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The Olympic Park and Busan’s Seoul Complex

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A collection of sculptures found near BEXCO and the Museum of Art, Busan’s Olympic Sculpture Park pays homage to the city’s involvement in the 1988 Summer Olympics and provides a place to check out some bizarre modern artwork. We paid a short visit to the park after a day of shopping at Shinsegae.

Shape of Beauty

The massively successful 1988 Olympics were held in Seoul, but Busan’s Yachting Center hosted the sailing events. The Olympic Park commemorates the Games with an array of weird sculptures sporting names like “Organic Shelter” and “Life of Excrement” (seriously). It’s an interesting place and we enjoyed our walk through it, but what any of these works have to do with the Olympics is beyond me.

While trying to admire/understand the sculptures, I kept thinking of the inferiority complex that Busan suffers from. The second-biggest city in South Korea is constantly measuring itself against its big brother up north, and that’s a battle it’s always going to lose. I’m not sure why I was thinking about it here — maybe it was the environment; Shinsegae (the World’s Biggest Department Store, Guinness Certified!) and the Busan Cinema Center (the World’s Biggest Roof, Guinness Certified!) are right across the street from the Olympic Park, which itself is full of artwork that seems to be trying too hard.

I’ve lost track of how many bewildered Koreans have asked us why on Earth we would choose to stay in Busan for 91 days, as opposed to Seoul. “It makes no sense”. “This city is dull”. “91 days here?! You’ll be bored in a week.” And these are the people from Busan, some of whom have lived here their whole life. Never have we visited a place with such little pride. There’s a real sense among the people, and even somehow exuded by the city itself, that Busan isn’t good enough, because it’s not Seoul.

I feel like we have to keep cheering Busan up. “Come on, buddy, you’re a great city on your own! Look at all the incredible things we’ve done here! Do you think Münich wrings its hands because it’s not Berlin? No, Münich certainly does not! Does Chicago look wistfully at New York and think, ‘gosh, I’m no good’? Ha!”

“Now look at the mirror, and keep telling yourself that you’re beautiful until you believe it. Soon, you’ll see the amazing Busan that we’re witness to every single day.”

Location of the Olympic Park on our Map
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July 5, 2012 at 2:09 am Comments (0)

Jungang Park and the Chunghon Tower

Korea History

Set atop Daecheong Mountain, one of Busan’s most central peaks, Jungang Park offers visitors an unparalleled view over the city and its port. Inaugurated almost twenty years ago, the park and its crowning Chunghon Tower are dedicated to the memories of the service personnel who gave their lives in the Korean War.

Chunghon-Tower

During the war years, the slopes of Daecheong Mountain hosted many of the refugees who had flocked to Busan, fleeing the carnage in the north. The mountain was an ideal shelter for the newcomers, central enough to be practical, but also separated from the city’s regular life by its sheer altitude.

At the center of Jungang Park is the tall, circular Chunghon Tower. A long set of stone stairs leads up to it; around the tower’s base is a series of photographs detailing the atrocities of North Korea and the heroic deeds of the South. More than a bit propagandistic, but I suppose they earned the right. The tower itself is impressive for its size, if a little abstract. A statue, apparently of the policemen and soldiers whom the monument lionizes, was hidden behind a tarp for cleaning when we were there.

KNEX Flame
The, uh, Eternal Flame of Democracy!

Adjacent to Jungang Park is the enchantingly named Democracy Park. We visited on a Sunday and the park was filled with kids playing hide-and-seek, old ladies dancing and singing (for real), and groups of men engaged in games of Korean Chess. A bizarre set of sculptures decorate the park, along with a couple memorials dedicated to great moments in Korean Democracy, such as 1960’s uprising against the country’s corrupt government.

The centerpiece of Democracy Park is a large spiral-shaped building called the Memorial Hall. Out of its center rises the Democracy Flame, which looked to me like a semi-collapsed tower built of K’NEX; as though the kid building it had a moment of clumsiness, then couldn’t muster the energy to repair his creation. A subtle nod to the fragile, time-consuming and frustrating nature of democracy, so often abandoned? I doubt that’s what the artist had in mind, but the metaphor works.

Location of Chunghon Tower
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May 16, 2012 at 10:44 am Comment (1)