Published: September 6th 2012September 6th 2012
For my last full day in Seoul I decided to visit the city of Incheon. Incheon is South Korea's third largest city and also an important port situated about an hour away from the centre of Seoul by metro. Incheon is also a city of historical significance as, during the Korean war ( yes, here she goes, droning on about the war again), it was the location of what is now considered one of the greatest military manoeuvres in history.
By September 1950 the North Korean People's Army had occupied most of the country and had pushed the Allied forces down the a small corner in the south east, around Busan. General MacArthur's plan was to launch an amphibious landing on the heavily defended, geographically and strategically challenging Incheon coast, correctly assuming that landing behind enemy lines would enable the Allied forces to cut off the NKP's supply line. The landing was a success and Seoul was retaken on the 25th September.
From the station I walked up quite a steep hill through the town's busy Chinatown and on to shady and treelined Jayu Park where a monument to MacArthur stands looking out to sea. MacArthur is a contraversial figure in South Korea with some viewing him with reverence and others deeming him a war criminal.
As it was a Sunday there were a number of families out and about in the park and groups of old men playing Chinese chess in the shade. There was also a small, permanent outdoor stage used for local performances. Today's performances were by a local dance school. The first dance was a gentle and graceful traditional Korean folk dance carried out by some older Korean ladies. This was followed by a belly dance and then a disco dance involving more hip shaking, bum slapping and provocative pouting than you could ever want to see from a group of 5-9 year olds. It was a little...disturbing.
However, I began to enjoy the show more when three grown women came on to the stage to do a belly dance, complete with scarves. Part of the dance involved wrapping the scarve around your head and across your face so that only your eyes were exposed. One of the women just could not get the hang of this move and instead just succeeded in wrapping the scarf completely around her head, almost strangling herself in the process and while the other two wiggled their hips and fluttered their eyelashes, this lady just tried desperately to untangle herself, flailing her arms like she'd walked through a wasps nest. Somehow she always managed to rescue herself in time for the next move but once they came back to this one, off she went on her one woman fight against a piece of chiffon. I couldn't stop laughing, which was a bit mean because there weren't a lot of people watching but it was just too funny. I only wish I'd managed to get a photo.
Aside from Chinatown and the park there a few musems and, closer to the ports, there was a lot of industry and the international ferry terminal. Incheon aims to cater for the sailors who pass through the city with restaurants advertising their menus in Korean, Chinese, Russian and English. I passed two sailor's clubs: The Seaman's Club and Marry Whiskey, two tired venues that could only promise a good night out to someone who had spent many many months at sea.
On the Monday evening I moved to a guesthouse near the airport ready for my flight to Vietnam the following day. For the first time since I left home I had a double bed in a room of my own. No airconditioning but there was a fan...which brings me on to one of my favourite anecdotes about South Korea- fan death.
Yes that's right. Locals live in fear of this uniquely Korean cause of death, brought about by sleeping in a room where the fan is kept running all night. Broadsheet newspapers run stories on fan deaths and even the government has issued warnings against using fans at night. So how does it work? Well, Koreans believe that leaving a fan on overnight will:
a) starve the victim of air
b) significantly reduce the temperature in the room inducing hypothermia
c) the blades of the fan will cut the oxygen molecules in two, thus depriving the slumbering victim of their much needed oxygen.
So there you are, in a country as technologically advanced as South Korea, where you can get more moblie phone coverage than almost anywhere else in the world, even on the underground, the humble electric fan could be your undoing. For this reason many fans have a timer allowing them to run for a maximum of an hour at a time lest a forgetful or drunk Korean should forget to turn it off and be fanned to death.
Fortunately mine didn't have a timer so I kept it on all night, and my hair was wet from the shower. I tell you, it's a miracle I made it through the night.