A City You Meet by walking its streets and crossing its bridges
Busan. Frequently referred to as 'the second-largest city in South Korea' but these words don’t do the city justice. Of course, when it comes to objective data like population or the size of the economy, the description is true, but it would be regretful to leave the city's description at that single sentence, as Busan has its own unique culture. That uniqueness only grows in the oldest parts of the city. This is why one should walk through the streets and cross bridges to take a true look at Busan.
Travel into layers of time
The oldest and most cultural area of Busan is surely Bosu-dong
A very old story that started during the time of the Korean War is continuing today.
For the longest time, Busan served more as an industrial city than a travel destination. It is a port city that leads to the Pacific Ocean, so from long ago, the city was always first to experience new things, and South Korea's shipments for export always found themselves there. Therefore, whenever broadcasting stations needed video footage for trade-related issues, Busan would usually be their top pick. From the time shortly after the Korean War when the country was desperate to sell all that it could until now, when South Korea's BTS is being compared to the Beatles, South Korea's economic ebb and flow has been measurable through the shipments that pass through Busan.
This location where the real economy could be seen is now transforming into a tourist spot. This is largely thanks to the fact that the content Busan has to offer is now in its prime. Perhaps it is because of this, visitors to Busan make a beeline for the crowded alleys of Bosu-dong. There, a very old story that started during the time of the Korean War is continuing today.
Bosu-dong is located close to Nampo-dong, the center of old downtown Busan, and Busan's biggest fish market, Jagalchi Market. Just across the way is Gukje Market, the name of which is shared by a Korean movie that attracted more than 10 million moviegoers. The convenient location is helpful for visitors planning their itineraries. Just because these tourist spots are nestled close by does not mean they are similar to one another. Nampo-dong has stores with long histories as well as franchise shops while Jagalchi Market and Gukje Market have all you can imagine. However, Bosu-dong has something these locations do not. Secondhand books.
Bosu-dong Bookstore Alley Culture Center
Views from the alleys of Bosu-dong
Secondhand books have been bought and sold in Bosu-dong since the Korean War. Overwhelmed by the military forces from North Korea, Busan became the South's temporary capital and those who had fled to the port city scrambled to make ends meet. One married couple who had brought their belongings from South Hamkyong Province in the North started selling used magazines in Bosu-dong, and others who wished to sell their books started gathering.
There were students among the war-stricken in Busan. Students of all ages listened to classes under tents. Moreover, what they needed most was books. The number of bookstores in Bosu-dong jumped sharply. The bookstore alley that had formed also became an important location to the artists who had gathered in Busan. Through the magazines and other content acquired from U.S. military forces, they were exposed to culture and information they had not been able to access before. Bosu-dong thrived into the 1980s.
However, as it entered the 1990s, demand for secondhand books eked out. There were other ways for people to access content and people were reading fewer books. To overcome this lull in business, the shop owners who had defended their spots for more than 30 years took a different approach. In addition to selling used books, they started hosting a variety of different events like music performances, book readings and photo exhibitions in Bosu-dong. It was in a way, an expression of pride by those who were doing business in the oldest and most cultural part of Busan.
People started coming back to Bosu-dong to observe these new events and realized the stores themselves were unique locations to seek out, as they had stood the test of time. Eventually, Bosu-dong Bookstore Alley became the tourist location it is today, with more people visiting and more stores to accommodate them like craft shops, photography studios and calligraphy studios.
A photo studio inside Bosu-dong Bookstore Alley (left), the exterior of Nangdok Seojeom Sijip (right)
Of course, the secondhand bookstores of yore are still carrying out their roles. In the case of stores that specialize in antique books, some of them have books very difficult to find elsewhere. Those who have stayed in Bosu-dong for a long time say some books that are better-deemed treasure than antiques often change hands in the neighborhood. This is why it is not a strange thing to find elderly men walking the streets of Bosu-dong with a careful look in their eyes, as if they are on an expedition.
One special experience one can have in Bosu-dong is seeking out past books that they loved. Photographer Yoon Gwang-jun's A Well Taken Photograph (Woongjin.com) is one of the books that can easily be found in Bosu-dong. Yoon was very popular when the digital camera was in vogue. Today, smartphone camera users easily outnumber digital camera users, but the act of taking photographs is the same, so the book's content is still valid to many.
