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A Favela in Korea @ Gamcheon Culture Village (Busan)

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“Dude, I went to this spot in Busan, and it was like the favelas… but in Korea.”

“Favelas like in Brazil? Fast and Furious 5 style?”

“Yea, except it’s all artsy and stuff.”


Favelas, for those who don’t know, are the slum settlements in Brazil. Their appearance is easy to distinguish: a vast network of small modest buildings tightly clustered together on a hill. Rio de Janeiro is home to some of Brazil’s more famous favelas, and a few were featured in the movie City of God.

Hearing about a “favela” type place in Korea came as a huge surprise. It seemed that kind of architecture would never fit in with Korea’s standard cityscapes. I voiced my doubts and my friend then added:

“It was the most non-Korean place I’d been to in Korea.”

Okay, I’m sold.

Nothing makes for a more relaxing sight than pastel coloring. Welcoming our first view of the village was row upon row of delightfully mismatched houses in a wash of light blues, pinks, and greens. Gaining a higher vantage point, we could see the entire village span the surrounding hills in a fat U formation. Among the wash of squat houses, we could pick out some taller, more modern looking buildings. They were the hospitals, churches, and schools of this scant but vibrant community.

The fun part begins when you actually try to navigate the village. Not far past the entrance began the most intricate network of narrow alleys and steep stairs I’ve ever walked through. Everyone who lived here seemed to know exactly where they were going. We on the other hand, never got that tour. Keeping to a gameplan of taking one alley at a time and retracing our steps, we got by pretty well for about 5 minutes. One wrong turn however…

Oh well, fuck it. Let’s just get lost!

I’d like to think we got the special “natives only” tour that day. Instead of staying in the village, we somehow wandered into the hills that surrounded it. From our remote vantage point, we now saw the village through a fuller, more complete view. A newly paved road formed a ring around the old village. Shiny cars, now somehow foreign looking, were carving their way along the perimeter. It seemed like the modern was slowly flooding out the old. Somewhat disenchanted, I turned my gaze towards something else, and found a sight that made me smile. Past the paved road were layer upon layer of small crop fields, forming a farmland on the hills themselves. Villagers were bent to the simple task of cultivating and living off the land, paying no attention to anything that existed outside of their farm, and their village.

The culture, the vibe, seemed restored.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Chanel @ La Viajera Morena December 30, 2012 at 5:04 pm

That sort of reminds me of Mokpo in the south of South Korea. Nice photos/story 😀


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