Hearty Beef Bourguignon

Hearty Beef Bourguignon

As with so many of my blogs, they really are random and varied in their subject topics and this one is no exception.

Several years ago, a wonderful friend of mine who was born in Paris but raised in the French countryside by her Parisian mother and Tunisian father, showed me how to make beef bourguignon. It was one of the most wonderful meals I’ve tasted. Over the years, I have made a few adjustments and even modified it for the crockpot and it has become a favourite meal in our house. According to my French friend, the difference between French country beef bourguignon and Paris beef bourguignon, is the potatoes, but I love them and wouldn’t make it without them as they give this dish the added heartiness it needs.

I’m going to do my best to share with you the recipe/process of making it but you must first understand that I don’t really measure anything when I cook, so you’ll have to go with my explanation of amounts and if your anal about your quantities, you’ll just have to make it your own by perfecting the measurements 😉. The great thing for me is that each time I make beef bourguignon, it has an ever so slightly different taste and each time is just as lovely as the prior one.

If you’re still here then I’m assuming you want to know more. This is a great family meal and can also be a great dinner party meal, which is how I came to writing this blog. We had guests over one Friday night and the menu was quite last minute, but it was a hit and I was asked to share my recipe, so here goes:

Obviously the first thing you need is the beef. I am not completely au fait with different types of beef, so I normally buy either a nice looking lean beef for stewing package (and still remove all of the fat as none of my family likes fat on any meats) or I buy a top sirloin family package and cut it into chunks (somewhere about the 5cm/2” chunk size especially if I’m doing it in the crockpot as the meat will shrink, basically, you want it to be bite size after it has been cooking. As far as the amount of meat, it really depends on how many you’re cooking for. The night of the dinner party, I was cooking for 8, so I used about 1kg/just over 2lbs, of meat.

I cook the meat in a large pan with olive oil on a medium high heat until just brown, then add the bacon. Again, I like the bacon to be nice and lean. I cut most of the fat off and have even used lean turkey bacon in the past. Either one works. In this case I used 7-8 slices of center cut pork bacon that I cut into very small pieces after I had trimmed the fat off. Then I threw in a variety of salts (pictured) because I didn’t have any ‘seasoned salt’ on hand, so just made my own. It’s important to add a little extra salt as you will be cooking potatoes.

I added 3 cloves of fresh garlic (refrigerated minced garlic is just as good – about 3 teaspoons) and lots of onion powder as well as some dried minced onion (note – I love cooked onion but my husband and 2 of my kids, do not. I find things need that onion-y taste, so have resolved to using a mix of onion powder/dried minced onion to give the taste without adding the texture they dislike so much).

This is a 1/4 cup that I used as an oversized spoon equivalent- don’t get too caught up on perfect measurements 😊

Next add a couple of heaped tablespoons (or 1/4 cups with a bit) of flour. This was weird for me the first time I saw it as I thought it would end up chunky/lumpy like gravy, but it works itself out. Stir the flour in, it will get thick and pasty very quickly so have your wine ready to go.

Thick and pasty after the flour has been added

 

I really like using the box wine for this. I have used different types of red and I guess it can’t really be called a bourguignon if you don’t use that wine, but semantics. Lol. The Franzia chillable red gives the dish a lighter taste (which my kids prefer, rather than a heartier red that continues to give it a ‘wine’ taste even after the alcohol is cooked). My friend used a heartier wine but added an equivalent amount of water, so I really find this does the job just as well. I did measure it this time knowing I would share the recipe with you 😊 and I used about 750mls of the Franzia and added  about 250mls of a cheap cab sav to find a happy medium in the sauce/stew. I gave it a quick stir and threw it all into the crockpot then added the tomatoes and tomato paste, 3 bay leaves and a huge spoonful of the beef stock paste you see pictured here. I love this paste. Best stock brand in America in my humble opinion. Find a good quality beef stock where you live and use it generously.

If you are cooking it in your pan, add these ingredients, put a lid on your pan and turn it down to a simmer, stirring regularly and cooking for about 40 mins. If you’re using a crockpot, set on low for 8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours, stirring it after about an hour.

Potatoes. In this particular meal, I used a 3lb bag of baby red and yellow potatoes. But I’ve used all sorts of potatoes and just cut them into bite sized pieces. You have some different options here as far as cooking them goes too. I like to cook the potatoes a little bit before adding them to the crockpot as I have had potatoes not quite cooked even after they have supposedly simmered away for 8 hours. Your other option is to cook them and add them at the last minute. I prefer the first method because they get the saucy flavour interspersed in the potato and it adds to the overall quality of this dish, but sometimes things don’t work out, so it’s always an option at the end. If you’re cooking this meal on the stovetop, then your only option is to cook the potatoes separately and add them into the sauce for a few mins. Make sure you taste it after you have added the potatoes to see if you need to add some extra salt, this goes for both methods.

