Busan notes

by on October 16, 2012 at 2:53 am in Travels | Permalink

Busan is the best success story I know for the Avent-Yglesias approach to urban density.  Imagine taking a city that looks like San Francisco, or more concretely Nagasaki, and letting millions of Koreans in to live there.

They served me the live, still-wriggling and squirming sea worm entree, which you are supposed to dip into sauce and push down your throat; it was neither the best nor the worst course of the meal.

White sashimi, dipped into hot bean paste, is the preferred manner of eating raw fish here; tuna, salmon, and eel are not popular.

On the beach, on a clear day, you can see Japan across the water.

In a nearby rural area, the populace would appear to go to Sunday church, dressed up in their finery, and then hang out at the museum and welcome center for the local nuclear power plant.

A day tour of Hyundai City, the special economic zone, the chemical-industrial complex (reminds me of New Jersey), and the new port is better than a day tour of Korean temples.  They are all targets for North Korean missiles.

The people I have asked predict reunification within ten to fifteen years.  They are ashamed to have such a brother in the family.

If you visit Korea you should come to Busan.

1 Al October 16, 2012 at 4:05 am

I enjoyed their green congee. It was an unusually nuanced dish in Korean cuisine. Every cab driver I met complained about land inflation due to “the gang of Orange”, which is a reference to Chaebol family members and their land purchasing spree. I never found an explanation for the term.

Interesting coordination between public and private development. The subway gets off at the basement level of the Shinsegae Mall.

2 dearieme October 16, 2012 at 4:41 am

“reminds me of New Jersey”: you cruel bastard.

3 Rahul October 16, 2012 at 12:39 pm


4 Vanya October 16, 2012 at 5:47 am

It was called “Pusan” last time I was there. When and why did they change the English spelling?

“The people I have asked predict reunification within ten to fifteen years.”

How old were those people? Andrei Lankov just had a column about the increasing lack of interest in reunification among South Koreans. Among the under-25s less than 50% now favor reunification. Within ten to fifteen years that generation will be starting to take up the reigns of power, and the people with living connections to the other side of the border will have mostly passed away. At this point I think the only way the Koreas will ever reunite is if there is a serious crisis in China in the near future. A strong China can continue to prop up the North for years to come, and within two more generations the Koreas may be too different from each other to ever want to be one nation.

5 david October 16, 2012 at 8:24 am

Korean government standardized romanization of Korean in 2000, so ambiguous sounds like B/Pusan finally got assigned one or the other.

6 Douglas Knight October 16, 2012 at 10:28 am

You imply that spelling was not standard before. That is not true.

My notes say that the old and new romanizations have different purposes. The purpose of the old was to help westerners pronounce the words. The purpose of the new is to faithfully represent the language: given a Korean word spelled in this romanization, the native spelling can be reconstructed. That explanation makes a lot more sense with the vowel changes than the consonants.

7 Pensans October 16, 2012 at 6:59 am

Gang of Orange refers to sons of the wealthy who were very likely to attend Syracuse

8 enrique iglesias October 16, 2012 at 7:14 am

Allow high buildings in central residential areas, build a decent subway network and have little in the way of zoning limits?

What are Tyler and Alex doing so long in Korea? Does Tyler think that Korea will one day surpass Japan in key indicators such as GDP/capita, number of innovative companies, density of decent restaurants?

9 Sean Brown October 16, 2012 at 9:15 am

I love Busan but it is significantly harder to get around than in Seoul. (Less walkable, worse bus/subway network. It does seem pretty bikable though.) There are many hidden gems such as indie movie theaters, awesome restaurants and markets near the beach, very friendly residents. The new Centum City is poorly laid out though and reminds me a lot of Odaiba (extremely un-walkable for various reasons – streets too wide, buildings set back too far from the street, traffic lights very poorly timed for pedestrians, the area itself is a bit isolated from surrounding districts, etc.). In this case “new urbanism” leaves a lot to be desired, and I wish there were a bit more “Portland” in Korea/Korean developers/officials (though let’s be honest, such an ambitious project with so many tall buildings never would have been approved or even considered in Portland itself).

