[personal profile] niori_1709
Once upon a time, I spend a few months living in the city of Incheon. Still connected to Seoul by public transport, Incheon is Korea's main port city, where large container ships dot the seascape and most international travellers pass through (Incheon International Airport is the main airport into the country). Not only is it incredibly important to trade, but historically, Incheon is a pretty big deal. This is where the famous Incheon Landing in the Korean War, where the Americans joined the fight against the North happened, and that's one of the reasons that eventually the North was beaten back. For all that it's economically and historically important, and I'm going to have to give Incheon a bit of the short straw when it comes to 'interesting things to do'. There really aren't that many things for me to recommend in general, because there really wasn't all that much to do. Shopping and eating yes, but when it came to just going out and doing something fun for the day? Not so much. That said, there are still a few things I can suggest. Two of those things are, rather continently, in the same spot. Those two places are Chinatown and Jayu Park.

Incheon's Chinatown is Korea's largest and only official Chinatown. It's been in existence in one form or another since 1883, and was one of the first non-ethnic Koreans communities to officially set up shop. In fact, it was in Incheon that Korea finally opened up it's boarders to international trade, ending its time as the Hermit Kingdom. It wasn't China that forced Korea to open its boarders (that would be Japan, and America got it in on that not long after), but Chinese influence grew after the Chinese helped Korea put down an insurrection. It brought about the China-Korea Treaty of 1882, which made Incheon an extraterritoriality of the Ching Dynasty (which meant that Korean law didn't apply there- consider it diplomatic immunity for a place). With that, in moved the Chinese to set up trade, businesses, and a community that is still going strong today, generations later.

Chinatown is actually really easy to get to- just get on the Incheon subway line and ride it to the end. When you get off the subway, it's still very easy to find. You head out the exit, and then just turn. It's pretty to tell where to go, when a giant Chinese style gate heralds the entrance. It's called a paifang, and it's a great way to declare 'This is Chinatown' on a pretty large and impressive scale. The gate is made up of three connected gates. There is one large square arch in the middle, with two smaller ones on either side. It's still massive, so don't let the word 'small' in that description fool you. It's made of grey stone with symbols craved into it, especially dragons snaking up and around the sides. The carvings are intricate, as is the tops of the gates themselves. They're Chinese pagoda style, where the angular tops flare upwards instead of straight out. While this isn't the only gate (there are ones at the main entrances to the neighbourhood), this is by far the biggest. The other ones are simpler in design, but infinitely more colourful (bright colours are a repeating theme here). There's one other similar, if smaller, gate, but that will come later.

Once you pass through the gate, you're in Chinatown. The first thing you're going to notice is that 80% of Chinatown is on a hill, and the slope can get pretty steep at time. Prepare to get some exercise as you wander around. Almost all of the buildings are painted bright, vibrant red, with yellow gold lettering (in Chinese characters and Korean Hangul, with some instances of English). Everything about Chinatown is so colourful, which is so different from the neighbourhoods I'm used to in Korea. I love the traditional style of Korean buildings (I've written about hanok before, in some detail), but they're pretty bland when it comes to colour. They're off white colours and brown, generally, and they're not going to catch your eye in the brightness department. The buildings here, for all they are more just square/rectangle buildings shape wise, draw your attention automatically. They stick up and give the streets wide dashes of colour, and it's fun. The focus on red makes a lot of sense, once you learn that red traditionally means good luck in Chinese culture. With all the red in Chinatown, I'd have to say it's probably the symbolically luckiest neighbourhood in all of Korea.

There are wonderful painted murals all over the place. The colours are bright and flashy, and while they might not be painted in a more traditional Chinese art style, they are lovely in the way that they show scenes of China. There are beautiful painted women in colourful traditional dress. The emperor's chair surrounded by the famous terracotta warriors is painted on the steps of a staircase, making it so you can only see the whole picture when standing at the bottom (appropriate for an Emperor's throne, yes?). On either side of the throne stairs are massive paintings of the main hall of The Forbidden City on one side, and the Great Wall climbing along mountain tops on the other. In another area there's a wall of pandas munching on bamboo. Those are just the ones I saw, and I know there were more scattered throughout the neighbourhood. The walls were painted with the images that first come to mind when someone hears the word 'China'. It's not only a beautiful design added to the city itself, but it also awakens (or reawakens, as the case may be) the desire to see those places for real. Chinatown was great for that- by itself, if was a really awesome slice of a culture. There's nothing wrong with just that, but seeing it all really makes you want to see the original as well. Those murals, along with everything else, make it easy enough for the thought of 'I need to visit China' to slip into your mind. It's an equally wonderful and frustrating thought all at once.

