Would You Like Some Racism With Your Beach?: Why the Zoning of Korea’s Haeundae Beach is Wrong

Recently it was announced that Haeundae beach of the beautiful coastal city of Busan, Korea is going to implement some “zoning” features this summer. Specifically, a “Korean” zone, a “kids” zone, a “foreigner” zone, and a “Chinese” zone. (Click here to read Busan Haps’ article on the subject).

Upon hearing about this, reactions in the media became (understandably) heated.

While there are those claiming to have done research about the new policy, saying that the zones are rather “themed” instead of discriminating (ex. there are swimming lessons in the kids zone, tanning spaces in the foreigner zone, and sand sculptures in the Chinese zone), the fact still remains that it is segregation based on race. Once again, Korea is obliviously racist.

Now, I don’t mean to make this more inflammatory than it warrants, but the topic of xenophobia in Korea is one that I’ve been struggling with for a while now. To read my more in-depth post about it, click here.

The way I see it is that the bottom line here is another issue of “us and them”. Korea is shockingly and embarrassingly unaware that it’s enacting its own apartheid. There are Koreans, and then there’s everyone else. And then the Chinese, apparently, because they’re a category unto themselves. Korean culture does not recognize why it’s inappropriate to separate, single out, and generally call attention to differences between races, and that is a fundamental problem.

Haeundae Beach in Busan, Korea. Photo from article in Busan Haps.
Haeundae Beach in Busan, Korea. Photo from original article in Busan Haps.

Those in charge of the changes have tried to justify the Korean vs. foreigner sections by saying that foreigners don’t like all the sun parasols blocking up the beach, so their section is going to be umbrella-free. If this is the case, however, then instead of calling it a “foreigner zone”, it should have been named an “umbrella-free zone”. Such a simple change would make all the difference. Instead, it becomes a matter of race division instead of sun preference.

Now again, I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, but the number of times this happens is astounding and enraging; hearing about this particular instance for the first time certainly made my own hackles bristle. It’s indescribably frustrating to live in a country where there is so much blatant racism that it’s made invisible by being the norm. I, like so many other expats living here, am indignant and want change, but how does one do that when a problem isn’t even recognized as being present?

And what about the fact that races are divided into “Koreans”, “foreigners”, and “Chinese”? I don’t even know how to start addressing how they make racial divides. All I can say is that the logic behind it is nothing more or less than Othering.

While I don’t see this situation becoming strictly implemented in the sense that non-Korean beach-goers will be stopped from going into the Korean or Chinese sections or vice versa (just imagine them trying to stop a Korean-American going into the “foreigner” zone), the mentality behind this will always be wrong.

I’m really disappointed in Korea that something as harmless as zoning a beach has been turned into something ugly.

Though I’ve been mostly silent in the past about these kinds of things, I’ve decided no more. No more will I protect them by classifying such actions as cultural ignorance and keeping quiet. The only way to combat this is through exposure; perhaps if enough people speak out in disgust, they might start noticing the impact their actions have.

5 thoughts on “Would You Like Some Racism With Your Beach?: Why the Zoning of Korea’s Haeundae Beach is Wrong

  1. The latest update is that they have scrapped the idea of naming their zones due to the feedback from the online community, and have now decided to make light of the situation by creating a competition now (http://www.koreaobserver.com/busan-scraps-plan-to-have-foreigner-zone-on-haegundae-beach-28526/). Unfortunately, I wonder why they even need to bother naming the different zones on the beach. I think they should just allocate space for kids, families, parasols, or sports and then there are no opportunities for possible derogation against certain nationalities.

    Personally, I think that the authorities were attempting to accommodate different parties on the beach but they hadn’t expected the possible insinuation from naming different areas of the beach. However, it is good to see that they are willing to compromise and take on board possible less argumentative names for the areas.


    1. That’s great news and I’m really happy to hear it! Thanks for the update and link. I agree that I don’t know why they need zone names…ah well. At least they were made aware and that’s what counts 🙂


      1. I do think it’s interesting that those in charge of naming the zone are basically asking, “What should we call this ‘parasol free zone’?” I’m also happy that they decided to rename it after getting feedback. I have to admit that the article (translated version at least) was poorly worded and if it had been worded differently maybe would have had a different response. Zone implies some sort of rule or regulation. Anyway…good to see that voices were heard.


  2. Wow. That’s pretty shameful. Maybe it’s a good thing that they haven’t mastered institutionalized xenophobia otherwise they would have segregated it by language.


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