Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy New Year

I wish you love, peace, good health, and all the best for 2010 !!!

Looking back on 2009, I hope you'll forgive me for
all the boring stuff I ranted about. I didn't write enough about all the parts of Seoul I (re)discovered over the past 12 months. Some have already disappeared, many have changed, and more than a few for the better.

Most left tracks I might follow sooner than later. More likely than not in French, I'm afraid, leaving you with more bits of junk writing on this excuse for a site*.


Seoul Village 2009

* if you happen to read French, 4 of my "dragedies" published last year feature Seoul.

Pyeongchang 2018 vs Sejong City 2010 ?

LEE Kun-hee received presidential pardon from LEE Myung-bak, officially to boost the chances of Pyeongchang in its bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics. The son of Samsung founder LEE Byung-chol, who helped turn the national champion into a global star, resigned as chairman during the investigations that led to his conviction earlier this year for embezzlement and tax evasion. Following the Olympic "tradition", LEE Kun-hee also had to put his IOC membership on hold. This pardon allows him to vote and lobby more efficiently for the Pyeongchang case.

Of course, should Pyeongchang win, many will wonder what kind of lobbying was involved. The very year he became an IOC member (1996), LEE had been convicted for bribing former presidents Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo. He was (already!) pardoned the following year and that's one of the reasons why his 2009 sentence was considered rather kind : "only" 3-year prison + 5-year probation + KRW 110 bn.

Of course, Samsung is a top olympic sponsor and it helps : everybody remembers the 1996 Coca Cola Games in Atlanta... And everybody knows Sochi owes its olympic status to one powerful man : Vladimir Putin. But summing up Pyeongchang 2018* to the Samsung Olympics or the LEE Kun-hee Games would be unfair. The whole country has been behind the project for a very long while, and after Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, holding the games in Asia would make sense. The winning city will be declared in July 2011 and as much as 2018 rivals Annecy and Munich, Pyeongchang must watch competition from China for 2022.

Still, Pyeongchang looks like the perfect alibi for LEE Myung-bak who badly needed one to grant a second pardon to Korea's most powerful man. If the measure caused the usual popular indignation, it didn't really come as a surprise. And it probably didn't come for free either : rumors have it Samsung may be the chaebol recently evoqued as a major investor for the second-version-of-the-yet-to-be-built Sejong City**... both LEEs would then share each other's burden.

To make it more look like part of a grand scheme for Gangwon-do, the Government announced today a new Seoul-Chuncheon railway. After the Seoul-Chuncheon Expressway inaugurated last summer, an undisputable argument in favor of Pyeongchang 2018.


Seoul Village 2009

* official website :
pyeongchang2018.org

** see "
Sejong City and the beauty of lameduckhood"

Monday, December 28, 2009

No cars on Gwanghwamun Square for New Year's Day

Seoul Village 2009 - Like it or not, Gwanghwamun Square is already a success. As we saw before, the site can definitely be improved and uplifted (I mean literally : walking at street level remains a little bit disturbing with all the traffic so close to you), but at long last, pedestrians have reconquered the heart of Seoul. And on January the 1st and 2nd, they will totally own it : traffic will be completely closed between 6 p.m. and 11 a.m. on both sides of the plaza - the perfect occasion to test a concept planned from the beginning.

For those who've known Seoul for a while, changes have already been spectacular : Seoulites simply didn't have a place to gather for major events, and walking outdoors on a winter night was an oddity, so imagining thousands of people crisscrossing downtown on foot for hours for Christmas...

The 2002 FIFA World Cup changed everything : masses rediscovered city center and furthermore, Koreans rediscovered the concept of popular, mass outdoor celebrations. City officials reacted quickly : first came Seoul Plaza (May 2004), then Cheonggyecheon Plaza (October 2005), and now Gwanghwamun Plaza (August 2009)*. Each hub has already proven part of its formidable potential, but they still have to learn how to work together as a seamless system.

The transition between the first two will soon be facilitated by the new City Hall, and in order to ease the flow between the last two I'm sure Seoul City will come up with a solution : for instance, a gentle slope connecting Cheonggye Square or the pavement in front of Dong-A building with Haechi Madan** through the Gwanghwamun underground hub would not only make perfect sense, but also be very much appreciated by people with strollers or in wheelchairs. There could even be also a direct connection with the stream, and why not, that corridor could feature an underground waterway restoring the continuity between Cheonggyecheon and its source.

