Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Barely Busan: Culture and Art immersion trip to Gamcheon Village

a photo spot entitled "Becoming One" near the bus stop overlooking Gamcheon Culture Village
A village like no other we've ever seen before. Said to be Korea's Santorini, Machu Picchu, and Lego village with its colorful houses, interesting art installations as well as rich history, this destination appealed to me. The village also known as Taegeukdo Village  was a must in our Busan itinerary. We spent an afternoon in the village but a whole day can also be allotted specially if you want to take your time to have a leisurely walk and admire each and every art work and exhibit area in the village.

Going to Gamcheon Culture Village, we headed back to Jagalchi Station the following day and took a bus going up to the village which was located on a hill. The only indication we had of the bus stop was Gamcheon Elementary School and the approximate travel time so we were always on the look out. It also helped that some of the people in the bus were tourists and were getting off in the same stop as we were.
To explore The Village one must wear comfy walking footwear and have a great sense of adventure. The tourist information centre at the entrance of the village provides a map (2,000 won) for those who would like to challenge themselves and go on an Amazing Race-like adventure so that was where we headed after having a glimpse of the village at the Village Entrance Photo Zone ("Being One" art exhibit). I told the boys about our "treasure hunting" adventure and Ira couldn't wait to start looking for the mystery locations.
entitled "Fish in alleys" by Jin Young Seob - "an expression of the village path where communication and interaction is formed among the villagers"
Equipped with the village map, we walked around in search of nine places within the village and earned visitation stamps as we found each of them. Wooden fishes seen all over the village were supposed to guide us to where the mystery places were.
here we go!
Before losing ourselves in the village, I've actually searched for the nine places in our map and circled each of them for easy navigation. I've read that it could take three hours (even more if one gets lost) to complete the task. The list of mystery places were not arranged according to how far they were from the village entrance so I thought marking them in the map could give us a better idea of our bearing before we ventured into our Gamcheon Village adventure. I think it gave us an advantage knowing which places we would be passing by first (or so I thought).
First place we got our stamp from was the Little Museum. It was located closest to the main entrance and along the main street (that's already one location-hunting tip for you!) so it was the easiest to find.
People and birds by Jeon Young Jin
happy to have found the places and put a stamps on our map

After getting our map stamped at the Haneul Maru we received a postcard reward. We were given a few designs to choose from, all of which were photos taken within the village. We opted for the one which has the view of the colorful houses in the village. It was a difficult decision because all of the designs were good. If only we could have all of them!
Haneul Maru houses an exhibit of village info materials and has a rooftop used as an observatory. We walked up to the rooftop and were rewarded by a fantastic view of the village. We stayed there for a while until other visitors arrived. One of them, an older South Korean man, approached us. He was friendly, spoke good English and readily shared stories of how his ancestors came to the village after the war - their struggles and the way of life of people back then. We couldn't have been more grateful for this encounter with this nice man who shared with us a part of his personal family history. He wished us well in our last day in Busan and we bid our goodbyes.
the perfect place to see the village from the top
at one point the wooden fish signs pointed to opposite directions
As we continued our hunt for the remaining places we realized that the first few wooden fish signs proved to be reliable guides but as we walked deeper into the village it got a bit confusing. Take for example the photo above. Some of the wooden fish signs pointed to the left while the others pointed to the right. We had to refer to our map and see what places we've already covered and taken stamps from to "guess" which fish signs to follow. Depending on which direction you come from and heading to, these fishes could actually lead you to getting your next stamp. We actually did quite well in the first hour because we've already found half of the places in the list. We were looking at finishing way ahead of time (estimated time to complete the task was 3hrs).

Looking for the last few places was more challenging as they were tucked deep within the village that we had to go up and down the same staircase in the same alley several times before we figured out which was the right turn to take.
our little man was on a mission: to bring our family to the final location
Ira: I'm pretty sure it's that way
steep staircases led us up and down the village, passing through narrow alleyways
something is definitely up these steps
how wonderful it was to get lost in this beautiful village with art works popping in left and right
sometimes we had to squeeze in to these very narrow alleyways
Exploring the village was like going on another maze run (like what we did in Jeju's Gimnyeong Maze Park). But this one had more character and color and history and covers a whole lot more area. We've walked up and down the staircases in maze-like village paths. We had to remember that this was an inhabited village and we had to keep the noise level down even if dogs were already barking or charging at us! It was an adrenalin rush walking into this historical village, not knowing what we would be encountering.

photos in no particular order... this was where we started to lose our sense of direction
encountering this tiny but fierce dog along the steps didn't help at all
Along the way we feasted our eyes with various art works and interestingly designs of and paintings on houses. It was difficult to choose which art installations were our favorites.
"Tree" by Kim Sang Ho - concentric circles in different colors and sizes
symbolizing village residents with different stories and variety of expressions.
Tourists starting arriving as we walked into the village and we had to wait for a few minutes for them to clear the area to be able to take a photo in this spot. Below were some of the other interesting art installations we saw around the village:
scooter boy here was a crowd favotire, just next to the Little Prince

the little prince and the dessert fox by Na In Ju. A famous photo spot for visitors.
It was said that "the duo departed from the stars and came to Gamcheon Culture Village,
stopped during their journey and sat on the banisters to look down on the village".


