Saturday, July 4, 2009

A trip to Busan's Chinatown.

Last weekend I took a trip to sunny, funny Busan and was talked into doing something other than playing on Haeundae Beach. We paid a visit to Busan's Chinatown, located across the street from Busan Station and accessible via exit 1 of the subway stop of the same name.

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There are four gates at each entrance. Here's one, with a second one visible at the other end of the street.

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There's some information in what might be described as English on the Busan tourism homepage, which says that the Chinese consulate was established here in 1884 and that one of the Chinese restaurants has had a brush with fame:
It is the location of film, named, "Old Boy", its main character(Minsik Choi) has eaten with dumpling for 15 years. There are lots of Chinese restaurant which does not serve the black noodle, and you will need some attention.

But at this point I should mention that the area is now referred to as "Choryang shopping area for foreigners." In case you don't believe me, here's the sign, with Busan Station in the background.

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We realized pretty quickly that it wasn't much of a Chinatown since most of the signs were in languages other than Chinese, and all but three of the foreigners we saw that afternoon weren't speaking Chinese. From a LifeinKorea profile:
Texas Street is to Busan what Itaewon-dong is to Seoul. Located near the harbor and Busan train station, many stores here cater to foreigners, selling blankets, hand bags, shoes, clothes, and leather goods.

. . .
Recently, it was named formally as "Commercial street for foreigners." In recent years, signs in English have been replaced by Cyrillic ones to cater to the influx of Russian sailors since the establishment of dilpomatic ties between the two countries. Many shops and bars have also sprung up to cater to a new boom of Chinese speaking tourists who now come in greater numbers.

You can buy big clothes (큰옷) here:

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There were hardly any people out on Saturday afternoon.

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Here's a place to get a phone if you're Filipino, Chinese, or a speaker of another language I can't read.

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This restaurant serves lamb, beef, and dog.

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I hear the side dishes are good.

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This club, "Hollywood," doesn't permit Koreans inside, as seen from the sign that reads "내국인 출입금지."

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Oh, and I should also point out that when I googled around in preparation for this post, a few days after the visit, I learned that the main street of Chinatown is commonly known as "Texas Street" and is the notorious red-light district of Busan.

From a Korean Tourism Organization profile:
Commonly known as Texas Street (with the caveat that “it is no longer known as Texas Street”), the place once catered to American GIs and their carnal desires. Today, it still caters to a foreign community — mostly Russian sailors and Chinese immigrants — but its enduring reputation as an unseemly area is now apparently undeserved. It’s rarely very crowded and those who venture there will discover several reasonably priced Russian restaurants, two Filipino karaoke rooms with some of the better pop song lists in the city, and a cluster of upscale Chinese restaurants on what is known as Shanghai Street at the far east end of the street.

From Abby Off-Air:
Despite the oriental moniker, once I ventured past the red lanterns hanging around the perimeter I began to wonder if I had somehow detrained in Vladivostok. The area may be the closest thing Busan has to a Chinatown, but it's every bit as much Russian sailorville, Southeast Asian prostitiuteburg, and American GI City. I suppose it's just like me to unknowlingly head straight for the seediest part of town, and then start taking pictures.

From a 2002 magazine article in Busan Beat, about the foreign food there:
Texas Street is a shopping/entertainment district for foreigners, mainly Russians, and a fair sprinkling of Asians, Europeans, and North and South Americans, depending on the ships passing through. By day, it‘s fairly innocuous; the shops hawk clothing, appliances, and tourist kitsch, and homesick sailors shop for long-distance telephone cards. By night, the “entertainment” kicks into gear, and the street belongs to the hopelessly normal and the normally hopeless, the vitally unusual and the unusually vital.

Everyone seems to agree that Texas Street somehow “caters” to people, though many seem unaware that this “catering” is also very much of the gastronomical kind. Many Busanites were overjoyed when the big foreign restaurants opened in Haeundae Beach, and these quickly became popular feeding grounds. What is less known is that Texas Street has had more variety for years. You won‘t find megachains, but lots of Mom and Pop. No Starbucks, but plenty of Bang for your Buck. No Indian or Vietnamese, but you‘ll find a variety of Russian, Filipino, Chinese, and Western—from posh eatery to no-frill grill—to choose from.

My quick search through my Google Reader only picked up a couple hits, but as you probably figured, Chris in South Korea has been there:
What makes this area interesting isn't what it is today - it's what it's been. During the Korean war, this area was known as Texas Street, a red-light / entertainment district described as "a hive of activity, a hybrid of Korea and the west" by the Moon guidebook I've come to depend on. Since then, it's essentially been taken over by Russians - notice the Cyrillic on the right side of the sign above. 'Foreigners' in this area are just as likely to speak Russian or Chinese as they are English - in fact there's a small Chinatown around, although I didn't find it through random wandering. Whatever language they speak, Busan has tried to bring some respectability to the area and renamed it the Choryang Street for Foreigners. It's now considered a tourist destination by the city, an area that will continue to draw foreigners in from all around the world.


All in all it was kind of a disappointment, mostly because we had expected an actual Chinatown. The neighborhood we found was vacant and a little sleazy, and not something you'd really want to go out of your way to visit. But Chris writes:
Choryang Street for Foreigners is worth a quick visit, and since it's so conveniant to the rest of town (again, across the street from Busan Station), it's easy to pop in and peek around for a couple of hours. My only suggestion is to be aware of it's past reputation as a red-light district - while the area is being cleaned slowly, it's not as cleaned up as you might like. Be prepared to smile and nod through some of the more questionable looking types during the evening hours; during the daytime they're not out, however.

