I’d passed it a hundred times or more, thinking it was just another old, scruffy neighborhood set along a hillside at the edge of the great industrial petrochemical complex. A few dozen traditional homes hidden from the passing traffic on the busy roads, camouflaged by a grove of trees and a few small garden-sized farms surrounding it, one could be excused for never noticing. But a closer look reveals a world within a world in which a visitor might feel just as Dorothy did when she realized she was no longer in Kansas but over the rainbow.
A few years ago, the residents of Shinwha Village apparently realized they lived in just such a scruffy, old neighborhood, filled with traditional style homes with nothing for a view besides what many foreigners joklingly refer to as “Morder”, the sprawling petrochemical complex. And they decided to do something about it. They called in the artists and transformed the small community to a place that, in this man’s opinion, should be number 13 of the Scenic Sites of Ulsan.
I’d heard of Shinwha Art Village, but what I’d heard was a) not much and b) not an impressive tale. So I wasn’t out looking for it when I happened to see a sign and an arrow pointing uphill while I was out on one of my regular bike rides. I needed a few more kilometers for the day’s workout and decided I’d ride up the hill and see what this little village was all about. The resulting view was wonderfully shocking. And I thought, a little like Dorothy, I’m not in Ulsan anymore.
At the top of the hill, which is the location I’d recommend entering from, I immediately fell in love with this place. The streets were clean and uncluttered, laid with a faux cobblestone concrete pattern and missing the usual rubbish and badly done repair jobs. The houses were brightly colored and decorated with murals of all sizes. Although I found no discernible theme among the art, which ranged Andy Warhol copies to Impressionist pieces to air-brushed photos, to South Park-esque cartoons, it all seemed to mesh well together. The art alone is not the draw here, although the murals are wonderful. It’s the twisting narrows streets, the steep hills, the colorful homes, the potted flowers and the utter immaculateness along with the art work that made the place seem magical to me. It almost had a sort of San Francisco funk feel to it.
I spent quite a while pedaling around the village. In some places, I reached the end of a sidewalk and had to carry by bicycle up stairs but it was all very accessible. Every corner held a surprise as I rode from street to street.
GuMong Ga Gae, or what I chose to call “Bre’r Rabbit’s Place” is a small convenience store, or “super” and sits directly in the middle of the village. Perfect for grabbing a refreshment after walking among the quaint homes on a hot summer day.
I had pedaled around a bit already and ran into a group of university students out enjoying the village. We chatted for a few minutes and I asked them the story of ShinWha Art Village. One student, Kang Yuna (강유나) had particularly good English and described how the painters had all come out to revamp things. I was curious as how this place might have looked before the metamorphosis took place, but I’ve seen other old, scruffy villages of traditional homes before, and they are nothing like this place. Kang went on to say she’s a student in Poland and studies piano. The other students, who were all very kind and friendly, attend several of the universities in the local area.
Although it would have been nice to have the map translated into English the beauty of the place was enough for me. For our Korean readers, please add your translation to the above in our comments section.
If you’re traveling around Ulsan in a vehicle, this place is difficult to see, although there are signs for it. From the roadway, you might get a glimpse of color, but little else will clue you in that you’re close to one of Ulsan’s real gems. I tried to get a view of what I’d been missing all these years and came up almost empty handed.
SHinwha Art Village is the at the eastern end of Yaumdong at the entrance to Jangsaengpo and Mordor. To get to Shinwha Art Village, bus 216, 236 or 256 passes by. For the best experience, enter the village from the south end by walking up the hill through the small farms. Initially seeing the village as a burst of color from a wooded green area is far more beautiful than beginning from the rear of a truck service station. Check out this map to see exactly where it is.
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