The murals aren't the only decorations that give Chinatown its distinctly Chinese look. The lamp posts are highly decorated as well. They're red (not surprising) with a gold/green dragon curling around the pole. The light part is shaped to look like a traditional paper lantern, for all that they're clear glass. It's a nice, yet subtle touch. It's a design that's practical (they work just fine as lamps) and perfect at setting a scene/design. Speaking of lanterns and light sources, there are a lot of paper lanterns hanging from the covered porch-like outsides of buildings. During the day, they're a nice touch. At night, however, they're pretty beautiful. They're lit up, and they're beautiful red balls of soft light, decorated in gold. It made the streets lovely after dark. There are statues all over the place, especially these massive stone lions that seem to be at the bottom to decorate every staircase.

I have to admit that the biggest draw to Chinatown is the food. There are restaurant upon restaurant of various types of Chinese food (some more traditional food and others that fall into 'Korean Chinese Food'. Much like how Chinese immigrants to America took their traditions and adapted it to their new surroundings to make American style Chinese Food (what we're used to), the same happened with the Chinese-Korean community). There are fancy sit down restaurants and smaller ones that are little more than stalls. I've known people to head to Chinatown just to get some great Chinese food (no surprise there), and I don't blame them. Not only is it good, but there's a great selection. You can get all the classics, such as sweet and sour pork and dumplings (both delicious at the restaurant I ate at while there- look for the restaurant with the giant Chinese lanterns and a Terracotta soldier outside). Jajangmyeon, noddles covered in a thick black soybean sauce, incredibly popular Korean Chinese dish, and it is in abundance here. Janjangmyeon is so popular that they've even made a photo opportunity of it (which is so very Korean, Chinatown or not). On one of the streets there is a giant stature of Korea's favourite noodle dish (horizontal, so you can see what it is), complete with giant chopsticks sticking out the top, just sitting there and waiting for you to take a picture with it. I found it so very amusing on both a Koreans really love photos and food way, and believe me- I was right there with them in getting my picture with it. While I personally am not a fan, most of the people I know in Korea absolutely love it, so I suggest at least trying it once. Chances are great that you'll probably like it as well. Even if you don't there's a hundred other dishes to choose from, and that's just in the restaurants. That doesn't count the convenience stores and markets which sell imported goods. There's a reason that Chinatown is known for food, and part of it is the sheer plethora of it.

While this is obviously a place that's been cleaned up and gentrified to bring in tourists, it's still a legitimate Chinatown, built for the Chinese population in mind. There is a Chinese temple along with Chinese schools for the population. The stores sell ingredients for traditional Chinese meals, and there's even a huge Cultural Centre for Chinese-Korean Relations (topped with a giant golden dragon, which I absolutely love. I LOVE Chinese (or Eastern in general) dragon motifs. They're so much more interesting than the traditional Western dragon). This is an actual living, breathing community, and that's important to keep in mind when visiting. You can't just come here and treat it like anything other than a neighbourhood, for all that a lot of it seems to be geared towards visitors (shops selling touristy things, for example). Respect is a must when you're visiting a community where people live and work in their everyday lives.

Once you've ended your visit to Chinatown and gorged yourself on delicious, it would seem like a great time to walk some of those calories. Luckily for you, the answer for that is right there. Above Chinatown, when you keep walking up the hill, you're going to find yourself in Jayu Park. To get to the park from Chinatown, you need to pass through another one of those gates I mentioned. It's very similar to the main gate, though it's a much smaller scale with the top of the gate coloured with bright blue. You pass under that gate and find yourself at the foot of some stone stairs. They're fairly long and steep, so expect to start burning off your lunch or dinner from the very first step. Once you've climbed up to the top of the hill, you're find yourself on a hilly, a little wide park, full of some trees and vegetation, with a LOT of statues mixed in there for good measure. It's not the biggest park, and I finished walking through it at a leisurely pace in under forty-five minutes, but it's still really interesting for some cool reasons.

