We had a five-hour stopover at Incheon International Airport in South Korea on our way back to Cebu last Saturday from Japan and yet I almost lost track of time. The reason? The airport hosts not one but three Korean Traditional Culture Zones, huge booths in between tourist duty free shops that introduce many aspects of Korea, from traditional crafts to music and other intangible aspects of its heritage.
I went to one of these zones and sat down on a long table to decorate a small jewelry box with the help of Korean lady in her twenties dressed in “chogori,” the traditional attire for women. As I was doing this, a female Korean artist was seated on a small stage nearby, playing a bamboo flute (I think it’s called a soguem) accompanied by pre-recorded drumming along a martial beat.
About an hour later, Koreans in various traditional attires started pouring in from out of nowhere. Apparently, they were gathering for a procession of sorts. As soon as they were complete, a procession did follow, accompanied by a wheeled sound system akin to those used during the local festivals. This was one of highlights of the cultural zones, where young people dressed themselves in the traditional attire of the kings and their retinue a thousand years or more ago.
The procession was a spectacle to behold, complete with props like lanterns and huge, colorful umbrellas amid a cacophony of cameras clicking here and there and passengers jostling about for position to pose with any of the characters before them. The announcer blurted out that the king and his consorts and officers were about to march through the “royal road,” which meant going around the entire airport, stopping for about 30 minutes at each of the three cultural zones.
These zones provide a glimpse of the best of Korean tradition. I was left to wonder whether these zones, or even one of them, could be replicated at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport. Imagine a heritage booth with our traditional crafts like “puso” and “hablon” being taught to passengers waiting for their flights. And suddenly you see the Rajah Humabon, dressed in finery and gold with his wife Humahay and their followers parading throughout the airport to the beat of bronze gongs!
These zones do not just teach traditional crafts, they also sell many of them especially ceramics, textiles, lacquerware and wood carvings. There were even modern hand-printed shirts from an internationally renowned Korean designer on sale. I can just imagine ours also selling traditional crafts side by side with Cebu’s world-famed furniture and haute couture products.
I must laud the Korean people on this achievement, succeeding in tweaking the identity of way stations like airports, hitherto called non-places because of their transitory character in the memory of those who pass through them. This is the kind of knowledge center that gives life to the otherwise monotonous existence of airports, seaports and train stations as drab structures of metal and glass.
Already some train stations are also investing on such knowledge centers, something that I saw at the huge ultramodern Kyoto Central Station, which hosts a small museum dedicated to the works of Tezaku Osamu, the Japanese manga artist whose most famous work is Astroboy.
Let me look forward one day then to seeing these knowledge centers perhaps at MCIAA or the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Perhaps it will help correct the image of being, for the latter that is, the worst airport in the world today.