East Asia

China

Guilin

Guilin-30

Exploring Guilin and the surrounding area was some of our favorite time spent in China. Very different from the hectic cities we visited, Guilin was much more relaxed. We toured around Xingping and Yangshuo while we were there, which is the home to some beautiful scenery. We cruised down the Li River, bicycled down backroads of Yangshuo, hiked up Laozhai mountain to get some epic views, and even learned the traditional way to make paper fans! Guilin was our last major stop in China and it was a nice way to end our stay there, taking in the countryside and getting a chance to breathe some fresh, non-polluted air. Guilin and the surrounding areas were absolutely a highlight of China.

Overall, China was a very interesting country to travel through. It was one of the harder countries to get past the language barrier, but that made it interesting. It was fun (and sometimes frustrating) trying to figure out simple things like order food or get a taxi. With the food, it definitely led us to ordering things we wouldn’t normally have. Just reading the menus was an adventure at times. Google Translate helped us a lot but wasn’t always accurate, giving us things such as ‘three wire salad’, ‘mixed ear cabbage,’ and my favorite, ‘cold fungus.’ Besides the language, the culture was quite different, and we felt out of our element a few times (not nearly as crazy as India though). Besides the challenges, we still had a great time there and would go back and explore more of the country some day.

China

Xi’an

Xian-7

The highlight of Xi’an, the ancient capital of China, was seeing the Terracotta Warriors. A collection of terracotta sculptures dating back to 246 BC, these figures were built to protect Emperor Qin Shi Huang when he passed into the afterlife. There are three pits that have been dug up and open to the public and they contain thousands of soldiers, chariots, and horses; all unique. There are tons more that haven’t yet been unearthed. More than 700,000 people worked on constructing the terracotta army, and the process took over 40 years. The warriors weren’t discovered until 1974, when farmers were digging a well and came across one of them.

Walking into a building the size of an aircraft hangar, we were greeted with thousands of warriors looking right at us. It was incredible seeing them in person and witnessing the detail that went into each one. Every soldier was different and unique, and you could tell the rank of each one based on details such as hair, shoes, and weapons. It’s really crazy to think how old these are.

Our guide was excited to tell us that Bill Clinton visited here during his tour of China in 1998.

After seeing the Terracotta warriors, we climbed to the top of the old city wall. 6786 ft up and 8768 long, it is the largest and the most well-preserved city walls in China. We rented bikes and rode along the top for a while which was really fun. However, it was 100 degrees out, so we didn’t stay up there for too long.

China

The Great Wall of China

GreatWall-29

One of the biggest things we knew we had to do while in Beijing was visit the Great Wall. There are a few sections of wall that you can visit, with some being more popular than others. Badaling is the most popular for Chinese tourists, as public transportation there is very easy and that’s where almost all the large bus tours go. Mutianyu is the best-preserved section of wall and most popular with foreign tourists. We opted to go with neither and instead take a tour to Jinshanling and Gubeikou, where there would be far less people. Jinshanling is another preserved section that doesn’t see as many visitors as the area around it is just starting to be built up to accommodate more people. It was nice to go to a section where we weren’t swarmed and have hundreds of other people in all our pictures. The next section, Gubeikou, is a ‘wild’ section of the wall. Completely unrestored, nature has taken over here, and it was really cool to see a more rundown section.

Snaking its way through mountains and valleys, the Great Wall runs for over 10,000 miles in northern China. The first sections of wall were built as far back as the 7th century BC. The wall has been rebuilt, maintained, and improved by many different dynasties, and the majority of the existing wall is from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The main purpose of the wall was to protect China from Mongolian invaders. Overall, it was effective in stopping semi-nomadic invaders but could not stop larger scale invasions.

Seeing the Great Wall in person was incredible and even more amazing than we had expected. After the 2-hour drive from Beijing, our group (us, a lovely couple from Arizona, and another from Portugal) hiked a circle route through the Jinshanling section of wall. At roughly 50 (sometimes 100) yard intervals there were watchtowers we could climb up to get an even better view of the landscape surrounding the wall.

For lunch we stopped in a small town in Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region of northern China. The population here is more of a mix of Russian and Mongolian, while the landscape starts to become more defined by green steppe and arid desert the further north you go. We ended up at a tiny restaurant, and our guide ordered over a half-dozen dishes for us all to try. Everything we tried was delicious, and this was hands down our favorite meal in all of China. Our small stop here made me want to visit Mongolia, but we’ll save that for another time! After lunch we headed back to the wall but along they way we made a quick pitstop to shake down some pear trees! At least our guide told us they were pears, though we thought they were more like peaches. Either way, they were good.