To finish off this hearty stew meal, I throw a loaf (or two) of French bread into some foil and warm it up in the oven. Serve it with some real butter and let your guests dip away into this wonderfully warming meal!

Let me know what you think of this recipe and if you make it, how it goes down with your family and friends. This meal gave 4 of us seconds and lunch for 4 of us the following day, so it certainly went a long way.

If you enjoy reading my crazy, varied blogs, please subscribe here on WordPress. Sharing is caring, so feel free to share with your friends. I’m on Facebook: Aussie Mum’s Adventures. Come like my page and share it with your friends! You can find me on Twitter: @ozmumsadventures, on Instagram: Ozmumsadventures, on Pinterest: Aussiemumsadventures And please subscribe to my YouTube channel: Aussie Mum’s Adventures – it’s a work in progress though 😊

Ingredients

  • Beef
  • Bacon
  • Seasoned salt
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Wine
  • All purpose (USA) or plain flour (Australia)
  • Large can of crushed tomatoes (28oz in USA equivalent to 794grams metric – but don’t worry about being precise, just adjust your other ingredients to account for amount of tomatoes) and/or
  • Fresh tomatoes if desired
  • Tomato paste – small can or about 2 heaped tablespoons – be generous 😊
  • Bay leaves
  • Beef stock
  • Potatoes
  • Crusty bread
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A Little Kindness Goes a Long Way

A Little Kindness Goes a Long Way

Imagine this: you’re sitting al fresco style at a lovely restaurant eating brunch with your husband and your 12 year old son. Everything is great, you’re eating your food and this family outing is extremely pleasant; all of a sudden your son’s face goes extremely red. You wonder if he’s choking but he’s not making any noises or gesturing in any way that indicates that such a thing is occurring. He stands up and you can see a wet patch on his bottom. He’s had a minor accident you think, but then the smell hits you quite violently and you realize this is no minor accident!

Now imagine your son is special needs. Imagine if you were that parent. Imagine if everyone around you (and the restaurant, even al fresco, was absolutely packed) just sat and stared!

So I tried to imagine this and I honestly couldn’t, not in a real, oh my god, this is really happening, kind of way. This is what did actually happen to my sister and not one restaurant patron helped her in any way at all. She didn’t have any wipes on her (isn’t that always the way when you desperately need them) and her husband ran to to get as many paper napkins as he could whilst she desperately tried to clean their son up.

“What could another patron have done?” You might be asking. Well, anything but nothing! Here are some suggestions if you ever find yourself witnessing such an awful situation: Alert the staff, suggest they get some disinfectant and lots of paper towel. A bucket of hot water, a mop, you know, those things you need to take care of a situation like this, offer to help get paper towels from the public toilets, if you have young children (and there were other families with very young children there) offer your baby wipes! Try not to stare. the worst thing these people did was nothing. This was an awful situation for my sister and her family. She was embarrassed, stressed, mortified and by the end of this now-turned-horrific brunch, a little angry! And I can’t say I blame her.

We all talk about how kind we can be on social media, but it’s time to own that kindness in real life. Stop being so ghastly! Help out your fellow people when they need you! No, it wouldn’t have been pleasant, but no one was expecting you to do the actual clean up! My sister didn’t even expect the restaurant staff to do that! She cleaned it up as much as she could with the limited resources she had, but their disappointment in their fellow patrons and the lack of kindness shown to them, is something that has to be shared so that no one ever has to go through that again!

It’s time to start actually doing the right thing and thinking about people other than yourself. To the patrons at that restaurant: shame on you!

If you have a child with special needs and would like more information on where you can get support, please check out the links below:

USA (this is a link to a blog that lists 10 organizations within the USA that can help you with support):

Where to find support in USA

In Australia:

Support in Australia

UK:

Support for parents in UK

NZ:

Support for special needs in NZ

If you enjoy reading my crazy, varied blogs, please subscribe here on WordPress. Sharing is caring, so feel free to share with your friends. I’m on Facebook: Aussie Mum’s Adventures. Come like my page and share it with your friends! You can find me on Twitter: @ozmumsadventures, on Instagram: Ozmumsadventures, on Pinterest: Aussiemumsadventures And please subscribe to my YouTube channel: Aussie Mum’s Adventures (I’m still working on it, so please have patience with me!).

Teen Anxiety and Blaming Parents

Teen Anxiety and Blaming Parents

I recently read an article titled “10 Reasons Teens Have So Much Anxiety Today” and I was really quite shocked at just how much the author generalized and blamed parents in this article. A little too much blame methinks. As if parents don’t have enough stress on them too! How about the fact that in America it’s all about working rather than spending any quality time with your family? How about the fact that teachers aren’t given the respect and recognition they deserve? And yes, I do believe (highly unfairly) some parents expect teachers to raise and discipline their kids.

