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Autumn in Busan 2019: Making a return to Gamcheon Culture Village

Technically speaking, my first time in Busan was with my Wow Korea group back in 2016. I say that with reservations because it was a very very short trip; literally just one day as part of a road-trip to explore different parts of South Korea. Needless to say there was barely enough time to explore Busan to get a proper vibe of the place. We ended up visiting just one location while there and it made such an impression on me I really wanted to visit again on this trip with my cousins. And this why I once again found myself in Gamcheon Culture Village.

I have to admit, visiting Gamcheon Culture Village this time around with my cousins felt different. Last time, I visited this place with people I had met for the first time. It gave me a sense that I was seeing something new in solitude. With my cousins, we had a lot of fun just snapping pictures of each other, with each other, and trying to figure out how to shoot proper selfies with the view. It’s fair to say that visiting the same place with a different set of people will always create a different experience. It also helped that many of the installations were new to me.

Including this place in our itinerary was a bit of a challenge considering how scattered our chosen locations ended up being, but I think my cousins and I all agree that getting lost in this village was so much fun. People who have visited similar locations in Seoul (like the Ihwa Mural Village) probably have an idea what Gamcheon Culture Village is like. The only difference is, from what I have observed anyway, it seems like more effort has been made to make Gamcheon Culture Village look attractive compared to other similar locations.

Located on a mountain-side slope, the way the houses are colored and stacked reminds you a little of Santorini. In fact, with the way the houses are layered, some people have named this place the “Macchu Picchu of Busan”. For me, one of the nicest things about the Gamcheon Culture Village is actually the sight of these pastel-hued houses and taking them in as a whole with the mountains and waters in the distance.

Despite it being my second time here, it’s still hard to believe this actually used to be a slum area. It used to house poor families who had no place to go after the Korean War in the 1950’s. When more families came in, the village began to become more crowded and residents were forced to build upon their one-story houses to accommodate a growing population. Sadly, living conditions were bad and poverty was rampant here up until the 90’s, and it wasn’t until the government decided to revive the village in 2009 that Gamcheon Culture Village was born.

South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism began renovation efforts in the village, and in an effort to solicit active participation from their citizens, the government asked the country’s art community for ideas to beautify the houses and the neighborhood. Hand in hand with the residents who chose to stay, they repaired and have managed to maintain the decorated houses. They also added some establishments like cafes, museums, and small shops to give the village more of a “cultural hub” feel. And now it’s one of Busan’s most popular attractions. Deservedly so, methinks.

I certainly hope that the entire COVID situation hasn’t changed this village that much.

Understandably, a lot of people who weren’t very pleased with the idea of having tourists roaming around their place of residence opted to move away from this area. But since there are a lot of residents here still, it’s important to remember to observe etiquette and keep noise at a minimum. This is probably my most important personal reminder for anyone planning to visit Gamcheon Culture Village. Other than that, make sure to wear comfortable shoes so you can have fun exploring this place!

Climbing through the slopes, stairs, and alleyways of Gamcheon Culture Village has a way of triggering your adventurous spirit. You never know what to expect! Certain houses and alleyways will surprise you with a truly lovely mural painted on their walls. You could also turn the street and suddenly be met with a ‘The Little Prince’ themed art installation. This was definitely not here 3 years ago!

In fact, I feel like you’ll get to see more things if you decide to just walk without too much of a plan. Compared to my trip back in 2016, I had more time and freedom to wander around with my cousins this time. Let me show you some of the installations we got to see!

The Little Prince & Desert Fox [어린왕자와 사막여우] by Na In Ju [나인주]– The popular one everyone lines up for! Koreans have a special love for ‘The Little Prince’.

Fish in the Alley [골목을 누비는 물고기] by Jin Young-seop [진영섭]– A stunning piece that just livens up the area with its color.

Wriggling Village [꿈틀거리는 마을] by Sanbok Road Rennnaisance [산복도로 르네상스] — Represents the harmony of the houses in Gamcheon despite how densely packed they are. Don’t these leaning houses look like chitchatting friends?

A town where the rainbow blooms [무지개가 피어나는 마을] by Moon Byung-Tak [문병탁]– This one lights up at night. They used glass in the colors of the rainbow recycled by the villagers to build this.

Heroes of Gamcheon [감천의 영웅들] by Yu Eun-seok [유은석]– This one is meant to reflect that every member of the village is a hero in their own right.

The shadow of memories [추억의 그림자] by Moon Byung-Tak [문병탁]– Oh! I love the meaning behind this one. Aside from being a photo zone, you’ll notice that the figures lined up on the side of the road are of different sizes. This represents how those who grew up in Gamcheon Village have walked these familiar streets from childhood to adulthood and have become a permanent part of the village’s metaphorical landscape.

Gamcheon Sound [감천소리] by Woo Jing [우징]– One of my favorites. This was installed in 2017. I love that they chose to put it in this specific place, overlooking the colorful houses and the lovely Busan skyline, making it look as if the guitar is playing colorful music.

Gamcheon’s face [감천의 얼굴] by Kim Jong-seon [김종선]– A really meaningful piece. I read the dedication about this piece written by the creator and here’s a translation of it from the official Gamcheon Culture website:

It has been 60 years since I left my hometown and lived in Gamcheon during the Korean War… It wasn’t enough, but there were also simple happiness from the times we spent facing each other and leaning our shoulders. In addition to the image of Gamcheon people, village houses, alley stairs, village buses, and stars and moons in the Gamcheon night sky were put together to express a harmonious image. Because a village is a person and a person is a village.

White Rose [백장미] by Yoo Young-jin [유영진]– These flowers are meant to give this area a lovely aura.

Grandmother is more beautiful than flowers [꽃보다 우리할매] by Kim Lyangkyung [김량경]– An homage to every Gamcheon Village grandmother who has been supporting their families since Day 1. Another favorite because of the stunning and vibrant colors!

Golden Bandal Pass [금빛 반달고개] by Cho Sam [조샘]– This represents the village after sunset, sitting atop the three famous local mountains. Love how the sequins make the ground sparkle.

A house with dogs [멍멍이가 있는 집] by Byeon Daeyong [변대용]– This one is about strong family relationship and bond, as represented by the puppies.

Moving village [움직이는 마을] by Lee Changwoon [이창운]– These stacked houses represent the relationship of the villagers in Gamcheon Village. They lean on each other, forming deep relationships and connections.

If I talk about all the installations we came across, this post will probably take forever to write, so let’s end it here shall we? I honestly don’t know if all these installations will still be present once travel becomes freer (and safer) in the future. Nonetheless, I’ll leave the rest of the exploring to you!

To learn more about Gamcheon Culture Village, visit their website. If you want to see what else we were up to in Busan, check out the video below:

Other posts in the BUSAN AUTUMN 2019 SERIES:


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