We then continued on to the second portion of wall that we were stopping at; Gubeikou. We hiked up to the wall and found a nice stop to watch sunset at. This section was much different than the nicely restored section we visited, and it was cool to see two diverse segments of the wall. Visiting the Great Wall was definitely one of our highlights of China, and the beauty of it will stick with us.

China

Beijing

Beijing-13

After saying goodbye to Japan and my family, we flew to Hong Kong to start our China adventure. The main reason we went to Hong Kong was to get our visa to be able to enter China, so we stayed there for a week to make sure we had enough time for any processing that had to occur. We were able to find an agency easily enough and handed over our passports. I figured out we would be able to get a ‘group visa’ since there was 2 of us, and this would be both faster and cheaper than getting a regular tourist visa. We were nervous because a few people in front of us got their visa applications rejected, but within the same day we got our passports back and a piece of paper saying we could stay in China! We didn’t expect too much from Hong Kong, but it turned into one of our favorite stops. We explored both Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, taking in its fascinating mixture of East meets West. Having been an English colony, English is one of the main languages and the Western influence is obvious. We even took a daytrip over to the gambling mecca of Macau. We wandered through the casinos (it was too rainy to do much else either) and thought of how it compared to Vegas. It seemed like it was way more geared to just gambling and not so much other activities and didn’t seem like as much of a party place as Vegas (no alcohol on the casino floors). Overall, Hong Kong was a really cool city that we’re glad we ended up in.

Our first destination in Mainland China was Shanghai for a stopover before Beijing. Here, we made a quick trip to Shanghai Disneyland for a fun day. It was only opened a couple years ago so it’s still pretty new. It was interesting with all the rides and shows being in Chinese, but it was a cool experience, and the rides were exciting too (Tron and Pirates of the Caribbean were awesome)! Otherwise, we just chilled out a little in the city before diving off the deep end into Chinese culture. The modernity of where we stayed in Shanghai would soon be in stark contrast to the old school vibes of Beijing.

In Beijing, we stayed in a hutong (courtyard), which are traditional courtyard residences joined together by narrow streets or alleyways. The hutongs represent the culture of ordinary Beijingers, in contrast to the elite culture represented by the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, etc. We mostly stayed in the old section of the city and didn’t venture too far into the modern side of the city.

For our first day of exploring, we headed out to Tiananmen Square. Right away we were greeted with reminders of Mao Zedong. From the giant image of him over the gates to the Forbidden City, to the hundreds of paintings, mini sculptures, and other memorabilia for sale (not to mention his visage on every piece of currency), to the imposing mausoleum containing his body in the middle of Tiananmen Square, the man is everywhere. Mao founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and ran it until his death in 1976. To many Chinese, he is still revered for his many accomplishments. These include unifying China and driving out foreign occupants, reducing drug addiction across the country, giving more rights to women, and promoting literacy and education. When walking through the National Museum of Beijing, this is the story we were told. While parts of it are true, the other side of Mao (the ruinous dictator) were glossed over. In the late 1950’s, Mao pushed for rapid industrialization (based on people instead of machines) in what’s known as the Great Leap Forward. This led to the Great Famine in China and led to tens of millions of deaths. Some scholars have said up to 55 million. Mao also started the Cultural Revolution, a decade long fight to preserve communist ideology and purge any remnants of capitalism and traditionalism in Chinese society. This movement paralyzed China both politically and economically and led to several million more deaths. Yet the line to pay respects to Chairman Mao winds through Tiananmen Square every day, and many come from far away to visit. However, not everyone believes he is China’s hero, and have a much more negative attitude towards the man. He is also viewed as the worst ruler in Chinese history, bringing disaster to the country, causing the deaths of millions and murdering masses. It was fascinating to hear about such a man of contradictions in the country he came from, as opposed to read about him in textbooks. The propaganda is alive and well, but the debate is still ongoing as to what Mao’s legacy is. [1,2,3]

One of the most interesting exhibits in the National Museum was a collection of gifts that China has received over the years from other countries. Dating back to the formation of the People’s Republic of China, it was interesting to see the historical significance and artistic merit of each gift.

