What a day... I can't even put into words what happened today. To start things off we had very restricted attire to wear. Our tops had to cover our shoulders and the skirt or pants had to go past our knees. This was because we were going to the joint security area and DMZ. Just hearing the word DMZ made everyone cringe. We all were scared and afraid of what we were getting ourselves into. We left the hotel at 8:30 and drove one hour. First we visited an area made for the separated families of South Korea. There was a park and they celebrate with the families twice per year. There also was an old train that was majorly damaged and everywhere we looked were bulletholes throughout it. Next stop we went to the tunnel. This is where the South Korean soldiers found the tunnel that the North Korean soldiers dug and were planning to attack... There are 4 tunnels that the South Korean soldiers have found and there are supposedly many more that are hidden. Before we entered the tunnel we had to wear yellow helmets in case of rocks falling on our heads and also because the ceiling was so low. We started walking downward. It was an 11% incline. While walking down we thought it was so easy.. piece of cake. Then right when the ground became flat we came across a natural spring. We had the opportunity to drink the water. I washed my hands and the water was so refreshing and cold. Then we walked further into the cave. It took about 10 minutes to get to the 3rd blockade and we were not allowed to go any further. When we got to the end there was barbed wire in front of us and there was a small rectangular opening.. And through there you could see a water tank and another steel blockade... We couldn't grasp the fact that we were 100 meters from the border. Then we made our way back to the steep incline. Our jaws dropped when we saw the steep incline, but we all took our time making our way back up to ground level. We had to stop so the soldier could come on the bus and check to see how many people were on the bus. We were all so scared of the soldier because he looked so intimidating. We then made our way to the JSA visitor center. There they held a film presentation that taught us about the history of the formation of the JSA and the incidents that happened there. We then got onto the bus and took a tour of the DMZ. While we were on the bus we stoped at what used to be called the Family Unification Center and now it's called the Freedom Center. We then had to form two lines and another rule was not to make hand gestures for example pointing waving chew gum take pictures laugh carry bags because if we did those things the North Korean soldiers would think they were being made fun of. Or if you brought a bag it would make them think you were hiding something in those bags like explosives. We then walked through the building and while we did I was sweating and in my mind freaking out, but I didn't show it. We then walked through the glass doors and in front of us were map rooms and then the North Korean building. This sight was so surreal because we were standing 40 feet from North Korea and to top things off they let us walk into one of the light blue map buildings and inside were 4 tables with chairs and on the tables were 24 hour recorders and there were three soldiers standing guard. Right when we walked into the map building we were on the South Korean side and then after we passed the middle of the room we entered Note orth Korea. I could not grasp the fact that I was in North Korea.. No one I will ever meet in my life can say that. And on top of that we got to take a picture with the soldiers. They looked like they were manikens. Thay were in a Tai Kwan Do stance with their hands in a fist and black sunglasses and helmets. But we we had to be a foot away from them. They had a straight face on them and did not flinch at all. We then had to leave the map building and stand in front of the Freedom Center. Our guide then told us we could take pictures of what was in front of us, which was the map buildings and the North Korean building. There were also many South Korean soldiers in different positions so that they would be able to tell if North Korea was up to something. While taking pictures Courtney said to me look up at the North Korea building. Do you see that soldier standing there? And I looked and saw a North Korean soldier in front of the building. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. And then I noticed he had binoculars on. He was checking us and watching us to make sure we weren't doing anything unusual. I thought about it and I said to Courtney, "We are in South Korea at the DMZ standing in front of North Korea looking at a North Korean soldier. This is the coolest day of my life. But it wasn't even close to over. We then got back on the bus and saw the memorial thing. And then we saw the Bridge of No Return. This gave me the chills because Koreans had the opportunity to cross the bridge but they would never be able to return. That's like leaving New York and never being able to come back. We then went to lunch at a resturant and had pork which was very tender. We then went back to the JSA visitor center and began practicing. While we were practicing one of the soldiers that spoke English came to watch. He was very nice and he said he was from New York, specifically Brooklyn, and he was very happy to see other New Yorkers and people that spoke English. He was taking pictures of us and when he was leaving he gave us a thumbs up and then he walked over to Sydney and took off his hat and put it on her head. And they both smiled at each other. He then did it to Miyako. It was so cute to see the joy on their faces and I was very touched.
We went to get changed into our uniforms and then waited on line in the hallway to enter the room. We all were very nervous to perform in front of all the soldiers and then Eileen told us that their lives were really dull and they needed something to cheer them up and they've been looking forward to hearing us play. This gave us the confidence and the drive to perform for them like no other concert. And with that we entered the room. I walked all the way to the end to my spot and then looked out. I couldn't believe what I was looking at. In front of me were South Korean soldiers. They all looked very kind and friendly but also very serious. When we performed our first piece, which was the Korean national anthe, all the soldiers stood up and took their hats off. They all stood up in unison. It was one of the most intimidating things I've ever seen in my life. They were all in their uniforms and they had their hats off and they were all staring at us. After a couple of pieces we played they clapped and then after the Visions of Peace they started cheering, which we were very happy to hear. At our last piece they were cheering the loudest. I was lost for words and couldn't help but smile. After the concert was over the General said a few words that really touched us. He said that this could be the last music they ever hear. That's how serious their lives are and he told us it's an example of American peace and the relationship we have with them. After he spoke we told all the soldiers to come up to play the bells. We got to hand the bells out to the soldiers and teach them how to play bells. They were very nice and kind and could speak English very well. They also asked for our Facebook's which was very interesting. I came to realize that they were just your average typical boys and they wanted to get to know us as people and asked us questions about the city. We then went to dinner. We had metal trays that we put our food on and this is what the soldiers would use. And they would eat the same food we ate. We were sitting next to a Korean soldier and we talked to him about his life and what he does and our lives as well. We then got a picture with him and he seemed very happy. We then headed back to the visitor center to pack our bells away and when I was carrying my chimes case one of the soldiers asked to carry it for me which was very nice. We then said thank you and then made our way back to the bus and the soldier from New York ran onto the bus and sais he had to see us before we left. And we took a picture with him and he said that it was nice to see people that spoke English and he enjoyed seeing New York faces. Overall I underestimated what I was going to do today. We were driving in the bus and way across the river we saw North Korea and were like that's so cool, North Korea is just over the river. Little did we know we were going to be standing in North Korea. Also when the first soldier came on the bus he was so intimidating and we felt like it was going to be a stressful experience but when we preformed for them and talked to them afterwords they were the nicest people and we felt completely safe with them. I realized not to judge a person by their first impression but to give them a chance and get to know them.
This was the coolest day of my life and I don't think anything will ever come close to what we just did and it will always stay with me forever and I know that what we played for the soldiers made their day and they will never forget it and neither will I.