Monday, December 23, 2013


A few photos for today's walk in addition to these are here.

I've laid over here once before.

We fly in and out of Incheon, a suburb of Seoul approximately 30 miles to the Southwest of the city proper. Incheon, at least the area where we stay, is a nice, modern place, but it's kind of like a ghost town. The couple times I've been here there are people on the street, but many of the businesses are closed down and most of the buildings are residential high-rises. So it feels like the kind of place that folks pass thru.

On my last visit there wasn't time to get into town, and I contented myself with a walk around Incheon instead. On this visit we got to the hotel around 6:30 AM after an all-night flight from Sydney. I should have been ready for bed, but I found I was not sleepy when I got to my room. And I was excited to see another foreign place. So I headed down to talk to the concierge and made my way to the train station. He gave me a single-sheet photocopied map of the subway system and highlighted the trains I'd need to use to get to one of the town's big shopping districts, Itaewon.

Turns out, it's no simple task to get into town. There is a local Incheon subway system consisting of a single line of 29 stops that connects up with the greater Seoul train system. I wandered around for half an hour before finding the stop nearest the hotel (after going to a convenience store and buying a transit card for 9,500 Won--2,500 for the card and 7,000 to "charge" the card). I had walked past the station on my last visit, but had trouble finding it again today. Then one had to ride the Incheon train for 15-16 stops to the Seoul #1 line, where another 15 or so stops were needed to get into town. A third train was needed to get to Incheon, for which there is no easy connection--you kind of have to go well past your stop to a more distant connection node and then change trains back in the opposite direction. I was told that cabs are cheap and that there are buses as well, but after getting a tourist map I decided that it would be easier to walk. So I got off the #1 train at the Yongsan Electronics Mall and walked the 2-3 miles from there to the start of Itaewon.

I wasn't sure what to expect, really, but I somehow expected New York City. I believe Seoul and Tokyo vie for the world's two biggest metropolitan areas, and I of course saw about 1/100th of 1% of it. But it's much more Chinese-feeling than I expected (no offense intended--this is perhaps an unforgivable insult). There are a lot of high-rises, but the city is much more spread out than I expected, and much of it less vertical. The construction feels very like what I'm used to from Shanghai and Chengdu and Shenzhen, and there is the same mix of new and old, of spectacular and crumbling. The (presumably) lower-income stuff seems to follow the Chinese pattern: corrugated metal roofs and concrete construction, houses piled on top of each other with no yards, useful spaces found in every little void. The streets meander without a recognizable grid, and there are the narrow, dark alleyways so characteristic of China. I stayed along the main drag of Itaewon, but there appears to be much back-alley shopping on both sides of the main drag. These will wait for a longer visit coming up in January.

I walked a couple miles along the main drag of Itaewon and back. It was about 10:30 in the morning at this point and very little was open. I stopped at a Starbuck's for a hot chocolate--it was quite chilly. From there I made my way on foot back to Yongsan and the train home--which I then screwed up a couple times. My train line is the #1 to Incheon, but the platform I went to in Yongsan, to which the signs for Train #1 directed me, was for a different line. I was on the train before I heard an announcement for an unfamiliar next stop (It doesn't help that I speak not a word of Korean, of course, and that everything sounds the same. I'm lucky they say everything in English as well, but even then it's hard to understand). I stepped off right as the doors were closing. After looking at the incomprehensible signage and scratching my head for 15 minutes, I asked a passing policeman for help and he pointed across the station to a different platform (there are about 10 platforms--he waved his hand to say "over there a ways"). Eventually, after seeing no mention of line #1 anywhere upstairs except the platform where I was, I stumbled onto platform #5 despite there being no mention there of train #1. In small print it said "Incheon," though it had said that at the wrong platform as well. I decided to go with this.

Well, this was the right train--I'm still not quite sure how I was supposed to have found it--though it has two widely-divergent termini, and I of course got on the wrong one. But I didn't know it until I was two stops past the divergence point. Backtrack. I eventually made it back to Bupyeong, where the Incheon train ran, and then back to the hotel. I love riding trains, and even the wrong turns and missteps were enjoyable. I'd seen none of it before, and it was all part of the same adventure. Plus, now I kind of know how the trains work here. Kind of.

Next up, Almaty.

Xmas tree in our hotel lobby.

The No. 1 Seoul train rides on the surface.

Part of the iPark Mall at the Yongsan Station.

Lots of carts and scooters, much like China.

Entrance to Itaewon shopping street.


Jon said...

As always, nice pics. They must have quite a few tourists to have things in english, though it sounds like its still easy to get confused. The train stations seem new, but you are right and alot of it seems to be run down. I suppose its a constant battle of tearing down and building new again. Still alot of people it seems. Your pictures showed more cars then scooters or bikes. Is that a Korean thing that there are more of them in China or is it just your pics for the day?

William Stachour said...

No, I think you're right. There seem to be more cars here than in China. And while there are scooters and bikes here, it falls between the US (none) and China (lots). We head later this trip to Taipei, where I haven't been for some years. I remember that from my last visit as being Scooter Mecca. We'll see if that impression holds.