South Korea’s Seoul Incheon Airport, in the Heart of Asia

Incheon, Seoul’s Asian international airport is known to luggage taggers as ICN. I’ve been flying through Incheon regularly but only recently – thanks to a 12-hour overlay – did I notice how Korean it is!

What I love about Koreans is that they’re extreme about everything. They don’t do anything by halves. They’re not slackers. There’s no Korean equivalent for ‘whatever”.

When you see a KAL stewardess you’ll know exactly how God felt when He created the first

stewardess: extremely pleased with Himself. Everything came together just as He’d envisioned it: the scarf, hairdo, shoes, walk, even the rollons. All young. All pretty. They’re Divine.incheon airport

Overdone. you say? All the better for it, I reckon.

But I digree. Back at Incheon on a typically overcast Korean Fall day the biggest kick is watching ordinary Koreans be Korean. Korean kids, especially the small sizes, are – how shall I put this? – un-neglected. Korean little girls are totally little girls like the illustrations of little girls you see in glossy magazines. Skipping along with mothers, learning the finer points of window shopping, they give off that happy  vibe of “I am loved”.

But watch the older kids: when Korean children turn 7 the love doesn’t slacken but the demand skyrockets. I’m not talking just ‘expectations’ here. I’m talking huge demand for perfection from mom, dad, uncles and aunties, neighbors, and anxious friends – 24 hours a day. What sets Korean parents above even their Chinese counterparts is that they’re not directing their kids to be good, or outstanding, or the best that they can be. They’re directing them to be extreme, as in ‘fanatical’. Korean teachers joke that parents have only two grades: A+ and F.

Tear yourself away from your culture-watching for a while and you’ll notice that Seoul Incheon Airport is big, as befits a major Asian hub. Such a hub that even Thai Airways has given up flying nonstop to the USA: they fly through Seoul now, too. Happily, Incheon was designed to handle the current volume while still feeling uncrowded. The ceilings, for example, are a zillion feet above you and the concourses are wide and handsome. It’s not as warmly embracing as Singapore’s Changi, but it’s tasteful, well laid out, clearly signed, and has helpful information desks pretty much everywhere. The place is spotless and the bathrooms have the best toilet paper of any airport on earth. (I defy you to come up with a promotional slogan that highlights this subtle delight).

Another extreme touch is their approach to WiFi. 10 years ago Koreans asked themselves what kind of Internet speed might be humanly possible in 10 years – then they designed everything around that, developed their own fiber technology and, ta-da! Incheon has blazing fast wifi in every corner of the airport. You don’t have to sign in; it’s totally free.

Though I always intend to ‘get a lot done’ during international layovers, most airports’ cranky, grudging WiFi makes me give up in frustration. Not Incheon. You can instantaneously download huge video files, watch Internet movies all day without a glitch, or send off big files to clients anywhere. I enjoyed the experience so much that I actually published a new web page on my Thailand retirement site and wrote two blog articles…complete with graphics. Friends with fiber have told me how much it improves their productivity. Now I understand why.

A few parting words about eating at Incheon: eat classic, simple Western, or eat Korean. Don’t bother with the other cuisines like Chinese, Korean or Indian. Somehow they all come out tasting Korean. Here’s a video of Incheon airport that tells you something about how front-and-center Korea’s ancient culture is in Asia:

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