This year, Gwanghwamun is literally stealing the show, starting with the ice rink, snatched away from Seoul Plaza (see "Winter Sports at Gwanghwamun Square"), and the light festival which includes projections on KT building and Sejong Cultural Center, or Paik Nam-june's Fractal Turtle Ship - the prow of the plaza during this winter edition of the Hi Seoul Festival.

For Christmas, all Sejongno area was overwhelmed by a huge crowd, and cops had a tough time managing car and human traffics, especially around pedestrian crossings. Cheonggyecheon was well packed, but mostly around the podium installed in front of "Spring" (that's the name of the embarrassing artwork that marks the plaza : a giant, red-blue turbinate shell by Swedish sculptor Claes Oldenburg). Seoul Square, traditionally the young urban musical spot, offers this year a more familial "Winter Story" featuring the reproduction of King Sejong Station, Korea's Antartic Base... but until City Hall is reopened it seems a bit disconnected from the rest.

One can easily imagine Sejongno with no cars for the first night of 2010 : a vast space filled with animations, food, and joy. And if it snows again, the night may truly be magic.


* Seun Greenway Square was inaugurated in 2009 (May 20) opposite Jongmyo but is not yet connected with Cheonggyecheon.
** the exhibition space under Admiral Li's statue - see "Gwanghwamun Square - Preview"

Friday, December 25, 2009

Revisionist schoolbooks : change has not come to Japan

As a Christmas gift to local ultranationalists, the Japanese Government decided to give another hard push in favor of bold revisionism. As usual, school textbooks are used as a vehicle for promoting the idea that Dokdo belongs to the Great Empire. And as usual, the Korean Government denounced the infamy (see "Seoul hits Tokyo's new Dokdo stance").

This comes not as a surprise but as a disappointment : Hatoyama really seemed to be willing to crush the last throes of fascism in the archipelago, his aides even leaking proofs that Dokdo didn't belonged to Japan (see "
According to Japanese law, Dokdo is not Japanese"). More recently, there were even rumors that the Emperor himself would visit Korea in 2010 to formulate official apologies for past wrongs.

That made me quite nervous : last time the Emperor made a move towards reconciliation, extreme right activists would push as hard as they could, fueling mutual hatred across the region, including China and Russia.

Actually, I'd been expecting this kind of provocations, lately : Hatoyama is much weaker than a few months ago and yes, that's the economy, stupid (stimulus programs won't last eternally and 2010 seems poised to be a tough year). Obviously, his government badly needs support from people he disagrees with.

Once again, if Dokdo doesn't belong to Japan (and that's been indisputably settled for good by the official documents leaked earlier this year), talking about Takeshima has always been about Japanese politics : claiming the islets, visiting Yasukuni, rewriting history books... each provocation comes at a time the ruler is in a defensive position and needs political support at home.

Japanese politicians keep fooling their own citizens and it's high time to expose this dangerous imposture.

Seoul Village 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hangeul, take a Bau-Bau

Remember the people of Bau-Bau, Indonesia, who are experiencing the Hangeul alphabet for their cia-cia language * ? As expected, a delegation recently arrived in Seoul to meet with subzero temperatures, a warm welcome, and Santa King Sejong.

The warm welcome included the traditional picture behind a large banner - an embarrassing moment no one can bypass during "events" in Korea**. The banner splashed two versions of a message celebrating their arrival in Seoul, the city of Hangeul : one in Hangeul AND in Korean, the other in Bahasa Indonesia.

You would have expected at least one version in Hangeul AND in Cia-Cia but no. So this kind message can be read by people who understand Korean and Indonesian, but - theoretically - can't be read by the people of Bau-Bau. Organizers obviously missed the point, unless their point was this one : we want to spread Hangeul everywhere for people to see, and care less about people who use it. That's definitely not what the Hunminjeongeum Society had it mind, but this large banner definitely looked like a big Freudian slip.

Seoul Village 2009

* see "
Hangeul lands in Bau-Bau, Indonesia... to save the Cia !"

** I've been recently caught behind one as well, and was mercifully spared the usual shot with the lifted fist and the "paï-ting !" scream - this "fighting !" became popular after advertising campaigns during the 2002 World Cup.

Monday, December 21, 2009

GOH Kun to head social unity council

Seoul Village 2009 - Today, President LEE Myung-bak officially named GOH Kun head of a 48-member social unity committee (or social integration / 사회통합) to be formed on Wednesday.

