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Korean north country

Perhaps it was the chance of a new experience or perhaps it could be the fact that we have felt confined to the city for these past 15 months. Whatever it was, when our friend Hee-jung (or Angela) asked us to join her for a drive to her grandparent's farm about an hour north of Seoul we didn't hesitate. We didn't even hesitate when she said in her note to us 'the farm is near by to North Korea, sometimes we can hear their loudspeakers, but don't worry it'sthe countryside safe.' So without any fear of an international incident we enthusiastically agreed to join her.

The drive up north was no different, the same mountains and fields that we have become accustomed to (and will really miss when we get home to the flat Ontario heartland). The other thing we have become accustomed to is seeing the poor condition of many of the homes. Our impression of many of the Korean buildings is that they are not build with much aesthetic consideration but rather to serve the function of shelter. Buildings outside the city seem to carry on this architectural characteristic as we saw many houses on our drive with construction that would most likely have lead the building to be condemned in another country.


jillWhen we arrived at Angela's grandparent's house (left) their farmhouse fit the 'Korean' style of dwelling. Not really anything to boast about from the exterior, but inside a well appointed house with plenty of space. Angela's grandparents were really nice, it seemed like they may have been a little timid around us at first, but as the day wore on this wasn't a problem.

We walked around the farm. The farm was not a traditional farm in the same way that a Canadian farm would be laid out in one land parcel. They grew pears and grapes. The two orchards were separated by about 500 metres and the crops grown in between did not belong to them. We first looked around the pear orchard. They grew asian pears, for someone familiar with the North American variety, asian pears are quite different. First of all they are round like an apple, russet in colour and huge! The pear is a meal in itself to be sure. We had seen these pears in the market often, but have only bought them on occasion since one pear costs $2.00 and being my father's son, the inner dialogue begins... "why would anybody pay thatorchards covered in netting much for one pear?" The fact that each pear was flawless obviously escalated the price, but we couldn't understand why you didn't see one bug mark or bruise in a whole box...

As we walked up to the orchard we quickly discovered the answer to our queries at the market. The entire orchard was covered in netting (right) to protect the trees from the birds. As the orchard was the size of a football field this netting was no small undertaking. As we walked closer I tried to make out the shapes of the pears on the branches of the trees but it pears in bagsseemed like they were white in colour. As we got closer still, we realized that each pear on the branch was covered in a white bag! The bags (left), we were told, cover the pear early in the growth cycle in order to protect them from the scorching summer sun and the bugs - since the birds are already kept out by the netting. All the sudden it quickly became clear why farm houses and the property around them was not kept in pristine condition, they were spending their days bagging pears!

After the pear orchard we went to the vineyard. It to was covered by white vinyl and netting to protect form sun and birds, and once again the individual bunches of grapes were covered with white bags. It was just shocking to see on the one hand the attention to detail and care taken to individually bag and then all the junk that was strewn around the vineyard. While we realize that things are a little more out of sorts on the farm it was odd to understand how attention to detail when it came to the fruit couldn't be carried over into the care of the farm.

grapesA stark contrast: the condition of the farm (junk lying everywhere) compared to the meticulous bagging of every grape bunch

After having lunch at the farm, our hosts were insistent that we take home a large quantity of fruit, which was really nice, and also has been great for Jillan who is often craving the fruit - so it's great to have it in abundance right now. On our way home we took a little detour to check out North Korea.

north koreaWe arrived at a lookout area call Aegibong, which was basically a tourist area at the top of a mountain where you could look across the Han River over to North Korea. You would have to be living in a cave not to understand the relationship between North Korea and it's charismatic leader Kim Jeong Ill and the rest of the world. More recently North Korea has been in the news because of their nuclear weapons policies, but it was back in the 1940's following the cold war that the demilitarized zone (DMZ) became one of the most famous stand offs between communism and capitalism. Since the end of the cold war it is now one of the last sites of this conflict. Considered the worlds longest fortified border, the DMZ runs between the Republic of Korea (south) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (north). Stretching over 248 km long and nearly 4 km wide, most of the DMZ runs diagonally along the 38th parallel. The section of the DMZ that we visited is the only part that separates the two countries by water.

From first look, of course, North Korea looked no different. The rice fields had a golden hue to them, the mountains were just as high, but when you looked closer through the observation machines you can see the buildings of the nearest town. That's when you chris jill and hee-jung notice the lack-luster Korean architecture but much more than anything we had experienced in South Korea. We could see apartment buildings without any semblance of colour or design, just 10 story concrete slabs with windows to indicate the separation between floors. There have been wide spread accounts over the years about the poverty that has been inflicted on the people of North Korea because of it's leadership decisions. So clearly our opinions of any type of poverty of lack of style proved to be unfounded when we saw the conditions of the North Korean buildings.

Nevertheless it was still quite interesting to see the differences between the two countries, and yet the many similarities. They speak the same language, eat the same food and that's just about where it ends. The lives of the people in both countries are a stark comparison, so that's why it was so interesting to look across the river between the two countries and notice how the land may appear to be the same but the quality of life can be so opposite.

After having our look across the river, we headed home, back to Anyang with a car load of fruit and a camera full of pictures. So be sure to check out some of our pictures form the farm and also from the DMZ.

north to south
the view across the Han River shows little difference between the communist and capitalist neighbours


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