Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Busan e-FM Week 19: The Gravitational Pull of Haeundae

About 'Open Mike in Busan'


Today’s topic is one relatively small but important part of Busan, Haeundae-gu, which is where Busan e-FM has recently moved to.

"The new multicultural heart of Busan"

I feel Busan e-FM’s move is an interesting issue in itself. Because – according to the station’s adverts – this is meant to be “the new multicultural heart of Busan”. As a foreigner here, I see this as a very important subject. You see, because of my job I can live anywhere I want to in Busan. Right now, I live in Saha-gu, but if there’s supposed to be a place here which is multicultural, it makes me wonder if it’s better to live there myself.

Saha is very different to Haeundae. There really aren’t that many Western foreigners living there at all. When I first came here in 2006 I walked around the area for three days, and never saw another Westerner at all. But as soon as I visited Haeundae, I saw several other Westerners within 30 minutes. So it definitely feels more multicultural here.

Versus life in the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of Busan

In some ways it doesn’t matter to me if I’m not living in a multicultural area; there’s something to be said for living out in the far west of Busan, because I feel it’s more of a real Korean experience. With few other foreigners around it’s much more isolating, and it has also really meant that if I made friends, it had to be with Koreans.

I think as a foreigner here, when you live in a place where there are a lot of other foreigners, it’s easy to start meeting up with them and kind of disappear into your own community. That doesn’t help you learn Korean or integrate with Korean society though. Of course you do it because you feel isolated, but in the end I think it only helps continue that sense of being isolated as a foreigner. Having said that, there actually are reasons why living in a multicultural area can be attractive, so it can matter where I live as a foreigner.

The Haeundae advantages

But Haeundae has its advantages. Even though I have Korean friends, most of our conversations are translated, so it is tempting to live in an area where it’s easier to make English-speaking friends. And I think in multicultural areas a kind of ‘support network’ builds up. So, for example, you get more doctors and other professionals who speak English, the local authorities create more activities for foreigners, and – this is a real issue for me now – even the schools you want your child to go to are based in the area.

The schools issue is a really pressing one. My wife and I had a son last year, and this being Korea we’re already trying to plan out his education. I think school can be very difficult for a child... especially a child who is different. So I’m not sure about whether my son should go to a normal Korean school. Maybe it wouldn’t be a problem, and maybe it would – this is a huge worry for me. But Busan’s two foreign schools [Busan Foreign School and Busan International Foreign School - I know, shades of the People's Front of Judea and the Judean People's Front in those names] both decided to base themselves here in Haeundae. Well, it’s really difficult to live in Saha and send my son to school in Haeundae, so if we want him to go to a foreign schools, we’ll probably have to move here.

I don’t expect a foreign school to open in Saha, and I understand why, but it’s disappointing that both foreign schools ended up being in the same district, especially when that district is right on the edge of the city rather than being more central. Along with other things such as all the festivals that happen here, it means that Haeundae has this kind of gravitational pull, and the more it develops in this direction, the more gravitational pull it develops – so to continue the astronomy metaphor, it feels like a bit of a black hole, sucking everything in.

In the end, Haeundae will probably only continue to grow as a multicultural area. Some people say this is a good thing, but I’m not so sure. Even the British Prime Minister said recently that multiculturalism hasn’t worked in my country. In the city I’m from, arguably multiculturalism has been a disaster.

Multiculturalism – I have seen the future and lived it

Historically we had a lot of immigration in my home city. For example, even though I’m British, I have an Irish surname because my family were immigrants once too. But we integrated. In recent times though, there was more concern with respecting and celebrating people’s differences. That’s good... except there’s a risk that if you go too far, immigrants stop trying to integrate, because they can just live their own lives in their own community, and suddenly you have two separate communities trying to live in the same place. In my city, that eventually led to race riots [and some ethnic cleansing I found myself on the receiving end of].

What’s happening in Haeundae reminds me a little of my home city. It will never be as bad as my city, but sometimes I wish that it was OK to be a foreigner here and just live anywhere in Busan, without feeling that I ought to be living in a so-called multicultural area, or that worse, I really have to. But if what I need as a foreigner is all in one district – like the foreign schools – it makes integration harder. In fact it would be great if I didn’t feel I had to send my son to a foreign school, but once you create them and all the foreign children go there, it makes it harder not to choose that option yourself.

So my son will become part of that ‘separate community’ problem, and even I’ve been sucked into it despite my own reservations.

KNN moves to Haeundae

So as a foreigner it feels almost like I can’t escape from Haeundae – it’s almost inevitable that I’ll have to live over here eventually. But actually, the whole Haeundae issue is not just about foreigners – I was very surprised for example, that Busan’s biggest media company [KNN – Busan e-FM’s parent company] moved over here, because in England you normally expect local TV and newspaper companies to always be based in a city’s centre, where they can reach each part of the city more easily.

So I wonder if it means that Haeundae is becoming Busan’s new city centre – even though it’s actually on the edge of the city. It’s remarkable considering that twenty years ago this part of the city was really not that developed at all [in fact, I think it wasn’t really even regarded as part of the city]. People who bought property here back then must have made a lot of money. In fact, it’s becoming so expensive here perhaps soon I won’t be able to afford to buy a place in Haeundae anyway, then my son will have to commute further to school.

Moving – to the next Haeundae?

My wife and I are actually looking at properties all over Busan right now. I must admit, despite my reservations, I do like Haeundae as an area, and I’d love to have a view of the sea from my apartment. But I have mixed feelings about buying into an expensive area. I’d love to buy into the next Haeundae, because as a financial trader I suppose I’m always thinking about longer-term investment opportunities.

But where is the next Haeundae? I’m wondering whether it’s going to be Dadaepo. It has a beach and crucially, I understand the subway line is going to be extended there. It will never really be what Haeundae is, but you have to think what it might be like in twenty or thirty years. After all, if you could go back in time thirty years to Haeundae of the early 1980s and show people what it looked like now, they probably wouldn’t believe it. The change here has been huge, and it is a nice place, but it’s a pity that I feel in some ways I have to move here. Personally as a foreigner, I’d love Busan to be more integrated, rather than focused on one area.

Busan e-FM
Inside Out Busan

Air date: 2011-03-02 @ ~19:30

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