Incheon, a sprawling satellite city — roughly an hour away from Seoul, is a viable living option for many. Finding affordable housing, in Seoul, can prove to be a gargantuan task. Apartment/housing costs keep rising every year and living in the outskirts isn’t a bad idea when public transportation is so efficient. Scores of office-goers travel every day to Seoul from Incheon (and neighbouring provinces) — in an hour or so. Incheon is also known for its rapid development. Its smart ‘cities’ (townships) attract those who want to live a modern life — away from the bustle of Seoul.

Songdo is one such smart city in Incheon. Reaching Songdo, from Seoul, isn’t too difficult. However, travelling to Central Park Station (the stop for Songdo) on Incheon 1 (not to be confused with Metro Line 1) — after taking the AREX (airport line) — can feel like eternity. Central Park Station’s exits can be confusing and the POSCO (South Korean Steel Company) building is a helpful landmark to keep in mind.

Aliens have captured the imagination of science fiction writers and seekers of alternate adventures for eons. I am skeptical about the portrayal of extraterrestrial lifeforms in popular shows and movies. However, it’s also extremely narcissistic to believe that we’re the ‘only ones’ in a universe that’s beyond our comprehension. Looking at a landscape of soaring slabs of modern construction and engineering — I was tempted to believe in the possibility of an alternate reality. Possibly contact was made on earth — in exchange for a couple of humans. How else could one explain that view (from our hotel window) and the lack of human presence. Another theory, one that my overactive mind slowly cooked, was that we had somehow found a wormhole in the spacetime continuum. We were living in another century on earth.

Songdo is a reflection of what South Korea stands for today. The country is triumphantly moving into the future at lightening speed. However, it will do every bit to preserve its roots and find a spot of history in the midst of modernity. Hanoks (traditional Korean housing) formed a small cluster — dwarfed by towering skyscrapers in the background.

As daylight faded and the lights in the glass palaces were turned on, we set out on a trail to explore this modern marvel. The Hanok Village turned out to be a group of restaurants and hotels.

A couple of water taxis broke the silence of the evening. The walking trails were deserted and a treat to explore. During the day, the waterway can be explored with kayaks, canoes, and boats.

Occasionally, we’d stop by boards and spot a couple strolling in the evening. Although we didn’t have anywhere to be or go, we were hoping to find a nice place to eat dinner.

We’ve always preferred green to grey and most of our trips are far away from concrete jungles. And yet, here we were, marvelling at the glittering stars that seemed to be within our reach.

We found a cluster of eating and shopping options at the edge of this paradise of light and glass. We binged on pasta and wine and wondered how life would be in this secluded human-made wonder. Would it better than staying in the midst of a busy office district? It’s been a long-standing tradition of ours to imagine our lives in every new place or country we visit.

We had a long way to the hotel and that gave us an opportunity to digest the heavy meal that we had consumed. Walking paths were lit with light and lined with dense foliage. I’m sure there was CCTV surveillance at every corner, but I couldn’t shake off that eerie feeling. Was it possible that I was so used to being surrounded by people (in Seoul) that I secretly found safety by not being alone?

We spotted interesting structures that commanded our attention and held their own despite being surrounded by ginormous skyscrapers. Tradition and modernity were blending together with ease.

Last June (2019) was one of the hottest months of summer. In the morning, this concrete haven heats up and it’s hard to walk without letting the piercing rays of the sun burn your skin. At night, the temperatures dipped making walking a soothing experience.

The waterway was eerily silent and mirrored the lights of sparkling buildings on its surface.

We came across this unique bridge that connected two different sides of the park. We could spot all the major landmarks of Central Park. If you walk a little further — you’d probably see the stunning Incheondaegyo Bridge.

We had passed G-Tower (not in pic) on the way to the bridge. G-Tower offers a spectacular view of Central Park and it might be good to explore — if you’re not staying for the night.

It’s strange how different places can look surprisingly similar or dissimilar — depending upon what you’re looking at. The cityscape reminded me of Lujiazui — Shanghai’s business district, and Kowloon Bay in Hong Kong. The musical show at Kowloon Bay was stellar and memorable because it was my first international business trip. Shanghai was the second international city that we lived in and I remember being awestruck by the light. Songdo’s Central Park was equally spectacular, but surprisingly desolate. Our travels have also taken us to nondescript villages, in India, that don’t have electricity for even a single bulb. We’ve eaten in a stilt house in a national park, dimly lit with a kerosene lamp and filled with the warmth of our host — a tribeswoman. The contrast between the haves and have-nots couldn’t be more pronounced.

