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With National Liberation Day (15th August) coinciding with a weekend, planning a trip, anywhere in Korea or Seoul, wouldn’t have been a wise idea. So, we split each one of the three days, into an individual day of exploration. Incheon (portside) is easily accessible from Seoul (the last stop on Line Number 1) and perfect for a day trip.
As a rule of thumb, we prefer to avoid places which solely rely on selling the idea of tourism. And yet, sometimes, it’s a necessary evil in travel. I’m not sure how many Chinatowns exist in the world, today. Personally, I feel, these towns are a poor caricature of what China truly is. Possibly because, residents might try hard to establish a cultural identity for themselves. Or because, there seems to be an immense pressure to adhere to a popular stereotype (red stringed lanterns, panda toys, and silk clothes) — to lure in tourists. And most tourists seem to be content with this single story of China. Trying to represent China’s geographical, cultural, and ethnic diversity within a few hundred meters of a town; is not any different, from trying to capture a vast country in a bottle.
And whilst we’re talking about red lanterns, might I add, for those who enjoy a good movie with subtitles, Yimou Zhang’s, ‘Raise The Red Lantern‘ is a stellar film — using both the colour red and lanterns — in equal measure. Despite these minor hiccups, a visit to Incheon’s Chinatown doesn’t disappoint. There’s so much history — tucked away in its quaint street murals and distictive architectural style. It beckons, getting away from the main street, and exploring the quieter alleys — laced with enviable views of the port.
It took us about an hour to reach Incheon by subway. Upon exiting the subway, I visited a small tourist information booth, to the left of the exit. I picked up a local map and some information from a friendly volunteer. It’s a good starting point, but make sure, you don’t try to do everything they suggest. This town is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace.
It’s hard to miss this gigantic entry gate — opposite the subway station. In the afternoon sun, each colour shone brightly, competing for a spot in the grand kaleidoscope of design. In ancient times (Incheon port was inaugurated in 1883 inviting traders from China), the Chinese settlers of this town, would stand at this gate and offer prayers. The gate also had an additional purpose — to keep ghosts at bay. Today, with cars buzzing in front of it, it seems like a piece of art — stuck in time warp. Basil had a tough time capturing the gate without tourists or traffic.
We climbed uphill towards the main tourist street. It was nearing noon, the sun shining upon us, we took a small pit-stop to drink a juice and plan our walking path. With a couple of hours in hand, we made a tough choice of covering Chinatown, skipping the Japanese side of the port, and ending in Fairy Tale Village.
The main street was abuzz with sellers screaming out names of local sweets. Moon cakes and Gonggalppang (crisp hollow baked buns) called out to us. We’d have to come back again.
Samgukji Mural Street
The tourism volunteer wasn’t lying. Chinatown can be covered very quickly — on foot. We reached Samgukji in 5 minutes. Scenes from the Chinese novel, ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms‘ are depicted through vivid imagery and splendid artistry. Set during the Han period in China, these murals don’t fail to impress. I only wish: there were English translations in addition to Korean translations.
Stairs at the Qing and Japan Concession Sites
With the heat building up with each ticking hour, it was getting increasingly difficult to continue walking. The highest point from Samgakji, is a good observation point, and makes for excellent views of towering skyscrapers in the distance and blue waters in the foreground. Basil walked down, to capture the boundary between the Chinese and Japanese concessions — dating as far back as 130 years. The stone lanterns are quite distinctive in their architectural style and are symbolic of the respective cultural concession.
The heat eventually got to us and we walked into Jayu Park (next post), to take in some cool breeze, and find a spot in the shade.
Chohanji Mural Street
We exited one of the entrances of Jayu Park accidentally and chanced upon this fantastic mural street. Unfortunately, many wall murals were covered by cars. The heat/hunger got to Basil and I tried to get some shots of these elaborate depictions of the Chinese Novel, ‘Legend of Chu and Han‘, set in the late Qin Dynasty and early Han Dynasty.
Covering a distance of of 100 m, this street also throws light on the adventures of Emperor Xiang Yu of Chu And Emperor Gaozu of Han.
It was nearing 2 p.m. and we had to eat something and get away from the terrible heat. Celebrity chefs are a big hit in Chinatown — with people standing in long queues for a spot. We entered a relatively small chinese restaurant (stating it was Chinese) and ordered fried rice, dumplings, and black soy bean sauce with stir-fried noodles (Jajangmyeon)
Street of Chinatown
We head back to the bustling street, clogged with tourists, walking in random motion and the whiff of baked sweets filling the air. We soaked in — all we could — before heading towards Fairy Tale Village.
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