This former Mayor of Seoul has been Korea's Head of State but never President, and theoretically will never be : Goh only served as interim leader during ROH Moo-hyun's impeachment process back in 2004. He didn't enter the 2007 Presidential race and officially retired from political life. Besides, Goh will be 74 in 2012...

But after losing former presidents ROH Moo-hyun and KIM Dae-jung*, Korean opposition lacks senior figures, and this man was twice Mayor of Seoul (1988-1990 and 1998-2002) and twice Prime Minister (for the recently departed : in 1997-98 under KIM and in 2003-04 under ROH).

Goh refused twice before accepting Lee's proposal. He is not pledging allegiance to a man, but embracing a noble cause, in explicit "political neutrality" : the council aims at healing political divides which have rather increased than decreased lately, many fingers pointing towards Lee himself.

Appointing opposition figures as heads of consensual committees is a Sarkozish move if I ever saw one, but Goh may actually be given room for manoeuvre : very much like Prime Minister Chung Un-chan was drafted to handle the Sejong City hot potato**, this statesman can implement highly needed changes which could hurt Lee's relationship with his most conservative base. Yes, that may even include a follow up for TRCK recommandations : reconciliation is all about social unity. Bonus : Seoul-born Goh has deep Jeolla-do roots and is totally legitimate to fix Korea's regional divide.

An ambitious program... and don't write that one "MBtious" !


* see "
Kim Dae-jung - the Commander's Statue", "A Yellow Sea for Roh Moo-hyun", "Roh Moo-hyun follows Pierre Beregovoy"
** see "
Sejong City and the beauty of lameduckhood"

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Seoul 2010 Festivals and World Design Capital Events

Winter Hi Seoul Festival just started downtown (until Jan. 17), but Seoul Metropolitan Government already listed some events (festivals, exhibitions and fairs) for next year, including celebrations for World Design Capital Seoul 2010* :

January 2010 :
. Seoul Design Assets Exhibition (January 1st - March 7th)
. Design Cube (every month during 2010)
. Art Center Nabi Design Exhibition
. Conqueror Design Contest 2010 - Conqueror Corporate Identity Design Competition (China, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan until February)

February 2010 :
. World Design Cities Summit (February 23-24)
. Playgrounds with culture (Spring edition)
. Korea Space Design Symposium (February 2010)
. Housing fairs

March 2010 :
. Seoul Fashion Week 2010 (Spring edition)
. Seoul Fashion Sourcing Fair (March 31st - April 2nd)
. Seoul Living Design Fair 2010 (March 25-29)
. World Design Capital Seoul 2010 Citizen's Design (until October : competition, exhibition, online event)
. Seoul Tourism Souvenir Contest 2010 (until July)
. International Design Culture Conference

April 2010 :
. Seoul Open Art Fair 2010
. 601 Bisang Artbook Project 2010
. Cheonggyecheon Aqua Fashion Show (second Saturday of each month until October)
. Public Design Exhibition (until May)
. Communication Design Cyber Exhibition 2010 (until 2011)
. Beautiful Design Jungnang Competition (until October)
. Seoul "Good Sign" Exhibition 2010 (until October)
. International Digital Printing & Graphic Design Show 2010 (until May)
. Green Housing Fair
. Seoul Open Art Fair 2010
. Good Design Selection 2010

May 2010 :
. Hi Seoul Festival (May 1-9)
. Seoul Metro National Art Competition (until October)
. Dongdaemun Spring Shopping Festival 2010 (also in December - TBC)
. Gangnam Fashion Festival
. Art In Bloom 2010 (May 1st - June 28th, 2010)
. Children's Design Camp (May 5th)
. Campus-metro Cultural Festival
. Seoul Design cluster "Green&Sharing" Exhibition (until June)
. Seoul International Book Fair 2010
. Exhibition at Doosan Gallery
. Seoul Modelist Contest 2010 (until August)
. Korea Society of Design Science Conference 2010 (Spring edition)

June 2010 :
. International Communication Design Competition 2010
. 45th Korea Design Exhibition
. 21th Korea Textile Design Competition
. Samsung Life Digital Fine Art Contest
. World IT Show
. 21C Design Forum
. International Exhibition on Environmental Technologies & Products

