Jimmy Montgomery

Meeting Jimmy in Korea

Andy Potts blogs as a Sunderland fan at the Korean DMZ.

It's been a trip for surreal experiences - Seoul is a city full of the unexpected - but it's hard to imagine anything that can top bumping into Jimmy Montgomery at the bottom of an infiltration tunnel beneath the world's most heavily fortified border.

To be honest, I didn't quite believe what I thought I was seeing, so chose not to rush over and introduce myself for fear of disturbing some other tourist who just happened to bear a resemblance to the great man.

But later on Friday, at the SAFC supporters' gathering in Seoul, came confirmation. Although we'd been on different tours, we'd both taken advantage of a chance to visit one of the world's truly unique spots.

Monty, of course, knows a thing or two about an impregnable line of defence, and like me he couldn't recommend the visit to the DMZ - the buffer zone which separates South Korea from the Communist North - highly enough.

Although the whole area is closely controlled by troops from both sides, plus a hefty UN contingent led by the Americans, it's possible to get a guided visit right up to the front line.

There, in the conference rooms built to straddle the border, it's possible to make a visa-free incursion into Pyongyang's territory - always under the watchful eye of the South Korean guards, with their dark glasses and adapted Tae Kwon Do poses.

From the other side of the divide, uniformed North Koreans peer at the tourists with binoculars, and cameras are trained on every move. And, for that matter, not just cameras. When the tour reaches the main observation point into the North, there are strict warnings about not taking photos close to the edge.

Why? Well, a flashbulb or even a reflected sunbeam on a camera lens could be mistaken for a gunshot, and in a place as tense as this there isn't much room for any misunderstandings.

As for the tunnel, that was the third of four uncovered by Seoul's intelligence services since 1974, and was intended to allow 30,000 heavily armed troops to sneak in from the North within an hour.

Considering the border is an hour's drive from the Southern capital, it's hardly surprising South Korea protested these intrusions vigourously. But, with the tunnels now walled up, the southern end is added to the grand tour.

Having lived in Russia for many years, I thought I'd seen my fair share of stern-faced border patrols and intimidating crossing points. But compared to the Korean border, even being woken up on a sleeper train at 3am by a guard yelling 'Where is the foreigner!?!?' seems almost friendly and welcoming. Korea's DMZ is truly one of the most intriguing places on Earth.

And don't just take my word for it, ask Monty!