July 22, 2013
By Jia Kim, Hanna Jolkovsky, and Jasmine Collins
On Tuesday, we saw Korea’s Chinatown, the first part of our tour to Incheon. By tour bus, it took about an hour from the Ewha campus in Seoul. On the bus ride, our tour guide explained the origin of Chinatown. According to her, this Chinatown is different from the others, such as the one in Los Angeles, because it has become a center of trade related to Korea’s modern history rather than a town based on labor.
When we arrived, we could see buildings with red decorations, which meant that we had found the right place because red is a color of fortune in Chinese culture. Before visiting a lot of attractions, we were directed to a Chinese restaurant for lunch.
We enjoyed jajangmeon, which is a black-bean-sauce noodle dish, and tangsuyuk, which is a fried pork dish. When eating jajangmeon, the noodles are too long to eat, which makes it easy to get sauce on your face and clothes. So we used scissors to cut them. We enjoyed sweet and tangy tangsuyuk with soy sauce. It was so good that we ordered another plate-full. We’ll be eating jajangmyeon and tangsuyuk again very soon.
After a great meal, we went Jayu park, where American soldiers first landed in Incheon during the Korean War in 1950. The American General Douglas MacArthur is commemorated in this park for his bravery and the success of his Incheon Landing Operation. According to our tour guide, driving the North Korean soldiers away from Incheon was a seemingly impossible strategy, but his successful execution of the plan was the turning point in the Korean War. Today, Korea appreciates and remembers his contribution.
Chinatown has become a part of Korea’s modern history, along with Chinese immigration during the Japanese occupation and the Korean War in the 1950’s. We took one last group photo at the end of our Chinatown tour. As we said our goodbyes, we made our way over to the Museum of Korea Emigration History.
The Museum of Korea Emigration History
Soon after exploring Korea’s Chinatown, our class traveled to the Museum of Korea Emigration History in order to learn about the thousands of Korean emigrants: Koreans who moved to well-known immigrant countries such as the USA, and more surprising countries such as Paraguay, for work. As the second largest port city in Korea, Incheon City Port, or as it was originally called, Jemul-po, was where many Koreans began their journeys away from their homes, families, and motherland.
Hawaii, due to its need for sugar-cane plantation workers, was the most popular destination for these early Korean emigrants; our tour guide told us that between 1905-1907, 7,400 Korean workers emigrated to Hawaii. Since one cannot perceive such a large number, the Museum, touchingly, had a memorial wall which listed this first “wave” of Korean emigrants. I made it a point to read through the names–carefully sifting through my family name “Lee”–and felt awed and amazed at the courage of these first emigrants. The sheer size of this marble wall, and the personal knowledge of their names, had a deeply profound effect on me, and was my favorite part of the museum tour.
As a History major, I was so happy when I saw that the walls were lined with photographs, artifacts, and accompanying English captions for the Korean text! Us USC students who are not fluent in Korean could explore, learn, and read these captions with ease, and thus appreciate and reflect upon them individually. Even without English captions, however, the artifacts were intriguing; the museum had some of the first ever Korean passports issued, as well as interactive models of the daily lives of the first Korean plantation workers!
Korea’s history of emigration certainly is one full of sad stories such as Ham Han-ah’s, but all together is one of survival, adaptation, and success; the Museum made it a point to showcase how these new “Korean-Americans” assimilated with American culture, while keeping their traditional Korean values. Korean emigration is an important part of Korea’s history, and plays a key role in its future, as one of the leading countries in the world.
After a long day experiencing Korea’s past of immigration and emigration, our class got to take a privileged glimpse into where Incheon expects to go in the future. This made a lot of sense, considering how Korea is a quickly advancing country in terms of economy and technology. Here, we entered a part of Incheon called Songdo, a part of Incheon’s Free Economic Zone (IFEZ), which is in the process of being completed. Supposedly, it will be one of the best economic zones on the globe.
We entered the building wide eyed, greeted by some modern art to our right and large, 4D and 5D theaters to our left. We were unable to experience 5D the first time (a screen surrounds you by 360 degrees and may incorporate movement and smell) but we were taken to the 4D theater for a short presentation on the upcoming city additions.
We were quickly redirected to a room full of miniature (or not so miniature) figures of the various areas of Incheon. Each figure showed the fully thought-out designs of future buildings and gardens, each one possessing a very modern flare seldom seen back at home in the US. This reminded us of Korea’s tenacious and dedicated attitude in not only catching up with the rest of the world, but getting ahead and making a name for itself. After gaining independence from Japan, the pressure felt from surrounding, developing countries created the “bbali bbali,” or “quick quick,” culture we know of today.
And quick, it is! Already, plans are expected to finish in 2020, only about six and half years from now. It’s only a matter of time before Korea starts to bring attention to competitors and economic partners around the globe. And in due time, we will be the ones watching it happen.
Until then, we enjoy Korea for what it has to offer now, and what it showed us in this building. We spent a few minutes here discussing our mixed views on the new city plans. For us, and especially for Korea, it is an exciting time. The seemingly empty streets around this area will undoubtedly be bustling in just a few years.