Built on the 11th of April, 2002, and paid for by the Hyundai Corporation, Dorasan station was part of President Kim Dae-jung’s “sunshine policy”. Adopted in 1998, the policy was designed to thaw relations between North and South Korea and was unique because it treated North Korea less as an antagonist and more as a difficult but valued co-creator of reunification. As long as they didn’t make any nuclear threats, South Korea was prepared to continue a softly-softly approach towards its neighbour in an attempt to improve their relationship.
And, for a while, it seemed to work.
North and South marched under the same flag at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Families, separated for decades, were able to reunite and Dorasan railway station, 650 metres from the DMZ, was constructed as a gateway to the North, transporting South Korean executives across the border to Kaesong Industrial Complex, a manufacturing plant staffed with North Korean labour.
Things were looking good.
Unfortunately, much like every episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, it wasn’t long before bickering began, old wounds were reopened and threats were made.
In 2007, the South decided they were done with the North threatening them with their nuclear capabilities and they called the whole thing off. They shut out the North and travel between the two nations was suspended.
Despite this, Dorasan station remained open.
Today it’s a tourist attraction, one of many stops on an organised DMZ tour. When you visit, one of the first things you notice, apart from the reverent silence inside, is how clean and well maintained it is.
Janitors mop the floor and wipe non-existent finger marks from the stainless steel fixtures, while impeccably groomed rail employees busy themselves behind the ticket counters and customer information booths. Only there aren’t any customers, just curious visitors wandering the space taking poorly composed photographs.
It costs a lot of money to keep a ghost town looking good and some might think Dorasan station is a bit of a white elephant. However, I like to think the South Korean government keeps it open, air conditioned and staffed not as a monument to the past, but as a testament. A kind of: “if you keep it open, the trains will run” expression of belief.
North and South Korea may someday, in some form, reunify and if and when they do Dorasan station will be ready.