Lighthouse in the middle of Gamcheon Village
Provides a full panorcamic view of the village
a view of the village from different angles from various spots
In one of the street corners in the village, we saw this stall which sold Korean street food (you wouldn't be missing it as it's located on the main street). It looked like pancake with some fillings and it smelled good. Ira wanted to try it out so we queued and watched as the street vendor cooked up our first hotteok. When Ira saw that a mix of seeds was part of the ingredients he almost backed out but the inviting aroma of the pancake whet his appetite.

While waiting for the hotteok, we saw (again) the tourist from Shanghai (Bridgette, if my memory serves me right). We saw her the other day during our Taejongdae Park visit and by the village entrance. She has a bubbly personality and was quite friendly. She did mention she had been to Singapore a few years ago and may visit again sometime soon. We exchanged stories about the other places in South Korea and other countries we've visited (unfortunately, I forgot to swap Facebook details or emails with her) and then were on our separate ways. We bumped into her several other times in the village that Ira suspected she was actually following us! Hahaha. We told him that maybe she was stalking him.

Here were some of the photos of hotteok tasting and our encounter with the tourist from Shanghai:

self-service payment system: money goes into the bucket.
Customers have to be honest in making the right payment and getting the correct change.
time to pay
happy with his Hotteok (Seed Korean pan cake)
Behind the hotteok stall was a shop selling trinkets like leather and bead bracelets and dream-catchers. All of us had the same thing in mind when we saw the beautifully-made dream-catchers - Twilight! Yeah, we were big fans and thought of buying one. It was just a thought though. A photo was good enough.
a nice dream-catcher
Aside from hundreds of outdoor art around the village, we also visited some of the indoor exhibits - some of which were listed in the mystery hunt map.
"an imagery of a hand typing away on a computer keyboard to illustrate how people
in the modern society are occupied with repetitive work"
Found it! Dark House - Constellations by Son Mong Ju
One of the nine mystery places to look for - the 2nd in the list
inside the Dark House
"within a dark space, light conflicts with darkness, but the two coexists within that single space.
The coexisting light and darkness resembles the constellations in the sky"

Kelvin was amused to see the old version of a handphone and other telecommunication gadgets

House of Wind by Park Tae Hong
"wires are used to express wind currents and the mirrors hung with different angles 
allow the viewer to look at their inner selves"
5th mystery place: House of Peace - Room of Plates / Moon Room by Jeong Hee Wook
"Gamcheon is a village established as a result of the Korean War. For such reason, the village wished to promote the will of a peaceful nation and prosperity of mankind."

Photo Gallery by Kim Hong Hee
an exhibition of photography taken by visitors and residents....and sadly, illegal graffiti

We were more than excited, and privileged, to write something on the walls of this abandoned-house-turned-into-gallery. Good thing I had some pens in hand. It would have been better if we had a permanent marker though. Visitors like us got to participate in the creation of art in this part of the village. How cool is that!
Gamcheon Graffiti Gallery - leaving our permanent mark (legally!) in this historical village

Our Village Gamcheon by Jin Young Seob
"the many houses which look similar but are different resemble people,
and we can sense a feeling of unity within diversity"
After spending two and a half hours at the village, admiring the views of the village and being amazed by innumerable creative works of art, we were just left with the Community Center Gam-neh-eo-ul-teo to look for. We were hopeful and couldn't wait to get our final postcard. Unfortunately, we got lost somewhere in the village even after asking for directions from some of the residents. Then it started to rain - heavily. We didn't have any umbrellas with us so we had to look for shelter. We found ourselves with other tourists who seem to have lost their way, too. Some of them still had a lot of places with no stamps, surprisingly, because they were already at the far end of the village. We tried to give some of them directions back to the village leading them to the closest place in the map but it was a bit of a challenge considering we weren't speaking the same language.

We realized the rain wasn't going to stop anytime soon. When it subsided, we decided to walk under the rain, taking shelter from some of the houses and shops we passed by. It turned out we were already "out of range" since we couldn't see where we were at the map. There was no way we were going to find the last place in that weather. Although I could pin point in the map where our final destination was, getting to it proved to be a challenge since we didn't know exactly where we were. We were wondering how we could have gotten lost just like that when we were in the heart of the village a few minutes back. We checked our watches and it was almost 5pm. We would have to leave the village by then. We decided we had to make our way to the main road and just head back to Jagalchi, giving up on the hunt, even though it pains us to go home unsuccessful.

It was very disappointing not to be able to finish the challenge knowing we did very well in the beginning. We bought ourselves umbrellas in one of the shops (thank goodness they were selling them) and looked for the way to the main road. Hunt was over, at least on this trip. We will be coming back to finally be able to complete the list and claim our final post card. We will be more experienced then. Maybe we could even beat our time. Till then we have to just take good care of the memorabilia (post cards, map, pictures) and treasure the memories and the adventure we've had at Gamcheon Village.

Travel tips:
  • Directions: Go to Jagalchi Station and take exit 1. Wait for bus number 2 or 2-2 in front of GS25 shop. Get off at Gamcheon Elementary School stop (approximately 20mins travel time).
  • Opening hours: 9am to 5pm
  • Buy the map and challenge yourselves to a treasure hunt! (2,000 won)
  • Bring an umbrella (even during summer) in case it rains
  • Have a good sense of direction and lots of patience. You will get lost, trust me.

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