Art is Better in the Rain – Back to Busan Day 2

One of my favorite places in South Korea is a neighborhood that can be found in Busan, Gamcheon Cultural Village. I went to this place a year ago at the end of my trip to Busan, but did not plan for enough time to really enjoy it. This time, I planned to get there early enough in the day where I could really explore this neighborhood, and not worry about having to get back before it got too dark outside. I am glad that I planned for this because it made for a really fun day in an artistic corner of this otherwise very serious part of the world.

Gamcheon was built during the Korean War. Many people flocked to this corner of the country to escape the turmoil that was happening further north. The people of Busan put together this concrete village so the people would have some place to live, and the houses that are stacked on top of one another with tiny pathways in-between them still exist in this part of the city. When the war wore down and people could return to their normal lives, the village still existed, a mass of grey concrete that became a sore sight for the people of Busan. It remained this way until the art department of a local college saw something different in the village, and they brought paint, and art supplies to turn it into South Korea’s largest art project. People still live in the tiny buildings, but many of them have been turned into an expression of someone’s creativity, and what was once bland and boring is now a pastel masterpiece that draws many crowds.

Normally the little side streets are packed with people looking around to try and catch what they hope would be the perfect picture in this place, but a constant drizzle kept many of them away on this Saturday. It made for the perfect time to go and explore this place. Yes, it is neat to see all of these things without having to worry about getting wet, but the art seems to hold more significance when a cloud hangs over it all. Art was never born in a moment of happiness. All the best art comes from those moments that we are struggling against nature somehow, and the rain just added to this expression.

It also took away from the long lines of people waiting to get their picture at some of the more famous 3D art pieces that can be found around every turn. The art turns into something that you can appreciate when you do not have to fight with other cameramen as you try to look on to what could be something great. You also don’t have to feel bad that somebody else is waiting for you to get out of the way so they could have their 30 seconds with the piece of art. Because of the rain, we were able to laugh and really enjoy the art the way I think it was meant to be enjoyed.

It is a great experience to have a part of town like this to yourself. It makes the day contemplative instead of touristy, and I have to thank the rain for this experience. It is not everyday that this gets to happen, so the next time that I start to think that I should stay inside to avoid getting a little wet when there is an opportunity to see something great, I am going to take that chance and go out in the rain. I will get to have the place more to myself, and really get to experience the place the way it was meant to be experienced.

Escape – Back to Busan Day 1

Okay, I usually do not post things that are inappropriate, but this person I saw on the subway in Seoul the other day represents the way I feel about this big city right now. This guy on the subway and pushed his way through the people so he could position himself in a prime spot. I probably wouldn’t have noticed him because this happens all of the time in South Korea, but his coat brushed up against my hand, and I couldn’t believe that I had felt a fur coat in this day and age. But there it was, and when I saw what was printed on the back of it, I had to chuckle. I do not know if the guy knew what it said, or believed the sentiment. But he did pull out a fan, so he could cool himself off as he took the train back to his neighborhood. He was basically just trying to look good in front of a bunch of strangers. Why else would he show off the amount of money he was willing to blow on a coat that he could have easily taken off to cool down. He also wanted to highlight the fact that he was able to wear the trendy English that is all the rage in Seoul right now. I just shook my head at the absurdity, and realized that I needed to get out of town before the never-stop pace consumed me.

Luckily, there is a city a short two hour train away that has a completely different vibe to it, Busan. I was also given a couple of days off in order to celebrate an American holiday, Thanksgiving. I took this opportunity to get away from the I need to look good, I need to show off my money, and I need to make mark on society attitude that permeates through Seoul. Busan has a feeling to it that is more like a beach. If it happens today that is great, but eventually we will get around to it. In the meantime, let us enjoy the moment.

I am not quite sure if this is always the case here, but both times I have been down here, I have felt like this was the case. I instantly felt it when I got on the subway. Whereas, just two days earlier, I was pushed out of the way by some guy wearing an expensive coat that expressed how much he loved people, I was greeted by a Korean wearing a worn-down hoodie and greeting smile. People are not in a rush here. They are not trying to show everybody how great they are, or how much money they make. My sanity needed this change of attitude, and it allowed me to enjoy Black Friday the way that I know how, ignoring the shoppers, and eating at as many establishments as I can find.