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is one of the most complex theories in physics to comprehend. It requires a penchant for math and the desire to let go of everything you already thought you knew (classical/Newtonian physics). Imagination is the only constant required to solve this complex equation. To explain General Theory of Relativity and gravity, most teachers simplify complex equations by asking students to imagine the space-time continuum (3 spacial and one temporal) as a taut surface. If you were to put a circular object (of significant weight) on this surface, it would create a depression or a sinking hole. Greater the weight of the object — greater the depression. Tri-bowl is a perfect example of this theory and further solidified my assumption of being in a different epoch in time.

The aliens had made contact here. Tri-Bowl’s entrance is cleverly camouflaged in a unique pattern of architecture. This multimedia theatre is an offbeat venue for performances, educational programs, and art exhibitions.

It was hard to escape the strong gravitational pull of Tri-bowl. We couldn’t get enough of its unique structure and architecture.

We reluctantly walked back to our hotel. The silence was a bit creepy despite all the blinding light around us.

Our hotel offered stunning views of this maze of development and urban marvels. Songdo is a part of the Incheon Free Economic Zone and was designed for business and living spaces to coexist in modernism. There has been some debate on the success of the plan, but such criticism doesn’t take away from the spectacular feat the planners have achieved so far.

On the next morning, the sun was out and scorched every inch of land we saw. It was time to go back to Seoul and return to the present.

Additional Reading:

Sleepy in Songdo, Korea’s Smartest City

Smart city expert unimpressed with Songdo

Tomorrow’s cities: Just how smart is Songdo?

Posted by:twobrownfeet

Writer-Photographer Duo. Now in Seoul.

41 replies on “Songdo: In the City of Blinding Lights

  1. What a stunning series of shots! I’m no fan of high rise and modernity but these positively jump out of the frame and I’d love to be there πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ Hope all’s well with you?

    1. Hi Jo! We’re fine. We managed to go on a short summer road trip on the east coast and return just in time before social distancing was enforced! We’re back to square one. 😦 I hope you’re doing well.
      Basil did a fantastic job with capturing the night shots in Songdo. I was happy to dream. πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks a bunch! We’ve always live in big cities. πŸ™‚ We’re hoping to make a change whenever the time is right. We’d love to trade buildings for mountains or the beach. πŸ™‚

    1. hahah..Incheon is changing very quickly. Basil tried convincing me to move there. I’d rather move to a picturesque town in Korea. It’s something we’re considering because Basil’s work is completely online. Jeju was a strong contender.

  2. Wow, those skyscrapers look absolutely amazing especially at night when all the lights are on. We usually prefer to explore the great outdoors but every now and then like to add a city to our itinerary, it’s perfect for cultural experiences. Thanks for sharing and have a good day πŸ˜€ Aiva

    1. Hi Aiva! Hope you’re doing well. I was very reluctant to visit Songdo. My husband, Basil, had a conference to attend and he kept asking me to check this place out. I’m so glad I did. πŸ™‚

  3. Beautiful cityscape! The hanok offer a nice contrast to the skyscrappers. The Tri-bowl looks really like a space ship. Don’t you think its entrance is somewhat similar to the DDP? πŸ™‚

    1. Songdo was such a wonderful surprise. πŸ™‚ Tri-bowl does resemble DDP. DDP also looks like a spaceship. πŸ™‚ Have you visited the ‘Thousand- Year Time-Capsule’ in Seoul?

    1. Thanks a bunch! Basil, my hubby/photographer, truly enjoyed this walk in the park. He clicked what he liked and left me to get lost in my thoughts. I think it worked out pretty well! πŸ™‚
      I know what you mean. I’d prefer mountains any day!

  4. the second picture looks like a science fiction reality. The city looks futuristic in many of your pictures. And those Totem poles do break the monotony.

    1. Hi Arvind. I hope you’re doing well. We were pretty surprised by this city. It’s not really on the tourist radar and it’s mostly frequented by business travellers. Take care and stay safe.

      1. I agree it is a new discovery. I like the fact that you guys continue to explore at every available opportunity. I haven’t seen much of your posts. Hope you guys are doing well. Thanks for the good wishes. You too take care, Cheryl.