We also took a food tour while we were here and ended up trying lots of neat new foods. We toured though several different hutongs, stopping at tiny local restaurants to try their specialties. Some of the highlights were Mongolian BBQ, and Beijing pancakes filled with Kung Pao chicken, stir fried beef, sliced potatoes and all sorts of veggies. We also tried something known as ‘door nail meat buns’. The story goes that a Qing Dynasty Empress was served this rolled up pastry ball with beef inside by a chef who hurriedly had to throw something together. The Empress unexpectedly loved it and asked him what the name of the dish was. Not having a name, the chef looked over at a door nail and the rest is history. We ended the tour at a local craft beer brewery and had some of the best cider and wheat beer on the trip so far.

The Forbidden City is a massive palace complex in the center of Beijing. Built in the 15th century, it consists of over 980 buildings. It was really cool walking through the complex and seeing the displays inside each building. We spent most of the day there (the place is HUGE) just wandering around. During our week there we also went to the Temple of Heaven and hung around the park there and went over to the Summer Palace to walk the grounds. We enjoyed seeing the architecture from the many different dynasties throughout the years.

Once we got to Beijing we really felt like we were in China. We really liked Beijing and had a good time exploring the city and getting a feel for it. The city is enormous and still with a week there it felt like we only scratched the surface. We also took a daytrip out of there into the countryside, but that’s coming in the next post.

1.) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/11/the-cultural-revolution-50-years-on-all-you-need-to-know-about-chinas-political-convulsion

2.) https://thediplomat.com/2015/12/mao-zedong-savior-or-demon/

3.) https://www.britannica.com/event/Great-Leap-Forward

Japan

Kyoto

Kyoto-7

We moved on from Takayama to our last stop in Japan; Kyoto. By now we had gotten the hang of riding the bullet trains and we loved how nice (and fast) they were. A little different from back home! We stayed in the Gion neighborhood, which is where Geishas are known to walk about. We saw a couple in our time there; we think at least one of them was true and not just someone dressed up. Nearby our hotel is Pontocho, an alleyway packed with atmospheric bars and restaurants. Half of them overlook the Kamogawa river. We ended up walking through a few times and trying different places; the bars packed in together was reminiscent of Golden Gai back in Tokyo. Some were better than others, but it was still neat. Our first full day consisted of us following the Philosopher’s Path, a nice little stone path that leads you through many different temples and shrines. It’s named after Nishida Kitaro, a famous Japanese philosopher who practiced meditation while making his daily commute to Kyoto University along this route.

When in Kyoto, we had to visit Fushimi Inari-taisha, which is an important shrine at the foot of Mount Inari that is dedicated to the Shinto god of rice. His messengers are thought to be foxes, so there were tons of fox statues scattered throughout the grounds. The shrine is famous for the thousands of vermillion gates that mark trails leading up the mountain. They are known as torii and symbolize the transition from the mundane to the sacred. They are commonly found at and can be used to identify Shinto shrines. We walked about halfway up the trail through all the gates, and although it was crowded with other tourists, it was neat to see. There were hundreds of other smaller shrines along the way as well.

We also took a daytrip to Nara, which is famous for the deer that roam freely through the city. It is also the home of many significant temples and artwork which date back to the 8th century, when it was once the capital of Japan. Sadly, it was raining while we were there, but we didn’t let that put a damper on things and it ended up being one of our favorite days. Walking out of the train station it wasn’t long until we started to come across some deer. Totally unafraid of humans, they would just go about their business and not mind the fact that everyone was trying to get closeup pictures with them (us included). Nara was nice since all the main attractions were so compact and it was easy to see everything we wanted. We walked through both Kohfukuji Temple and Todai-ji Temple, which is the home of Daibutsu (Great Buddha). Towering over us, the 52 ft tall statue was an imposing sight. This temple is also the largest wooden building in the world.

On our last day in Kyoto, we took a tour through the backwoods of Arashiyama. Located on the edge of the city, it’s a heavily forested mountain area with loads of charming traditional houses and shrines. Our tour took us further out than where most tourists go, and it was interesting to see the lesser-traveled areas. Our first stop was to Otagi Nenbutsu-ji, a Buddhist temple well-known for its 1200 small Rakan (the term for someone who has attained nirvana) statues. While the temple itself was built hundreds of years ago, the statues were only built in the 80’s. Each statue was carved by a different person, so they are all unique and have their own neat quirks. Some with baseball bats, glasses, and one even had a Walkman. Moving on, we visited other small locations such as a Buddhist graveyard, a moss garden, the preserved thatched hut of Mukai Kyorai (a famous Japanese poet), and a villa built by a Japanese star of silent samurai movies in the 20’s. All the while it felt like we went back in time as we walked down pleasant residential roads with original old-style houses. We ended the tour at the famous Arashiyama bamboo forest. By this time, it was raining heavily, so a lot of other tourists had been driven away. We got some pictures, then made our way back to Kyoto.

