Busan, the famous port of Korea and known for the annual film festival, offers a range of hiking and beach activities and of course seafood feast!
None of the above am I writing about today.
I was introduced to Gamcheon Art Village during a social event, and decided to make this place one of my to-dos during my recent trip to Korea.
After checking into the backpackers, I set off in search of my “Korean Santorini”. Apparently there are many nicknames to this place such as “Korea’s Machu Picchu” and “Lego Village”.
Due to the position of the village, it is virtually bathed in sunlight from sunrise to sunset. It was a pity that I visited in the monsoon season, and the sky was slightly overcast when I reached the village around 3pm.
I didn’t know where to start. Where’s the entrance?
Technically speaking, the experience starts right from the moment you alight from the bus. Be surprised by the wall murals in the alleys; meet the Little Prince near the top of the village; walk along the alleys and wander into art project houses; take an imaginary sip of aromatic coffee at the Book Cafe.
According to my friend, the Gamcheon Art Village is visited by mostly locals (for now), and indeed, even the area map (which comes with a free postcard) is in Korean, no hooray for folks like me who can’t read a single word :p
The pictures of the various art projects, paintings as well as the awesome arrows helped a lot.
A little sensitivity goes a long way
While the ramshackle alleyways and charming old-style homes are favored by visitors, the overwhelming influx of crowd especially during weekends and holidays has not been particularly welcomed by the locals. Please be mindful when you walk around and should you want to snap a picture that happens to capture the locals, please ask their permission before you do so.
How to get there:
Take the Busan subway Line 1 to Toseong Station, come out from exit 6 and turn right. Walk straight and you will see a hospital on your right. The bus stop is right in from of the hospital, take either mini bus 2 or 2-2. Alight at the top of the village, near a colorful elementary school. (I often have this question cause most directions end when you board the final leg of the journey, but I guess you can follow the crowd, and alight with the majority if you are going to a touristy place).
History (From Busanhaps.com)
Gamcheon has long been home to the city’s poorest residents. In the 1940s, only 20 or so houses dotted the hillside, but that number swelled dramatically at the beginning of the Korean War in 1950. War refugees fled their homes for the relative safety of Busan, the only area of the peninsula that remained free from fighting. Within a year, Busan’s population grew from 880,000 to 1.4 million people, and a half million homeless refugees needed a place to live–and fast. Approximately 4,000 people moved from the crowded port areas surrounding the Jagalchi Fish Market to nearby Gamcheon, erecting some 800 makeshift homes using scrap iron, wood and rocks.
Those shanty homes were built up into the brick-and-concrete Lego-like houses that you see today partially thanks to a man named Chol-je Cho. Cho founded Taegukdo, a religion that believes that the Taeguk, or yin and yang symbol, represents the true meaning of life and the universe. Practicing again after persecution and suppression during the Japanese occupation, Cho and his followers converted nearly 90 percent of the refugees living in Gamcheon with their gifts of rice and candy. With this help, residents were then able to funnel their earnings into rebuilding, and in 1955 the area became known as the Taeguk Village when Cho moved the religion’s headquarters there.
Although better established by the 1990s, Gamcheon and the Taeguk Village remained poorer than the rest of Busan, which busied itself by erecting skyscrapers and high-rises. In 2009, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism stepped in with the Dreaming of Machu Picchu in Busan project. Reparations were made, artists were hired to paint murals and 10 artworks were installed, some created with the assistance of the residents.
In 2010 the follow-up Miro Miro project saw the addition of 12 more works, including alley paintings and path markers perfectly suited to the project as miro means “maze” in Korean. These days, visitors can see trick art, sculpture, and even rooms or buildings remodeled around a singular art concept, such as the Book Cafe shaped like a giant coffee mug, or rooms interpreting themes such as “peace” or “darkness”.
The village was one of eight areas in the Asia region selected to receive the 2012 UN-HABITAT Asian Townscape Awards.