Each day on the tour started bright and early. Breakfast was served every morning between 8-9. It was buffet style, which was nice because then we got to eat what we wanted rather that only what was served. Generally there was a fruit bar, cereal bar (which was very popular), eggs, sausage (this looked more like a swollen finger than anything else), unsalted french fries, yogurt shots (which were delicious!) and an assortment of very nontraditional breakfast foods: fish, duck, kimchi, dumplings, etc.
Shortly after 9 everyone loaded up onto the buses again and we headed out the to the Opening Ceremonies for the 2010 Peace Camp for Youth. Everyone was dressed up in their nice clothes (originally we were told we'd only need one pair of dress cloths, then SURPRISE! You need 3 days worth. Some of us improvised, but lots of people had to wear the same thing for those three days! Bless their hearts...) and excited about for the camp to really begin.
When we got to the War Memorial (the museum where the Ceremonies were held) everyone was overcome by the hundreds of names that were on huge memorials as we walked passed. I think this is when I started to really understand that war is real. I always knew it, but I didn't know how real it was until I was in a foreign country, representing my Grandfather and those who risked their lives to defend freedom.
Our guides walked us into the Hall where the Ceremonies would be and we did a run through of Opening Ceremonies. As we were waiting for the ceremonies to start I took the change to look at the beauty of the building. The photo to the left is the ceiling. It was beautiful! Just like all of the buildings we went to.
Opening Ceremonies consisted of several parts including a video, welcoming speech, declaration of the participants dedication to peace, delivery of the camp flag (which my cousin did!!), beating a drum to symbolize a beginning of the Camp, and a photo opt with an important Korean Government Official.
Shortly after the photo opt the American participants were swept away to quickly tour the museum because an Madam Secretary Hillary Clinton was in Korea and we'd be having a photo opt with her later.
The tour of the museum began with this map. Our museum guide provided us with a play-by-play of the War. From that alone I learned so much about the logistics and rationale behind a lot of what happened... well, from the allies' side anyway.
There were so many cool artifacts an statues there (an I got photos of the ones that really spoke to me. Check out my Picasa account or facebook to see them all!) In this post are just a few of my favorites, with commentary. Keep in mind that without the help of the Allies, the Republic of Korea (aka South Korea) would be under Communist rule. The attitudes of the people there is so warm towards those how participated in the efforts, particularly those from the United States. I don't know that I've ever been more proud of my heritage as an American Citizen.
The plaque in front of the flag says, "Taegukki, the National Flag of Korea, with which student soldiers, living in Japan hardened their determination to protect their homeland before departing for the battlefront. They strengthened their fortitude by writing on the flag such words as 'patriotic spirit', 'love for the motherland', 'mother country's warriors', 'loyalty', 'Knock down the Red Army', and 'Congratulations! Departing for the front'."
As we continued our walk through the museum I realized that all of the displays were taking us through the progression of the war. I learned more about the bravery and courageousness of soldiers in general, and specific to this war than I'd ever really been able to comprehend. Several of the Peace Camp participants shared stories about places that their Grandfather's had served. I was touched to have it strike such a close to home chord.
We finally arrived at the place that symbolically and physically brought me peace. The 38th Parallel. We'd seen all the battle displays exhibiting the bravery shown by both sides, but up until this point (during the tour) it was anybody's guess as to who would be victorious. (Of course I knew that the allies would win, because well... the war was 60 years ago.) As we crossed the 38th Parallel I had this peace, that I mentioned before, overcome me. I knew that the freedom of the people in the Republic of Korea was no longer being threatened because of this symbolic line.The 38th parallel is the dividing line between North and South Korea. You see, the Korean War isn't over. An armistice was signed here, not a peace treaty. This line is a representation symbolically and very literally of the line between freedom and communism. The real line isn't spray painted in asphalt, but rather it is a twelve inch cement pad that runs from the Yellow Sea (on the west side of the countries) to the East Sea (which is on the east side... genius!, I know). This line, also known as the DMZ (which I'll talk about in another post) is about 2.5 miles wide (1.25 miles on either side of the line) and is the most heavily armed border in the world. Tourists can make arrangements to enter into a building and actually cross into North Korea. I'll post more about this on the day we went there.
I don't know that I can adequately express my gratitude for those both from the US and abroad who sacrificed so much in the name of freedom. I'll never look at someone in uniform the same. I hope I never forget to stand tall during our National Anthem and think about the beautiful words in the Pledge of Allegiance. To say the least I was emotionally drained. Luckily we didn't have anything too taxing planned immediately afterward, just lunch.
Those of us in my group (all American's) met up with the other group of Americans (apparently there were too many of us to all go around in one group so we split into two) and had lunch in the museum's restaurant. It was very nice and buffet style! Buffets became my favorite way to eat because if something did or didn't look good you could take as much as you wanted or avoid it. PERFECT!
After lunch we went out into the court yard of the museum where Secretary Hillary Clinton and Secretary Robert Gates would be coming. Turns out that the two of them were in So. Korea for an Annual Asian Security Summit. Of course with important Government figures comes a whole slew of pomp and circumstance so we (the American's in the Camp) waited for nearly an hour on bleachers watching the So. Korean and US personnel practice.
I think my favorite parts were to see the US and South Korean flags fly side by side along with other members of the UN. I also couldn't help by stand tall and sing with the military bands as they played my homeland's National Anthem. There is something special about hearing that song in a foreign country. The words, "land of the free and home of the brave" struck a chord (no pun intended) that they've not ever for me prior.
Part of the ceremony was to have our group take a photo with Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates. After the two of the paraded down the steps of the courtyard and around a red carpet triangle in the courtyard twice they stopped at us, asked us if we were having a good time and stepped into the photo. Regardless of my political views, it was cool to be in a photo with two such prominent people from the US government. Needless to say, it was a chance of a lifetime. Since the copyrights to the photos aren't mine, here is one of the websites where it can be found. (I'm in the 6th photo right behind Mrs. Clinton.)
The ceremony was short and very powerful (at least to me). Afterward our group was given a little bit of time to take photos in the courtyard. Here are some of my favorites:
The American Girls
"Mormon Family from Utah". Yes, I am related to all those people - minus the guy, Jeremy, in front, but he was adopted into the family on the trip.
Shaun and I... looking very couplish.
Shaun and I... looking very couplish.
By the time we finished up here at the museum it was time to board back onto the buses and head back to the hotel for dinner, which was delicious! We had rice, bulgogi, kimchi, watermelon, grapes, other pickled... things.... and Dunkin' Donuts for dessert! (Hello American!) It was nice to eat something periodically that my taste buds recognized as something from home. Don't get me wrong, Korean food is good, but it was nice to taste home since I wasn't seeing it around me.
After dinner we got together in another hall and our kick off ceremonies, which were hilarious! We sat with our teams, played get-to-know you games. Typically I'm not on board for such activities, but with no choice and crazy low expectations I quietly challenged those who'd planned them to prove me wrong and change my attitude. The games were gut wrenching! I laughed so hard and made friends with other people on my team. Maybe sometime I'll try to post part or all of the video we received at the end of our trip. In this it has footage from these games.
This night ended very similar to the one prior, I was exhausted and desperate for sleep! When the games were over, it didn't take much coaxing to convince me to go to bed. Needless to say, Jessica and I didn't have evening debriefing sessions. :)