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Haeundae beach racial segregation plan misunderstood

By ProjectManhatten. Reproduced under CC2.0 license.
James Hyams
Written by James Hyams

The Haeundae District Office is under fire for their plan to divide Busan’s Haeundae beach into zones based on race this year.

The office said that there will be a “China Zone,” a “Kid Zone,” and a 50-meter section of beach without parasols for foreigners.

Presumably, the rest of the vast beach will be for Koreans.

Some foreigners are comparing this segregation to a modern “apartheid” and representing mentalities of the 1950s.

“I don’t think anyone is trying to be intentionally racist. But the mentally is pretty backwards. People just aren’t thinking,” one foreigner writes in response to this information.

Another asks whether foreigners will be allowed to use the same toilets as Koreans.

However, Sohn Jeong-sik, an official at Haeundae District Office, said it was wrong to suggest there will be a foreigner-only-zone in Haeundae Beach this year.

“We will have a foreigner-friendly zone, which we have named, 외국인 특화존 or foreigner-specialized area,” Sohn said.

“We have decided to do the foreigner-friendly zone because the vast majority of the beach area had been occupied by beach parasols, which Koreans like. We wanted to create an area where people who do not want to relax under beach parasols can do what they like.”

In the foreigner-friendly zone, they plan to erect beach soccer goal posts, a beach volleyball court and an empty area without a beach parasol where people can suntan.

“Of course, Koreans will be able to use the area as well. There will be no restriction or boundary that blocks Koreans from entering the area.”

Sohn said that the main purpose of having an exclusive zone for “kids” is safety.

“We could secure both the kid zone and foreigner-friendly zone because Haeundae’s shore width has been expanded from 50 meters to 90 meters through reconstruction work,” he said.

The office named one section as the China Zone to display artwork inspired by a Chinese animation and allow people in the zone, presumably Chinese tourists, to try Korean cosmetic products.

One expat wrote on the Busan Haps magazine Facebook page that this is not the first time this department has unintentionally created unrest by the way they worded areas designed for foreigners.

“I recall a similar-feeling situation for the fireworks, when they had that “foreigner zone” or something, and the wording in the newsletter made it also sound like they were just trying to shove anyone not Korean in a space away from the Koreans. That was again apparently not the case, it just sounded a lot like it.”

Another expat said this was another demonstration of the Korean governments lack of foresight.

“if Korean government officials want to promote Korea as “the hub of Asia” and as a culturally developed nation, then they need to learn how to appropriately deal with foreigners and tourists. Like others said, they had a good idea but they didn’t even bother to think of how it could easily be perceived. It’s not “political correctness” to try to avoid cultural insensitivity.”

While some expats are impartial, one expat said the “foreigner zone” was at this beach last year too and they enjoyed it.

“Uncrowded, nice sand, close to the bars and GS, and without any dumb umbrellas! I definitely am not cool with it being next to the kid zone. Sounds like a lot of noise pollution.”

In 2012 Police at Haeundae sent 1,600 letters to companies that employ migrant workers in the region, requesting they stagger vacation periods for their workers in order to reduce nuisance behaviour, cultural misunderstandings, and crime on the beach.

About the author

James Hyams

James Hyams

James Hyams juggles several careers including being a journalist and a social worker. James has an avid interest in 'telling it as it is', exposing matters of public interest, and reviving investigative journalism in the new digital era. Testimony to this is his thesis titled: “U.S. Government secrecy and the withering watchdog: Is WikiLeaks the answer?”


  • What a shock that Capt Clueless has chimed in on this completely non-issue. There is no segregation. Only you desperately trying to find some kind of relevance by knee-jerk reacting from one “outrage” to the next. I guess they must have short buses in Australia too huh?

  • Typical short sighted I know better foreigner ignorance. And instead of admitting stupidity, the criticism is that Koreans don’t use perfect English in Korea. Hilarious.

          • Oh, come on, man. “People were saying it on social media” does not make a statement either (a) true or (b) worthy of repeating in the headline of an article. It’s just intellectually dishonest to report “what people are saying on social media” as fact.

          • Now, if your headline read “people who claim racial segregation are ignorant of facts” that’s a different headline.