I think another factor is that society wants to give everyone a medal! God forbid we recognize that our child lost! – Our daughter had a soccer game the other day and it was awful! It was awful to watch. She played terribly. Her team was annihilated because none of them played well. She got into the car afterwards and told us how she played terribly. I said she had some moments that were good, but it definitely wasn’t fun to watch and she certainly wasn’t playing her best. She said she didn’t give it 100% – All we ask is that our kids do their best. Every time. If you are going to commit to something then you need to give it your best. I told her I appreciated her admitting that, but if she wants to play soccer then she needs to give it her best, every, single time. There is no talking it up at our house. We are by no means perfect parents but when our kid doesn’t commit and recognizes it themselves, I’m not going to disagree. I’m not going to praise the not-so-good. I am going to praise her great moments though. Our other daughter has just made a lacrosse team. It’s the B team. She started playing lacrosse at a free clinic last Summer. She did another clinic in Autumn. And another this Winter. She can’t expect miracles. She can’t expect to be the best immediately. It just doesn’t work that way. I’m proud of how she responded though when I told her this morning that she had made the B team. She said that if she wants to get better then she has to work hard. But she’s going to play hard nonetheless and actually said how thankful she was that we actually let her start playing the game now (14).

No one knows if they’re doing the parenting thing the ‘right’ way. Articles like these point out some great things to keep an eye on but they also blame parents in so many ways and that’s when it becomes unfair. We are trying to do our best. We are told what we can and can’t do as far as our parenting goes. We are told we are doing it wrong all the time. “Too many electronics!” “You have to have your kids skilled in electronics!” “They’re not exercising hard enough!” “You’re putting too much pressure on your kid by having them exercise hard throughout the week and playing competitive games on weekends!” There’s a happy medium somewhere there, but we can’t be blamed for everything! Society as a whole needs to intervene in a more productive way. Playtime at school has to happen. Yes to less screen time, but haven’t the so-called experts been saying that for years about TVs?

My son told me he was bored the other night, I told him to read a book or play legos or take his imagination on an adventure! We ended up playing a family card game of Uno. It was fun! Kids need to be bored and parents need to allow them time to develop coping skills, it’s also a time when parents can add some family fun into the mix.

I very much believe in the hierarchy point though. I have friends whose kids seem to dictate all that they do. I have friends who treat their kids as equals and share with them far too many facts about themselves or other adult friends. Your kid is your kid. Not your peer. Not your friend. When they are adult enough, become friends. But they need you as their parent, their guide, their guardian, right now.

This article points out things to keep an eye on within ourselves (as parents) and some modifications we can definitely make in our day-to-day lives as the parents of teens or even tweens, but blaming us for everything isn’t the answer either.

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Dr. Seuss Themed, Book Week, Door Decorating

Dr. Seuss Themed, Book Week, Door Decorating

I volunteer in my 6 year old’s class once a week to help with extra reading and his teacher asked if I could help with a book week door design – oh yes I can! Lol. I went on Pinterest and looked for ideas as to how to encourage young readers to get excited about reading and found some awesome ideas, including varied options for the “I will read” saying, inside of an extended version of Cat’s Hat.

Credit from Pinterest (I can’t find the site again to give proper credit)
The beginning drawing
A close up of Cat’s face – though I did edit him a tad during the painting phase

Everywhere I looked there was the Cat’s hat, but what about Cat himself? I grabbed one of my son’s books and freehand drew the cat. He turned out pretty great! Lol. I honestly don’t know how to help you draw him other than to say it might help to look at the picture in grids and draw each grid independently, sometimes baby steps are the best, rather than looking at the bigger picture.

The drawing was the easy part though, trying to copy the font for the passage on the right had to be the most time-consuming! Painting was certainly no easy task either, but the rewards are immediate! I did however make a mistake and tried to erase my pencil marks too quickly (see photo). But all in all, I was very happy with the results!

I did everything at home other than the handprints of course! This afternoon I had the lovely pleasure of assisting each first grader in dipping their hand in paint thereby adding their personal touch to this door cover. It was so much fun! The teacher had photos of each and every child that we stuck in the middle of their handprint. It worked out really well and I love it! I’ll never have another first grader, but I’ll always have this amazing memory! Even the teacher put her handprint on there!

If you enjoy reading my crazy, varied blogs, please subscribe here on WordPress. Sharing is caring, so feel free to share with your friends. I’m on Facebook: Aussie Mum’s Adventures. You can find me on Twitter: @ozmumsadventures, on Instagram: Ozmumsadventures, on Pinterest: Aussiemumsadventures And please subscribe to my YouTube channel: Aussie Mum’s Adventures (I’m still working on it, so please have patience with me!).

