Interview: Busan Mayor Hur Nam Sik
Mr. Mayor, could you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born in Gyeongsang Nam-do in a poor, mountain village where many folks skipped lunch and ate sweet potatoes for dinner. People there barely manage to earn a living. Deok-an Elementary School, the school I went to, had only 53 classmates in total. Among them, I am one of two who went to university. My role models from childhood are Korean Revolutionary, Kim Gu, as the mentor of our people, and President Franklin Roosevelt as an indomitable leader. Kim Gu (also known as Baekbom) is our people’s mentor who saved our country and instilled a burning patriotism and righteous spirit while predicting a bright future. Also President Franklin Roosevelt, who overcame the suffering of the Great Depression and World War II with strong conviction and a fighting spirit. Since my school days, I dreamed of being a leader and I have worked for Busan Metropolitan City since I began my career.
Busan is a city that draws thousands of foreigners from various countries to live, work and play. What’s the attraction for tourists and for those living in Busan?
By the end of July, foreign tourism in Busan has increased about 1,180,000 visitors compared with last year. This is a 19.4% jump, and it is predicted to top 2,000,000 this year. Busan is blessed with natural scenery such as the mountains, seas and rivers, in addition to tourist attractions such as Haeundae, Gwangan-li and Taejongdae. Also, various festivals like PIFF, the Jagalchi Seafood Festival and the Fireworks Festival are held throughout the year. Busan is a bustling city which enjoys culture and exciting events all year round. Especially, the dynamic features and the warm-hearted people of Busan attract foreign tourists. We are developing the worlds biggest and high-value tourist attractions to satisfy tourist’s desires. In order to create an easy and joyful city lifestyle for foreigners living here, e-FM, Busan’s first English radio station was created, giving information on life, culture, tourism, and various culture festivals in hopes to make Busan feel like a second hometown. We want to improve convenience for foreigners by offering various support and call centers and Korean classes to accommodate those who need help.
The mayor (right) at the Busan International Film Festival
How important is the role of culture in Busan and how does the city promote it?
The 21st century is the era of culture. These days, each country competes with culture. The Tate Modern Art Museum in London attracts over 4,000,000 tourists; the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain turned the difficulties of working in a coal mine into a cultural attraction representing Europe. This is an age where culture attracts people and capital, and is a source of competitive power. Busan has a rich, historical and traditional cultural heritage that has open and hospitable-minded people. In Busan, we are working on various culture policies with the vision of developing a place that is visited by foreigners worldwide. Last year, we opened the Busan Classical Music Institute as the first national culture facility in the country. Now, we are considering building the National Busan Library and the Busan Biennale space. In short, our primary policy goal is to establish great media facilities, and establish a competitive international exhibition environment. To do this, we have opened a multilingual website and now produce the newsletter “Dynamic Busan.” At the start of this year, we established the Busan Cultural Foundation to take a professional approach to cultural administration.
What makes Busan differ from other Asian countries like Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore?
The strength of Busan is Busan itself, meaning that geographically we have advantages. As a gateway to the Asian continent, Busan has geographical advantages and a well-developed Sea-Air-Rail transportation system. What’s more, with our port ranking at number 5 in the world and being positioned at the center of Northeast Asian economic distribution, it gives Busan the full potential to be the hub of Northeast Asia. Maximizing these strengths can propel Busan ahead of other global nations in the near future.
Just for fun: What is your favorite Korean and Foreign food? Who is your favorite singer? What is your hobby?
I’m not that picky and can eat almost anything. I have eaten many foreign foods and like them all. My favorite Korean food is Soy Bean Paste Soup . My favorite singer is Cho Yong-Pil. He is an honorary citizen of Busan for singing “Come Back to Busan Port.” As for hobbies, I’m so busy attending to Busan that I don’t have enough time to exercise or enjoy a hobby. I enjoy a morning bath at the bathhouse near my home and from time to time on weekends, I climb Geumjeong mountain overlooking Busan, mapping out my plans and trying to relax.
Is there anything you would like to say to the many foreigners living here in Busan?
First, I wish to express my deepest respect to every foreigner living in Busan! At the start of the year people said, “this year is going to be very harsh.” Companies, households, employees, and young people faced the severe circumstances of a bad economy. At times like this, it is hard to work or study far from your home country. But, there will always be ups and downs in life as well as the economy. Yet, there’s no crisis we cannot conquer. Never let things get you down and frustrated; with strong hearts we can overcome any obstacle. Fortunately, the world economy is recovering. Most of all, I wish that you all keep in mind your family in your hometown, have a strong mind in the face of adversity and I encourage you to take care of your Korean and foreign friends. With these, we can develop bigger and stronger dreams.
For more information about the City of Busan go to:
www. english.busan.go.kr or www.busanlife.or.kr
Translation by Indigo Park