It’s interesting to see how a fresh coat of paint and a few art installations can change perspective. Gamcheon Culture Village, in Busan (Phusan), attempts a heady mix of both. The history of Gamcheon Village is as eclectic as the village itself. The village was founded by followers of the Taegeukdo faith in the early 1900s. Keeping in line with the tenets of Taegeukdo, houses are stacked parallel to each other, on separate tiers so that no house obstructs another. After the war, in the mid fifties, the conditions of the village deteriorated. In 2009, the local government, in a bid to boost tourism, invited artists to give the village an artistic facelift. While most of its chequered history remains buried beneath vibrant murals and abstract art exhibits; tourists don’t seem to mind the parody the village has become today.
To get to the village, we boarded a local bus, one that manoeuvres itself through hairpin curves over a steep hill. Basil had a tough time trying to bend his head and avoid bumping into co-passengers. As luck would have it, it started to pour the minute we stepped-off the bus. While Basil went in search of umbrellas (tops our list of Korean souvenirs), I tried to enjoy the panoramic view ahead, amidst bobbing heads and selfie obsessed tourists.
The main entrance to the village is few metres away from the Hanadoegi Photo Zone. The local office sells tourist maps and postcards.
To make the trail fun, you can get your booklet stamped at popular landmarks. Initially, we tried to stick to the trail. I tried to be enthusiastic and stamp as many landmarks as I could. But, the combination of rain and tourists eventually dampened my enthusiasm.
Some of the exhibits seemed otherworldly. For example, the exhibit of ‘bird men’ was a strange interpretation of freedom and flight.
People were there everywhere, making it difficult to click photographs without them in it. I’ve never understood the need to pose with an exhibit.
Although, Gamcheon might seem like a photographer’s paradise, there are limitations to what you can click. Villagers still live in some of the houses and their privacy is fiercely guarded. Most of them are beyond tourists’ radar and if you do mistakenly click a photo, you might have to delete it. That’s what makes Gamcheon a paradox of sorts. Neither is it a boho-chic neighbourhood, nor is it a village that echoes any of its past history.
We love wall murals and mixed media installations. That’s what made us want to visit Gamcheon. So, I wasn’t exactly complaining when we got to see giant displays of art.
I’m not sure why, but having a political head of state visiting a tourist place gives it a stamp of recognition. We’ve seen it in Xi’an (China) before and Gamcheon had its very own ambassador.
One of the few images of what life was back then – shortly after the war. Towards the end of the trail, it gets quieter and if you wander enough, you might spot some of the older houses.
The rain was annoying and this cat didn’t seem to enjoy it either. The trail can get confusing and eventually, we lost our way. Most of the alleys after the main exit were empty. A girl showed us the route to get back to (another) the bus-stand. This time, we took another bus (don’t remember the number) which reached us pretty fast to the subway.
Subway: Line 1 to Toseongdong Station. Take exit 6 and walk towards the slope. It’s confusing and you might have to ask around.
Bus: Bus Nos: 1-1, 2 or 2-2 opp the local hospital