Japan was definitely a place that we would go back to, there was tons to do, the food was good, and we really liked the whole culture there. It was also nice to see my family and be able to spend time exploring Japan with them!

Japan

Takayama

Takayama6

Taking the bullet train from Tokyo, we headed into the mountains to the small city of Takayama. We wanted to escape from big cities for a bit, and Takayama provided the perfect opportunity. The old town here is well preserved and was really cool to walk through and experience an older Japan. The town is famed for its carpentry and the latticed wooden buildings from the Edo Period, which lasted from 1603 to 1867, are still standing strong.

While waking through the old town, we knew we had to visit one of the sake breweries. We ended up at Funasaka, one of the more popular ones. We tried a few different flavors including lemon (pretty good!), grape (not so much). The regular non-flavored sake was the best though.

Just outside of Takayama is Hida Folk Village. It is basically like the Old Sturbridge Village of Japan, with old excellently preserved Japanese houses from the surrounding area all brought to one location. The buildings include logging huts, storehouses, and plenty of farmhouses. The farmhouses all had massive thatched roofs and were built in the gassho style. While we were there, they were setting up for a jazz festival, so some of the insides of the buildings were closed off but it was neat to see all the drums and amps set up. It made me want to pick up a guitar! Unfortunately, we couldn’t stick around for the festival, but we enjoyed the experience.

Heading back to our hotel one night we noticed EBIS CAFÉ and PACHINKO. We had wanted to play at some point in Japan and the café seemed to invite us inside. We were led through the café and into the pachinko room, where an employee patiently explained to us how to play. Pachinko is like a combination of a vertical pinball and slot machine, where you launch balls up, watch them tumble down, and hope they land in the slots that will earn you more balls. Since gambling for money is illegal in Japan, you can use the balls you win to exchange for prizes that you can keep, or tokens which can then be exchanged for cash at a separate location. If you choose not to cash out your balls, you can put them back into the game. We didn’t realize that you were supposed to cash them out, so we kept using them until we ran out; and didn’t get any prizes! We still had a fun time though, with Elly and Dylan getting several bonus rounds that gave them an origami crane each time they ‘leveled up.’

We found the best restaurant for lunch while wandering around. A small place run by a woman and her husband, we had one of our favorite meals of the trip; a simple salmon bowl with rice. Coupled with miso soup, it was the perfect midday meal. All the restaurants we went to in Takayama were like this; just small humble places with great food and friendly owners. My dad learned to say ‘the food was delicious’ in Japanese and that won us some new friends. Overall, Takayama was a nice break from the craziness of Tokyo but we were ready to move on to our last stop of Japan, Kyoto.

Japan

Tokyo

Tokyo-6

We are currently in Bali at the moment and have some catching up to do on the blog! It’s the perfect place here to do some relaxing and figure out what’s next for us. In the past couple months, we’ve been to Japan, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Tokyo was a city that was high on our list of places to visit. Another city that mixes the ultra-modern with the traditional, Tokyo had a little bit of everything. We didn’t end up seeing the entirety of the city but did as much as we could and went back to many of neighborhoods that we liked. We explored here for a week on our own and then Cory’s family joined us for two weeks in Tokyo, Takayama, and Kyoto. It was nice to travel through Japan with them and we’re very glad they came to visit us!

When we first arrived in Tokyo, we decided we wanted to stay at a ‘capsule hotel’ which extremely popular. Men and women are on separate floors and instead of rooms, everyone gets their own individual capsule. Along with that you each get a locker to store your luggage in as well as bathrobes, slippers, and all toiletries you could think of. The capsules themselves were pretty comfy, and big enough that we weren’t claustrophobic inside them (Elly’s even had a TV inside).

One highlight of Toyko was seeing a show at the Robot Restaurant. Basically, people just dressed up in crazy costumes, danced and did skits while giant robots battled each other, and electronic music played in the background. There wasn’t so much a story line as just a series of scenes with different robots or giant animals attacking each other. It was a little ridiculous but really entertaining!

