I’m going to do this thing where I pretend like I’m a legit blogger instead of someone who writes on their dinky WordPress site using an app on their phone while laying in bed half asleep, and actually give you some FACTS about Gamcheon Culture Village. And by FACTS I mean various tidbits that I have collected from the Internet so that you don’t have to go Googlin’.
- This area only had around 20 houses pre-Korean War, but then once the war started, Busan became an area of refuge to many Koreans, and the hills of Gamcheon acquired about 4,000 of those refugees. Shanties were erected out of scraps and rock, and Gamcheon became synonymous with poverty and slums.
- Sometime in the mid-50s, Gamcheon was infiltrated by the Taegukdo religion, the leader of which helped them build up their shanties into better houses. But even as recently as the 90s*, this area was still considered to be the poorest part of Busan.
- SHUT UP, THE 90s WILL ALWAYS BE LIKE 5 YEARS AGO TO ME.
- Anyway, in 2009 some Korean tourism organization started panting over it like a mountainous slab of samgyeopsal and came up with the “Dreaming of Machu Picchu” project. Artists and residents teamed up and turned this town into the magical maze of art installations and culture that is now known for today.
GUYS DID I DO GOOD?!
All I knew about Gamcheon prior to visiting is that it’s a must-see in Busan and full of things I like: cafes, pretty views, and quirkiness. But I wondered how Chooch would like this place, since it seemed more geared toward touristy shopping and, you know, walking. When I was a kid, my family would go to Wildwood, NJ for vacation every summer which I loved because hello BEACH AND BOARDWALK. But there was always one day when we would take a daytrip to Cape May because my grandma loved it there and I absolutely hated it because it was so slow-paced and all we did was go in one boutique after the next and I didn’t care about that shit when I knew that there were RIDES WAITING FOR ME back in Wildwood.
Morey’s Piers for lyfe, yo.
But as it turns out, Gamcheon is pretty much a dreamland for people like Chooch who like to have something to work toward, a goal to achieve.
Because what I didn’t know about Gamcheon is that there is a sort of scavenger hunt you can partake in by stopping in the tourist center and getting a map. Hidden around the village are “stamping zones” where you go in with your map and have that certain spot stamped. I became immediately obsessed with this idea too and even backtracked to the entrance of the village because the first stamping location was in a small museum there and we had passed it up!
“We’ve been here for an hour and haven’t made it more than 100 yards yet,” Henry mumbled, because we totally pissed around when we first arrived, getting ice cream, waiting for Henry to find a bank, taking pictures at one of the photo points, waiting for Henry to find a map, buying dried flower tea from some old lady selling them next to her house, chasing a cat down an alley, waiting for Henry to stop yelling at us, buying postcards, and stopping at the Gamnae Cafe:
RUNNING MAN HAS BEEN THERE!!
I got a sweet potato latte and cherished every last drop of it while we kicked back and wrote out some postcards which sadly wouldn’t be mailed until we got back to Pittsburgh because we forgot to look for post offices in Busan and then the post offices in Seoul are closed on Saturdays! So, I was that totally That Person, sending international post cards from a post office five blocks away from my house in dumb Pittsburgh. Lame.
I know, I posted like ten rooftop shots in my last post about Gamcheon, but I was just so enamored by the colors!
In case anyone was wondering what Janna’s favorite picture of our vacation is, it’s this one. SHE TOLD ME SO ON INSTAGRAM AND ALSO IN REAL LIFE.
This is a really good example of what a lot of the alleys are like in Gamcheon. It was a breeding ground for sprained ankles. Surprisingly enough, Chooch only fell once, and it was UP a set of steps, thank god. I get jello-legs just thinking about him walking on steps, if we’re being honest.
One of my favorite things about Gamcheon is that you would find yourself wandering off the main road, into an alley full of residences* and then suddenly here’s a random room housing a confusing art installation. Mattress Factory vibes, for real, and you all know how much I love the Mattress Factory! This place was like walking through an artist’s dreamscape and I felt like a little kid again, all excited about what was going to appear next.
*(We were literally walking right open doors of peoples’ houses — there were signs posted everywhere reminding visitors that people do actually reside here and to be respectful and quiet; Chooch and I managed to keep our giddy braying to a minimum.)
Chooch loves posing for pictures on his own terms and this town provided him with so many opportunities! You think this post has a ton of pictures? You should see how many I didn’t post.
