Visitors to the Ganghwa Peace Observatory take in the scenery of Gaepung County, North Korea.
By Shim Hyun-chul
“The memory of crossing the Han River on a wooden raft 60 years ago, it’s still so vivid in my mind. I came with my parents and my sister had just gotten married the day before the Korean War broke out. We still haven’t heard from her since,” said Choi Sun-nam, 74, as his eyes filled with tears.
Choi was at the Ganghwa Peace Observatory, casting longing looks toward North Korea. The observatory is located in Cheolsan-ri, Ganghwa County, in the northernmost part of Incheon, a port city about 40 kilometers west of Seoul. It’s where the residents of Yeonbaek Plains in Hwanghae Province mostly settled after fleeing the 1950-1953 Korean War. At the observatory, former North Korean residents like Choi can often be spotted. About 220,000 former North Korean residents visited the spot last year.
From the observatory that opened in 2008, North Korea is only 2.3 kilometers away while the Gaeseong Industrial complex is about 17 kilometers from it. To its left are the Yeonbaek Plains and to the right, one can see glimpses of Gaepung County in North Korea.
The observatory is on three floors. On the first floor is a shop selling local goods from Ganghwa as well as North Korean items and restaurant and a “unification-wish” room. The second floor houses an indoor observatory and an exhibition hall. On the third floor is the observatory, which is equipped with high-tech telescopes to allow a closer view into the North. Outside there is a stand where the visitors can pay respects to the families they have left behind and a musical box where you can push a button to hear a song about the scenic Mt. Geumgang in North Korea.
The observatory is open throughout the year, with seven presentations a day on its history held there. For more information, visit www.ghss.or.kr, or call 032) 930-7062.