Neon street lights near Bupyeong Market. Busan, South Korea. © Matt Lemon Photography. All Rights Reserved.
move·ment ˈmo͞ovmənt, noun
I recently moved from Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital and largest city on the eastern coast of Ireland, to Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city on the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula. On the surface, the cities couldn’t look more different. Less than 300,000 people live in Belfast, whereas Busan is home to 3.6 million. Shops often close at 5.30pm in Belfast, if they didn’t close for good during the economic crisis, and streets are often quiet and empty from the early evening onwards. Shops in Busan open until at least 10pm, with some staying open 24/7, and thus people move around the streets until late at night. Speaking of moving: Belfast’s public transport, with all due respect, is really nothing to write home about. In fact, I had stopped using it altogether. Busan, on the other hand, has four subway lines and countless city, express and late night buses, taking you anywhere at any time. Daily life is quite different in these two cities, but there are some similarities, too.
Both cities are famous seaports. Belfast Harbour is legendary for the construction of the Titanic at the Harland and Wolff shipyard (click image to enlarge). Today handles over two thirds of Northern Ireland’s sea borne trade and approximately one quarter of the entire island’s. Busan Harbour, home to the renowned Hanjin shipyard, is the largest port in South Korea and one of the world’s ten busiest by cargo tonnage. But while Busan’s economy seems prosperous and post-Troubles Belfast has experienced substantial economic growth, youth unemployment is a major problem in both cities. Busan’s overall unemployment rate of nearly 3 percent is lower than that of Belfast, where over 6 percent are unemployed, but the rate of youth unemployment is dramatically higher in both cities. In Northern Ireland, over 21 percent of youths are not currently in education, employment or training, although the rate in Belfast is said to be lower. In South Korea, the youth unemployment rate surpassed the 10 percent threshold earlier this year, and in the past, figures from Busan were higher than the national average.
Both Belfast and Busan have gained increasing popularity in the world of TV and film. The Paint Hall, originally part of the Harland and Wolff shipyard, is now one of the largest film studios in Europe, comprising four stages over 1,000m². The internationally highly acclaimed Game of Thrones series is being filmed there (see video below). The Busan International Film Festival (BIFF), first held in 1996, has quickly become one of the most significant film festivals in Asia, with a strong focus on first-time directors. Since 2011, the festival is held at the Busan Cinema Center, covering over 30,000m² under two eye-catching cantilever roofs, which are clad with over 40,000 LEDs (see video below).
Over time, I may be able to draw some further comparisons, but for now, I shall end, like a news broadcast, with the weather. I’ve noticed that quite a few people seem to think that South Korea might be a rather warm destination they could escape to during cold winters. However, the average temperatures in Belfast and Busan are more or less the same during the winter, with Belfast’s ranging from 4 to 5°C (39-41°F) between December and February, and Busan’s from 3 to 6°C (37-43°F). The rain is what makes the difference. Whereas Belfast experiences an average of 80mm of rainfall during all winter months, Busan experiences between 30mm in December and January and 50mm in February. It peaks during the summer, however, when Busan’s average temperature goes up to 29 degrees Celsius (84 degrees Fahrenheit) and up to 300mm of rain create a somewhat cooler version of a humid subtropical climate. You might then prefer to summer in Belfast, where the average temperature reaches only 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) and the rainfall is pretty much the same all year round. In this context, the grass really does seem to be greener on the other side, but I’m still happy to be spending the next months exploring Busan.