Anyway, here are a few other pictures from that weekend.

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I love these things. It's a car elevator, under construction, a solution to the demand for parking when there's not enough space for a large parking garage. I would like to see these used more back home.

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You'll remember this from earlier in the week:

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And Haeundae Beach on Sunday morning.

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14 comments:

kushibo said...

I heard that a certain Russian-controlled part of that area was so dangerous that the cops wouldn't go there at night.

As for the parking towers in Korea and Japan (and where else?) I don't see it catching on in the US except for some exceptions like Honolulu or Manhattan or San Francisco: Simply put, the inconvenience of having to wait that long for your car like that would prevent their use, not even for valet parking.

Another problem is that SUVs and minivans usually don't fit in them. I've had a lot of problems parking the "company minivan" when that kind of thing was all that was available.

david said...

"Texas Street ...is the notorious red-light district of Busan."

The fact that you even had to look that up is sad indication of what this area has become. Ah well, I have my memories...

sonagi92 said...

That mobile phone sign includes only-in-Korea expression "한국 국적 외국인," or "foreigner with Korean citizenship." Korean speakers need to coin a more precise equivalent of "naturalized Koreans."

WeikuBoy said...

Brian, the language you couldn't identify is Indonesian. But how did you know that restaurant serves lamb, beef, and dog? It doesn't say "dog" in Korean. Can you read Chinese characters?

By the way, if you want to see any of the cool and fun (as opposed to lame and boring) parts of Pusan next time, ask your readers for a little help before your next trip.

WeikuBoy said...

My apologies for sounding critical last comment. I was thinking of Brian as a visitor, and was sad that he wasted his time on Pusan's most disappointing neighborhood.

As a reporter, however, Brian has done a valuable service by showing us the true condition of an area we might be curious to visit, and letting us judge for ourselves.

Jens-Olaf said...

In that district are some interesting people like Koryoin (?). Koreans from Uzbeskistan who are speaking Russian. In one shop they established a bakery you can get reye bread. Hard to find at all in Busan. And real cheese and not expensive.
When a US carrier stays for a visit in Busan Texas street is back to the origin meaning.
And yes the difference to Itaewon is you are greeted in Russian here on a common day.

Brian said...

WeikuBoy, the sign says 양고가, 소고기, 개고기 in hangeul next to the larger Hanja.

We visited the area because my girlfriend and I both read about their being a Chinatown, and we were curious to have a look. We also visited Seomyeon for the first time that day. In earlier trips we've been to Haeundae, the aquarium, Gwanganli Beach, Nampo-dong, and the fish market. I'd also like to visit the UN Cemetary, the history museum, Busan Tower, and also the big Shinsegye that's supposed to be the largest department store in the world. We both enjoy visiting Busan---I especially like swimming at Haeundae---and will try and ask for reader advice before my next trip.

Regarding open threads, I may put one up next weekend. I didn't do it this time because I wanted the Chosun Ilbo articles and the gambling story near the top of the page, but stuck this photo gallery up top because I didn't want so much bad news on the page. But maybe next weekend.

WeikuBoy said...

Ah, thanks. In that context, it all makes a lot more sense. And I see the (much smaller) hanguel now, next to the Chinese for yang rou, niu rou, and gou rou.

kushibo said...

Sonagi wrote:
Korean speakers need to coin a more precise equivalent of "naturalized Koreans."

Isn't the appropriate term 한국 귀화인? I have seen it used, and I think it (or something like it) is used in official speak. It's shorter than what you wrote.

(외국인 is such a broad and imprecise term, it should never be used, not even at the airport, where many a confused kyopo waited in the wrong line, including an ex-girlfriend, who was laughed at by one immigration officer for doing so and then yelled at by his supervisor. Welcome to Korea!)

Ms Parker said...

Your visit to Chinatown is much more picturesque than the one I had last year.
The food was unfortunately disappointing, my husband was openly propositioned by a working girl, and we didn't find anything too interesting to see or do or buy.

kushibo said...

It occurred to me later that a big part of the decision to designate the area as a Chinatown may have been metropolitan- or local-level government or merchant decisions to push the unsavory element out of the area. As I mentioned earlier, this area was (is?) a scary place for non-Russians (and maybe a few Russians as well).

bza said...

If you want western style Chinatown cuisine your best bet is Ho-Lee-Chow. They have a restaurant in Itaewon and in Bundang, so I assume it is a chain available in a few other places. A little pricey, but worth it, if you have a craving.

It has all the classics, black bean sauce, general pao's chicken, sichuan, shanghai noodles, etc.

What's great is that you don't have to order 자장면 or a gigantic portion of sweet and sour pork.

If you are looking for non-Korean Chinese food its the best place I've found so far, but I would like to hear of any others.

Love Chinese food!

WeikuBoy said...

In Pusan there are several better options for real Chinese cooking, from upscale (Rak 'N Wok at PNU and Hotel Glory at Haeundae) to less expensive but still very good (Chef Chen at PNU and its two sister restaurants with slightly different names around town). FYI

WeikuBoy said...

PNU is Pusan National University, in the northern part of town, on subway line 1 (stop: PNU).

Pusan also has at least one much better option when it comes to prostitution. The Koreans don't want us to know about pink-light districts, so I won't disclose the location of Pusan's finest. And in truth I'm not even sure it still exists, following the crackdowns in recent years, or that big-nosed foreigners would be welcomed in any event. But it's incorrect on multiple levels to refer to the Choryang Shopping District for Foreigners (Who Don't Know Any Better) as "Pusan's red-light district."