July 2010 :
. International Young Designers Workshop
. Seoul Youth Creativity Summit & Festival (until August)
. "Children and Parents Joining Together" Design Workshop (until August)
. Project of Local Community Artist Development (until August)
. Hanstyle Expo 2010
. Seoul International Cartoon&Animation Festival (July 21-25)
. Seoul Character & Licensing Fair 2010
. Design Exhibition at Kumho Museum
. Design Exhibition at Doosung paper gallery
. Golden Eyes international Art Fair
. MBC Architecture Fair
. Package Design Summer Camp
. SICAF Promotion Plan 2010 (SPP) (July 21-23)
. Seoul International e-Sports Festival (July 23-25)

August 2010 :
. 8th Samwon Scholarship Foundation Awardees Design Exhibition (August 16-30)
. 17th Design Competition for the Youth
. Korea Art Summer Festival
. KODDCO 2010 (Korea Digital Design International Online Competition - until November)
. Xi Design Fiesta
. Seoul Brand Furniture Fair (August 20-25)
. Korea International Furniture & Interior Fair

September 2010 :
. 6th Seoul International Media Art Biennale (until November)
. 7th QMON Design Ground (September 15th - December 30th)
. Korea International Art Fair 2010 (September 08-12)
. Seoul International Contemporary Art Festival 2010
. International Creative Content Fair 2010
. Special Exhibition - Gyeonghuigung Palace (September 17th - October 31st)
. Good Design Selection 2010
. Seoul Digital Culture Open 2010
. Tokyo TDC Seoul Exhibition (Tokyo Type Directors Club - until October)
. Cutting Edge Best Digital Designers Invitational Exhibition
. College Fashion Week
. Dongdaemun Fashion Festival 2010 (September 15-22 - TBD)
. Korea Textile Trade Fair
. Korean Crafts Council Exhibition
. Seoul Gift Show 2010
. Seoul Drum Festival 2010
. Riverside Cafe Festival
. Hangang Performing Artist Project (until October)
. Seoul e-Culture Festival 2010 (September 29)

October 2010 :
. Seoul Design Olympiad 2010 (October 8-31)
. Haechi Festival
. "Seoul, I Design" Public Design Competition 2010
. International Design House Exhibition (October 8-31)
. Seoul Design Market 2010 (October 8-31)
. WDC Convocation Ceremony (October 30-31)
. Seoul Design Studio Design Company Exhibition
. Korea Space Design Festival 2010
. Seoul Fashion Week 2010 (Autumn edition)
. Visiting Fashion Show 2010
. Design MADE
. Playgrounds With Culture (Autumn edition)
. Hangeul Font Type Design Competition
. POSCO Steel Art Award
. Steel Design Competition
. PIN UP Design Awards 2010
. Korea Architecture Fair & Festival 2010
. International Lighting Fair 2010
. Seoul International Toy Fair 2010
. Designtag Online Shop
. Saemungil Festival (October 16-21)
. Hangang Children’s Drawing Contest
. Itaewon Global Village Festival
. Seoul Metro Vintage Show
. Seoul International Performance Festival 2010 - SIPF 2010

November 2010 :
. International Exhibition of Professional Artists 2010
. VIDAK Annual Members Exhibition (Visual Information Design Association of Korea)
. KOSIGN 2010 - Korea International Sign & Design Show (November 11-14)
. Korea Package Design Competition
. Korea Interior Design Contest
. Public Design Expo 2010
. Post-Professional School of Architecture, Korea Institute of Architects
. Home & Table Deco Fair
. Korea Society of Design Science Conference 2010 (Autumn edition)

December 2010 :
. Design Korea 2010 (TBD)
. Seoul Design Festival 2010 (December 7-11)
. Seoul Ice Carving Festival 2010
. Korea Invention Patent Exhibition
. 2010 Trademark - Design Right Exhibition
. Siggraph Asia 2010 (December 15-18)
. Creative Designers Award
. Seoul International New Art Fair
. Design Yearbook "Creatio"


Seoul Village 2009

* for updates, see also
design.seoul.go.kr

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Seoul Village Boutique

View full page.

Sandeullae (Paju)

Seoul Village 2009 - You've seen this kind of place before : not too far from a city, a small road by a school, two three houses with large windows giving on a hilly forest, forced wooden artifacts, Heidi-kitsch decor... only here it's pushed to the max with a Barbara Cartland flavor and fake flowers everywhere.


Sandeullae is Paju's idea of a provincial chic restaurant, with a "fusion" image, but don't expect anything upscale. On week-ends all tables are full and to optimise the flow, customers free their seats before dessert and join the quieter building devoted to tea / coffee / cakes.


