Last week, I went to Busan and I visited a very popular tourist site called Gamcheon Culture Village. Gamcheon Village was originally a slum town on a hill that grew during the Korean War in the early 1950s. Many of the houses there are very, very small and the members of this town had little money and lived very difficult lives.
In the early twenty-first century, many people living in the town started leaving because of poverty and poor living conditions. With support from the government, artists used the empty houses and the village in general as an exhibition for their artwork. This drew tourists in flocks to see the newly beautified town. Coffee shops and restaurants sit invitingly at the front of the town and some novelty shops dot the landscape. Everywhere you look, there is a clever art piece, some of them big and attention-grabbing, others quietly hidden in corners like easter eggs. I had a lot of fun looking around the village with my friends and taking pictures of and with the beautiful art installations.
However, this gentrified town is not without disadvantages. My friends and I took a taxi to and from Gamcheon Culture Village, and both taxi drivers were interested in where we had come from and where we were going. When we mentioned the village, the drivers didn’t necessarily sound angry, but they expressed some dissatisfaction about the village. They felt that turning the village into a tourist spot was not respectful to its painful past, nor its present in which most of the villagers are elderly and have been living in the villages since it was still just a slum. They said that many of the people there are still poor and living in bad conditions, and the money made from the businesses there are not going towards the villagers, as they are owned by outsiders. Tourists are often loud and disruptive despite the village still being a place where people live, just like any other neighborhood. Although the village is now beautifully decorated and has greatly benefited financially from tourism, the complaints of the residents are still something to be acknowledged.
This experience made me feel the wide generation gap in Korea. Koreans my age generally acknowledge that they sometimes have difficulty connecting with their parents’ and grandparents’ generations because they are so different. This isn’t all that surprising: the political, economic, and social atmospheres that these generations grew up in are very different. Generational differences in their mindsets can be seen in situations like that of Gamcheon Cultural Village, where younger Koreans enjoy touring around and takes selfies with the artwork, while older Koreans express discomfort and unhappiness and feel that this kind of behavior is disrespectful and making light of the hardships experienced during the Korean War. There is no easy solution to disagreements like this, and I’ll be honest, I still shamelessly enjoyed taking photos and admiring the artwork with my friends at the village. I’m not sure whether that was the wrong thing to do, but there is no denying that the art scattered around the area is captivating. Now that Korea is a somewhat more stable and developed country, it will be interesting to see if future generations have a smaller gap than the current ones do.