Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Busan e-FM Week 6: Busan Festivals, Events and Places

About 'Open Mike in Busan'


By the time I reached my sixth week at Busan e-FM, they’d moved from the centrally-based Yeonsan-dong KNN building to Centum City in Haeundae, in the increasingly fashionable Eastern fringe of the city, where KNN are building their monstrous new headquarters.


As everyone knows, there’s certainly always a lot happening in Busan, so for my sixth week on Inside Out Busan at Busan e-FM, I thought I’d talk about some of my experiences visiting festivals, and going out to various events and places here in the city.

Busan Fireworks Festival

My first festival was the Busan Fireworks Festival in 2006 – I think it was only the second year they’d held it then. I remember when we reached the nearby subway station many people rushed off the train and walked fast – or even ran – towards the beach. It gave me a real sense that something exciting was about to take place.

And it was exciting. Sometimes it feels that Korea is a little too obsessed with Seoul, but Busan has the sea and its beaches, and you can’t get that in the capital. It was a bit cold, and sitting on pebbles for three hours isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world – but that was the point I thought that maybe Busan was a better city to live in. Actually I was listening to ‘What’s Popin Busan’ on Busan e-FM a few weeks ago, and the Fireworks Festival sounds even better now. Also, showing movies afterwards is good – when we went it just ended and everyone headed off the beach at the same time. There was a crush and it was a little worrying.

I haven’t been again since. I live in Saha-gu so coming to events in Haeundae can mean two to three hours of travelling. I have to admit, it does put me off sometimes. But it wasn’t long before I was back in the Haeundae area for the New Year’s Sunrise Festival.

Being on the beach at 6am

So the Sunrise Festival meant being on the beach at 6am. We don’t have this culture of watching sunrises in England, so I was really surprised at just how many people were there – tens of thousands I’m sure. Unfortunately it was cloudy. Eventually we saw the sun about forty minutes after it rose. And there wasn’t much to do except stand and wait. I’m glad we did it though – it’s certainly an interesting way to start the year. But of course, you can’t predict the weather.

And many other places

Actually, it could have been worse. Last year I went to the Last Sunset Festival on Dadaepo Beach – it was about minus ten degrees and my hands were shaking so much I could hardly take photos properly. It was the same with the Pusan International Film Festival – we saw a movie outside but it was a bit too cold to enjoy it that year. I think PIFF has been held a bit earlier in the last couple of years.

It certainly feels like I’ve been to a lot of festivals in Busan during my time here. I try to get out and do things. Of course, it’s not just about festivals, becase there are a lot of shows and concerts going on. Maybe compared to Seoul, Busan doesn’t have a big reputation as a cultural centre, but I think that’s unfair because there seems to be far more happening here than I’d ever find it possible to experience.

Although there is the language barrier problem

The language barrier presents problems though. Sometimes there isn’t any information in English, even at visiting foreign exhibitions such as those held at the Busan Museum of Modern Art. I’ve been to performances such as the famous Nanta because it’s non-verbal, but I can’t go and watch a Korean stage play, or anything in the Korean language. That works both ways – because when foreign actos come over here, it really has to be for non-verbal performances too. And I’ve seen how that can be a problem.

I’ve seen foreign performers have difficulties here. I attended a French stage play by a famous choreographer as part of the Busan Intenational Performing Arts Festival – it was called 'Comédie!' There was a question and answer session afterwards with the performers, and the first person to stand up basically said "the performance is called Comedy and it’s pitched as a comedy... but it didn’t seem funny." It was really rather awkward. On the other hand, I was quite nervous when the famous British-based mime artist Nola Rae did a performance at Kyungsung University, but the audience seemed to like that.

Music concerts are sometimes easier in terms of language. I’ve seen Jeon Jeduk and Malo here, but I got the impression – from what’s been said – that quite a few famous entertainers from Seoul don’t often come down to Busan, because they don’t feel the need to, which is a real shame if that’s true.

I think – quite often – the costs of these events can be quite high, but actually one of the best performances I attended was by a choir – the Busan Metropolitan City Chorus – and the tickets were only 1,000 won. I think the local government subsidised that.


Baseball is another cheap recommendation. I went to a baseball game – the Lotte Giants at Sajik Stadium – and it only cost 6,000 won. We don’t play baseball in England, so that was a really amazing experience, especially because of the noisy crowd. A few years ago I watched a movie called Mr. Baseball about an ex-New York Yankee playing in Japan, and it really seemed to capture the atmosphere of Japanese baseball. I kind of hoped that Korean baseball would be the same – and it really was. They have people in the crowd encouraging them to be noisy, it was great. It’s a shame I don’t really understand the game very well, but if I ever get the time I could see myself really getting into it.

I’ve also been to see KT Sonicboom. Basketball’s not popular in England either, so that was the first time I’d seen a game. I expected it to be a bit quieter – but they still had a guy in front of us encouraging the crowd, so it was noisy. I’m not so sure about having very young cheerleaders dancing right in front of me though. That was a bit much. I could see myself developing a taste for basketball though. I guess that as an English person living in Korea, I have to accept becoming more Americanised when it comes to sport, because sports which are popular in England, such as football, really aren’t that popular here – except when the national team plays.

Favourite places

Because I live in the west of Busan, I spend a lot of time in Nampodong. It’s mainly about shopping and eating there, but it has two large cinemas opposite each other, and one of those rare independent cinemas showing more obscure foreign films a little further up.

Bosudong Book Street is nearby, with dozens of book stores and all its cultural heritage. Because of technology, I fear we might be seeing the end of an era there. And despite the distance, I do like Haeundae; it’s nice to eat of drink with a view of the sea – and of course, it’s an advantage Busan has over Seoul.

Then another thing, although I haven’t done it too much, is climbing mountains at night such as Hwangryeongsan, to take photos of the city, because there really are some spectacular views of Busan to be found.

So I can’t see that I’ll ever get bored here. Maybe this isn’t Seoul, but I think the authorities in Busan seem to be trying really hard to make this a culturally interesting city. I honestly feel overwhelmed sometimes by how much there is to see and do.

Busan e-FM
Inside Out Busan

Air date: 2010-12-01 @ ~19:30

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