Being There

Being There

I regularly reflect on life and try to find some deep and meaningful answers on a daily basis. Rarely do I actually get any 😆. But, some clarification has hit me this year, I think I’m done with the BS people in my life. The ones who only want me in their lives when it’s convenient for them. You know the ones. You call or text them for the umpteenth time & always get the response “I’ve been so busy……. blah blah.” We are all busy, every single one of us, but we all have a few minutes to take the time to call and check on the people we love; friends and family alike. It’s important. We all say all of these sweet things on Social media about how we are here if you need us, but why not be there before you are needed? Why not give a little rather than talk a sweet talk? It’s time, now is the time to do that! If it isn’t time for you, then perhaps the people in your life aren’t the right people? Perhaps it’s time to move on and make new friends?

Every relationship you have is an investment. You both give and take, you invest your time and your love, yes even with friends. If you’re too busy to invest that time and love, then maybe these aren’t the right friends for you. Take a moment to reassess who you want in your life, then take a moment to jot them a note, give them a call, send a text.

I know, I know, your busy, you’ve got too many friends, too much family, everyone is strewn throughout the country, throughout the world! If you don’t reach out now, you may regret that you didn’t. We have no idea if today is the first of many great ones yet to come or the last of many great ones lived. We have no idea about that for ourselves let alone for anyone else. After dealing with too many losses at the end of last year into this year and seeing so many people regret not reaching out in time because they didn’t realize their time was so limited, I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. I’m not sitting here on my high horse telling you to cull your Facebook friends’ list, what I am telling you though is reach out to those you consider your true friends, a minute is all it takes. Stop putting off having lunch or a coffee with that girlfriend you haven’t seen in forever, stop thinking there’ll be time later to go for that beer or catch up with your mate to play pool. There may not be and you don’t want to spend time regretting.

I don’t want to regret another minute of my life. I don’t want to spend time with people I don’t truly like. I don’t want to spend time with people who don’t truly like me. That’s not doing either one of us any good. I’ve always reached out to people but it’s definitely a two-way street and my life is very full, so perhaps it’s time I stopped. Perhaps it’s time you stopped too. Perhaps our laundry list of so-called friends is just that?

Either way, the people I love , those who truly know who they are, will always call and check on me or text or let me know how they are, just as I will them. The rest, well some could be in this life for a reason, a season or a lifetime, some could just be wasting my time and I theirs. So here’s to truly being there for someone before they need you and to knowing others have got your back!

What the ?

What the ?

Hey fellow Mum/Mom, what the …..?

So, my daughter had her 12th birthday party a few months ago, she invited 8 of her friends. She didn’t invite one girl that she’s had this on again/off again relationship with. She asked me if I thought she was doing the right thing, I asked her how she was being treated lately by said girl and what their relationship was like. She responded with: said girl had been treating her like crap (after having a play date at our house the week before) and she had an invite for her but rescinded at the last minute because said girl was being a little hellion (according to my daughter).
Here’s my thing; my kid and your kid are both not going to paint themselves in the ‘worst’ picture when it comes to situations involving their friends. I’m going to believe my kid, you’re going to believe your kid.
Sometimes our kids aren’t telling the entire truth; sometimes they blatantly lie.
I can’t tell you who is being more honest, what I can tell you is there are always two sides to a story and why the hell are you unfriending me as your Facebook friend because our kids no longer talk?
Seriously, this happened! I have been a parent for over 12 years now and I’ve only just realised that it is a big mistake to get involved with any of your kid’s friend’s Mums! Well okay, maybe not. Maybe you’ll walk away with a friend for life, but maybe you’ll also both get drawn into the shit that happens when your kids have falling outs! Do not get involved!
Well, hang on, if it’s serious, get involved, but most of the time it’s just the frigging drama that goes along with a bean/tween/teen! It’s seriously not something you need to take a stand on and that’s where the grey comes into it: New Mum/mom, only child Mum/Mom, old hat Mum/Mom, your kid is going to go through drama, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being bullied, but it’s a whole lot of drama nonetheless! (Oh and keep a very keen eye out for the bullying because that’s a whole different ball game!)
The drama is going to involve your kid’s best friend/girlfriend/boyfriend or a complete stranger. You are going to have no clue from which direction the drama will unfold. Here’s the big picture though, don’t frigging unfriend the mother you friended a few months ago when your kid’s were best friends because there’s a damn good chance they’ll be best friends again before you know it! Don’t bring the other parent into the drama! I’ve learnt this the hard way, and I say this in all seriousness, don’t frigging friend someone either just because they are the parent of your kid’s friend! Just because your kid’s are friends doesn’t mean you need to be, and you know what? On a grown up level, just because you’re friends, doesn’t mean your kids need to be!
We seem to go through this notion where we think we have to Facebook befriend the parent of every kid our kids love and sometimes they’re not necessarily people we want to know and other times they’re the best friends we never knew we had. It’s a tough game that whole friendship as an adult thing but when our kids come into play, from now on my new motto is, hey, I really like you but you need to understand our kids may have differences and I don’t particularly give a crap because I really like you and the kids can work their own shit out or move on! Do not get overly involved! Advise your kid. Do the parental thing. Call the other kid out. But has the parent done anything to you? Is the kid old enough to have started developing their independence? Then shit, stop holding grudges against the parents; sometimes great parents have shitty kids and sometimes shitty parents have great kids! That’s just the way it rolls.
This woman’s juvenile behaviour has now made me think everything my daughter has told me about her daughter is true, whereas before, I wasn’t so sure. How can we set the example for our children, particularly our daughters (I’m a firm believer in women believing in other women rather than putting them down) when we start judging other women by the actions our juvenile children narrate to us when they are still learning what is right and wrong in the world? Disappointed doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings about this seemingly smart, well educated woman! And no, there were no other posts made by myself between Saturday night (the night of the party) and Monday afternoon (when she came up on my Facebook feed as someone I might know).
What the ?
Lady, you are doing nothing for your child by being like this. You are not setting a great example to resolve conflict and nor are you ensuring your child has the confidence to make the right decisions- be they right or wrong. I am glad in a way that we are no longer friends because you’ve helped me explain to my daughter the kind of woman ‘not to be’ (but I actually liked a couple of parts of your personality, so in another sense it saddens me that this is where we’ve come).
I wish you and yours all the best and hope your kid can walk away from this a strong woman who knows what it’s like to both fail and succeed and to know the important role other women play in this thing we call life.

