Aporia Called City

There are many time zones in the city. Old buildings are hidden among modern buildings, and next to the trendy developed towns and there are old towns with winding alleys. Therefore, when you walking the streets between those towns, you can meet the past, present and future of the city.

I lived in Busan (South Korea) for 19 years and have lived in New York for 19 years. Busan is my hometown and it’s first port city of South Korea. It is famous for night view of the Haeundae Gwangan Bridge and stylish skyscarapers. But a few decades ago, there were a lot of shacks near the Busan harbor (Shacks were up near the top of low mountains). At late night, when ships entered into the harbor, the lights of the shanty towns were near the tops of the mountains. So some foreigners on the ships were reportedly mistaken for the lights that were like the skyscraper’s lights in Manhattan.  

The history of Busan is kind of like the South Korean modern history called ‘Miracle on the Han River’. The Korean peninsula was under Japan’s colonial that ruled for 40 years in the early 20th century. And then the Korea War occurred in 1950, country was devastated for 3 years war. However, South Korea achieved rapid economic growth in the short term and now became one of the best modern industrial nation in the world.

South Korea still change really fast. Last year I visited South Korea for a photo shoot. The landscapes of South Korea when I left to the United States 19 years ago were only in my memories and pictures. And many places I visited a few years ago also changed a lot. The changing landscapes- something that was there, now gone, or something that wasn’t there now it’s there. This made me to feel good which I can’t express well. However, due to the rapid pace and big range of changes of cities in South Korea, I was able to capture better the passage of time in the city- or the transformation process of the city more than any other cities.       

When taking pictures of the old towns and new hotspots with my camera, I met a few of the traditional Korean buildings. They are mostly in a remote place, or surrounded by modern buildings. There are no similarities or links between them, but only disconnection and gaps. Maybe the unique traditional culture of Korea didn’t survived for future generations while passing through the huge upheavals of a new era. I think such disconnection and gaps might exist even in almost all areas of South Korea’s society and between generations.

Most of the shanty towns which were made during the war were demolished. The remaining areas were redeveloped as a tourist site or became slums after houses of the areas were rebuilt. There are groups of cottages huddled together and narrow roads that a car cannot pass. There are no trees or playgrounds in the area. This made me guess how people lived at that time. They didn’t have a time for anything except for survival and that was the life of my grandfather’s generation.

Around the areas, there are congested residences, factories, and roads which were carved into the mountain sides. Surely these regions were more developed than the former areas, but they were developed helter-skelter and without consideration of the environmental and nature protection so that these days they are redeveloping actively. These regions are filled with chaos that rapid industrialization and urbanization caused. It’s the mark of my parent’s generation who worked hard for a living from dawn till dusk.

Alongside that, there are well-made regions with the proper facilities. Modern buildings, shopping centers and apartment complexes with playgrounds and gardens show a higher standard of living. In areas a little more far from there, much more advanced zones with the skyscrapers, various entertainment facilities and mixed-use housing complexes are expanding now. This is the present day of my generation and for our future generation right now.

When I look down on the city from the peak of the mountain, it seems to be a mosaic painted by the many regions with the various times and stories. It looks amazing and complicated and maybe confusing. On this mosaic, there are different people, different regions, and different elements (for example, Past and Modern, Nature and Culture, Poverty and Wealth, etc..). Such things may be connected to each other, and fused together, or because of gaps existing between them, they were opposed or had conflict with each other, or disconnected. Anyway, while they are undergoing through such a process, the city is changing and growing. 

But, unfortunately, old and worn things, weak or powerless things, and things that don't suit the changes or that are left behind in the competitive environment seems to be abandoned or excluded while changes are in progress. And the work that the last generation has left us, such as problems which the present age has produced, and potential problems that may occur in the future are not solved yet, but they seems to be improved continuously with the flow of change.

Cities in South Korea are experiences such a change. Most importantly, New York, my second hometown, is at the end of that change. Without finding that is so called ‘The Manhattan Project’ which the South Korea media reported, you can see it when you look the sites being developed (For your information, Seoul announced it would build a park resembling the Highline Park in Manhattan this spring).

Even today, many different country want to achieve economic success in a short time like South Korea. They are imitating South Korea. South Korea is imitating the United States for a similar reason. They say that they act like that to remain competitive in this age of globalization. Under such economic logic, unique culture and values of their own and the natural environment are ignored. So the world has become like each other, and I can dare to say that New York is at the zenith of cities around the world. But, why don’t they know that their utopia also has problems that must be resolved?

Therefore, the city seems like ‘Aporia’. Aporia is a Greek word. It means a difficult problem to solve. But this is not a problem impossible to solve, but the problem with solving a clue in itself. The city has obviously a lot of problems and most of them started from people. So their solution is coming from them as well.   

Now some people’s mistake which happened at the Busan harbor a few decades ago has become a reality at the Busan Haeundae beach. As you know, there are many cities around the world such as Busan. They were built through someone’s imagination and effort. So it seems there is still hope for people.

I saw supports attached to old pine trees in several places during photo shots. It showed that there were people trying to preserve nature and their old heritages. There are people who are seeking new changes to create a coexistence between tradition and modernity, to harmonize nature and civilization, and to solve the problems of the past and present which affect our future. They exist in the world as well as South Korea. Therefore, I believe that a beautiful world which all people dream of will stand ‘On This Rock’.