Tell me about Incheon, Seouth Korea
May 25, 2006 2:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to Incheon, South Korea and I have some questions (and I'm soliciting generic Korea advice).

I accepted a job teaching at a high school in Incheon, and there's a few particulars I'm curious about and am having trouble finding online.

Mostly, I guess, how long does it take to get into Seoul? How late does public transportation run (especially intercity)?

What are the big sights to see in Incheon? Cool places I should check out? On weekends, if I'm not heading into Seoul, what else is there within a couple hours that I should check out?

Other than that, at least until I think of other things to ask, what's some general advice to keep in mind to ensure that I have a happy stay in Korea?
posted by BuddhaInABucket to Travel & Transportation around Incheon, South Korea (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I thought of something: I'd appreciate a primer on korean food as I've never had it before (I've had chinese, japanese, malaysian, thai, the whole run, but for some reason, never korean).
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 2:17 PM on May 25, 2006

RE: Korean food. I visited Seoul with work this past Fall/Winter. I found the food to have very strong flavors. I took some photos and wrote some descriptions of what I ate. Here are some links to them if you're interested - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
posted by bwilms at 2:30 PM on May 25, 2006

fave dishes

bulgogi - beef marinated in soy sauce, garlic, green onions, a bit of sugar

kalbi - korean beef short ribs similar marinade to above

jap chae - glass noodle dish with sesame oil, veggies sometimes beef also

soon dooboo chi gae - spicy tofu soup

bibimbap - rice with veggies, meat, egg all mixed up with hot pepper paste
posted by dawdle at 2:33 PM on May 25, 2006

When it comes to food in Korea, don't shy away from the street vendors. The ddukbokki (rice cakes in spicey sauce) that you can get on the streets in Korea is amazing.
posted by blim8183 at 3:22 PM on May 25, 2006

Seoul is gigantic. Ridiculously big. And it just kept sprawling out in every direction as the years went by.

Let's say that Seoul is New York. Incheon would be like halfway down New Jersey. But Seoul has gotten so big that it just went and connected with Incheon. They even hooked up their subway to them

That said, it's not close. It can be close to an hour and half ride.
posted by rileyray3000 at 3:53 PM on May 25, 2006

Best answer: Before you go, get yourself Lonely Planet guides from Abebooks or wherever -- there is a Seoul one and a whole country one.

South Korea is not a big country and travelling is not expensive -- you should get around most of the highspots. Be aware that much of the country has been rebuilt after wars, so there aren't the historic buildings to be found in more fortunate countries - they have rebuilt the best ones, but that's about it. There are great beaches, but you don't have to go far from Incheon for those.

You may well prefer to stay in Seoul after an evening out. The nightclub districts have cheap hotels, but they can be noisy. There are also good backpackers' hostels and small guesthouses -- I liked the Jongnowon downtown (If staying there or the neighbouring Seoul Backpackers allow extra time to locate them -- finding the right lanes can be difficult.) If you plan ahead you should be able to book into more atmospheric ones.

Unless you are the size of a Korean, take all the clothes and shoes you will need -- including cold weather gear.
posted by Idcoytco at 4:19 PM on May 25, 2006

Response by poster: Idcoytco: I'm 5'9 and 160lbs. I don't think I'll have trouble finding clothes that fit, or will I?
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 5:13 PM on May 25, 2006

Some more to add (I've been teaching Middle School for almost a year):
Learn the language or at least the alphabet now or soon (honestly, it looks daunting but the alphabet is very easy. You could learn it on the plane). It'll help reading things for directions and food. Also, in Seoul many people speak English, but the farther you go, the less English (I'm thinking Incheon is probably not so high up on the English) and people really appreciate it/are impressed when you can give some Korean. I have friends who have been here 9 months and still can't read or say the numbers and it's pathetic.
Definitely learn the food names, numbers, basic phrases as soon as you can, which can be found in the aforementioned guide books. At school you will have a lot of downtime (trust me on this) so you can even study there.

Koreans are very nice people but live in a very non-diverse country so expect people to stare at you and/or come up to you and start talking in some sort of language. They may do things that seem weird to a Westerner but don't be creeped out, that's just how they roll.

The food is great, just make sure you try a lot and are open to spiciness. It's cheap and of a huge variety. Also, if you like seafood, Incheon has a pretty big fresh-fish market where you can try a lot of shit.

Traveling to other places is pretty easy. You can hop on busses to Busan, Seokcho, Jirisan, lots of places. South Korea is so small you can pretty much get anywhere in a day with room to hang out. Stay in love motels where hostels are unavailable. They are plentiful, clean, and pretty cheap. Plus they come (usually) with some food, drinks, and porn.

Ah yes, you asked about the transportation. There is a subway that'll get you into Seoul (what is Seoul, exactly? it's so big. You probably want the northwestern area like Hongdae, Jonglo maybe or down south Gangnam and other areas. Seoul is monstrous). Last train is around midnight. Busses are more confusing but usually a lot faster and once you figure them out, are your best bet. I don't know about Incheon but from my area, by subway and busses it'd take much longer than a straight bus, and the straight bus runs until 1:30am. Incheon is big so I imagine it's similar. Ask your students when you get here.

