psychopath armed with long range nuclear missiles.
On the southern side, the DMZ is a lucrative cash cow as everyday hundreds of tourists go on guided bus tours – which are not cheap. With stops at restaurants and souvenir shops on the way, the income for the South Korean tourist industry is definitely not to be sneezed at.
A day trip to the DMZ is on the must-do list of everyone who visits South Korea.
I wasn’t expecting much but I went along all the same. My low expectations were amply met. I found most of the tour underwhelming.
Except for one thing.
As soon as I saw it, I recognised its meaning, its symbolism.
I went over there and walked around it and took photos.
It was beautiful, clever, poignant.
No one else in the group – some forty people – shared my interest.
There was a large globe cut in half, like an orange sliced right down the middle, and the two halves were teetering away from one another and on the point of falling away forever. But behind each half of the severed orange were young people (boys and girls? It wasn’t clear and it didn’t matter) striving to defy the centripetal momentum and push the two halves back together.
To bring a divided world together.
There were few monuments in the world with a story behind it like this one. It was a story which being the son of a man who had been in the Royal Australian Air Force during the 1950’s I had grown up with – as I later realised during the coming weeks was also in so many ways the essential story of South Korea, past and present….