          • Im afraid that day will never come. The Korea Observer is tabloid that caters to the English community so cannot criticicize them so blatently even if so true.

          • Yeah, I was not aware of this website until just recently, and I can’t imagine, after reading this one article, that anyone could possibly take them seriously. A terribly reality-distorting headline that must either be incompetence or dishonesty. Especially considering his response to my original criticism.

          • Unfortunately there is a lot of ignorant fools. They have no clue how Koreans think and how Koreans place priorities and values in different ways and they wouldn’t know progress if it came up and bit off their ass. In their small world all people should think the same as they do and act the same way as they do. Pathetic.

          • As an American, I am shocked at how often the notion of “progress” simply is taken to mean “do things the same way we do.” Our income inequality is the highest it’s ever been and we are in a constant state of declaring war on anything that moves. Not exactly the best track record to emulate. (That being said, drivers in Busan could stand to be more safety-conscious)

  • “We will have a foreigner-friendly zone, which we have named, 외국인 특화존 or foreigner-specialized area,” Sohn said.

    “We have decided to do the foreigner-friendly zone because the vast majority of the beach area had been occupied by beach parasols, which Koreans like. We wanted to create an area where people who do not want to relax under beach parasols can do what they like.”

    In the foreigner-friendly zone, they plan to erect beach soccer goal posts, a beach volleyball court and an empty area without a beach parasol where people can suntan.

    “Of course, Koreans will be able to use the area as well. There will be no restriction or boundary that blocks Koreans from entering the area.”

    Ummm, why wouldn’t they just call it “Parasol-free Zone”? Duh.

  • I just want to point out the headline here. Just so I’m
    clear, they think I would not be upset about any racial segregation plan if I
    understood it correctly? And while I’m at it, the assumption here is that most
    ‘foreigners’ enjoy the beach differently from Koreans, who like shade so they
    don’t tan. I hate to say it, but whatever the intention, this kind of
    carelessness in message demonstrates taking patterns- and yes, Haeundae-gu,
    those patterns define you as racist.

  • Why couldn’t it be called the “Fun in the Sun Zone”?

    Also, setting that zone next to the kid’s zone feels like we are being put at the kids table.

  • I’m an American. If I go into the Korean zone with all the parasols and stuff, does an official come along and make me go to the foreign friendly zone? Is there someone at the Korean parasol zone turning people away if they are a foreigner? That’s what I want to know.

    • No there is not. We are currently in the process of discussing The Haeundae District Office’s idea with them. Stay posted……

  • I love you, Korean Observer, but concluding this article with that final paragraph?….an article about racial/ cultural insensitivity?
    Even if that’s true, you should present it better. With again contributing to stereotypes and more insensitivity.
    Fuck this article in the face.

    • Ummm.. reality break. The zone has been there for two years. There was no “segregation plan” anywhere other than on social media and this guy’s headline, and all the government is doing is renaming the same section of beach that was accessible to all people in the first place.

    • Good one! Hiarious. The same people who shoot black people for no good reason criticicizes Koreans for bad english as racism. Is there anything funnier.

  • I guess honesty is offensive. It is all a matter of semantics. They could’ve just called it the open free play area. Nevertheless, let’s not kid ourselves. Pretty much only a waygook would go to the beach to tan.

  • I am very deeply disturbed by the headline. “Racial Segregation”? Are you serious? How is an area–however poorly named, however blindly conceived–that people can freely enter and exit, regardless of their nationality, a form of racial segregation? I’m sorry, but I have to say that judging from the rest of the article and the quotes provided, as well as my actual experiences at Haeundae beach in the nearly six years I have lived in Busan, that this headline is simply the worst form of intentionally misleading sensationalism. I have never been carted into, or out of, any section of the beach–or anywhere else in the city. Unlike the dog-racing tracks in Florida, where even in my childhood there were still sections of the stands where African Americans were not allowed to sit. That’s racial segregation. Calling something a thing does not make it be that thing, no matter where you write it. I’m all for changing the pervasive view in Korea that “foreigners like _____,” especially considering that in Korea, the word “foreigner actually means over 99% of the world’s population. But you can strive for improvement and change without resorting to utter falsehoods.

