Ruby Ramblings

The End of the Line – New Songdo City

I woke up too late today to venture out on my original plan which would have included a two hour subway ride each way. By the time I had gotten to my destination to take the pictures, I’m sure the sun would be on its way out. So I decided to take my local subway line, the Incheon line to the end. I knew the area was under heavy construction, and has been for several years, but I was not aware of the fact that it literally doesn’t really exist yet.

I was the only person to get off the last stop. There wasn’t a soul in the terminal, except for a young sleeping security guard. My shoes even squeaked on the floor it was so new, shiny, and unused. When I got to the top of the stairs of the subway terminal this is what I saw.

No sidewalk. No ubiquitous Paris Baguettes. Actually not a store, or, for that matter, a fully constructed building in site. It was a wondrous construction zone that lasts for miles. The only place I’ve been in Korea where I was the only one around. A few construction trucks flew by, and although I know I shouldn’t have been there, I couldn’t help wondering around and trying to get a few good shots. The Free Economic Zone of Incheon is going to be the world’s largest constructed community. A 10 year, estimated $40 Billion dollar project, it is a completely planned, completely wired, and eventually the hopeful center of some serious international commerce. I’ve heard that starting prices for apartments, that haven’t even been built yet, is $500,000. Even if I never come back to Korea to teach, seeing what happens to this area in ten years would be worth taking a trip.

This part of Incheon, as in literally the piles of dirt under my feet, didn’t exist a few years ago. Well, actually it existed as a landfill. Korea has been undergoing massive artificial island projects to expand. It is quite plain on the subway maps which parts of the city are artificial, and where the natural coast line is. The faint dotted lines are where future development is planned. Although Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Dubai and other places have been using this as a form of land reclamation for years, it still makes me wonder at the stability of it all, if say a major earthquake or tsunami were to hit the area. I’m also curious as to why artificial islands fall under the geographic term of reclamation, how can you REclaim something that never existed?

New Songdo city is not all that large. I managed to walk from the barely existent International Business subway stop to the Incheon University subway in probably a little over a half hour, and that was with meandering around construction zones and taking pictures. I was hoping there would be a little life around the University stop, but it was literally a subway stop poking out of a field of dirt. There was a shuttle bus to take students to the school, which I couldn’t see on the horizon and a student pointed vaguely in the distance to where it must be. I’m quite confused as to why the stop is named for the University, except that from the subway line, I guess it is the closest access point to the school. A shuttle stop and subway marker jutting up out of nothing.

In between is the Central Park subway stop. A completely planned, and what is clearly going to be quite lovely park in the middle of this constructed city. Complete with public art pieces already installed. The impression I get both from some brief research reading, and from walking around the area, is that this city is meant to be an entity in and of itself. It has plans for international schools (with tuitions of upwards of $25,000/year), tax incentives for international business, a banking industry with low interest loans (presumably to very large investors), and the makings of town that plans to exclude, and possibly outright dismiss the existence of people of lower economic class. It makes me wonder what kind of actual life or vibrancy this fabricated city is going to have. Can you plunk down a city where one never existed, move in a bunch of folks, and call it home? I guess I should ask someone from a gated community in Arizona. (jab.)

Here is a photo of a poster on a construction barrier that shows what the city is supposed to look like when it is finished. Very modern, very urban, and quite nice. Of course, this doesn’t show the trash, the cars, the exhaust, or an Ajashee clearing his throat and spitting it next to someone’s shoe.

On a whim I got off a couple stops later at Campus Town. Again, I was having faint dreams of college towns, but alas, I think it meant “campus of highrise apartments.” Again, although this area is much further along in development and people clearly live here, there was nothing in the way of restaurants, shops, or stores within close walking distance of the subway stop. Even the map inside the subway was barren except to show the location of three housing developments. It makes me wonder if with the popularity of the car, there isn’t a move toward separating residential and commercial space, which, in this city, would be an incredible shame.

A brief and interesting article.
An article on the “wired” aspect of New Songdo City.

Art, Accidentally
December 12, 2009, 2:58 pm
Filed under: Korea, Travel | Tags: ,

I was supposed to go to Busan today, but the person I was going to meet said they were leaving early. So after a meal of Kimchi Jiggea with Japanese noodles, I decided to cancel my ticket, and just wonder within the subway system. I love that the light blue lines have pictures of places that might be of interest. I hopped on line 4, and went to Seoul Grand Park. Obviously somewhere that is meant to be enjoyed in the summer, as all the gardens were wrapped up, I found it hugely relaxing and calm though compared to the last couple of weeks. There were a few families milling around, and I headed up to the National Museum of Contemporary Art.