DMZ

DMZ

One of the most amazing things about living in, or visiting The Republic of South Korea (ROK as it is regularly know or SoKo as it is known to expats living here) is the ability to visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that place between North and South Korea completely unlike any other place on earth. Let me start with some background information….

On June 25, 1950, the North Korean People’s Army, under the rule of Kim Il Sung, invaded SoKo by crossing over the 38th parallel. Kim Il Sung had decided South and North Korea should join forces as the entire country would be better off (in his not-so-humble opinion) being Communist. I think he took a leaf out of Mao Tse Tung’s book and determined that people didn’t really need to think for themselves when he could think and decide for them! But let’s go back a little further shall we:
Korea had been a part of the Japanese Empire since the beginning of the 20th Century (there is still some animosity towards the Japanese even today; some places wouldn’t service my Toyota because it is Japanese, and there are very few Japanese products available, but that’s an entirely different story). After Japan fell at the end of WWII, Korea fell into the hands of the Americans and the Soviets. What to do with this Imperial possession, became the question. In August of 1945, two aides at the State Department were given the task to divide the country in half. They drew a line at the 38th parallel. The top part (North Korea or NoKo) occupied by the Russians, the bottom (SoKo) occupied by the Americans. What followed was the emergence of two Korean Dictators, the anti-communist dictator to the South, Syngman Rhee, and the communist dictator to the North, our buddy Kim Il Sung. Understandably neither really liked the idea of their country being divided particularly by some outsiders, but even more so, they disliked each other and there were plenty of skirmishes along the border even before the Korean War began with approximately 10,000 soldiers killed.
On that day though in 1950, people, particularly the Americans, were taken aback. They thought this was the beginning of a communist uprising to take over the world and that just wasn’t going to happen on their watch! As far as America was concerned, this was a fight of good versus evil, east versus west. In Harry Truman’s own words: “the Soviet[s] will keep right on going and swallow up one [place] after another.” So when they readied their troops for battle, the USA wasn’t just fighting for SoKo, they were fighting a war against communism itself. At first the war went pretty badly for the allies with the South Koreans understandably scared, untrained and not disciplined at all, to top it off it was one of the hottest, driest Summers on record and I can assure you Summer in this country is pretty bloody miserable at times, and the American soldiers were getting incredibly sick and even dying from horrible gastro diseases, after drinking water from rice paddies (human waste was the main fertilizer). President Truman and his main man at the time, General MacArthur, decided to change things around and go on the offensive and this was great until the Chinese thought they were trying to take over Communist China and their crazy leader Mao Zedong/Mao Tse-tung/Chairman Mao wasn’t going to sit down and take that! He sent troops to NoKo and warned America to back off unless it wanted full scale war. Truman, the diplomat, didn’t want that, but General MacArthur thought this an appeasement to China and North Korea and he was all about a full scale war. The two men’s opposing opinions eventually led to MacArthur getting fired for insubordination and President Truman starting peace talks (new military commanders in tow) with NoKo in 1951. Obviously they talked each other’s ears off for the next two years with most of the problems stemming from what to do with prisoners of war. An armistice was signed on July 27, 1953 and allowed the POWs to stay wherever they liked, a new boundary was drawn that gave SoKo an extra 1500 square miles and created a 2-mile-wide “demilitarized zone” that we were going to visit today.
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The alarm went off at 0500 (5am) Saturday morning. We’d had a late night the night before having decorated and been through a Halloween haunted happening, but having to also clear out of there by 2200 (10pm) as it was still a functioning location and all decorations needed to be removed in a timely manner. Awesome night though. We were all tired. The DMZ tour was only for kids 10 and older so we had left one child at a friend’s house after our haunted do and the other went to his friend’s house at 0600. Then we were off to catch the tour bus.
The tour had been co-sponsored by our Family Readiness Group (FRG – a group in the Army life made up of family members that supports the needs of both families and soldiers by helping to maintain morale, and if possible sponsor events). We had 24 people on the tour bus that were part of our group. Our bus tour was through Osan ITT (for any military or family members reading this and wanting to know more). We left at 0700. Unfortunately there was something going on with the speaker system/bus driver and we couldn’t hear a lot of what our guide said when we first got on the bus but then they put on a fascinating DVD from the History channel talking all about the history and the various skirmishes since the Korean War armistice. Yes, the war has never really ended and every time a new Kim comes into power they seem to get a little bit crazier.