      2. We try to make the most of our stay here. πŸ™‚ The past few months have been a bit challenging (dental visits etc..) and I took a longish break from blogging. I don’t blog so regularly now. I guess that’s why you may have not seen my posts. Thank you for asking. Take care and stay safe! I hope all’s well at your end too.

      3. I guess it is good to take breaks from blogging. Your post will be eagerly awaited. Everything is fine at the moment, Cheryl. πŸ™‚

  5. I LOVE this! Not sure I could actually live there, but wow – what a cool place to see and visit. My favorite thing about Seoul was the co-existence of the traditional and modern, and this place carries that on, albeit with new old stuff!

    1. I love the mix of old and new in Asia. πŸ™‚ Basil’s company has gone online since July. Had we known in May (before we renewed our lease), I’d have seriously considered moving out of Seoul as well. As much as I love the view of grey buildings, I crave for more greenery. And there are so many pretty towns in Korea. πŸ™‚ I’ve been thinking about you. I hope the typhoon (or was it a storm) didn’t affect you much. We’ve had a couple of typhoons here. None of them reached Seoul, but Jeju and the southern parts were affected. Stay safe!

      1. We got lucky as the hurricane that was headed directly for us veered east a day ahead of landfall, and we were totally spared. The state next door was not so lucky, sadly. 😦

  6. Wow, Basil’s photos are fantastic. Especially the ones of the Tri-bowl. What an interesting building. I love how you guys imagine what life would be like if you lived in the places you travel to. I do that too.

    1. Thank you, Jolandi! Basil was a very happy photographer here. lol. The whole imagining a ‘new life’ in a ‘new place’ started with expat living. We are so tempted to move to different places regularly. However, I dislike paperwork and it can get quite costly. We would like to consider staying longer in a place and try slow travel. We’re dreaming…

      1. Dreaming, no matter what exactly it entails, is so important. Especially now. Yip, I’m with you on the slow travel, Cheryl. Not to mention the paperwork! But then, I guess our itchy feet starts playing games with us . . . πŸ™‚

      2. You get me! Basil was considering living in Portugal once. πŸ™‚ How have you been? I’m sorry I haven’t asked before. I can’t find new posts on your blog. Are you updating your Portugal blog?

      3. I have recently written an update on our Portugal blog after a couple of months of silence. We have immigration lawyers helping me with my residence visa, so suddenly things are moving along nicely. I am just still sorting out paperwork in three countries, but fingers crossed that I will be able to relocate early October. I will then blog more regularly from there. It is never too late for you and Basil to consider Portugal . . . πŸ˜‰

      4. Sounds like an adventure! Paperwork is the worst part of moving anywhere. 😦 Having someone to take care of it must take off some load of your shoulders. Wow! Can’t wait for your new journey in Portugal. Basil’s already started calculating for retirement and possible places for a nomadic lifestyle. I’m so confused…A part of me would like to continue longer stints in different countries. A part of me misses my parents so much…

      5. Oh, these conflicting emotions and yearnings can be so exhausting, Cheryl. I have, my whole life, yearned for a place to grow roots, yet always felt the pull of motion too. Basil sounds like a planner – I hope he can come up with a plan that will tick all the right boxes for you.

      6. I try not to think too much these days. πŸ™‚ It’s the best mode to be on. I’ve been trying to search for your blog on Portugal. Have you linked it on your site?

  7. Such an incredible post ~ I’ve been through Incheon many times via flight transfers but have never experience the city and your post brings it alive. Wow, I never thought the city would be so modern and in a sense almost futuristic πŸ™‚ Seoul, which I love, has such an awesome mix and I always sense and see the history and imagined Incheon to be its little brother, but wow it is so developed. I do like the countryside feel, but also the activity a big city offers…I could do Incheon quite well πŸ™‚ Great post!

    1. Thank you for such a wonderful comment! It made me day. Incheon is developing rapidly. A friend of mine used to live in Cheongna International City (Incheon) and I was surprised by the rapid development. Songdo is out of this world. I was reluctant to make this trip, but I’m so glad I did. I’d have missed seeing this side of Korea. πŸ™‚ Take care and thanks for stopping by!

  8. Hi Cheryl,

    It’s good to be back here again.

    As you what you usually provide, I can see how captivating the city (especially structures and skyscrapers through your lenses.

    Stay safe.

      1. Heheheheh, why do I fun this reply is funny. Anyway, isn’t it much better than hibernate for years? πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

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