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Full Circle

Day 50: Seoul to the North Korean Border

Michael Palin - Full Circle'The drop gate we just passed is drop gate 28,' does not prepare you for 'The large grassy area on this side of Checkpoint 4 was the focal point of the 1976 Axe Murder Incident' (in which American troops conducting routine tree-lopping operations became involved in a contretemps which led to one of the North Koreans taking an axe and killing two soldiers).

At Checkpoint Three we get our first and last decent view of the only country on the Pacific Rim we are not allowed to cross. Misty mountains frame the background and on the mighty flag-pole flies the red star of North Korea. We are allowed only a minute at this checkpoint. Our guide indicates the presence of a North Korean guard-post on the opposite hill and adds, matter of factly, 'in all probability you are under close observation. Please refrain from making arm gestures or sudden hand movements at this time.'

The mood of tension, artfully managed by both sides, is sustained by a squad of crack South Korean troops who, as we walk into the Conference Room, snap into a Tae-Kwon-Do martial arts pose as if about to headbutt the building.

Inside the long low hut is green baize table, half of which is in South Korea and half in the North. Around it the longest-running peace talks in the world have been taking place for over forty years. We're allowed to walk round the communist end of the table so we can, I suppose, all say we have stood in North Korea.

At the end of the day, as we are driven back to Seoul past yet more tank traps and yet another Freedom Highway, it's clear that our South Korean and American hosts have taken every possible precaution to look after us and prevent us leaving with an open mind.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 50
  • Country/sea: South Korea
  • Place: Seoul
  • Book page no: 77

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