My new airplane is exposing me to a bunch of places I've not seen before. (New airplane? That's a post I began about six months ago and never finished. Perhaps I'll finish and put up here out of order.) Osaka, Japan; Tokyo (I've landed but not laid over); Qingdao, China; Zhengzhou, China--these on top of a bunch of new places in Europe over the last few months: London; Nottingham; Budapest; Prague; Stockholm; Malmö; Madrid. And more to come.
But at the moment, Asia. I made it to a few destinations in China regularly on the MD-11, but the 767 goes to all those same places and twice as many more. My takeaway from this present trip is a reinforcement of what I've long felt: that we underestimate people in this part of the world at our peril. The populations are staggering and there is building and change going on here on a massive scale--everywhere I've been. Especially in China (Tokyo and Osaka are of course huge and well-established places) subways are being dug everywhere, and both Qingdao and Zhengzhou are in the midst of a building boom like I've never seen. Huge structures are going up everywhere, and flying over Zhengzhou one can see elevated railways being built and huge freeways being laid out. Zhengzhou city is surrounded by what appears to be a massive man-made (that is, entirely concrete-lined) river. Not a canal, but a full-fledged river. Miles of it. Huge housing blocks are newly-built (with many more underway) and there is a gorgeous new airport with an immense and eye-popping terminal--like every other Chinese airport I've been to. New industries--sometimes measured in the square mile--are everywhere.
China is in the midst of tectonic societal change, historic changes, and it's clear that it doesn't just involve people riding trains from the country to the city. The whole ancient society is changing radically, along with the economy and the social lives of the citizens. All this can be readily sensed, if not really understood, from our short visits.
I'm currently in Incheon, a Southwest suburb of Seoul. Korean society has maybe undergone a similar transformation from urban to rural in the last 100 years, but my sense is that the change has been underway here longer. Seoul is an established place. But Incheon has always struck me as something odd. It's clearly a planned community, one which might one day hold a million people; but why is it here? Why would people congregate here? I can see the need for an overflow airport to Gimpo, so I get the Incheon airport and all the surrounding infrastructure. But I don't see where the citizens of Incheon city--Songdo International Business District, as it's formally known--are coming from. Maybe because we don't ever see anything but our immediate surroundings, I can't see how all these people earn their livings--especially for what must be very expensive living quarters. There must be industry (and hence, jobs) here somewhere, but not nearly enough in Incheon to support all this housing--not that's visible from here, anyway.
On my walks this week I've become taken with a new housing complex being built a mile North of the hotel. It consists of 10 or 15 huge concrete towers, each of which must hold a few thousand people. The whole complex is in process, so one can see the towers being raised while others are being finished on the interiors while yet others are getting their exterior painting done. It's an immense project--one for which an army of workers is brought in and housed on site for the duration (I'd love to know the details of that arrangement, which seems to exist everywhere here)--but only one of a dozen similar projects underway on this little island.
As always, I get a little glimpse of something without really being able to get inside it. Our short layovers combine with my heads-down approach to walking thru strange places to keep me at arm's length to the real story. But not to complain; I'm very happy to see what I can.
Photos from around Incheon: