After a night of rest and a strong coffee in the morning to melt the discontent with our run-in with the law the evening before, my friend and I set out on a long bus ride from Haeundae 해운대 to Gamcheon Cultural Village 감천문화마을.
The bus ride took us past the ports and Chinatown and through more impoverished areas of Busan 부산시, some in the mists of being torn down to make way for new affluent high rises. Our destination was Gamcheon Village. What was once was a poor village filled with impoverished people forcefully relocated by Busan’s government in the 1920s and refugees of the Taegeukdo religion fleeing persecution and war between North and South Korea in the 50s. What was once a shantytown is now a thriving tourist town coated in murals and bright colors. If you look hard enough, the poverty is still there, hidden down the winding alleyways of the village. In partnership with the community of Gamcheon, the City of Busan transformed this impoverished area into Korea’s first mural village. The revitalization through beautification was done to attract tourists hoping that locales could make money off of food stalls and cafes. The beautification worked,
Gamcheon Village is the Cinque Terra of Korea, attracting tourists across the globe to pose for selfies in this village overlooking the sea.
Like the other villages I had been in before, Gamecheon is still very much lived in. People still live in poverty here next to their neighbors, who have thrived from the tourism (and gentrification) the murals have brought to the village. This village is truly picturesque. We laked around for several hours before finding a café (Duf cafe) to refuel at before we hopped back on the bus to check out Chinatown and the Kakao store.
Chinatown is something you may expect to only exist in the western world, but the truth is during war, famine, economic downturn, and oppression, refugees seek any place to call home that will have them. They congregate together for protection building a community that helps to keep the loneliness at bay.
Across from Chinatown is Texas Street. A street that was built to pay homage to the United States but is filled with seedy bars and clubs around every corner. It feels befitting that Texas Street looks like a red light district with western and Los Vegas-themed clubs. To an outsider, America may seem like a place without worries where’s there’s a party around every corner. It’s always fascinating to see how others perceive your culture when you travel abroad.
We wandered through the shopping district to the Kakao store. Kakao is a telecommunications company that Koreans use to call and message each other. Kakao has its own credit card, digital wallet, taxi service, maps, and the platform provides ways for you to shop at your favorite companies all through one app. During Covid, it has worked closely with the Korean Government using QR codes and now proof of vaccination QR codes for contact tracing at every place you walk into. Part of the draw to Kakao is the cartoon characters that they have created, “Kakao and Friends.” Everyone in Korea has a favorite character, and many collect special edition plushies that can only be purchased in certain cities. My friend and I decided it was time to join the club though it was for more practical reasons. I have been having on and off insomnia which is worst on the weekends when I travel (4-5hrs max per night). A close friend suggested that I get stuffed animals to sleep with, so it gives me the at-home safe feeling when I travel. Unable to decide between Jordy, the dinosaur, or Choonsik, the cat who only eats sweet potatoes, I got both!
From the Kakao store, we went back to Shinsage and Lotte department stores where I found Two pus size stores and a puma store that carried shoes in my size. If you never have trouble finding your size when you shop, I can’t explain how good it feels when you do. My friend was treating me like a queen handling all the clothes I was choosing to try on. I could have cried with joy when I found shoes and jeans that fit. The lady at the puma store gave me free socks when I told her that was the first store that carried my size 10W that I could find in Korea. She was so lovely.
After our successful shopping trip, we caught Chinatow lit up after the sun went down, and headed back to our hotel to get fancy for a nice meal.
Curfew being two hours away, we took a chance on a restaurant, 빈끌로, that we had walked by earlier that looked pricy but served wine and steak. As we walked upstairs to the restaurant, we didn’t know what to expect it to be as fancy and classy as it was. Every detail about this restaurant made me feel like I was royalty. From the custom cocktails to dinner made to order behind the bar to our goofy and lovable waiter who was helping his friend because the owner was on holiday, this was an experience worth every penny.
The cocktails used all tea-infused liquors, savory seafood Gambas, and Barbecue braised octopus with carrot puree dinner was delectable. Every bite was infused with flavor that filled both my senses and my belly.
Leaving the restaurant, I felt like I had been to a spa fully relaxed and rejuvenated; we went for more cream, which was beyond Good. Vanilla covered in salted dark chocolate it was the perfect complement to dinner.
Feeling relaxed, full, and cute, we had to get selfies to commemorate our girl’s night, so we ducked into one of the many foot booth shops that lined the streets to pose for the camera and have a souvenir of a night to remember.
After two full days of exploring, we got a slow start to the day, so we decided to stop in for a breakfast buffet at a fancy hotel to fill our tummies before we stopped at the Busan Museum of Art and hopped on the bus home (I also ended up at Museum DAH) since my bus left later)
Busan was everything I needed after months of being unable to enjoy shopping and nightlife. It was rejuvenating, exciting, and full of adventure around every corner, yet the more I look back on the weekend, the more I can’t shake the feeling of being unwelcome in a place. The run-in with the police has left this bad test in my mouth that I hope the next few months in Korea can help me shake.
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