Monday, July 14, 2003

CHINATOWN: After hiking, I took an all-too-long bus ride to Inch’ôn where I planned to visit Chinatown. In the past, I found the area to be an ill-defined jumble of streets with dilapidated dwellings and shops and a couple of listless restaurants. No clear memory of past glories.

How things change. Today’s Chinatown is a vibrant tourist attraction, complete with big traditional gates, dozens of restaurants and shops, faux traditional lanterns and lampposts and on and on. Part of a conscious state-led effort to revitalize the region, Chinatown has enjoyed an incredible makeover. While Korean efforts (in preparation for the expected influx of World Cup 2002 visitors) were key, also present was a strong mainland Chinese presence with commemorative plaques and statues giving credit to this group from Tianjin and that organization from Qingdao.

One incredible part of the program was the reconstruction of a set of stairs that used to divide the Chinese and Japanese concessions in old Inch’ôn. In this day and age when the American extraterritorial presence (and SOFA) are decried, here is the celebration of the same thing a century ago. Atop the stairs is a spanking new statue of Confucius. A sign of Korea’s turn back to China? Why not?

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