Colorful houses dot the hills of Busan, South Korea, interspersed by narrow alleys filled with murals and statues. It was easy to find fancy cafés, yet with affordable prices, in the second-largest city of the country.
Residents of Gamcheon have refurbished food stalls and souvenir shops in their part of the city to create a unique ambience. Numerous stores in the area went out hanbok, Korea’s traditional costumes.
No trace is left of the extreme poverty that characterized Gamcheon as a slum area in the 1940s.
There used to be only 20 houses there. But during the Korean wars of the 1950s, around 4,000 people took refuge in the village and built houses of wood and stone. Gradually, the people improved their homes using bricks and concrete.
Gamcheon and Taeguk, however, remain relatively poor areas compared to other cities.
In 2009, South Korea Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism poured in 100 million won (US$90,000) to revamp Gamcheon into a tourist site.
The revamp effort – which involved installations by artists – lasted two years.
Today, Gamcheon attracts more than 30,000 tourists a year. The village is opened to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. free of charge. The restricted visiting hours are to give its roughly 10,000 inhabitants some privacy. [yan]