This guys jaw moves up and down and he is singing something rather somber and pleasant.

The special exhibit right now is called Peppermint Candy. Artists that grew up and were formed by the 1980s social and political change. The exhibit was taken to Chilie as part of a cross-cultural exchange, and was popular due to Chile going through similar changes at similar times. I got a lot more out of the exhibit because of the wonderful English-speaking docent who gave me a great and informative tour of the exhibit.

True to art everywhere, this exhibit featured artists that live on the fringe of Korean society. There were large collections done by two openly gay artists. One of my favorite pieces was a giant floor mat sculpted from incense with English and Korean words spelling out famous gay bars. It burns for two months, and then is created again.

Another one of the artists prominently featured is a Korean woman in her mid-thirties married to a German man. She took several photographs of Korean/foreign relationships where none of the couples looked particularly happy. Although looking at the viability of cross-national relationships, she said some of the couples argued that it wasn’t necessarily about culture, but the nature of marriage and their own inner problems that were keeping them disconnected.

This artist also had pictures of older, nude, Korean women in their houses. The docent told me that originally the director of the museum wasn’t going to let the pieces be shown, not because the women were naked, but because they weren’t showing women as classically beautiful. When the artist argued that that was preciously the point, I guess he relented. An interesting side note, is that when I said to the docent, “Oh, I see, she’s trying to show regular woman,” she got a distasteful look on her face and said, “No, not regular, old.” The difference in cultural norms about women glaring through once again.

The main, permanent exhibit of the museum is a wild, spiralling installation of thousands of tiny tiles surrounding a column of TVs. It was entertaining, and, luckily, they allowed pictures.

The best part of the day was riding the skylift back to the subway station. I’m not convinced that net below would do much if one were to fall of out the flimsy lap bar across the chair though.

Anti-Foriegner Sentiment in Korea Makes International News
December 11, 2009, 4:23 pm
Filed under: Korea, Travel

The Canadian radio show The Current, hosted on CBC Radio, has posted a story on anti-foreigner sentiment in Korea that I thought some folks might find interesting. In light of the Anti-English Spectrum, a site that has spent lots of time trying to discredit foreign teachers who teach English, and a group that calls itself KEK (Kill English Teachers in Korea) sending death threats to a couple of teachers, I think it is important for international teachers who are considering moving here to weigh this kind of activity into their decision making process. Not saying they shouldn’t come here, it’s just a part of the puzzle.

The show can be streamed here, it’s the second story on the page.

There seemed to be a lot of other interesting stories on here too, I might start frequenting this site more often.

Blogs that have been reporting substantially reporting on many things in Korea, particularly the anti-foreigner sentiment: Brian in Jeollanamdo, The Marmot’s Hole, Gusts of Popular Feelings

Some of the things that bother me about some of these stories are how much they don’t go both ways. Foreign women have dealt with being groped on Asian subways for decades. I’ve had penises waved at me, my figure outlined by drunk men who then give a thumbs up sign, my cleavage (which I try to keep hidden, buy hey, sometimes the girls like to get out) stared at with no attempt to hide it. But one time a white husband absently touches his Korean wife’s ass and a full on subway riot ensues? Give me a break.

I’m also bothered by the AIDS tests since they are not administered equally, but to be honest the US does the same thing. Anyone wanting to emigrate to the country has to take an HIV test, whereas I wouldn’t have to as a teacher in a school in my home state. The thing that bothered me most was how little hygiene there was at the hospital. A nurse wiped blood off a person’s arm with her bare hand for god’s sake.  (Kimchi Icecream has written a lot about hospitals in Korea.)

There’s just something that’s not quite right…..

December 9, 2009, 10:29 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Kathryn over at Lessons from the Monk I Married was kind enough to think of me for two blog awards she received and is passing on:

In turn I’d like to pass this one on to Susan Young Photo, a wonderful collection of photography and snipets of music, food, and culture.

This one I would like to give to my online turned real-life friend Susan at Naked Without Books. A witty chronicle of what she reads, and the endless pursuit for English books by an expat living in Korea.

This also made me realize that I need to branch out and start finding more well-written inspiring blogs that I can pass awards onto. I seem to have become stagnant lately.