That's all I can think of at the moment, if you have any more questions, email in the profile.
posted by shokod at 6:26 PM on May 25, 2006

I've been to Korea a few times. The thing about being approached by people and spoken to happened to me- a bunch of high school kids wanted to practice their English on me, throwing out such stock phrases as, "Pleased to meet you", "Can I shake your hand" and "You are a very handsome man" (Obviously, their vocabulary was not that developed yet!) It freaked me out at first, but like shokod said, I just rolled with it and had a good time.

Food: Be aware that gaegogi (kay-go-gi) is meat that once barked. In the beginning, you can't go wrong with bulgogi, as dawdle suggests. seared strips of beef; very tasty!

There is a Korean staple upon which Korean society was built (as it is a preserved food that helped Koreans survive the tough winters) called kimchi. It is brine-pickled vegetables, usually cabbage. My first impression of it was that it had the texture and smell of cabbage left in the bottom of the dumpster too long. It is an acquired taste; don't write it off if you can't stomach it right away. It's actually pretty good once you get used to it. It is to Koreans what rice is to the Japanese and potatoes are to Americans: The stock accompaniment to most meals.

One thing I was pleasantly surprised about in Korea was the warmth of the Korean people. Once I got used to being stared at (6'-2" and very western looking), I quite enjoyed myself there and felt quite at home.

The first Korean words to use are "gahm-sah-hahb-ni-da" (usually run together as "gahm-sah-mi-da"); it means "thank you". Use it liberally; I always got a smile back!

As far as language goes, I found that virtually everywhere I went, there was someone who knew enough English that I was able to communicate well. I was in the Sachon-Chinju area, which is what I would describe as a medium-sized city (maybe the size of, say, Cedar Rapids, Iowa). Even when I went off the beaten path, I had no trouble.

And the Korean alphabet is very easy to learn; it is phonetic like western alphabets, with only about 30 characters. Without even trying, you will pick it up quickly. I drove over there and learned how to read the place names in Korean. Many, but not all, road signs, are also in English.

If I could talk my wife into it, I would have no qualms taking a long-term assignment in Korea. Go and enjoy yourself!
posted by Doohickie at 8:21 PM on May 25, 2006

Try Brittanie. Her blog is here.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:19 PM on May 27, 2006

Mostly, I guess, how long does it take to get into Seoul?

Incheon to downtown Seoul will take you 60 minutes or more on the subway. Much more by bus. Urban sprawl being what it is, it's basically one continuous city all the way out to Incheon.

How late does public transportation run (especially intercity)?

If by intercity you mean Seoul-Incheon, like I said, it's all one city, basically. Last train leaves before midnight. Buses go a little later, but are almost totally incomprehensible (even to me, and I've been here on and off since 1996). To other destinations within Korea, last intercity buses are generally on the road by 9pm.

What are the big sights to see in Incheon? Cool places I should check out? On weekends, if I'm not heading into Seoul, what else is there within a couple hours that I should check out?

Hate to be a downer, but there aren't many, basically. Incheon is just another ugly, disorganized, dirty, noisy Korean city. There are a few offshore islands you can get out to from Incheon that are pretty nice, though.

I wrote a long essay on the essentials for prospective or new teachers in Korea (specifically because questions like this were coming up often at AskMe) here. The Korea-related category on my site -- much ignored, because I actively tend to avoid writing about the place these days -- might have some more useful tidbits for you.

The Korea forum at Dave's ESL Cafe has a wealth of info for the newbie. It's one of the best resources. Be aware that the tone tends to be relentlessly negative there, though.

What Doohickie said about learning to read is essential. A few hours will get you the basic reading skills you need (it's really very simple, if you remember that one character equals one sound (with a few, regular exceptions), and it's a necessary skill. Pay close attention to the pronunciation, which is, again simple and regular, with only a few sounds that are missing in English (and many vice versa).

Incheon is part of Seoul, effectively, as I mentioned, so you should have no problem finding other native speakers to hang out with (this will keep you sane as you acclimatize, trust me, even though most of your time will be spent listening to them bitching about Korea). Seoul is very much more an international city than it was a decade ago -- it's still no Sydney or Toronto or NY, by a long shot, but it's better than it was.

Most long-termers here, like me, tend to have a schizophrenic love-hate relationship with the place. I tend to try to accentuate the positive without glossing over the negative. But (in large part thanks to my beloved Korean spouse) I've been here 7 out of the last ten years, and have no plans to leave any time soon, so that speaks for itself, I guess.

what's some general advice to keep in mind to ensure that I have a happy stay in Korea?

That's a big question. Philosophically (but practically): try and get your head around the ideas I mentioned here, and you'll be right in the end.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:19 AM on June 2, 2006

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