  • Some of the posters here sound like people paid by the government to take a pro-Korean stance on every issue that might reflect negatively on Korea. Having experienced a variety of overt racism in this country I can say that the article did try and cut them some slack, because it is entirely plausible that they could have intentionally meant to separate Koreans from foreigners and claim that it’s for the benefit of both parties. I’ve been turned away from night clubs before by the bouncers saying that they don’t allow foreigners in because apparently the presence of foreigners makes the Korean clientele uncomfortable. So it’s not far of a stretch for people who have experienced this to see a similar thought process behind this. and no matter how you spin it, that still lands squarely in the middle of unacceptable discriminatory behavior. People need to understand that the ends do not justify the means. This echoes with what the apartheid government was doing in South Africa. Let’s be separate but equal, forgetting that separation reinforces prejudice. Before anyone says I’m jumping the gun and that this isn’t apartheid South Africa, people need to be aware that this is how stuff likes this looks from the outside and those same people need to stop defending behavior that they know would never fly in any country that purports to be a free-market, capitalist, democracy.

    • perhaps you should have considered the difference between Korea and where you are from. Yes, there are racial discriminatory problems in Korea including mistreated illegal workers from east Asian countries, but this doesn’t really seem to be the case. Korea isn’t the United States. Yes, Korea is becoming more and more populated with foreigners, but most of the people living in Korea are Koreans and they can’t have a proper conversation in English. Not every place in Korea is used to foreigners, think of a foreigner specialized area like Chinatown in other countries. no, It’s not apartheid, where Africans were discriminated on their own land by its invaders; yes, there are cases such as your’s where you would be denied service because you’re a foreigner, because the owner supposes having a foreigner would damage their profits, but this doesn’t seem to be the case here.
      It’s true that phrases such as “foreigner only” implies racism to native English speakers, but some Koreans might think it just means “for people who came from abroad,”(in a country that is not all blended with foreigners such as the U.S.) because they don’t understand the nuances in those words and thus made a mistake in word choice, however it would be presumptuous to simply think that Korea can turn into a 100% foreigner friendly state or like the U.S. in a short time. And no, its not just a matter of saying some view is right and imposing it on Korea.

      • I don’t expect Korea to turn into the U.S. But what I am expecting is for a country that has been a member of the international community since 1953 at the earliest to conform to an international standard. I think in this instance it would have been much easier for them to just put up the soccer goal posts or volleyball nets or whatever and then put a sign up that says “no parasols or umbrellas here”. That would have solved the problem cleanly and efficiently. The problem that I see here is that the Korean mindset jumps to “foreigner this, Korean that” first without first exploring other options and that is something that needs to be addressed, regardless of how innocent the intentions are it’s just better to save yourself the stress of having to write apologies in the newspaper because you put your foot in it. I’m not here trying to be condescending to them, but my personal philosophy is that when you come to my country (or any other Western country like Oz or New Zealand or the UK) they don’t say South Africans here and other foreigners there. So I don’t expect that type of thing here when they don’t receive it in my country. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Words to live by.

  • So, basically, according to James Hyams, James Hyams “tells it like it is.” Or at least how it was ignorantly spouted on social media. And here lies the source of my disgust. There are areas where Korean society most certainly could use some change. Many areas. There are so areas where my home country (the U.S.) needs to change. And this is probably true in Mr. Hyam’s home as well. The problem I have is that when people decide, with malice or not, to turn non-stories into stories, to claim wrongdoing where none exists, to “cry wolf” so to speak; the long-term tendency is for people to begin to filter out the genuine calls for change that is needed. This was not an issue of “racial segregation,” it was an issue of an unfortunately named area of beach that has been turned into an issue.
    I’m all for reporting that looks at the darker side of society and sheds light on problems that many don’t see. This is not an example of that kind of reporting. As far as I can see, this is an issue of either a very-poorly-phrased headline and a man who won’t admit it, or it’s a reporter willing to distort truth to push an agenda–an agenda I myself believe in, social equality. But if we push society forward on the basis of lies and distortion, are we really doing a service to anyone?

  • most western English teachers see things that are not there and only contribute to the problem. we need to get them (all under the age of 50) out of the Korean classroom and stop them from influencing vulnerable and impressionable students

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