The books most loved in Bosu-dong would be book sets for children. Especially the Why (Yerimdang) series, Magic Thousand Character Classic (Owl Book) and The Surviving Series (Mirae&Iseum). These books usually make visiting families stop in their tracks, according to the shop owners there. Thanks to books like these, the alleys are usually crowded with all sorts of different people. The popularity can also be attributed to the patience of those who stood guard in the town for decades, and the history of the area itself.
In search of a different Busan within Busan
Huinnyeoul Culture Village of Yeongdo, as beautiful as waves sparkling under the sun
The creations of artists have seeped into the everyday lives of residents there.
Even those familiar with most of Busan's must-visit locations might find Yeongdo unfamiliar. Mention Taejongdae and Sinseondae, they may strike a note of recognition, but it is rare finding someone who knows Yeongdo very well where these two vantage spots lie.
Yeong-do consists of Busan's old city center and a bridge, spanning 12 square kilometers. From a long time ago, the location was home to shipbuilders and machinery shops building or repairing ships and boats. Most Busan residents view Yeongdo as a rundown location within the city due to the haphazard residences and streets that were created by Jeju residents who fled the island during the Jeju Uprising that began on April 3, 1948, and other mainlanders who were fleeing the fallout from the Korean War. This location, which was artificially and naturally created at the same time, is now being sought out by tourists.
Yeongdo's most famous location would be the Jeoryeong walkway. The walkway sprawls along the coastline, enabling visitors to experience Busan's blue beaches up close, and stairs that lead from the walkway offer entry into the Huinnyeoul Culture Village.
Views of Huinnyeoul Culture Village
The village was named after the streams flowing from the highest peak in Yeong-do, Bongrae Mountain, which reminded people of snow. In spite of its poetic name, the village found itself in a swift decline, as quickly as it had been established.
Houses were abandoned, and a chaotic air took hold of the village. In 2011, changes started taking place. Abandoned houses were remodeled and rented to regional artists. The work by the artists seeped into the lives of the existing residents of the village, and surprising changes occurred. The aged history of the village and new inspirations from the artists created an unprecedented light that was as brilliant and bright as ocean waves under the sun.
Stories about the village can be found in detail inside Lee Bo-ra's novel Huinnyeoul Road (Cheongeo). In the novel are illustrated the stories of conflict and reconciliation of the residents of Busan and Yeongdo, who can be found in Jagalchi Market, Yeongdo Bridge, Huinnyeoul Village and Bongrae Mountain. The depictions are so alive that readers can feel they are there with the characters. The CEO of Busan Bus Tour Son Min-soo is known for his expertise introduces locations throughout Busan including Huinnyeoul Village in his book Sanbok Road Ibagu (Indie Paper), giving readers a taste of the 'real Busan'. The book is chock full of information rarely found in other travel books on the city, making it a must-read for those planning to visit Busan.
Cafes are the perfect locations to settle down with a good book. In addition, there is no shortage of nice cafes in Yeongdo. One downside would be that the cafes are too nice, making it difficult for patrons to concentrate on their books.
Views beyond imagination
The wonderful locations throughout Busan are as unique as the books
located in the independent publishers that can be found there.
When one hears the name 'Sinki Saneop', one can easily imagine a loud, steely noise echoing through a dark area, like a factory. Moreover, if that name is accompanied by the information that it is located in Yeongdo, one's imagination is reinforced with the thought that whatever the name is for, it probably is not very large. However, after a persistent hike up a hill, a wonderful cafe comes into view, where visitors can see the ocean and all of Busan beyond it.
The view through the large windows of Cafe Sinki is quite dramatic. Sitting inside the cafe with a cup of coffee sitting in front of you with no thoughts running through your mind might be the best experience during your trip to Busan and Yeongdo.
Sinki Saneop began as a company making bells. It expanded its business to include steel office goods and currently, it creates goods that use the images of famous illustration characters like Moomin and Miffy. Cafe Sinki was initially planned for company workers only, but word got out about the view from the café, and non-company workers started visiting. So many sought out the cafe that it was eventually opened to the public. Due to this, the location is now a landmark for not only Yeongdo but Busan after opening its doors in 2016.
The company's store in front of the cafe is where visitors can browse through the company's goods as well as books. The place was formerly a residential house, and its unique book selections are enough to pique anyone's interest. Books from independent publishers like UU Press (www.facebook.com/uupress) and Itta (itta.co.kr) form a curious harmony within the store.