I'd argue that the biggest reasons to see the park is the statues. There are a ton of statues all over, some big and others small. Some are traditional looking designs and others along the lines of abstract art. There are three that really stand out, for different reasons. The first is the Korean-American Centennial Monument. This one stands out because it's just plain strange and in no way looks like it has anything to do with celebrating an anniversary of relations between those two countries. It's generally shaped like a triangle tent, with different pieces of silver/black metal jutting out of the earth. The pointed and wide spears of metal are uneven, with big spaces between them and never touching. They're not even at the top either, and never actually meet, with some pieces coming short and other hanging over the others. It's also huge, and you can walk through it. It is so strange. Not necessarily from the design itself, but by the message it's trying to say. As in it's pretty impossible to figure out what it's supposed to even stand for. I will fully admit that I'm not the biggest fan of abstract art in any form, but there is nothing in this statue that makes you think of America, Korea, or the relationship between them. That said, it's still a cool looking monument, and it's certainly one of the most unique ones I've seen.

There was one statue on the other end of the park that caught my eye, but it was almost just a passing glance. It was a statue of three bronze soldiers. One soldier was one his feet, holding a gun at his side and reading to use it. Another soldier was in the middle of throwing a grenade, face set in what looked like a determined yell. The final soldier was crouching down, an unfurled flag in her hands. I'll admit that it's the final solider that caught my attention and made me actually stop to look. It's not all that common for women to be depicted in war memorials, unless it's a memorial specifically dedicated to women who served. When it's general achievements or sacrifices, male solider statues are the default. Again, unless it's the specific topic, the contributions of women to war efforts tends to be shuffled to the side, forgotten, or just plain ignored (which is an entirely different rant altogether), so the fact she was obviously present here intrigued me. Thankfully, there was a very detailed English sign that explained why this statue was there and what it meant. This statue is dedicated to the Korean students who volunteered to the war effort after Incheon was recaptured. At first, it was just in an attempt to keep order in the city while the Americans joined the Korean military to take the fight to the rest of the territory the North had taken. In the end, circumstances were going to require more from them. Just when it looked like the tide was turning against North Korea, their ally joined the fray. That ally was China, with its massive army. It took the war up another notch, and these students knew it. Many of them joined the army or marines to help fight. Both men and women volunteered, and these students weren't just ones from university. There were high school students as well, and think about that for one moment. Think about yourself in high school- would you have been able to drop everything and take up arms? This isn't to disparage high school students (I think they tend to get a bad rep, personally), but an honest question. Could we have all done it when we were seventeen-eighteen years old, or younger? This is a bravery I cannot even begin to imagine, and that's why this monument is here. It's a dedication to all of those students who died during the Korean War. There were over two hundred of them. I will fully admit that, if it hadn't been the fact that I noticed a female soldier, I probably would have walked by with only a quick glance. I probably wouldn't have stopped, because I have seen so many of these types of statues. War memorial statues are everywhere. They're usually all dedicated to the same thing- 'soldiers who died in this battle', 'soldiers who died from this town', and so on. Now that I think about it, that's a pretty callous way to go about things. 'Oh look, more people died and got a statue'. That's...not respectful is probably the nicest way I can say that, and I really hate that I got to that point. Actually stopping and reading about these students, the story behind that one statue, reminded me that these are, in fact, in the memory of people. Real people died, who had dreams and ambitions of their own, and who would never even get to officially stop being a student. They died young and in a bloody war. They deserve more than a two second glance. I'd argue that (at least most, but there are always exceptions to every rule) all these kinds of statues deserve that level of respect, if only to the memory of the people it's there to represent. I'm not saying that you need to stop at every memorial and have a moment of silence (though all the power to you), but maybe give it more than a two second glance and avoid shrugging off the importance of it. I know I'm going to keep reminding myself of that while I walk past future memorial statues.