10 Jason Newland October 16, 2012 at 8:04 pm

If you want a bit more Portland in Korean development. I recommend Daegu. I think it has the tightest knit and easily navigable downtown area of any Korean city. Nevertheless, I’ve been to Busan a few times and I’ve never found it difficult to get around. I think it is much easier than many major American cities. As an American, I believe we could take a cue from Korea’s nearly flawless public transportation system…

I do agree that more of Korea could take on a bit of a Portland or Asheville approach and push for more local business and less chains. Almost every “famous” restaurant in Korea turns out to be a chain, which is ok, but sometimes I miss the small western places that refuse to be duplicated.

11 IVV October 16, 2012 at 10:25 am

“Squirming sea worm entree”: Isn’t that traditionally chopped-up octopus? I’m not aware of a live worm meal in Korean cuisine.

12 Mark Thorson October 16, 2012 at 10:42 am

Tried the Bosintang yet?

13 Tim VH October 16, 2012 at 2:40 pm

take one of the frequent Jeju Air discount airline flights to Jeju-Do (-Island), just south of Pusan: best food in Korea, wonderful beaches, and great hiking on Halla-San (-mountain) in center of the Island.
in Busan, go Heaundae Beach (best one there), and nearby, just north a few blocks, are strips of local mom-and-pop beef noodle joints. Open late, very late. Local food, great, and lots of fun. Much of their kim-chi is of the radish variety, rather than cabbage-based, which I personally prefer. And, of course, being Busan, it is much spicier than up North.

14 Millian October 16, 2012 at 3:22 pm

“They are ashamed to have such a brother in the family.”

Gay, or married to a foreigner?

15 TIm VH October 16, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Tim, Haeundae is overrated IMO especially due to crowds at peak season. I prefer Gwangalli (광안리) which has a better view, closer to the city of Busan, and better restaurants nearby IMO.

16 Sean Brown October 16, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Sorry that last comment was from me. Messed up on the name field.

17 Steve Sailer October 16, 2012 at 5:07 pm

“Busan is the best success story I know for the Avent-Yglesias approach to urban density.”

All you have to do is start with Koreans.

By the way, former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda’s last book had a chapter on how much Mexicans hate high rises and hate taking public transportation, so Yglesias has a lot of work cut out for him in persuading his 165 million new immigrants to move into his Manhattan-like high rises and take the trolley.

According to Castaneda, the Mexican Dream is single family home sprawl and a V8 pickup truck. That explains a fair amount, by the way, about why the Housing Bubble was biggest in places like California’s Inland Empire.

18 Rahul October 16, 2012 at 10:33 pm

(1) It is risky to generalize preferences of Mexicans in Mexico to Mexican’s abroad.

(2) A “single family home sprawl and a V8 pickup truck” is the default American dream too; so it’s a bit silly to pin it on the preferences of incoming Mexicans.

19 Mr. Econonotarian October 16, 2012 at 9:08 pm

“By the way, former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda’s last book had a chapter on how much Mexicans hate high rises and hate taking public transportation”

That statement may not be based on scientific data, or at least it may not applicable to Mexican immigrants to the US:


“Evidence from California indicates that in 1990, compact commuters – travel to
work by public transit, bicycle or walking – comprise 13.1% of all Latino commuters, as
compared to only 7.2% of non-Latinos. The highest rate of compact commuting is observed
among newest Latino immigrants (24.2%), and declines among the more established immigrants 2
(Myers 2001). In 2000, foreign-born Latinos in California also record the highest average transit
usage rates among all groups (10.7%), with 23% of immigrants who arrived within the last five
years using transit to get to work (Blumenberg and Shiki 2007).”

20 mkt October 16, 2012 at 11:34 pm

High rates of public transportation usage are consistent with disliking public transportation. How many new immigrants own a car, or can even afford one?

21 Rahul October 17, 2012 at 1:23 am

That’s fine. They can hate it so long as they are willing to use it.

22 Arbin McWallistair October 20, 2012 at 4:15 am

Sounds like a delightful place to live. Are all the major decisions of the utopia made on this basis?

23 fluoxetine prescription drug October 24, 2012 at 2:22 am

Steve, I am totally agree with your thoughts. Keep doing these type of work.

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