Korea wasn't specifically in our plans for this trip, we initially went there just because Korean Air had the right deal for us, so we found ourselves with a little bit of time in a place that we knew nothing about. However, it really was only a little bit of time, because our flight from Brisbane arrived in the late afternoon, and our flight to London departed at 1pm on the next day, so we needed to be at the airport by mid-morning to get checked in.
The Korean Government promotes tourism, so they provide a range of free short tours from the airport to accessible cultural and other tourist sites for transit passengers. Seoul was over an hour's travelling time from Incheon, so this wasn’t really possible for us in the available time. We resigned ourselves to the fact that all we were going to see of Korea was the view flying in and out, the airport itself, the view from the bus between the airport and the hotel, and the hotel itself and its immediate area.
When we checked in for our flight we had the usual couple of hours to kill in the secure area at the airport. Incheon Airport is a huge airport (eighth busiest in the world for passenger numbers) and the secure area is, as always, a huge shopping centre. This photo shows the interior of the secure area; it's hard to capture the size of it in a photo because it's all divided into malls. The airport has 76 gates (although, the gate numbers go up to 132 to allow for future expansion into a new terminal building); that's a lot of gates and a lot of 'plane-loads of people that could be there at once!
Like just about any transport terminal in any non-English speaking country, all the signs are repeated in English. (In English-speaking countries the signs are always exclusively in English – never repeated in any other language, to my experience.)
We were pleasantly surprised to find cultural activities in amongst all of the duty-free and food shops. The Korea Traditional Cultural Experience Center has displays, activities, and performances. While we were there three young women were playing traditional Korean stringed instruments and a flute.
A little later a mock double wedding (I think) was performed at the front of the Center, with the entourage clothed in traditional outfits. My descriptions for this ceremony are just my guesses; I have no real idea what was going on. This is the setup in advance of the wedding party:
Next the wedding guard arrived. These guys have some serious armaments; they each have a sword at their side and the two in red have nasty-looking battle axes.
Here the two couples are welcomed by the master of ceremonies.
Here is the bride's party with a guard. You can get a better look at the battle axe here. Isn't the guard's outfit outrageous?
Here are the two married couples. Check out the rabbit-eared hats on the men particularly, and the beautiful complex and colourful outfits generally.
And here's the brides' party with an Australian infiltrator!
The colour and complexity of these outfits is amazing, and, even though these outfits are traditional designs probably going back centuries, that complexity and strong use of colour are so evident in modern Korean design, as well as in modern Japanese and Chinese design.
The little bit that we saw of Korea on this stopover, the people that we met, and the cultural displays at the airport have enticed us, and we are determined to try to extend our stay in Korea when we next pass through, if we can. The South Korean Government's plan has worked!
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