Gamcheon Culture Village

On our recent trip to Busan, one of our major highlights was the Gamcheon Culture Village. The village is also known as the Taegeuk Village. The pastel-coloured hillside village was originally home to poor refugees during the Korean war. Now it is just a place some locals call home but is rated one of the top spots to visit in Busan

There are many places around Korea where people have tried to uplift the poorer communities by painting murals and having different quirky artworks. This attracts tourists and allows the residents to sell things and start small businesses. It seems to work really well and we have seen other examples of this at the Ihwa Mural Village in Seoul and a village in Jeonju. 

When we arrived, there was a vibrant atmosphere and a few small tents set up. We didn't realize that there was a festival going on. Tents spread along the main road selling food and offering opportunities to make various Korean traditional crafts. Despite the festival, it wasn't too crowded and due to all the alleyways, there was plenty of space for everyone. 

A fun thing to do is to buy the village map at the entrance (2000won) and try collect the 9 stamps that can be found at various locations around the village. Once you get all the stamps, you get some free postcards. This kept Dean busy while I was snapping away. There are some great view points where you can look over the hill and in the distance you can see the Busan harbour. 

It was so fun taking all the colourful pictures and walking the small alleys. It's more interested to step off the main paths where you can see how people really live and how they are just going about their daily lives. You are allowed to walk anyway as long as you aren't too obtrusive. 

When you're in Busan, be sure to visit the Gamcheon Culture Village, you won't regret it. 

How to get there

Take subway like 1 (the red line) and get off at Toseong station. Take exit 6, turn right at the corner and walk to the bus stop. From there you can catch a small shuttle bus (bus 2 or 2-2), which will drop you at the Gamcheon entrance. 

A Korean wedding experience

A few weekends ago, Dean and I attended the wedding of one of my colleagues. I didn't ever expect to go to a wedding while living in Korea for a year, but I am so pleased I got to have the really interesting cultural experience. Korean weddings are completely different from western weddings and I think I was constantly surprised. Here are some key differences and observances about Korean weddings:

1. Weddings take place in a Wedding Hall (or palace)

These "halls" are large multistory buildings where the wedding ceremony and reception take place. There isn't just one wedding taking place, in fact there are many. There are many ceremony rooms for the different wedding parties. When we walked into the building there were hundreds and hundreds of people. You have to check the reception to see where the wedding you are attending is taking place. There are 7 of these "halls" in Jeonju, doesn't offer much choice then.

2. The Bride's Room

Before you enter the ceremony room, you go via the Bride's Room. Here, the bride is waiting to greet the guests and take a photo. Obviously this is really different to western weddings where no one sees the bride before the ceremony. 

3. Wedding gifts

It is customary to give money as a gift. The money should be in a white envelope and it is given to cover the cost of food at the reception. After you give your envelope you are given a meal voucher for the buffet reception.

4. The ceremony

The actual ceremony was so interesting. It was set in a dark room with many multi-color lights and flashing screen pictures. Depending on whether you are a guest of the bride or groom, you sit on a different side of the room. I can't say exactly what went on in the ceremony as I can't understand Korean. There was a lady who kept ushering the bride and groom around telling them what to do. The groom and the groom's friend also sang which was cool because they had good voices. The most bizarre thing is that most people don't even sit but hover around at the back. Guests didn't seem to even listen to the ceremony, rather talking loudly and even making phone calls!! After the ceremony (and even during it), guests leave and head to the reception. 

5. The reception

At the reception, there is a huge buffet and the guests from all the weddings (so hundreds of people). It is so crowded and you have to try find an empty table. You obviously end up sitting next to random guests from other weddings. The food though is unlimited and was really delicious. There was even unlimited beer and soju.

6. Wedding attire

The bride doesn't have a custom dress designed but rather rents a dress and shoes too. The dress for the ceremony is a typical looking white dress. During the reception, the bride and groom change into Hanbok (Korean traditional clothes), and walk around and greet their guests. As far as the guest attire goes, the range was huge. Some of the older people wore Hanbok, while others were smartly dressed and a few really casual. The guests dress code is definitely not as fancy as for a western wedding. 

So there you have it. Korean weddings are definitely an interesting experience and I am glad I got to have this cultural experience.

The unexpected aspects of Korea

We have now reached our 6 month mark in Korea and it seems crazy that time has gone so fast and we are now heading “downhill”. It definitely makes us think that we still have a lot of things we want to do before we leave and I’m sure the last few months will fly. So now that we have been in Korea for a substantial amount of time, it got me thinking about the things we have come to find ‘normal’ in Korea and some things that no one tells you before you come.