The interior and exterior of Cafe Sinki
Books from independent publishers can also be found elsewhere. Since 2016 in Yeongdo, the 'From the Makers Art Book Fair' is held annually, with the focus on independent publishing. Publications from independent publishers inside and outside South Korea can be found there, in addition to personnel from independent publishers in Busan. Authors who write a variety of books appear at the fair to speak to readers. The location is 178 Bongraenaru-ro, Yeongdo-gu. This year, it was held on Aug. 24 to 25 from 3 pm to 9 pm with no entrance fee. Those who missed the event this year can find information on it and independent publishing at the official website (fromthemakers.kr).
Another unique location is Kangkangee Art Village. Kangkangee Art Village refers to the Daepeyongdong area where ship repair shops were clustered together. The name is an onomatopoeia of the sound of hammers on steel at the shops. This area was home to the first powerboat in South Korea. Now, it has been colored over, and the village creates new content under a new name, Kangkangee Art Village.
The industrial zone, which could have easily stayed drab, is colorful and draws visitors and tourists. The boats used for art village tours have also been painted in all sorts of colors, increasing the fun for partakers. One location in particular inside the art village called etc. is a symbolic location, currently operating as a studio/cafe transformed from its former self as a repair warehouse.
The cafe is tucked away between ship repair shops and stands out like a sore thumb. Its location makes it seem like an island in the middle of the sea, but it is because of this that the cafe is so popular. People seek out the uniqueness amid the cacophony and the antique items being sold inside the cafe reflect its identity. Time at etc. and Kangkangee Art Village flows differently although it doesn't have a foreign atmosphere. Rather, it strengthens the atmosphere it lives within. One is reminded of the strength that spaces can have when visiting Kangkangee Art Village.
Back across the bridge, into the village of liberal arts
A liberal arts bookstore for young adults, Indigo Seowon is one of Busan's sources of pride
after it was built to provide a space for youths to study liberal arts.
One of the roads that lead to Haeundae, Namcheondong, was one of Busan's representative well-to-do neighborhoods. The neighborhood was popular because of its location close to Haeundae Beach and its large apartment complexes, but now that crown has been passed onto Haeundae. However, a source of pride still lies within Namcheongdong. That would be Indigo Seowon, a liberal arts bookstore. It's one of a kind, with few like it in South Korea.
Indigo Seowon first opened in September 2004. The creator of the bookstore, Heo A-ram had been operating an essay writing cram school nearby the bookstore's current location. After realizing there was a need for a space for Korean youths to study liberal arts, Heo designed the bookstore personally. Heo was later awarded the Korea Youth Award, usually given to those who bring about positive change in South Korean society.
At first, the bookstore mainly had books for adolescents, but today on the first floor are books for elementary school students and the second floor are filled with books for older youths. Heo said the bookstore was created with hopes that a good society could be created if children approached books freely from a young age. Those hopes were recorded in books published by Indigo Seowon. Owner of Destiny, Captain of the Soul (Indigo Seowon) is a record of heated discussions that were held inside the beautiful bookstore. This I Believe In (Indigo Seowon) is about stories and beliefs of the children, office workers, homemakers and other ordinary people who met books and the world at the bookstore. A publication for youths on liberal arts called INDIGOing has stories on today's generation and society told from the viewpoints of adolescents through a liberal arts lens.
The bookstore also recommends good books for reading. In the case of August, the bookstore's recommendations included Kind Discrimination (Changbi), which delves into how people take privilege as a given and justify discrimination and how we can resolve this. Chang Kang-myoung's novel The Alive (Minumsa) which addresses labor in South Korea and economic issues was also on the list along with Walk Through Northern Europe Liberal Arts (Miraebook), which takes a look at northern Europe through a liberal arts point of view. Other picks can be found on the bookstore's website (www.indigoground.net).
The bookstore dreams of becoming a location where deliberations and discussions can be held, beyond its current role where people buy books. This is why it was named 'seowon', and one would do well in heeding advice to set aside enough time to visit the store.
The interior and exterior of Indigo Seowon
As mentioned above, Busan is too big a city to be confined to just the term, 'second largest city in South Korea'. Extensive stories that cannot be found elsewhere and unimaginably wonderful changes are taking place even today. A visit to Busan is warranted should one wish to find new culture in a familiar city.
Written by Jeong Hwanjeong