During the winter and summer of 2011, I worked at Yonsei University’s new Songdo International Campus, to the south of Incheon. The land on which the campus rests has been reclaimed from the sea and designated as an International Free Economic Zone. Lonely buildings dot the landscape, standing for the most part empty as weeds work their way through untread sidewalks. At the end of the Songdo peninsula, a majestic bridge connects travelers to Korea’s largest airport, Incheon International.
On September 15th, I began work at Beomeo Elementary School in Yangsan. The school was established 90 years ago (long by Korean standards) and the neighborhood surrounding it gives off a sense of an older Korea than is to be found in the bustling city centers of Busan, Seoul & Daegu. However, from my office window, I can see the sprawling new Busan National University Hospital standing gray and massive. The hospital and all the new construction that has come with it stand on what were not long ago rice paddies, where a variety of water fowl could be found. Today, the birds remain, but their domain has been much reduced. Down the street, the subway station for the hospital stands alone in rocky fields, a seeming mistake. How long that perception remains is the real question.
Areas like Yangsan and Songdo are not rare in Korea, and it is staggering to see planned cities springing up before one’s eyes. All is fresh, new and clean, and yet empty and ghostly. To live in such a place gives one the strange feeling that one is preceding history, though I for one am always glad to see a thing it before it was, and have a chance to know what it wasn’t.