During the Korean War, followers of the Taeguk religion flocked to settle in a hidden seaside neighborhood of Busan. While most residents today do not adhere to the founding religion and the original wooden homes have long since been replaced, Taegukdo Village still retains its’ endearing ramshackle appearance.
Frequently compared to Santorini because of the golden light which illuminates the colorful houses, the city has begun transforming the neighborhood into an arts and culture village. We followed the pastel arrows through the labyrinth with the excitement of a treasure hunt. The narrow twisting route passed by public art and galleries that were once tiny homes.
Within such an unconventionally intimate neighborhood the public sidewalk felt oddly private. Considering that any open doors or windows brought us within inches of the resident’s personal space, I felt guilty for my then-undiagnosed respiratory infection. I was an uninvited guest hacking through a condensed layer of mucus in someone’s living room.
Arriving back at Busan station, Barret and I noticed an enormous presence of riot police. Two parallel columns of guards formed an eclipsed line around a large water fountain. Those not on guard were casually eating boxed lunches nearby, more preoccupied by their chopsticks than their riot shields. As for the rioters- they were seated on the courtyard floor, resting their arthritic limbs in defiance of being laid-off.
After leaving the formidable geriatric protestors we headed to Shinsaegae, the world’s largest department store. The CGV Theater on the top level was one of several venues hosting the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF). While I had hoped for a Korean film, in the frenzied internet ticketing rush I instead ended up with Almayer’s Folly. A pretentiously and agonizingly silent French/Belgian film shot in Malaysia. When the caramel popcorn ran out five minutes into the movie, I struggled to stay awake.
Over on the beachfront of Haeundae the BIFF Village offered official merchandise, promotional booths, and a roving group of Christian preachers. Nearby at the Haeundae Megabox we saw our second film of the festival and our first soda lid for couples. Porfirio was a Columbian movie about a small-town man struggling with paralysis. His humble life is captured with a gritty realism that doesn’t shy from mundane moments. Remarkably, the main character in this true story is played by Porfirio himself. Thankfully he is a much better actor than he is a plane-hijacking terrorist.
How to get there:
Taegukdo Village- catch the 17 or 17-1 bus across from Busan Station. Exit at the last stop, Gamcheon 2 dong, when the bus turns into a small parking lot. Walk up the hill an at the fork in the road go right- in the direction of Gamjeong Elementary School (Gamjeong Chodeung Hakgyo).
BIFF– every October. Check the website for venues and buy tickets the minute they are available for sale online!