This section of Busan gets a bit of slag. I remember looking at a comment thread on Koreabridge one time before I came back where one poster noted that if you breathe the air in Saha-gu (this town within a city where Jangnim is located), you instantly get AIDS. I have on more than one occasion referred to it negatively when someone asked where I lived, replied with, “huh?” and I had to tell them, “it’s next to Dadaepo,” to which the person would almost always say, “oh, wow, that’s so far.”
It is. And it’s gritty. It’s far from international. You won’t find 4-star hotels in Jangnim. You won’t even find Starbucks or McDonald’s (though, they’re not very far). There is a lot of industry going on here. But, there’s also a lot of humanity, too. It’s something I hope I assumed must exist but had not bothered to really see for myself.
So, under a slate gray sky with the rain having stopped this morning and my new bike (affectionately now known as “Zyden the Korean Warlord”) itching to be taken out for a spin, I decided to go beyond my walking/bus route to school and actually explore my dong. That will be the last time I use that tired joke.
I began with the intention of riding into Dadaepo to perhaps check out the ongoing work on a walkway planned for the beach and leading to the Sunset Fountain of Dream. But, one of the pedals of my new bike is already bent (you get what you pay for, which wasn’t much), so I figured I should keep it local, especially if the rain returned (it didn’t).
But, where to? I got on the main road, the one I always take heading to work, the one with all the construction for the subway extension, and made my first right down one of those other roads I have never taken, because I didn’t have to.
What I saw was what probably a lot of people living in this area go to during the week: industrial sites, small and not so small. Some apartment tower blocks. A lot of quiet. It’s not exactly a bustling part of the neighborhood.
But, as I turned around and headed toward Jangnim Market, I began to see more and more people. Make no mistake, this isn’t Seomyeon, KSU, Nampo, or Haeundae. But, it’s not a ghost town. There were kids playing, people walking from here or there, stories that I’ll probably never know their beginnings or endings. I say probably, though it’s more likely “never,” but, hey, you never know.
Jangnim Market proper is a bustling meeting place for young and old, with many restaurants, shops and street vendors. Unlike those aforementioned major city centers, you won’t find all the chains under the Asian sun in Jangnim, except an Ediya Coffee and Lotteria (and 7-Eleven, but it’s the totally Asian version of 7-Eleven so it doesn’t really count). Should McDonald’s ever make it to Jangnim, you’ll know the subway extension has had an effect (for the better?).
I continued winding my way through side streets that, back home, you would never see a car pass through unless it was trying to find a short cut. And, even still, in that case they wouldn’t stay too long for fear of getting a ticket. In Korea, they’re just smaller roads, with businesses, homes, even police stations.
I was dumped back onto another main artery where my ride continued. Here were fewer pedestrians, more closed shops (perhaps for always) and more cars, as this road appeared to lead to somewhere out of town. For another time when I have a spare tube in case I get a flat, and a spare man-won (10,000) in case I want to stop to get a bite to eat.
I continued to ride, slowly, trying to take it all in and not just gloss over the gray. Here and there were people in places you would least expect them to be. Well, unless you’ve lived for any length of time in an Asian country.
Whether it was a small alley, a large market square, a mini-industrial park or a small river running through it all, Zyden and I saw things many foreigners living here might never see. Maybe even plenty of lifelong residents, too.
And, no, this isn’t my attempt at serving shit with sugar and saying it’s a Sundae. Jangnim is gritty, no doubt about that. It’s inconvenient, no doubt about that, either. But, it’s also a place where people live. These are not just pairs of eyes staring the waygookin down as he heads to school. It’s not just the drunk screaming to no one in particular at 11 a.m. It’s not the alleycats either fighting or fucking somewhere outside my window. It’s all of that, and more–a lot of stories, of long and short lives lived here, in a place that, for many of them, is the only life they have ever known. It’s not always perfect, it’s often far from that. But, there’s a lot of humanity here, if only this broad-shouldered, pale-skinned, wide-eyed foreigner is willing to open himself up to it and have the experience, as free from bias as possible. It’s often not easy, but it’s possible.
Life really does look different when viewed from a bike.
So many stories, just try to imagine what some of them must be like.