From refugees to artists: Busan's hilly Gamcheon village
Korea's second city has become known for its dazzling skyscrapers, film festival, and popular beaches, but Busan's hills are not to be missed. To the southwest of the trendy Haeundae district and the sights and smells of the old harbor's Jagalchi seafood market, the colorful 'village' of Gamcheon beckons with its maze of public art and narrow stepped-streets leading to pocket plazas and views of the sea.
The steep terrain was mostly uninhabited until refugees pouring into Busan during the Korean War (1950-1953) began to seek somewhere to call home. Followers of an indigenous religion, called Taegukdo, settled as well, and as they built, they made sure to not block anyone else's light or view. The result was a poor but vibrant neighborhood of stacked houses that has been compared to Rio's favelas, Greece's Santorini, and even Machu Picchu; due to its colors, Gamcheon has also earned the nickname "Lego village."
In recent years, artists have moved in, setting up impromptu galleries and installations in abandoned homes, along with boutiques and cafés. Photogenic murals and sculptures abound, but this is still very much a working neighborhood, where you may well come upon grandmothers washing vegetables in the street. Visitors are requested to keep their voices down, and to leave by dusk so that residents can enjoy a quiet evening...
(To get here, take the subway to Toseong station, then catch a 'maeul bus' in front of the PNU Cancer Center.)