Kim Il Sung ruled for 47 years, the man called himself supreme leader and ensured all NoKo’s knew him by that name. I don’t really know a whole lot about his reign of terror, I mean reign of leadership, but I’m pretty sure he scared the bejesus out of most people and when he decided to pair up with Mao Zedung for the Korean War, they probably shared a laugh and knocked some torture ideas back and forth, collaborated a little, found best-practice methods and all that jazz. What is really crazy is that four years after Kim Il Sung’s death, he was named the Eternal President of the Republic! Seriously! A dead man is the eternal president and the presidency itself was written out of NoKo’s constitution! Where does that leave his son and grandson you ask? His eldest son, Kim Jong-il, became known as the Dear Leader and later, the Great General. As far as I can tell, he didn’t do much more for NoKo than his father, other than sleep around a lot. He fathered two sons before super crazy boy (I mean current leader), that were considered the black sheep of the family, in fact the eldest put it out there that his family shouldn’t have complete control of NoKo and on top of that, he got caught in a plot to visit Disney Tokyo! I mean seriously, that was it, he was done! And rightfully so! There’s no room for fun in NoKo! He apparently lives in China now, not sure how much fun he’s having there either, but the Chinese seem to have a sense of humor unlike crazy Kim. The second son was a bit too feminine to rule, not quite sure what that means, but nonetheless, there was no go for him to lead NoKo! That left the third son, to yet another mother, Kim Jong-un to lead the way (taking command in December, 2011) after his father’s untimely death. And we’ve all seen what a catastrophic, I mean, charismatic guy he is! I guess he wants to completely differentiate himself from his father and grandfather so has attempted to develop an academically-focused, extroverted and extremely masculine persona.
This video (I’m not sure if you would see it on any other tour buses) makes you understand a little more, the serious nature about living here in SoKo and how this isn’t actually a joke at all. Even though I may have made a few jokes about the crazy man to the north. It also only tells of the NoKo invasions/skirmishes but there have been raids or incursions by SoKo as well. Always two sides to a story but I’m far more inclined to believe the Americans and SoKo’s given the information I have researched and read/seen/heard since taking an interest in going on this tour to the DMZ. I can’t list them all but I’ll try to brief on the main points.
  • 1958: NoKo agents hijack airliner en route from Busan to Seoul. 28 passengers released, 8 remained in NoKo.
  • October 1966-1969: The Second Korean War or the DMZ Conflict occurred. 299 SoKo’s killed, 550 wounded. 43 US personnel killed, 111 wounded.
  • January 17, 1968: The Blue House Raid. A 31 man detachment crosses into SoKo to kill President Park Chung-hee and very nearly succeed. 28 of them were killed, 1 captured but the other two were never accounted for. Unfortunately 26 SoKos and 3 American soldiers were also killed, with numerous more injured.
  • January 23, 1968: The USS Pueblo (United States Navy) is boarded and captured with NoKos saying it was in their waters and US vehemently denying that saying it was in international waters. 1 sailor is killed the other 83 are captured and only released when US retracts its statement saying it was in NoKo’s waters. As soon as the hostages are released at the ‘Bridge of No Return’, the US retracts its retracted  statement and says it only agreed to say that to get its people back. Fair enough, I say. The ship is still in Pyongyang and is apparently a museum now.
  • Nov 1969: four US soldiers are killed in DMZ.
  • Dec 11, 1969: a NoKo agent hijacks a Korean Airlines plane flying from Gangneung Airbase to Gimpo International Airport. 39 passengers were returned but the crew and 7 other passengers never came back.
  • 1974: A second assassination attempt on SoKo President Park Chung-hee that went wrong, inadvertently killed his wife. a high school student was also killed.
  • 1974: The first infiltration tunnel in SoKo is discovered followed by the second in 1975, the third tunnel (the one we visited) in 1978 and the fourth in 1990.
  • August 18, 1976: The Axe murder incident. This one did break my heart a little and there are reasonably graphic photographs on the movie. Some civilians went out to trim a tree that was blocking SoKo’s view of NoKo in the DMZ, and the NoKo soldiers came up and started attacking them with the axes they were using to trim down the tree. 2 US soldiers died and 9 US and SoKo soldiers were injured.
  • In between there were a number soldiers killed when they crossed the lines in both directions and a chinook was shot down when it strayed across the line with 3 airmen dead and one briefly held prisoner.
  • Nov 1987: Skirmish at the JSA (Joint Security Area – also on the tour). 1 American and 1 SoKo soldier are killed.
  • December 17, 1994: US Army Kiowa crosses 10km into NoKo border, one dead, one held prisoner for 13 days.
  • May 1995: NoKos Fire on SoKo fishing boat killing 3.
