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The Korean Chinatown

"I will bring you down, baby. I will bring you down to Chinatown." ~ Jack (Meet the Parents)

sunny 20 °C

Less than 1km from where I stay, is Korea's only official Chinatown. It falls within Jung-gu ward, which is the same ward my apartment building and school falls in. To get there you can get off at Incheon station, and you will be right in Chinatown. If you are on the rapid train, get off at Dongincheon station and walk for about 10 minutes. According to international sizes and compared to Chinatowns in other cities such as San Francisco or New York, Incheon's Chinatown is quite small.

The official entrance to Chinatown greets you with a massive stone gate. The gate is 11 metres tall and built in the traditional Chinese gateway style, called a paifang.

1. Stone Gate Entrance to Chinatown
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The Chinese Consulate in Incheon was built in 1884. From here, Chinatown started growing. During the 1940's the town flourished with about 10,000 Chinese living here. The Chinese residents traded silk, chinaware and oriental medicine with the Koreans. Korea had approximately 80,000 registered Chinese residents during these years. Unfortunately after the Korean war, a nationwide distrust of the Chinese appeared, because of their invasion of Korea. The post-war policies also forbid Chinese to own businesses and they were forced out of Seoul and out of the country. Today there are only 30,000 registered Chinese residents in Korea, with only about 500 still living in Chinatown.

Chinatown is very much a tourist area today and with the large number of visitors from China and all over the world who come to see this town, the Korean government decided in 2002 to revive and restore it. The cost of this restoration was approximately US$6.2 million (6.5 billion won).

2. Welcome to Chinatown, Incheon
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In the Chinatown sign above, a big bowl of Jajang-myeon can be seen. This is known as Koreans' favourite Chinese dish. This dish was also created right here in Chinatown. Living so close to a big port, a lot of sailors and labourers pass through this area. When the port opened the town flourished, so the residents created this simple and cheap dish for the harbour labour who pass through every day. Jajangmyeon is noodles with fried soybean paste, giving it the look of a black noodle dish. Sometimes pieces of meat and little pieces of vegetable such as carrots are also added. Chinese food in Korea is very Korean inspired and influenced as you can see below with the side dishes such as the kimchi (fermented cabbage). Living across the street from a Chinese restaurant means I can always get some Jajang-myeon when I want some. The Jajang-myeon Festival takes place in October over three days and is sponsored by Incheon City.

3. Jajang-myeon
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Chinatown is very colourful and alive. The colour red can be seen everywhere with Chinese lanterns, writing, dragons, pandas and murals decorating everything.

4. Some Chinatown views
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After walking around for a bit, we decided to go to one of the restaurants there. The restaurants in Chinatown are famous throughout Korea and many people travel there to eat at these restaurants. The queues outside some of the places were standing down the street. We decided on a smaller place with no queue. Having no queue is definitely no indication of a bad food quality as their food was amazing. We had Mandu (dumplings) and Seafood Noodle, which was a noodle dish with shrimp, calamari and mussels. You get tea with your food and as per Korean tradition, the water bottle on your table. The table next to us were eating Jajang-myeon like animals. Our menu did have some interesting choices as well...

5. Shark fin!!!
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When it started to get dark, we decided to go and bid Chinatown farewell. Chinatown is very much a little gem here in the hillside of Incheon. Unfortunately not all the residents here are Chinese. They restuarant owners speak Korean, and most are Korean. The food is very Korean style influenced, but none the less you still get a very Chinese feel when walking through this little town.

6. Goodnight Chinatown
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7. Look who came home with me...
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Posted by Anja Fourie 17:30 Archived in South Korea Tagged chinatown china south_korea korea incheon Comments (1)

Hi Seoul! ~ The Soul of Asia

First real visit to Seoul and my birthday in Itaewon

overcast 18 °C

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It is still cold out, but not as drastic as two weeks ago. Spring is finally settling in and my hands are freezing less and less. Today is the day I make my very first trip to Seoul. My first time using public transport in Korea as well. Still without a phone, I have to rely on a little map of the subway I tore from a magazine. This does get me to Bupyeong station where I meet my friends. From here on, people who seem much more adapt in navigating things like subways, take over to get us to Seoul. We arrive in Myeongdong late afternoon and meet more of our friends there.

South Korea has an excellent metro system, the Seoul Metro. I live near Dongincheon station which is the first stop on the Rapid Line. This means that there are two trains leaving form Dongincheon station. One to your left and on to your right. The train on your left is the slow train and stops at every station on the way to Seoul. The train on your right is on the Rapid Line. This train only stops at every third or fourth station. It is called the Yongsan Rapid as the train does stop at Yongsan station. The Rapid train takes approximately 45minutes to Yongsan while the slow train will take about 60minutes. From Yongsan you can take a taxi for as little as 4000won to for example Itaewon if you do not feel like transferring to another train.

1. Tea in Myongdong, Seoul
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2. Wandering the busy streets
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3. Galbi dinner
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4. Animals in Seoul ~ Very often you will see promotion people dressed up in animal suits.
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5. Bosingak Bell Tower

While walking back from the restuarant to get a taxi, I spot a building in the background. The group is in a big rush as we are on our way to a club in Itaewon. I quickly pose for a picture. This is the Bosingak Bellfry. It was built in 1396 to notify the residents of Seoul of the opening and closing of the city gates. Every morning it would ring 33 times at 04:00am. The 33 signifies the 33 cheon (Heaven) of Buddhism. In the evening the bell rang at 7:00pm for 28 times for su (the stars). The building has been destroyed many times by fire, Japanese occupation and the Korean war. The actual bell is preserved in the National Museum. A replica was installed in 1985.

