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Munhyeon-Dong Inner Town

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Every once in awhile, we’ll choose a city excursion that’s a little off-the-wall, like an unknown neighborhood that doesn’t ever see tourists, picked almost at random. Often, these end up being among our favorite spots: Barracas in Buenos Aires comes to mind, as does Pampahasi in Bolivia. Other times… well other times, we end up in a place like Munhyeon-dong.


We had read about a project in Munhyeon-dong Inner Town which sought to redefine one of Busan’s most economically depressed areas using the transformative power of art. 47 murals were painted on the neighborhood’s houses, supposedly rejuvenating the area. The project won the Korean Public Design Grand Prize in 2008 and sounded similar to the open air art project in Gamcheon, which we really liked. Plus, it was in an area of the city which we hadn’t yet seen. Gotta be a winner!

Getting off the bus in Munhyeon, we started asking around how to get to the Inner Town project, receiving nothing but bewildered glares in response. We showed some pictures of the art we’d pulled off the internet, but nobody could help us. A feeling of defeat started to sink in; when residents don’t even recognize the art their neighborhood is supposedly famed for, it can’t be good.

We persevered and eventually found a woman who recognized one of the murals, and pointed up an insanely steep hill. This was during the midst of the summer monsoon season and though the rain had paused, the sun was strong and humidity nearly unbearable. By the time we reached the Inner Town, we were soaked in sweat. We realized almost immediately that this had been a wasted of effort. Munhyeon-dong is little more than a ghetto of cheap housing and their “art project” looked as though a group of moderately talented twelve-year-old kids had finally gotten their parents’ permission to draw on the sides of buildings.

Still, it wasn’t entirely a wash. The art wasn’t any good, but from up high there was a great view over the city. We could see Busan Port, the tower in Democracy Park and the Diamond Bridge. Even so, Munhyeon-dong Inner Town isn’t one of the essential experiences in Busan.

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July 25, 2012 at 5:15 am Comments (3)

South American Flair in Gamcheon

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A trip to the Gamcheon Culture Village was one of the stranger excursions we’ve undertaken during our time in South Korea. This neighborhood in the west of Busan has dedicated itself to art, with murals, sculptures and installations that occupy entire houses. Visitors are taken on a tour which snakes through narrow alleys and ends at an observation deck with an amazing view over the city.


During our day in Gamcheon, we felt transported back to our months in South America. Walking through this section of town, which is set high on a hill overlooking the city, reminded us of exploring La Paz, in Bolivia. The steep inclines, humble housing, complicated and constricted alleys, and gangs of noisy kids monitoring us… yeah, this could have been the La Paz neighborhood of J’acha Kollo.

One big difference between Gamcheon and La Paz was the colorfully painted houses and community emphasis on art. In this aspect, it was reminiscent of La Boca, in Buenos Aires: another rough-and-tumble neighborhood which turned itself into a sort of open-air art installation. La Boca was a heavily immigrant community, while Gamcheon was populated with refugees from the Korean War. In both cases, historically marginalized groups came together to improve their lot through art.

Furthering the South American connection, Gamcheon Culture Village has decided to refer to itself as the Machu Picchu of Busan. The similarities to La Paz and Boca were clear enough, but Machu Picchu? I didn’t see that at all.

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The artwork in Gamcheon interesting, if a little too modern… the rooms of the Light House, for example, are full of stuffed animals which represent (I’m paraphrasing from memory, here) “the birth of man and his continuing journey surrounded by family, and dreams”. Something like that. But I really liked the Mirror Wall, which is a mural that reflects the other side of the street. When you stand in the right spot, it’s like holding a mirror up to the city.

Upon arriving, we were met by a neighborhood representative who provided us with a map and a mission: collect seven stamps from the various installations, to win a couple free postcards. Arrows painted on the sides of the houses led us through Gamcheon, past embankments which boasted incredible views over the port, and into the art houses. Honestly, the artwork was secondary; we had a blast just walking around.

If you’re looking for something different to do in Busan, you can’t go wrong with Gamcheon Culture Village. To get there, take the Orange Line to Toseong-Dong, then grab Bus 1-1, 2, or 2-1 in front of the Busan Cancer Clinic. Regardless of how much you appreciate modern art, the neighborhood is worth a look.

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June 19, 2012 at 11:36 pm Comment (1)
Munhyeon-Dong Inner Town Every once in awhile, we'll choose a city excursion that's a little off-the-wall, like an unknown neighborhood that doesn't ever see tourists, picked almost at random. Often, these end up being among our favorite spots: Barracas in Buenos Aires comes to mind, as does Pampahasi in Bolivia. Other times... well other times, we end up in a place like Munhyeon-dong.
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