Gimpo Airport Station presented a rather expected problem, namely, as an airport, there’s not much walking around you can do, and the local topography is limited mostly to three things: big buildings, big roads, and big parking lots.
Coming out of Exit 4, I was presented with the latter – an enormous spread of asphalt that reminded me of life back in the U.S., where some parking lots could seemingly command their own zip code. Encircling half of the lot here was a line of taxis leading up to the Domestic Terminal (국내선터미널). The drivers waiting their turn would stop their cars and get out and talk with their fellow drivers, and then, after several cabs at the front of the line had picked up passengers and departed, they’d all climb back in their vehicles, start them up, and move them forward about ten meters before turning them off, getting out, and starting the process all over again.
I looped around the parking lot toward the domestic terminal, finding it curious how quiet it was. Gimpo isn’t the busiest airport in the world, but I had expected the occasional roar of an arriving or departing plane, which I wasn’t hearing. This odd quiet held until a nearby traffic light changed from red to green and buses and cars came roaring by on the six-lane road running in front of Domestic. Then the light changed back to red and all was quiet again.
Inside, the first floor of the domestic terminal had the slightly bored, slightly resigned feeling that small airports often do, the knowledge that their trip is a small one and that there are more exciting places to go seeming to infect everyone there. A drama was playing on the TVs in the waiting area, but most travelers were ignoring it, choosing instead to gaze at their smartphones or laptops. Nearby, a trio of young guys slurped up 4,500 won ramen at the snack bar, a criminal price if ever I’ve seen one.
Upstairs to departures. Passengers rolled luggage across the hallway; pretty flight attendants, their hair pulled severely back, quick-stepped to their planes; a Buddhist nun in gray robes checked her luggage; and police with snub-nosed guns slung over their shoulders walked casually by. It was all getting my feet itchy, as airports always do, even if the prospective trip was only to Daegu or Jeju.
Along with the restaurants and convenience stores selling last minute supplies, the departure lounge of the domestic terminal also had an art shop selling paintings, some of them huge, and sculptures, including one of a five-foot high eagle perched on a twisted branch, wings spread out behind him. Of course something like this can be shipped to the purchaser, but it nevertheless seemed an odd thing to pick up at an airport.
Leaving domestic, I walked past the taxi drivers trying to direct me to their cab and through the parking lot, where a worker was pushing a long chain of baggage carriers like shopping carts at a grocery store. A pair of young kids had hopped on a couple of these, using them to get a ride from their parents. There was also a car decorated in pink ribbons and fake plastic flowers, presumably waiting for its owners to return from their honeymoon.
From domestic I went over to Exit 3, which will drop you off just outside the giant tuna can of the new Lotte Complex, which contains the entire range of Lotte branches: department store, hotel, cinema. It was crazy busy inside – a line for coffee at one café ran 20 deep – way more than I would have expected it to be that far out on the edge of the city; but then again, maybe that was the reason: there really isn’t anything similar in that part of town.
The complex was what you’d expect from a Lotte complex so, not really feeling the need to spend much time there and being a bit annoyed with the crowds, I headed back outside. Fortunately for anyone feeling the same compulsion, there’s a park that runs around the back of the complex, though it’s still a work in progress. The sodding has not fully grown in and was, at present, laid across the ground like bathroom tile, small square tufts of brown grass separated by thin lines of dirt. Directly in back of the complex is a skating rink, though this too had not been completed. The rink itself was covered in black plastic sheeting, and the wooden deck surrounding it was uncompleted, hundreds of screws scattered over the wooden planks.
On one side of the rink were some walking paths running between a variety of sculptures in different styles – cartoons, a large blue man and woman holding a white ball, and bronzes of kids playing leapfrog, tiptoeing across a log, and hanging on a fire hydrant. The other side of the rink featured a windmill, a large playground, and two not-yet ponds. One was lined with fake pink and white flamingos, its empty basin revealing the piping for what will be a rather elaborate fountain. The other was done in the style of a traditional Korean garden, complete with overlooking pavilion. The overall effect of this mishmash is of a park designed by committee, as if the people in charge couldn’t make up their minds about anything and just said ‘yes’ to everything.
Finally, I made my way to Gimpo’s International Terminal (국제선터미널), which is closest to Exit 2, but which is reached from the station much more easily by the underground passageway. Once South Korea’s main airport, Gimpo has of course been supplanted by Incheon, and nowadays the international terminal here handles flights only to China and Japan, the departure board listing only Osaka, Haneda, and Hongqiao as destinations on the evening I visited. To me it actually felt quieter than the domestic terminal, perhaps because, while Gimpo is now only a secondary international terminal, its domestic terminal is still the primary one for intra-Korea flights.
In addition to the flights you can also visit the outlet mall and CGV theater connected to the terminal. Given that the majority of arrivals here are coming from China and Japan, much of the shopping is targeted at visitors from those countries, and, accordingly, the Hallyu card is played pretty heavily. Girls’ Generation, T-ARA, Won Bin, and the gang are splashed across large advertisements promoting both products and tourism to the overseas visitors. In the large plaza upstairs, the corner opposite the CGV is dedicated to life-size cutouts of B2ST, G.Na, and 4 Minute, and as I was hanging out I watched a middle-aged Chinese man saunter over with his friend to pose for some stiff and very awkward looking photos with the girls. I suppose, though, that by maintaining a dour expression he can still plausibly claim that the pics are for his kids.
Domestic Terminal (국내선터미널)
Lotte Complex and Park
International Terminal (국제선터미널)
Exit 2 or underground passage
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