Walking through Tsukiji, the fish market, was hectic and fun. There were a ton of people selling every type of seafood imaginable. Tsukiji is known for its massive wholesale area, where vendors sell fresh seafood and vegetables very early in the morning for restaurants to stock up on their daily supply. This is also where the famous tuna auction is held at 4am. By the time we got to the market though, the wholesale area was closed down for the day, so we made our way through the outer retail area of the market, sampling sushi and whatever else looked good to us. We tried tiny octopus, swordfish skewers, BBQ eel, dried shredded squid (a favorite Japanese bar snack) and lots of sushi as well. Everything we tried was really good! Probably some of the best sushi/seafood we’ve ever had.

We had to make sure we explored Akihabara, the insane electronic/comic book district. Every store is filled with everything you can think of relating to videogames/action figures/anime/etc. My brother and I loved walking through, but Elly wasn’t quite as absorbed. It was pretty neat to experience all the neon signs and craziness of the area.

We also went to a Sumo match which was pretty crazy. We weren’t quite sure what to expect but it was actually a lot of fun to watch. We had watched it on TV in our hotel room a few days prior, and it didn’t seem like it would be too exciting, but we were wrong. The energy level was high in the stadium and each match (even though they didn’t last longer than 10 seconds) was exciting. We were high up in the balcony, but even with those seats we could see how huge these guys were.

Tucked away behind a row of trees separating it from the neon craziness of Kabukicho lies Golden Gai, a small series of narrow alleys with tons of bars crammed in and stacked on top of each other. Many of the buildings in this part are made of wood, and the area has been mostly unchanged since the 1950’s. The bars themselves are cozy little places that have on average only 5 or 6 seats each. Each bar is themed differently to make it stand out from others and are all charming in their own way. Due to the area being popular with tourists, there are a few bars with closed doors and signs saying either ‘no foreigners’ or ‘members only.’ For the most part though, the bars are very welcoming to all types of people and we didn’t have any trouble finding a few to stop in and have a drink at. The hardest part was finding bars with seats available, but with almost 200 bars crowded into a few short alleyways, we certainly weren’t short of choices. We had a great time wandering through the alleys just people watching and taking in all the sights. We ended up trying out a few bars and had a great time at each; you really can’t go wrong there.

Overall, we both really enjoyed Tokyo and could easily have spent even longer there. The city is huge and each district has so many things to do within them. It was a great intro to Japan but after that we were ready to move on to somewhere less hectic.

Thanks to DT for some pics!

South Korea

Seoul

Seoul-19

We originally hadn’t planned on going to South Korea, but we realized we had some time after India before we were heading to Japan to meet Cory’s parents. After talking for a while, we decided on visiting Seoul and it turned out to be a great decision. We ended up loving the culture there, and Seoul seemed to have the right mix of old and new, where there were loads of cool historic sections as well as ultra-modern sections. We explored a lot of the city, heading to a different neighborhood almost every day we were there. As mentioned in the last post, we also made it out of the city and visited the DMZ which was a really interesting experience.

Most of our time there we spent wandering around and visiting different areas of the city. We ended up spending a lot of time around Insadong, which had loads of traditional shops, art galleries, cool teahouses and loads of interesting restaurants. We also enjoyed walking around the area near Gyeongbokgung Palace. This palace was built in 1395 and was the home of the Joseon dynasty. It was a large complex and all of the buildings inside were beautiful. Nearby was also the Bukchon Hanok Village, a traditional village with old houses tucked behind the palace complex. Walking around through here was a nice way to escape the busier parts of the city and see what life was like in old Korea.

We had some of the most interesting food so far on the trip in Seoul. Up until then, we pretty much knew what we were ordering, and nothing was too crazy, but in Seoul we started to have to just pick things that sounded interesting and hope we liked them! Just about every meal also came with banchan which are small side dishes served your meal in Korea. These varied from place to place but all of them included kimchi, which is fermented cabbage and spices. Others included soybean sprouts, pickled radish, seaweed, potato salad, peppers, and loads of other things that we’re still not sure what we ate. Some better than others (didn’t end up loving kimchi) but all interesting! Our favorite meal was a big cast iron plate of chicken with melted cheese on top served with eggs, corn, and a variety of sauces. We of course also went to a traditional Korean BBQ place where we grilled our own meat. This ended up being really good but we needed just a smidge of help from the staff with the grilling.