These first 5 points were difficult for us to get used to and contributed to our homesickness after we had been here a while.

  1. English is not as wide-spoken as you may think. Unless you are in a very big city, it is unlikely a lot of people can speak English. This shocked us when we first arrived as we live in a city but the majority of people here cannot speak English (making shopping and other day to day activities rather interesting).
  2. People stare! I guess the locals in our area have become accustomed to seeing a large crowd of westerners now. But, if you go to smaller towns, or even when we go walking in our nearby forest, Korean people are not shy to stop and stare at you (literally). You will often hear them whisper the word ‘waygookin’ (meaning foreigner) even in the supermarket.
  3. The culture can be difficult. I truly didn’t realize people could be so different and have such different view before I moved to Korea. There are things that happen every day to remind you how different things are.  Random men (and women too) have often said ‘you’re so beautiful’, ‘you’re so pretty’ on really random occasions and while it may seem nice it makes you uncomfortable and back home would sound like harassment. The view on animals is something I also struggle with here, but that’s a story for another day.
  4. Living situation. Almost everyone lives in high rise apartments in Korea. There is just no space. We are lucky to have a ‘spacious’ apartment but getting used to living in such a big building with a small living space was tough.
  5. The food. Western food is not that easy to come by and it is by no means cheap. I really miss lots of food from home and I have now taken to ordering food online which is great.

Now onto some more light-hearted observations:

  1. Koreans are friendly and kind people. (read here).
  2. The fashion. This is something  I still can’t work out. Koreans have a cool quirky style but there are some things that are strange. Like, sandals or ’slippers’ with socks are not frowned upon and are really common, trainers go with everything, and when we work, we can wear nice comfy slippers. Let’s not forget the couple clothes either! It is not unusual to see couples dressed head-to-toe in matching clothes and spotting these has become a bit of a hobby for Dean and I.
  3. The laws of riding a scooter. People ride scooters without helmets and are not afraid to drive on the pavement. They simply take the most convenient route for themselves.
  4. Loud-mouth fruit trucks. These trucks drive around with fresh produce and a loud speaker advertising their goods. They also tend to park in 1 spot for a while and leave their speaker on repeat. It is very frustrating on a Saturday morning!
  5. Koreans have the quickest restaurant service ever! An array of side dishes will arrive at your table before you have even ordered and your food order takes minutes. Needless to say, socializing over food is not a big thing here.
  6. Sun umbrellas and masks. Sun umbrellas were a life-saver for me in summer. Never pictured myself using one, but I unashamedly did through summer.  People commonly wear masks here too. Jeonju is not a very big city and I really haven’t noticed anything with the air pollution, so I’m really not sure why. 
  7. Move out the way for ajummas!! These little old ladies with their permed hair can be fierce!!
  8. Cellphone culture.  People are addicted to their cellphones here and you will see people of every age playing games and taking selfies.
  9. Seafood is everywhere. Frozen and fresh seafood is all over the place. There are tanks packed to the brim with crabs and fish outside seafood restaurants and it always makes me feel sad when I see this.
  10. Toilet paper. This is a kind of gross one. But most of us here have become used to not flushing your toilet paper when out in public places. How I look forward to western loos again.
  11. The rubbish system is fantastic. While recycling can be a bit of an effort, I really commend Korea for making everyone recycle and sort their waste. Even food waste is separate and goes to animal feed. 

Korean Kindness

I was inspired to mention the attitude of people in Korea because it never ceases to amaze me (in a good way). While I may not agree with all aspects of Korean attitude (such as their treatment of animals), Koreans are in general such kind, friendly and welcoming people. There have been so many examples of kindness in the past few months we have been here. Often it's an older lady trying desperately to engage in conversation with us, helping us at the supermarket, laughing and patting us when we are on a bus or giving us some food like chestnuts, rice cakes or candy. Other times, it's the old men who spend their days hanging out at the local bus station, and once they understand we are from South Africa, they can't stop talking and getting excited even though we have no clue what they are saying. 

I felt like mentioning this today because of the positive experience I just had. This weekend I managed to leave my sunglasses on a bus which I of course was really upset about. After mentioning it to a colleague, she managed to make a whole lot of phone calls and track down the bus driver we had had. He unsurprisingly remembered us and had found my glasses. He then had delivered to the school an hour later. I am so happy and grateful. Only in Korea...

All for now, Happy Monday!!