Now, the most...random isn't the right word, but it's the first one that comes to mind. Sitting in the middle of the park, standing on a high pillar, is a bronze statue of General Douglas Macarthur. That's right, the American general Douglas Macarthur, standing there looking serious in all his life size glory. I knew that it existed before going there, but I'll still admit that it left me blinking for a few seconds when I first saw it. It certainly fell into things I never expected to come across anywhere but America (I'm assuming there's a statue of him there, but I'm not 100% sure, so don't just take my word for it). I do get it though, and I do understand why Incheon/Korea in general has chosen to honour him, specifically in this particular spot. It all goes back to the Korean War, specifically the Incheon Landing. For that, let's take a look back at Korea, 1950. After the North Korean invasion of the South on June 20th, 1950, it didn't take them very long to take about as much ground as they possibly could. The South Koreans were forced all the way back to Busan, which is literally the very south-eastern corner of the country. Busan literally sits on the sea, and if that city had been captured, South Korea would have fallen. They were in trouble, and they needed help. Enter General Macarthur. He suggested (well, demanded) that they attack from the port city of Incheon. Incheon was a really risky place to kick off an invasion. It was a very narrow part at the time, and the tides were very extreme. An amphibious landing was downright dangerous, and so many people were absolutely against it. Macarthur was having none of it. He argued right back that those risks made it certain that the enemy would never expect it, and it was absolute surprise that they needed. He pushed for it, argued furiously for it, and he got his way...and it changed everything. The Incheon Landing/Battle of Incheon lasted from September 15-26, 1950. After it was over, not only did Korea have one of its port cities back, but it was so successful that it cut off North Korean supply lines and forced them to retreat. The UN forces, combined with the Korean army, were able to recaptured Seoul not long after. From there, it was like an upwards momentum, a true 'I come to you now at the turn of the tide' moment. Not only did they force the North Korean army back up north, but captured their capital as well. This one landing could have led to a victory that would have left us a very different world today, had China not gotten involved. That turned the war around once again, and it's what made the Korean War keep going until 1953, where it only ended in a stalemate of an armistice. The Incheon Landing is still considered one of the greatest manoeuvres in modern military history, and Macarthur was the reason it happened. He was the one who led the charge that metaphorically snatched the victory out of hands of North Korea. Part of why South Korea exists as it does today is because of this military victory, so of course there was a statue put up of him. Do NOT get me wrong- not everyone in Korea hails this man as a hero (though there are those who do see him as a hero, mostly people who lived through the Korean War). Much like in the rest of the world (including his native America) sees this man in a very polarizing way- he turned the war around, but he's also been accused of allowing some terrible things to happen in remainder of the war. The fact that the American military continued having a strong presence in the country (which led to some terrible aspects of the government, though it's not completely on them) only made a lot of feelings towards him as worse (those feelings I understand a lot more, since my first thought about Macarthur is the Red Scare and hearings that ruined countless lives). There have been calls to tear the statue down, off and on, but for now he still stands proudly in Jayu Park, for better or for worse. It's certainly a testimony to just how skewed history can be, and how it can be seen through so many directions, where a person can be a hero in one person's eyes, and the villain in another's.

Not only are there statues to see in the park, there is also an absolutely an amazing view of the Incheon harbour. When you're at the top of the park (especially on the second floor of the beautiful two story traditional pagoda Korean) you can see the harbour and sea behind it stretch out for kilometres. You look other over top of or through the wide gaps in the trees, and you can watch the harbour as it goes about its business. There are hundreds of giant shipping containers sitting on the docks with container ships docked besides them. You can see more ships out in the harbour, showing that this is a place of trade. While it might not be a lovely view of a clean, crisp beach, this is a much more interesting one. This isn't a pretty picture, but everyday real life, and that's special in its own right.

Incheon may not have been the most exciting city of I've lived in (not that I've lived in many, to be honest), but it was still a pretty interesting place. The presence of both Chinatown and Jayu Park, especially in such close proximity to each other, was certainly on of those things. It's a double bonus really: you get a great mix of history, good food, and a nice walk to top it all off, and all in one place.
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