Collecting Busan's Untold Stories for Laundry

To dig deep into local history, Busan Ilbo journalists opened a laundromat.

Collecting Busan's Untold Stories for Laundry

Photo: Journalists of Busan Ilbo at the Sanbok Laundromat.  Credit: Busan Ilbo.

To tell the story of the historic Sanbok Road 산복도로, the journalists of Busan Ilbo 부산일보 tried an unusual strategy: opening a laundromat.

The steep, winding road that snakes up Busan’s hills has long been a haven for the downtrodden. During the Korean War 한국전쟁, refugees from North Korea lived in makeshift huts built on the side of the hill, away from the old city. During the development era of the 1970s and 80s, the huts became homes for factory workers who flocked to the big city for work.

Today, Sanbok Road is better known for offering a spectacular view of the city, with its longtime residents growing old and gray as South Korea’s second city struggles to gain population. (See Starter Kit, “Get to Know Busan.”)

To go beyond superficial reporting on Sanbok Road, four journalists from Busan Ilbo explored a way to embed themselves in the community. Realizing that the still-low income neighborhood had no coin laundry, they convinced the newspaper to invest KRW 20m (USD 15k) to buy two industrial-grade washers and dryers, and opened a laundromat in an abandoned house on the hill.

Local residents can do their laundry free of charge; the only payment requested is the story of their lives. Through the Busan Ilbo website and a dedicated Youtube channel titled Sanbok Laundromat 산복 빨래방, the journalists share the daily lives of the neighborhood’s residents and the incredible journeys they have taken.

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