Preserving the Heritage of Busana
Gukje Market, which is located in Nampo-dong, the busiest downtown area in Busan in the past, was once a large market known as the “market of everything.” However, as Nampo-dong declined, Gukje Market also visibly lost its vitality. After a long period of decline, spring has come again to Gukje Market. It is primarily thanks to the merchants who steadfastly guarded this place. Kim Deok-gil, who runs the “The Master of Knives” in Gukje Market, is one such person.
He opened “The Master of Knives” in Gukje Market and started a knife sharpening business about 15 years ago. Despite 15 years of experience, Kim is still thinking about how to sharpen knives more precisely. The wet stone machine placed in his shop is also a product of this research. “When you sharpen a knife with a grinder sold in the market, you see sparks flying, right? That’s how much heat is applied to the knife. Then the heat-treated part of the knife oxidizes and the knife becomes dull.”
However, you cannot just leave the blade unhoned. After much thought, Kim created a grinder using a wet stone that he developed himself. Unlike the grinders sold in the market, this grinder rotates while spraying water, allowing the blade to be sharpened without damaging the heat-treated part and making the blade sharp. After sharpening the blade, he carefully sharpens the blade again using a traditional method with a wet stone for a second time. This requires patience. Kim says that you can’t get a good knife without putting in effort and time.
It’s not just the merchants of Gukje Market or the people of Busan who come here. Tourists, as well as Australia and Canada-born Koreans, also visit here to sharpen or buy knives. Through tourists who have purchased sharpened knives from him, word has spread to other areas. He often sends sharpened knives by courier. Kim’s greatest satisfaction is that others now recognize the value of knives sharpened with sincerity.
His wish is to keep this store going and infuse new life into dull knives as long as his physical strength allows it. “It’s been over 40 years since I settled down in Gukje Market. It used to be a bustling market known throughout the country, but recently its reputation has been lost and it breaks my heart. However, I have never thought of leaving this place. Gukje Market is my old companion.”
Breathing Fresh Air into an Old Port
Young people leave the old downtown because there are no jobs, and they do not visit the old downtown anymore because there is no entertainment. What will keep them from leaving? This is a long-standing task.
Kim Chul-woo is from Yeongdo, in the old downtown of Busan. He left for Seoul to pursue his dream of becoming a film director, just as many young people in the old downtown left to pursue their dreams. After giving up on becoming a film director, he ended his journey in Seoul and returned to his hometown.
While working as a ship designer in his hometown, he went through a life-changing event in 2008. Due to the Lehman Brothers crisis, shipyards in Yeongdo went bankrupt one by one, displacing over a thousand workers. “This must have happened in other countries and cities, but I was interested in the remedies other cities came up with. I basically began studying out of curiosity rather than pondering what to do. I discovered that the parties ought to take the initiative first rather than waiting for support from the government.” That is how he established the urban regeneration startup “RTBP Alliance” in 2005.
RTBP created a co-working space “Platform 135” for young people who had nowhere to go due to the shipyard closures. Also, as part of a regional innovation project, he stirred up a fresh breeze in Yeongdo through activities like purchasing an abandoned warehouse in Yeongdo and remodeling it into a complex cultural space “GGTI.” In particular, RTBP gathered the history and stories of Yeongdo and turned them into exhibitions, performances, parties, and workshops to promote Yeongdo.
There is also a new project in the works. “In my opinion, a good city is one where work, living and residence are naturally interwoven. The Lifestyle Design Center project began in response to the question, ‘What would it be like if all three of the above harmonized in one building or at a very close distance?’ The center is expected to open in February 2023.”
He claims that his long years spent in the old downtown served as a great source of nourishment for him. “No matter how renowned architects come, it is impossible to know how this area has developed in the last ten years. Locals have a competitive edge over experts.” It must imply that the young people of the old downtown are the key to its revival.