  • April 1996: several hundred armed NoKos enter the DMZ at the JSA and elsewhere, breaking the armistice agreement. As with many other events, NoKo denies this ever happened.
  • June 1997: 3 NoKo vessels cross the Northern Limit Line and attack SoKo vessels. 14 NoKo soldiers cross 70 metres south of the center of the DMZ. 23 minutes of gunfire are exchanged.
  • June 1999: the First Battle of Yeonpyeong
  • June 29, 2002: the second Battle of Yeonpyeong leads to sinking of SoKo vessel and 6 SoKo sailors deaths.
  • Mar 26, 2010: SoKo naval vessel sunk by NoKo torpedo. 58 survivors recovers, 46 dead.
  • Nov 23, 2010: NoKo fired artillery at SoKo island. 2 SoKo marines and 2 SoKo civilians dead, 16 injured. About 70 SoKo houses destroyed.
  • Oct 6, 2012: NoKo Army Private defects to SoKo.
There are plenty more incidents to read about but these are the main ones in my opinion. What is interesting also is the whole loud speaker propaganda war going on at the DMZ. NoKo is known for its loud speakers talking the communist talk at the border towns, but I guess SoKo decided to get in on the action at some point and put their own loud speakers up. Unfortunately for the North, SoKo’s amazing technological advancements mean their speakers are louder and far superior. Every now and again SoKo plays its own propaganda messages talking about how great it is and how defectors are always welcome. They talk about soap operas and even play Kpop (SoKo’s own music version – Psy is the first well known world-wide Kpop artist with ‘Gangnam Style’). After the sinking of the ship in 2010, SoKo responded with the song “Hit Your Heart” by the Kpop girl group 4minute. If you get a chance, have a listen to it. NoKo were so pissed off by such a response amplified by 11 gigantic speakers that they responded by threatening to turn Seoul “into a sea of flames” if it didn’t turn off the music!
Back to our Tour
We arrive at what looks like an amusement park and in fact is an amusement park surrounded by shops and monuments and history. Only in South Korea. We are not sure how this is going to work as the guide really hasn’t said much to us but he takes us all to the toilets, tells us to be back on the bus at a certain time,  then people seem to scatter to do their own thing. Hubby has run back to the bus to collect our winter gear as it is bloody freezing and the guide waits with us telling us to go with him. We literally get a personal tour of this place, avoiding all the crappy tourist stuff that he (and we) have no interest in seeing. We see this war memorial erected by the local people and listing the names of all those killed from this area in the Korean War, also known as the Six-Two-Five in SoKo after the day it started. There’s also a rusty old train that has over 2000 bullet holes in it from the train driver speeding back to SoKo after seeing the advancing army on the other side, he survived! We go and look at a statue of President Truman and a number of other monuments as well then return back to the area where the shops are to run into some of the other people we know, one of who is Korean and is eating freshly steamed, warm snails from a cup. My daughter says she should try one but then backs out, I tell her I will try one first then she can (what’s a mother to do but lead the way when it comes to trying new things! 😜) Big mistake! It was tiny, but the taste was big. Yuck. If I liked fishy tasting fish, then it might have been ok, but I don’t and it wasn’t!
We boarded the bus to the next stop which was the ‘Third Tunnel of Aggression’. This is really cool and you can’t take any photos due to security reasons when you get inside but it’s worth trekking down that tunnel nonetheless. It’s a steep walk with the need to stoop happening more often than not. There are hard hats available on either side as you begin your trek down but no one tells you to wear them. It’s weird actually because about 3/4 of the way down there is a tram to go back out (not sure if it was running, as we didn’t see it moving anywhere but the sign reads that you can’t ride it if you have a hard hat)! On another note, you will need your hard hat. The clanking of hats to ceiling was a constant throughout the trek both down and back up again with I, myself hitting mine twice. Seriously, you have to stoop unless you’re short. It’s a haunting experience when you get past all the usual touristy stuff with the walls narrowing and the ceiling getting ever closer. The lights begin to dim as you make your way down the 265m path. Once at the end, one pauses and wonders what all the fuss is about until one looks through the square hole into the other side of the tunnel where a North Korean could be waiting (not really, as SoKo has taken control of the tunnel and put machine guns in places we couldn’t go, but it does make it all the more real). The tunnel goes to a depth of 73m (240ft) (That’s a long way down and a lot of digging) and spans a distance of 1.7km (1.1 miles).
