Scene Unseen: This Traveler’s Experience of ‘The Unseen Korea’

“Ah look: a temple.” “Yep must be Asia, I guess… South Korea”

In the brief time I’ve been here in Korea I’ve begun to notice the picture my friends and family back home have of Korea is that it’s all bright lights, neon signs and temples, lot of temples. For example the one above is the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple (해동 용궁사) or the Dragon Gate Temple as I was told it translates roughly to by my bosses husband who showed us around. No, you aren’t wrong about any of those things we have them here in abundance. On my way to school I can take a wrong turn and end up in a neon sign temple… Although that may be a love motel but that’s a story for another time. However, there is so much more to see and do here, even in Busan alone there are more tourist attractions than you can shake a stick at! Not that I’m implying you, dear reader, go around shaking sticks at tourist attractions and the likes. Busan has even made it onto the Huffington Post list of ’15 Places to Go Before They Get Famous’, which if you give such articles credence is a big compliment to the city.

“But Emmet, we’ve seen all this sort of stuff before! Have you sold us the false promise of lesser known attractions of Forn Parts?” And to this I can hold my head high and say: I have not tried to cash in on the usual empty promise of something “unseen” and show you a part of Korea that not only are you unlikely to have seen but are also unlikely to expect.

Emma is smiling because you may be struggling with believing this picture was taken in Korea


This picture shows us the Gamcheon Cultural Village here in Busan which features a number of unusual buildings including the two you can see to the left of the center background that are designed to look like a white mug and a red lighthouse. This village was built during the Korean War when refugees from other parts of Korea flocked to Busan where the threat of fighting was far lower than the rest of the peninsula and so it began its life as somewhat of a slum as the refugees settled on a hillside close to the fish-monger district of Jagalchi.

“I see…But what is it?” “It’s art, you uncultured swine!” “You don’t know either it seems”

The village as it now stands is a colorful ramshackle of building crowding together to bath in the sunlight which lasts almost all day! We Irish, however, were lathered in sun lotion as our countenances are rather more sensitive to the harsh rays than the buildings and their residents.

As you travel through the narrow streets you follow arrows depicted as fish which lead the way to the art installations which have been housed in some of the empty buildings.These works of modern, contemporary art are a deliberate juxtaposition installed when the government decided to open the streets of Gamcheon as a cultural village. It is important to note that this didn’t come without a lot of grumbling from local residents who were loath to be looked upon as some kind of quaint token of poverty-stricken art-installations and as such some streets are off-limits to tourists and have signs asking for quiet so as not to disturb the inhabitants. I think this is rather a fair request from those who do not want to be a tourist attraction and wish to remain undisturbed by noisy wanderers.

There is also a trail you can follow around the village using your guide map on which you collect stamps from each of the buildings of note to show you’ve seen the whole place. Although, in typical fashion, Emma and I only discovered this on our way out of the maze of buildings.

Scene Unseen: This Traveler's Experience of 'The Unseen Korea'

“Did we just accidentally go hiking? Cuz I’m telling people we went hiking”

After we left the village we stumbled upon a hiking park just outside the gates and decided to explore in search for the “Sculpture Park” which we assumed would have all manner of lewd statues, because, well, sometimes our Westerner roots put strange ideas into our heads about what societies on this side of the world make statues of.

Sadly, we never managed to quite find our way to this park and so it shall have to remain in our imaginations as a shining stone conference of smutty statues. What we found instead was a long walk and some sore feet as neither of us had worn footwear appropriate for walking uphill and downhill like the men of that grand old Duke of York in search of the promised statue garden.

So you see, Korea is not just a country hundreds of temples all boasting the birth of some religious figure or other nor a Neon Republic of bright lights and big cities. As this single example has shown there is definitely more to this scene that that which we are used to seeing or hearing about. There is a veritable cache of historical sights to be seen.

So if you are planning a trip to visit, which I hope at least one of you readers are, there is much more here to be seen through the telephoto lens.

And hey, if you get here soon you can be one of those to follow the HuffPost’s advice and get in before the floodgates open and the trove has been picked clean of all the original photos to post on Instagram!

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