On my return trip back from Japan, I transferred at South Korea’s airport, Incheon, which is just outside Seoul. It’s a large airport and quite nice to visit and was opened just in 2001, so it’s actually pretty new.
Incheon Airport was my first (and only) experience in South Korea, and I only had 3 hours to really “soak up” the culture. So, I did a lot of walking around. It’s quite large, but generally easy to navigate once you get past the first part. There are tons of shops there, so I even tried ordering Starbucks in Korean (failed miserably), but the staff all spoke pretty good English anyway, so it wasn’t necessary. Many of the signs at Incheon were also printed in four languages: Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese, so it’s pretty hard to get lost there.
One really interesting thing about Incheon Airport is that they had a lot of cultural events and activities. Korea seems very interested in promoting Korean culture to visitors, so there was a lot to see and do. One interesting example is this parade that walks through the airport regularly:1
This parade looks like a royal procession from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897, 조선, 朝鮮). I stumbled onto this parade by accident, but I recognized it right away because I watched so many episodes of the Korean Drama “Jewel in the Palace” (대장금, 大長今). I could recognize the “king” right away. He was wearing the red robes just in front of the large parasol.
This video by another traveler is probably easier to watch though. I was surprised to see the parade, so I didn’t really have time to properly record it.
They also had music performances as well. This is an example of traditional Korean music:
Some people really like this kind of traditional Asian music, some people hate it. I personally thought it was cool.
Incheon had a lot of cool stuff in general. I found some bookstores in there, and I even found a few copies of the Japanese manga Doraemon in Korean which I am using for reading practice. More on that in another post. Anyhow, as mentioned before, every store I went to, people seemed to speak pretty good English. Some of the “ajumma” (おばちゃん would be the Japanese equivalent I guess) were kind of pushy though at certain shops. One lady really wanted to sell me a huge kimchi set to take home, but I can get kimchi easily in Seattle (and I really didn’t want to carry that home), so I kind politely declined.
It was also probably my first real opportunity to use Korean for more than 2 minutes. I’ve been studying and learning Japanese for so long,2 I forgot how hard it is to communicate in another language when you are just a beginner. I did better than I expected (thanks TTMIK!), but at the same time, I also realized that I needed a lot more study and practice. A lot.
So, that’s my three hours in Korea (airport). Incheon is a pretty cool airport to visit, and definitely makes me want to visit Korea again, this time outside the airport. 😉
1 My wife noticed that the parade past walked a Louis Vuitton shop and she thought the contrast was funny. 🙂
2 I’m not saying I’m good at Japanese language, just familiar with it. Korean is much more new to me.