Next stop was the Dora Observatory or as we called it, the overlook. Basically we listened to a KATUSA (Korean Augmentation To the United States Army – a SoKo enlisted person drafted from a pool of qualified volunteers who are subjected to mandatory military service then ensconced within a variety of departments/areas within the Eighth United States Army) talk about some of the history and tell us about what lies on the other side in NoKo. There are binoculars to provide zoomed up views of life in NoKo, there’s even a fake town called Kijong-dong. I guess this town was built in the 1950s in an attempt to lure SoKos to defect and move over there. But observations throughout the years have noted windowless buildings and no inhabitants since its construction. There is a huge map on the ceiling showing you what and where are located, as you are looking into the real life view of North Korea. It was a foggy day for us, so my view wasn’t that great through the camera lens but still incredibly interesting. Most people seemed to flock to the binoculars on the center and right side of the viewing point but if you head to the left, you can hear more clearly the propaganda being put over the loud speakers from the NoKo side.
This was followed by a trip to Dorsan Train Station – the train station that would unite the NoKo and SoKo if it could ever happen. It’s a touristy trip with lots of money invested by many in a dream that will probably never happen but a dream that needs to be kept ignited nonetheless. We got our souvenir train tickets to Pyongyang and went out to the train tracks. Like I said, interesting but not my favourite site on the tour.
Our next stop was lunch and unfortunately, this wasn’t anything to write home about. If you do the same tour as we did, it’s a Korean buffet, the tour guide and bus driver sat at their own table with the owners and had special food cooked for them whereas the rest of us just got to eat the 5 or 6 choices given including mini pork cutlets, want-to-be chicken nuggets/fried chicken with a choice of two sauces, one of which was awful and definitely not sweet and sour as we know it, the other though was good. The spaghetti looked terrible and my daughter spat it out, so I’d give that a miss too. There were fries but they’d been sitting out for a long time and were quite mushy. The beef bulgogi though wasn’t bad.
Finally we went To the JSA – Joint Security Area. Very interesting. Somber, haunting, weird. Somebody asked me if we wanted to make the guards laugh, my response was an immediate no. It’s not like the Royal Guards at Buckingham Palace, this is a real life war zone. Millions have been killed throughout the past 70 odd years. It is really quite haunting to stand there looking into North Korea, seeing a guard over there who has been brain washed into thinking his country is the finest there is to offer.
When you sign up for a tour to the DMZ, you will be informed of the dress code and it is a very strict dress code at that; a “neat and presentable appearance.” No faded or ripped jeans, no flip flops, or open-toed shoes, no clothing with profane or provocative text, no sporting gear, nothing excessively baggy or sleeveless. It’s a propaganda thing, basically we don’t want NoKo to be able to use anything you wear as propaganda, no possibility of them saying, look how poor those people are and how great we’ve got it here. There’s also strict rules about pointing or gesturing of any kind. You feel kind of intimidated standing there and don’t want to do anything to draw attention to you or your group. There’s also restrictions on what nationalities can go to the DMZ and if you’re South Korean, you want to book way in advance as you will face a rigorous background check before being allowed to go.
When you are standing there looking into North Korea (not pointing, not gesturing, not making faces, not doing anything but taking a gazillion photos and looking in awe) you will see in front of you lots of blue buildings. The two buildings in the center are marked by a cement line which is literally the division between SoKo and NoKo. On your tour, you will be allowed to enter the United Nations Command, Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC) room. This room has held numerous conferences, peace talks and not so peaceful talks. Half of it is located in North Korea, so when you enter the room and cross over the concrete border, you are literally in North Korea! Very cool indeed, Vern with all the surrounding hoopla and rigmarole. And the guard who stands at the NoKo door is the coolest looking Korean I have ever seen. I’m pretty sure these guys are picked out for their looks and ability to wear shades and that helmet and still look frigging cool. I know they’re picked out for height. Seriously, is this guy cool or what?
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Never in the world has there been a place like this. A country so advanced in technology bordering, even hinging to another country to the North that is so repressed. A country divided and still at war some 70 odd years later! I have had mixed emotions throughout my time living here in SoKo but I have to say this piece of history opened my eyes to a much bigger picture and made me appreciate the South Koreans so much more. I also understand the serious nature behind the US Forces’ motto ‘Fight Tonight!’ We never know when this country will go into another all out war and with Kim Jong-un (crazy) leading the way, it is a very real possibility.
I don’t want to scare any of my fellow military spouses living here as I think war is a possibility in a lot of places in this day and age, but I just want to reinforce the seriousness of where we are living. When your spouse is involved in an exercise, it’s because they need to be ready for anything. When they have to do so many things and obey so many rules that are very different to both the United States and Australia, it’s because this place is like no other. But it offers opportunities like no other also.