Saturday, October 6, 2007

Hunting the Giant Mupp

I can now reveal our current location: Seoul, South Korea.

Back in Brussels, I received word from a contact of mine in North Korea that he had a lead regarding where we might find a Giant Mupp. My contact -- a Brit expatriate -- of course had a "watcher" assigned to him by the government, making it nearly impossible to go out on an unauthorized expedition into the Demilitarized Zone...

Fortunately for us, however, the watcher was incapacitated just then -- suffering in the privacy of his home for several days with a severe case of the flu. Our window of opportunity was narrow indeed.

A North Korean farmer -- who begs anonymity, for fear of police reprisal -- is responsible for making the initial discovery. It was difficult to convince him to help us... But a year's supply of rice and two pounds of Belgian Chocolate did the trick: he agreed to guide us back to a "strange hairy hill," deep in the forest.

The Brit (as I'll refer to him) managed to procure an old American jeep for our journey -- a "junker," presumably leftover from the Korean war. Leaving the airport at Namp'o under cover of darkness, we quickly escaped civilization, winding our way through an increasingly remote network of dirt roads toward the DMZ.


Calamity! On the first day out, our jeep was destroyed by an exploding land mine. Miraculously, neither the Farmer, the Brit, Scarlet or myself were seriously injured.

Scarlet was thrown a good thirty feet from the vehicle as it was flipped over and torn in two. Finding my senses, I ran to her side... And she cheerfully exclaims: "This country blows my mind!"

Lord help me.

Gathering up what supplies we can salvage, our group continues on. Scarlet's barrage of "jokes" is even more unrelenting now -- but at least it seems to bolster morale for the others.


The Farmer holds up his end of the deal. Deep into the wet forest he leads us... And then, there it is: what appears to be a small, fur-covered hillock.

This Mupp is an old one. Forty feet across, perhaps eighteen feet tall -- and nearly 300 years old, judging by growth patterns on the claws. Unable to move, a prisoner of its own weight, the beast is now tragically rooted to that spot forever.

As we circled the thing, I made a film record of this great animal using my well-weathered Bolex camera. (I'd prefer a good new Nikon, but this is the only thing I could acquire on such short notice before leaving Brussels.)

The Farmer did something foolish then. While I was distracted, he climbed up atop the Mupp -- and shouted down to me to get a shot of him and his discovery.

I confess, I hadn't wanted to risk sharing the whole truth with our farmer friend about the nature of his "hairy hill" -- so I suppose I can't really blame him for what happened next...

Two great eyes opened. Previously camouflaged beneath matted fur and green ferns, the Farmer had not comprehended that the hill's silhouette was actually that of a gigantic, flattened dog. The Mupp emitted a deep, tired, earth-rumbling sigh -- and the Farmer panicked.

He ran off into the forest alone. We had no choice but to follow him! Without our guide, we could have been lost out in the woods for days.

Making things worse, a group of North Korean helicopters just then happened to fly overhead. Our guide, in his terror, was certain that they must be after him personally -- and so it was a long time before we managed to catch up and calm him down.

As we sat down to deliberate next actions, the desperateness of our situation began to sink in. The authorities surely had discovered our wrecked jeep. It is unlikely that they knew who they were searching for -- but a concerted manhunt was on.


It was only with phenomenal luck that the Brit, Scarlet, and I managed to escape the country.

Over the years, the North Korean government has drilled about a dozen tunnels beneath the Demilitarized Zone into South Korea -- preparations for a surprise attack. Four are widely known; the most famous of which is the "Third Tunnel of Aggression," discovered in October of 1978.

Our crafty farmer friend knows the location of a fifth. The South Korean government is aware of the tunnel's existence and has posted guards on their end -- but it's been kept secret from the media. (My guess is that the politicians are saving this information as a chit for later use.)

One pound of Belgian chocolate bought us five minutes in which to sneak past the North Korean guard. Three of us descended into the dark earth; the Farmer stayed behind. I estimate that we walked half a mile through utter darkness, feeling our way along the wall...

At the South entrance, the Brit was able to convince a pair of equally bored (and somewhat more drunk) guards that we were escaped political prisoners seeking asylum.

A stolen car and the rest of my pocket cash later, the three of us are sharing a small hotel room in Seoul, checked in under false names.

As for me, I call that a success.

Better yet: the Bolex is intact!


At this point we part ways with the Brit. I am calling in a favor with a certain oceanographer I know. He is currently doing work in Indonesia -- but has a base in southern Japan that ought to be able to send a helicopter to retrieve Scarlet and myself.

More news when it becomes available.

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