Today the bell is not rung daily anymore. There are New Years parties held here and every year at the strike of midnight, the bell will be rung 33 times. During this time, the area is so busy and so popular that the station closest to the bellfry is closed. The train simply passes it and does not stop for any passengers to get off.

We make our way to a taxi, get in and soon we arrive in Itaewon. The two areas are very close to each other. It is much more cheaper by train, but will take you a little while longer as the taxi is quick and direct. The club that we are visiting is called Helios. Entrance is paid for by one of the boys, we conveniently check our coats in at the entrance and we are ready to go. When the clock strikes twelve, I also celebrate my 23rd birthday in Seoul!

6. Birthday Time!
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7. Awesome birthday cake from my co-teacher
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In other news, a friend took me to traditional Korean dinner in that week. The food is so much that it feels like no one will ever be able to finish it. This is what an ultimate traditional Korean dinner looks like.

7. Traditional Korean Food
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TOP TIP: Get a Seoul Metro App on your phone as soon as possible. If you do not have a smartphone or no phone at all, print out the metro system. This will come in very handy when navigating the subway as you will have to get off the trains and transfer many times.
I RECOMMEND: Metroid App for Android. Or, get the printable maps here.

Posted by Anja Fourie 22:21 Archived in South Korea Tagged south_korea seoul subway korea incheon bosingak seoul_metro itaewon myongdong galbi dongincheon yongsan express_train rapid_line Comments (1)

Arriving in Incheon, South Korea

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” ~ Maya Angelou

overcast 15 °C

The hour bus journey from Seoul felt like it took two minutes. Within another 30 seconds my bags were out of the bus, and I was sitting next to my new co-teachers in the hall at Incheon Department of Education. Sarah, from the Incheon Municipal Office of Education (IMOE), is mostly in charge of us english teachers in Incheon.

In this hall, I meet my two English co-teachers. They are Mrs.Kwan and Miss.Lim, who I just call Soo. Her full name is Lim Soo-Young (the Korean surname first) and she jokes that she's lucky that her real name sounds like the English name Sue. This means she didn't have to choose an English name for herself. Sarah's speach is over and my co-teachers lead me to Mrs.Kwan's car outside. All my orientation friends are leaving with their respective co-teachers and suddenly it feels very real. The orientation bubble we were in from the past week just burst and nerves are settling in.

Driving to my school takes about 10 minutes from the Education Office. I am teaching at Insung Girls Middle School. It is a semi-private school which means it has more money than most schools. I will only learn this later as I see the state of the buildings of some other schools and realise that being treated to lavish dinners and giving gifts to all the staff members is not the norm in all schools. I soon realise that I am privileged to be working at a school like this. The school is part of a school complex. Insung High, Middle and Elementary are all on the school grounds. It is a Christian School which means we also have a church on the grounds. Every Wednesday morning the entire Middle School attends church. It is in Korean of course, so I mostly just sit and watch.

1. Staff Photo taken at 60 year anniversary of Insung Middle School
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Miss.Lim, my young co-teacher is standing right next to me. My principal is in front with the blue jacket, and my other co-teacher Mrs.Kwan is standing right behind my principal, to her left.

2. Insung Middle School (left), Elementary (Middle), High (Right)
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In school there is an English Zone. The kids come down to the class to have English here. The English Zone consists of a classroom, cafe area, kitchen area and two noreabangs (Korean karaoke room). I also have my own little office here which I share with no one. All the other teachers sit in the staff room upstairs. View the video of my English Zone here.

3. English Zone and my office
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After meeting everyone and being introduced to the principal and vice-principal, I am taken to my apartment for the first time. Every step down the hallway is met by girls screaming when they see me. All the girls wear the same shoulder length black hair and their school uniforms are adorably cute with their skirts, blazers and little ties.

4. My Girls in Uniform
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My school is a 5min walk from where I live. I have to be at school at 8:30 every morning, so I leave at approximately 8:20 and take a casual stroll up the hill and I'm still early. My building is called Portview Officetel. It is situated in Jungangdong, Jung-gu. The building is right near the port as the name states. You can even hear the ship horns at night. My window unfortunately does not look out to the ocean side, but into the neighbourhood. My building has a restaurant, convenience store, billiards club and Screen Golf. Watch the video of my apartment here.

5. Sports Day at my School
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My co-teacher tells me of the girl who lives in my building. She is the English teacher at the High School and we share a cafeteria, but I haven't seen her yet. I live in Apartment 315 and she live in Apartment 317. During my first week she knocks on my door and takes me out for my very first Korean Galbi dinner. Galbi is a sort of Korean barbeque. They bring you the raw meat with a lot of side dishes. You then cook this meat yourself on a coal grill in the middle of your table. You also receive a lot of side dishes with your meat.

6. First Galbi Dinner
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This girl who knocked on my door has become a very close friend of mine. So far from home everyone here needs friends who will become your family. Living so close together, teaching so close together, eating together every day and going out together every weekend, has resulted in a close relationship. Here's a shout out to Taryn van As for introducing me to Incheon and the whole new world that is Korea!

7. Cherry Blossoms outside our schools
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Posted by Anja Fourie 01:02 Archived in South Korea Tagged apartment south_korea flat housing incheon teaching_english epik insung Comments (2)

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