Before you raise hell about rude Americans being vandals, writing messages of peace on the wall of this little room was encouraged and markers were even provided! It was one of the hidden gallery-type spaces that we stumbled upon thanks to the map. (Finally, Henry got a map that worked.)
This room scared the shit out of me because those hands are motion-sensored and started clacking away when we walked in!
Imagine coming home drunk, though.
This is a picture of me with art in the back. In case you didn’t know.
Chooch’s review: “I really liked it there! I feel like it was my favorite place in Busan. My favorite part was following the map because it took us to really cool places like when we went through alleys and saw all of the cats and the scary motion-sensor typing thing. And ‘Henry’ couldn’t effing take it seriously and kept saying ‘shut up people live here’ and I was like ‘eff off mate.'”
We strongly considered visiting. Henry (and his lack of map-reading skills) was tearing us apart! But for the most part, our afternoon in Gamcheon was a good one…
…because Chooch was in control of the map. Henry didn’t know what to do with himself!
We made friends with two cute girls from Shanghai here after they asked me to take their picture. Henry thought it was SO FUNNY that everyday, someone was asking me to take their picture. I was once told I was stand-offish but clearly I’m not anymore. :/
Chooch was in his glory.
고양이! We followed this cat around for awhile and it was just the cutest thing ever and I want a Korean cat!!
I was obsessed with getting to this particular art installation because I had seen videos of it and Chooch was getting so annoyed with me because I kept trying to grab the map from him to see how close we were/if we missed it/if it even really existed. Finally we found it and he was like, “here’s your precious house thing” and I was convinced that it wasn’t it because it wasn’t moving and here that’s because IT WAS BROKEN.
Oh, I was so sad. But yeah, there’s a crank and if you turn it, the roofs will lift up and down.
This was inside a small market where we got the second to last stamp.
Cheetos chicken endorsed by Wanna One!
We made it all the way to end of the longest path in about 2 hours, I would say, and it was totally worth it. The weather was perfect that day and the town wasn’t oversaturated with tourists. Most of the time, it felt like we had the whole town to ourselves once we ventured away from the entrance. I suspect most of the people there that day eschewed the scavenger hunt portion of the Gamcheon experience. Their loss! This was such a highlight of the whole trip for me!
Anyway, once we made it to the bottom / end of the maze, we tortured ourselves by WALKING BACK UP TO THE ENTRANCE because we needed to catch that shuttle bus thing to take us back down the other side where the subway station was. It wasn’t so bad though because we just followed the main street back up to the top.
When Henry went inside the tourist center to inquire about the bus, Chooch slyly slid his completed, fully-stamped map on the counter and cleared his throat until the person working there noticed and gave him his reward of two free postcards.
Then we got street food!
I FINALLY GOT SSIAT HOTTEOK! So, “Ssi” means “seed” in Korean, and these Busan-specialty hotteok are prepared much like traditional Korean hotteok but THEN THEY ARE SLICED OPEN AND FILLED WITH A GENEROUS SCOOP OF SEEDS (pine, pumpkin and sunflower seeds). I had to wait quite a while for one because the ahjumma ahead of me had ordered like 10 of them. I really liked this lady a lot because some tourists tried to cut in front of me while I was waiting for my turn to order and she quickly scolded them. Then a group of school boys around Chooch’s age came walking by, as school was just letting out, and they very cheerfully and respectfully greeted her because she must be a popular fixture around Gamcheon, and I got so much joy out of listening to their interaction. She seemed like such a great lady!
And then finally, my ssiat hotteok was handed to me, piping hot in a paper cup, and I thought my eyes were going to roll back into my head. IT WAS SO GOOD. I wish I could hand them out to everyone reading this right now who has never experienced the tongue-burning glory that is hotteok. You can typically find them in the freezer section of your local Asian market but brother there is nothing better than being served one sizzling hot off a griddle-thing in Korea.
I probably ate more hotteok than anything else while we were there, now that I think about it.
Afterward, we caught the small bus at the entrance and survived a harrowing, careening recreation of a scene from Speed down the mountain. The bus was full so we had to stand and Chooch almost wound up in the laps of numerous ahjumma and at first I was annoyed by the driver’s recklessness until I caught a glimpse of him in the mirror and HE WAS SO FUCKING YOUNG AND CUTE.
And then we took the subway back to Busan Station, where we took the short walk to our hotel for the night. The next post will finally be about Gentle Monster!