For the second half of the week we stayed in Hongdae, which is where the main universities in Seoul are. Our favorite thing to do here at night was walk around and watch all the dance crews dancing to KPOP songs. These crews were out every night dancing to the hits right now and huge crowds would gather around. It was really entertaining, and we have a few new favorite KPOP songs.

There was always something going on in Seoul which made it a great city just to explore. We definitely could have spent even longer here and could see why it’s a popular city for expats. There’s just enough English around to get by without feeling completely overwhelmed, and with most people having a rough grasp of English it was never an issue doing anything. We would definitely come back in the future and maybe explore more of South Korea!

South Korea

The DMZ

DMZ-12

One of the things we wanted to do while in Seoul was visit the DMZ, the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Due to recent events, this area held significantly more importance than we imagined when we were booking the tickets. The DMZ is a 4-kilometer wide border that runs the length of Korea, dividing the peninsula roughly in half from top to bottom. Within the DMZ there is the JSA (Joint Securities Area, or Panmunjom), the building used for diplomatic engagements between the two Koreas. This specific location has been in the news lately with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea meeting with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un to make progress towards a once again unified Korea. This historic meeting marked the first time a North Korean leader has set foot into South Korea since 1953. This area was closed for the day when we were there.

Our tour consisted of several stops, starting in Imjingak. This is a park 7 km south of the DMZ, the closest you can get without security clearance. From here we could look across the river and see the DMZ and the edge of North Korea. This park was built to console Koreans who are unable to return to their hometown, and many North Korean defectors come here on major holidays, when one would normally visit their families. This is also where the Freedom Bridge is, the bridge leading out of the DMZ and into South Korea. This was a former railroad bridge that was used by repatriated POWs/soldiers returning from the North. They had a partially restored train engine here as well. Going past Imjingak, we went through a checkpoint, where a solider came onto our bus and checked the passports of everyone onboard (this was done again while leaving to make sure no one defected)!

From the checkpoint we slowly got closer to the DMZ and went on to the next stop, the Third Infiltration Tunnel. Discovered in 1978, this tunnel was built in secret by the North Koreans with the aim to sneak into the South and attack. A few other tunnels were also uncovered by the South, but there are believed to be many more that exist. We were able to walk into the tunnel, going underground 350 meters to reach it, then another 200 meters walking through it. We were brought within 150 meters of the Demarcation Line dividing the two Koreas; past that and you are in the North’s territory. Inside the tunnel was the closest we got to North Korea, and also the only time we were actually inside the DMZ. The tunnel itself was rather cramped and made for an uncomfortable journey, having to be hunched over almost the whole way (Elly was fine though). It was interesting to imagine if the tunnel had actually been used, and scary as well.

Next was Dora Observatory, situated on top of Mount Dora and overlooking the DMZ. From here you could see into the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea. We saw the 3rd largest city, Kaesong, as well as Kijong-dong, or what’s more commonly referred to as the ‘Propaganda Village.’ This is an uninhabited village built in the 1950’s as an apparent attempt to lure possible South Korean defectors to the North. This is one of two villages located within the DMZ, the other being Daeseong-dong on the South Korean side. People do live in this town, but only those who lived there before the Korean War or are descended from those who did. They have most of the same rights as all South Koreans, but they are exempt from taxation as well as compulsory 2-year military service. The villagers are mostly farmers as they were allocated large plots of land from the government. Safety is paramount within the village, with it being so close to the border. There is a curfew and headcount every night.

We ended our tour at Dorasan Station, the last stop on the railway before North Korea. The railway is not currently in service, but the line runs all the way from Seoul to Pyongyang. The railway is a relatively recent one and was used starting in 2007 to connect South Korea with Kaesong (the North Korean city we could see from the observatory). A daily train would run taking raw materials to the Kaesong Industrial Complex and return with finished goods. The employees at the factory interestingly consisted of both North and South Koreans. However, this lasted only one year. Hopefully soon, the station will be opened back up for real, and be used to connect the two sides.

During the trip, there was a lot of hope from our tour guides that the North and South will be unified once again in the near-future. The recent South/North Korean summit had both sides pledge to work towards denuclearization of the peninsula and the agreement to later this year turn the Korean Armistice Agreement into a full-fledged peace treaty, thus officially ending the Korean War after 65 years. While this seems to be a step in the right direction, not everyone seems to agree within the South. When we were dropped back off at city hall in Seoul, we saw many protestors arguing for appropriate punishment of the North, who are seen to be getting off lightly here. It will definitely be interesting to see what happens in the future.