Eat, drink, and love. At the very South of South Korea, a port city called Busan is gaining a growing number of tourists attracted by its beaches, trendy eateries, international hotels and festivals, showing a friendlier aspect of a city remembering its recent past. During summer when tourists flow in, it is common to see young people peacefully enjoying the sunset, sipping a beer on the beach or in one of the numerous terrace cafés behind. But how could we dare to dismiss this polyvalent city as a simple touristic spot? Parallel with the rhythm of rapid globalization, Busan has been consolidating a commercial, cultural and economic role, to finally become the second largest metropolis of South Korea after Seoul. For being so, Busan possesses numerous aspects draining streams from all over the world, which we, the class of Terminale ES witnessed during our 4-day trip to the city. In this article, we would like to present the historical, economic, commercial as well as cultural characteristics of Busan, which have led this city to gain international recognition.
The city has its history linked to Japan. In the 15th century the Korean government designated Busan as a port whose goal was to trade with Japan. Japanese settlements were then common and continued until Japan invaded Korea in 1592. After the war, diplomatic relations with Japan were established in 1607, and permission was given to Busan to be reconstructed. Japanese settlements continued to exist until 1896. Under Japan’s occupation, between 1910 and 1945, the city developed itself into a modern port and was prosperous. During the Korean War of 1950-53, Busan was a major port of entry and a supply depot for United Nations forces. It was one of the few areas in Korea that remained relatively untouched during the war, with UN troops establishing a defensive perimeter around the city. The flood of Korean refugees from other parts of South Korea considerably changed the city.
After this brief summary of Busan’s history, we’ll see how it is nowadays.
To copy the French expression, Korea was once considered as « Seoul and the Korean desert ». However, this saying is today more than contradicted, as Busan has rapidly grown to be a major economic competitor of Seoul. With its impressive towers, buildings, gigantic bridges, luxurious hotels as well as the world’s biggest department store, the past of a city having experienced famine and war traumas seems to be completely erased. Parallel to its economic development, real estate prices have, not surprisingly, considerably increased in the city. The arrival of a rich population wanting to live with a sea view without compromising on modern facilities has encouraged this tendency, which resulted in the formation of a district called « the Kangnam (yes, the Kangnam – a rich area of Seoul – referred to in Psy’s video) of Busan ». Have a look at the video below showing the impressive buildings built just next to the sea
Impressive buildings by the seaside
One of the key factors that enabled the development of Busan is undoubtedly its port. Busan port, the biggest in Korea and ranked 9th internationally, has contributed to forge a major commercial role for the city. Dating back to the end of the Chosun dynasty in 1876, its growing success has led to its enlargement shown through the large number of wharfs and the recent construction of an additional port. Busan’s port is treating on average 17 millions of TEU a year and is associated with 6 other international ports, uncontestably providing a global influx to the city, from companies to commercial supplies.
Public investment in transport facilities, festivals and cultural products has given Busan a modern, clean and agreeable environment, pleasing to visit but also to live in. Being equipped with a fast and efficient subway line – the only city along with Seoul to have one – as well as a modern railway station, transport in the city is comparable to that of Seoul, which is reputed worldwide for its transport system. Busan is indeed turned towards the sea, and its culture is influenced by the marine environment. It is said that the North of South Korea tends to eat meat while the South is more fish-oriented, with a speciality of raw fish. The wholesale fish market, situated in front of the sea, is a perfect example. It is possible for individuals to buy fish there and take it home or simply enjoy it in a dedicated area where it is cooked on the spot.
Busan has various attractions that make it an interesting city, almost inescapable while visiting Korea.
The main attraction of the city occurs every year in October: the Busan International Film Festival ( BIFF). Not only is it the biggest movie festival in Korea, but it is also considered as the most important one in Asia. It tries to put forward new talents by showing young film-makers’ movies, some of which go on to attain international recognition. It is not only by the quality of the movies that this festival is interesting, but also by the design and location of the complex welcoming spectators. The main building was designed and conceived in a very modern, almost futuristic way. It is capable of receiving more than 4000 outdoor guests via an enormous screen, and also serves for conferences. Its position in the Haeundae beach district is ideal because it is at the heart of the city which is completely crowded in the summer months.
To conclude, this summer, if you want to witness the astounding growth of Asia, without abandoning your desire to suntan, why not go to visit Busan? This city will provide you with impeccable facilities, impressive urban landscapes, dynamic shopping and eating spots. All this not forgetting that Busan is a historic city, with a hard but memorable past. Be yourself, be Busan !
Ye-Eun Jeong, Mathieu Pribat, Thibault Roche Tle ES