Inchon's Chinatown, Past and Future

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Inchon's Chinatown, Past and Future

As one of Korea's main ports, Inchon has played a significant role in Korean history, and this is reflected in the city's architecture. Some 50 of the buildings in the Jung-gu district around Chinatown were built in Gothic or Renaissance style around the time when Inchon Port opened in the early 1900s. They can be found in the Chinatown subdistricts of Gwandong, Jungangdong, Sinpodong, Sinheungdong and Dapdong.

Of the structures, the best-prized by architectural experts are Dapdong Cathedral, the old Japanese 58 Bank building and Inchon Cultural Center (formerly the Jemulpogurakbu, a social club for foreigners). Dapdong Cathedral, originally built in a Gothic style as a single-story brick building in 1897, was rebuilt in a Romanesque style a few years later.

The 58 Bank was constructed between 1892 and 1894 by the Japanese, who brought over bricks from Japan to construct what is now Inchon's oldest Western-style building. It has a French Renaissance style wooden balcony on the second floor and its roof is covered in bronze layered to resemble fish scales.

Jemulpogurakbu was built in 1901 and was used as a social club by Americans, Germans, Japanese and Russians who visited Korea in the colonial period.

The city also features buildings representative of more modern styles as well, such as Hongyemun in Jayu Park, a house once owned by a Japanese man (now the City Library), Siwangjeon in Haewangsa, which is a Japanese style Buddhist temple, and the buildings that were once embassies.

Despite the area's colorful history, Chinatown has a relatively low profile today - something the city is trying to change. It hopes to make it a major tourist attraction in Korea.

According to city officials, Chinatown is to be designated a special sightseeing district and will be intensively developed. Hoping to take advantage of the opening of Incheon International Airport on Yeongjong Island in March - and the higher numbers of tourists that will pass through Inchon - the city will divide the area into four sections that will include a sightseeing and shopping street, an arts and crafts street, a flea market and - in line with the Chinese theme - Chinese stores, oriental medicine stores and Chinese karaoke bars.

In front of Chinatown's gateway i.Paeru,le there used to be a Chinese restaurant Gongwhachun where Korea's popular jjajangmyeon (noodle dishes with black bean sauce) was first made, but it has now closed. The Chinese restaurant Taehwawon ( www.chajangmyon.co.kr) is famous for vegetarian dishes. They are person- ally developed by the owner, Son Deok-jun, who boasts about the healthful quality of his special recipes adapted from the Taiwan cuisine. His noodle dishes were selected as Inchon city's representative.

The city also hopes the new development will boost trade between Korea and China. The development of the area is part of a larger plan to form a sightseeing belt linking Wolmi Island, Jayu Park, the city's wharves and Chinatown.

"We will do our best to make our Chinatown as famous as the one in New York," said Kim Hong-sub, mayor of the Jung-gu ward office in Inchon.

by Eum Tae-min

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