Baengnyeong, South Korea

By Damir Sagolj

 A blue dot on a map shows a phone's current position on the island of Baengnyeong that lies just on the South Korean side of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow Sea April 13, 2014. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Look at the little blue dot showing a current position on a map: that is the island of Baengnyeong. The map might suggest this outcrop is deep inside North Korea but it’s not. The hand in the picture is mine, the phone with its high-speed internet connection is also mine, and the barbed wire is South Korean.

Baengnyeong – like a few other islands I visited recently – lies on the South’s side of the disputed maritime boundary that separates the two Koreas at sea. Known as the Northern Limit Line, it is an extension of the more famous land border between North and South Korea – the Demilitarized Zone or DMZ – but it curves further to the north. It is the line between two fierce neighbors whose war started over six decades ago and never really ended.

I had seen many pictures of the DMZ but very few of the NLL. The DMZ looks scary but familiar: it is the world’s most heavily armed border, and the only serious boundary remaining from the Cold War.

While recent news from Ukraine suggests that similar borders could soon be drawn elsewhere, the frontier between the Koreas is the real thing: an impenetrable line dividing two different worlds that used to be one.

Life along this border at sea was unknown to me. I had seen only a few news pictures after previous deadly incidents or artillery duels between the Koreas.