Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Taegeukdo Gamcheon Village

The following morning, we started our tour at Taegeukdo Village. Located in the Gamcheon neighborhood of Busan, this community developed when around 4,000 followers of the Taegeukdo religion became refugees during the Korean war and settled here. Over 800 cube-like shacks were erected upon the steep hillside, virtually stacked one on top of each other. Photos in one building showed how shanty-like this poor village appeared during the Korean War. Encouraged by the leader of the Taegeukdo religion, the religious refugees began building the concrete homes seen today. Most of the homes are painted in rather bright colors; blue is the dominant roof color. On top of the flat roofs, water holding tanks were a common sight. Occasionally, one spotted a few older residents (only about 10,000 remain here, down from double that amount in the 1980s) working in tiny gardens. Kimchi pots with rocks on top of the lids were a rather common sight; flower pots and lines of laundry added a bit of color.
Book-themed stairway

Visitors (there were quite a few of them on this day) were free to wander through the narrow alleys and steep steps. Many were on a quest to get the “passport” on their map of the village all completed with the requisite stamps from various locations within the village. Some of the homes and surroundings were theme-based, such as the spotted cow, optical illusion, and books homes. Brightly painted wooden plaques in crude fish shapes pointed visitors to some of the more popular locations. A large mural of these fish plaques were assembled in a large mural near the entrance of the village where small shops selling snacks were located. Visitors were taking “selfies” or photos of acquaintances everywhere, sometimes stopping every few feet. Walking further, the harbor of Busan appeared beyond the hill, along with a view of a few high-rise apartments nestled amongst more matchbook-like homes. The city of Busan continues its work to transform the village into a popular tourist site, making it into an artsy area with galleries, book caf├ęs and other cultural facilities. Murals and other public artwork can be seen throughout the village. Visitors are reminded though that it still is a place where people live, and thus they should be respectful of noise levels, where they are trampling around, and keeping things clean.  Although bathed in sunlight throughout much of the day, I think its nickname of “Korea’s Santorini” is a bit of a stretch. Nonetheless, it can be an enjoyable visit.

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