Busan does not really buy into this crazy shopping day anyway, but I feel like I took something back from a society that demands that I spend money to make other people happy. I would rather get together with my friends and enjoy good beer and good food. The best way to do this if you do not have a stove big enough to cook a turkey in, or live in a culture that doesn’t even really sell turkeys in the market anyway is to hop from restaurant to restaurant, grabbing a bite to eat in each one. It allowed me to feel that there are more important things in this world than having a look that makes everybody turn their attention over to me. It is not about what others think about me, but instead of what I think about the moment, and I am going to make sure that it is a great one.

The Other Side of Korea

I have now spent over two years living in Korea, and during that time, I have spent most of it in Seoul. In fact, I have rarely voyaged out of the main city to see what other things that this country has to offer. I have often thought of Korea as just Seoul,  the capital city filled with intense people that push and shove their way through life to get everything they want. After living here for that long, I have gotten into the groove of this hustle and bustle. I even started to wonder if there were any people in this country that wanted to slow down to experience life at a different pace. That was until I made my way down to Busan.

First of all, let’s get the big question out of the way. Yes, that Busan, the one made famous by the zombie movie released a couple of years ago. And yes, I did take the train to get down there, but I did not witness any zombies during the long voyage, unless you count the people who could barely keep their eyes open as they were gently rocked to sleep in a train car that had the heat up way too high. But it was a great symbol of the change in attitude that happened as we traveled through the rocky landscape of South Korea. The intensity of Seoul start to shed away with each kilometer we ticked away on the tracks until we arrived in the more laid back atmosphere of Busan.

Busan did not feel the pain and destruction caused by the north during the 1950s war. Because of this, there is more of a sense of history about the place. It has been able to hold on to the Korean culture a little more, and is more willing to share it with the world. It might have just been the fact that we stuck to more of the touristy locations while we were down there, and I live more in the suburb of Seoul, but I felt like I saw a bigger blend of cultures in this town than what I experience in Seoul. I think because of this more tolerant climate it has created a community that does not care as much about their appearance and the pursuit of success. People tend to enjoy themselves more because of this. I found myself not stressing out about the worries I had in life and was able to partake in the culture there.

Some of this might have to do with the many expansive beaches hugging the edge of the city. We spent our first day strolling along these. I have been told that Korean people will not visit the beaches after a certain day in the summer, but I found this not to be the case. Even though, they were not overcrowded with people looking for a spot to sunbathe, there were still many people enjoying the views. They just were not getting in the water, but I couldn’t blame them because it was only in the 50s.

The beaches are not the only feature in Busan worth checking out. Many people flock to the outskirts to see the impressive Haedong Yonggungsa temple. This is one of the more ancient structures still standing in Korea. It was built in 1376 and still serves many Buddhists that live in the area. The temple sits on a cliff looking out to the sea. We needed to cross over a bridge to see the massive Buddha built in the trees just above the temple. If you do visit, you need to stop on the bridge and look down to see two stone bowls place in nice pools next to a couple of intricate statues. If you can toss a coin into one of the bowls, you will be granted good luck. Many people gather at the edge of the bridge to try to get that luck granted from this experience.

Even though the temple was a great experience, it was the Gancheon Cultural village I enjoyed the most. The village was originally built during the Korean War as a place where refugees from the north could find safety and get a respite from the troubles they were experiencing. When you wander through its steep steps and narrow alleys, you can see this. It remained an eyesore in the middle of town until 2009 when students decided to spruce it up with a paint job. In Korea, this usually means grey, white or black, but these art students took a different route by supplying it with bright pastel colors, and hiding little interesting pieces of artwork throughout its windy paths. It is a fun part of any trip to Busan, and one that I would highly recommend. We waited until late afternoon to go and visit, but I would recommend spending the better part of a day down here because it doesn’t matter where you go around the place, you’ll find something interesting to see.

I am glad that I finally made it out of the big city to go and see another of Korea’s big cities. Even though Busan still packs over 3 million people in its borders, it definitely has a smaller town feel to it, and I was able to find a heart to Korea that goes beyond the Kpop and fashion world of Seoul. It quickly became my favorite place in Korea, and if you make a voyage out to this part of the world, it is worth the stay.