Hello Kitty Planet: Week 38

The Songdo neighborhood of Incheon is curious mix of urban design and the American Wild West. Despite the futuristic blueprints of the high rise apartments, the wide and vacant streets felt as spacious as an open plain. It was the first time since leaving home that I had felt a sense of déjà vu. I was lost in the reverie of a familiar landscape when the Incheon City Tour bus passed the Tri-Bowl.

The Tri-Bowl was an enormous aluminum molar hovering insubstantially above a reflection pond. It was an overcast day and the only splash of color came from small red bows dotting naked tree branches. I excitedly wiped the moisture off the foggy windows for a better look and vowed to return to this otherworldly structure.

The following weekend my two female coworkers and I coerced my boyfriend to visit the Tri-Bowl to see “Hello Kitty Planet.” For Barret it certainly seemed like an extraterrestrial environment populated by cotton and polyester beings. While us girls admired Hello Kitty’s extended family, he was aimlessly adrift amongst the dioramas: Hello Kitty the apt art student, the cowgirl galloping across the open plains, the rock star with miniature bottles of whisky.

As we wound our way through the decades of paraphernalia, we kept a lookout for an extravagantly over-sized plush Hello Kitty. My coworker had found an image in the local newspaper and it was a big reason why we made the trek to Incheon on such a cold day. However, as we passed the final exhibit (a tight pink coil of poop with a tidy yellow bow), the fabled toy was no where in sight. We soon realized Giant Hello Kitty was on hospital leave. Oh cruel world! Ms. Kitty just doesn’t look the same when she is sick.

How to get to the Tri-Bowl:

At Gangnam Station Exit #7 catch bus M6405. Exit at Central Park Station. Or take the subway to the Incheon Line 1, Central Park Station Exit #4.

 Hello Kitty Planet: On display till the June 30th, 2012 (Open Tuesday-Sunday 10-6pm) Cost- 12,000 won.

Kring & Incheon City Tour: Week 37

While finding shelter in a book store from the icy winter wind last weekend, I leafed through colorful guide books about Seoul. Of all the architectural oddities I saw, Kring caught my eye and I decided to pay a visit. It had a Swiss cheese façade and inside the foyer a guide handed me a DSLR photo permit. For such a large building, it felt a bit sparse, but the absence of crowds and clutter heightened the impact of the architecture.

On the second floor café, Barret and I picked up a coffee which was ridiculously cheap- only a 2,000 won ‘donation’. Then we chose a table beneath a large domed light that looked like it was melting from its’ own heat.  It felt hip and hopefully, by proxy, we were hip as well.

The three hour subway trip to Incheon Station was chilly and grueling. However, inside the warm cocoon of a bus, I was safely ensconced amongst a crowd of elderly Korean tourists. As we wound our way through the curiously beautiful city of Incheon- through the foggy ports with their international cargo and across the numerous bridges which stitch the city together, I dropped my pen.  When I went to search for it, I hit my head on a plastic handle. The loud thud reverberated over the driver’s speech and I could feel my face turn red as all the passengers looked at me. The person behind found my pen while the woman to my right offered a candy and a bemused smile.

Halfway through the trip we passed over Incheon Bridge, which I had wanted to see ever since I saw a program about its’ construction on the Discovery Channel. The bridge leads to Yeongjong Island, which houses the Incheon International Airport. When I first entered Korea through this gateway, I was quickly whisked away by a driver holding a misspelled sign. Since then I had presumed that the island existed only there for the airport. However, after the Incheon City Tour, I realized there was an unexpectedly inhabited side of the island.

Along the coast were restaurants with translucent plastic tarps stretched taunt over simple frames. I was desperate to exit the bus and photograph everything we passed, but none of the other passengers had signaled the driver to stop and I wasn’t quite sure what to say. So the bus barreled on and butterscotch candy continued flowing in my direction. I was clawing my seat with anxiety and trying to form a plan of action when we pulled over for a second bathroom break (once again, thank goodness for ajummas). After a round a miscommunication with the driver I realized that another tour bus would not be coming, so from there on out I would need to catch the city bus back. I was reluctant to leave my caring ladies high and dry while they were in the bathroom, but I had to take care of my own business so to speak.

During my coastal meander I sidestepped washed up Styrofoam blocks, walked across unsteady metal planks, pushed though bushy overgrowth, and surveyed a wrecked boat. When my journey concluded at a deserted bus stop across from a scattering of chickens and goats, I knew I had just experienced something quite unique. It was a million miles away from jet setters and duty free shopping and the only rumbling engine I heard was from the empty city bus turning the corner.

How to get there:

Kring – Line 2 Samseong Station, Exit # 3. Walk straight, the building will be on the right.

Incheon City Tour – Line 1 Incheon Station, Exit #1. Upon exiting there is a tourism booth on the left. Purchase the tickets inside (7,000 won for the airport tour) and the bus departs from in front of the booth.

Incheon Chinatown: Week 23

Past the entrance gate, cheap souvenir stands blot the uphill walk. Offering genuine “Made in China” artifacts, Incheon is the closest one can get to China without embarking upon the international ferries across the harbor.

Where the two main thoroughfares bisect, there is an abundance of restaurants. Each window is shellacked into opacity with posters; a myriad of reality TV celebrities lurk between Chinese food dishes and menus. Inside an audience-approved business, Barret tried jjajangmyeon, a wheat noodle dish smothered in a black bean sauce. This Chinese-Korean fusion dish originates from Incheon and has grown in such popularity that is has its’ own recognized date. Every April 14th on Black Day, singles consume jjajangmyeon to celebrate/mourn their unattached status.

While not necessarily authentic (the San Francisco Chinatown feels grittier and more realistic despite being significantly further away), the strings of red paper lanterns and painted dragons peering out of alleyways offer different scenery from the rest of the peninsula. The informational guide posts and tastefully decorated garbage canisters make Incheon a sanitized and palatable version of China, but one well worth the visit.

How to get there: Seoul Metro Line 1, Incheon Station

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