The menu is not really innovative considering the price tag (set menu from KRW 17 to 22,000), but they use interesting dressings and selections of ingredients, i.e. fine herbs and an incredible lotus banchan looking like slices of Emmenthal cheese. You finish with a nakji bibim myeon, followed by a classic dolsotbap but an excellent dandelion doenjang jjigae (민들레 된장 찌개).


Rivals are likely to pop up soon in this area : following the new and improved road and anticipating the upcoming railway, a cluster of buildings is under construction near the school. Probably more restaurants and shops. And sooner or later, the city will knock at their doors.


Sandeullae / 산들래 (restaurant)
1075 Dongpae-3-ri, Gyoha-eup, Paju-si, Gyeonggi-do - Paju, ROK
Tel : +82.31.943.6775

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Seoul Goes Underground

Winter has come to Seoul : minus 9 celcius these days.

OH Se-hoon has come to Montreal : Seoul Mayor wants to build an underground city where citizens can walk in any season.

When I first came to Seoul about 20 years ago that's actually the image I had of downtown Seoul : the only place where pedestrians could cross major streets seemed to be those underground arcades and subway stations. But there was no continuity to it - only a collection of more or less messy clusters.

Messy yet lively. Back then, a lot of business happened there. Nowadays, these places look like time capsules roamed by LP or stamp collectors. Bigger underground markets like the one in Banpo, connected to the Express Bus Terminal and subway, are full of life but suffocating with their narrow maze and low ceilings...

But here, OH wants to build a real city, complete with its habitations.

So my first reaction is : why not, but take the time to make something nice and sustainable. Something Seoulites and tourists will feel comfortable in. Not just transit corridors or a soulless shopping mall. Real streets (with signs and a design respectful of the city's culture), real light (there are already systems which actually demultiply sunlight inside buildings), natural air conditioning, consistant biomass, light public transformations, seamless transitions with open air... Not a parallel, underground city, but the foundation for a better Seoul.

And please, not yet another "New Town", not yet another "U city" : technology yes, but invisible.

A fascinating challenge.

Seoul Village 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

No Parking

Yesterday, Korea's National Police Agency made the headlines for the wrong reasons :
- first, it was named the most corrupt central administration (with a score of 7.48/10, the best possible score being 10)
- second, it wants to allow free parking in all cities on Sundays and holidays in all roads except in "absolutely banned areas"* (crossroads, bus stops...).

Someone should tell them people are gathering in Copenhagen these days, trying to find ways of curbing the use of private cars, that all major cities
including Seoul pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that all major tourist destinations want to substitute cars with public transportation. Actually, parking fees have increased recently to deter people from using their car in the city !

Meanwhile, the police has "opened" 55 areas to parking in July 2009, the number reached 470 in October and may explode in the near future should this urban management heresy continue.

The measure is popular because citizens complain about the lack of parking spaces. But that's not the correct answer : there is a lack of solutions, alternatives and connectivity. Instead of inviting more cars on the streets, Korean cities should invest in peripheral underground parkings connected with public transportation hubs. And like in Paris, most areas should have a public underground parking serving both the local community and visitors. In that city, street parking spots are being suppressed, replaced with Velib' bike racks, bike lanes and trams. There is a lack of concertation and much can be said about the way things are being done, but at least they're trying something.

Of course, the streets of Paris are more suitable for pedestrians, who can easily hop from one place to another. But Seoul has very much improved the pedestrian experience recently, suppressing overpasses, redesigning streets, adding pedestrian crossings... take Hoehyeon Sagori, for instance : as we saw recently ("
Ranju Ramien"), this crossroads which used to be only reserved to cars has been completely adapted to pedestrians, who now walk seamlessly and pleasantly between Shinsegae and Myeongdong. The shopping experience is changing as well. By the way : why is Myeong-dong so popular ? Because you don't see any cars, and shoppers own the street. They don't have to take a car to go from one shop to another.

While I'm at it : Seoul is considering a special parking for tourist coaches near Gyeongbokgung and that's a good thing to remove them from the streets, but new regulations should be implemented so that buses and coaches are, like in other capitals, fined when they park with their motors on (ie for air con or heating purposes). Of course, such parkings should have a place for bus drivers to rest comfortably instead of becoming a nuisance.

Once again, focusing on "parking problems" in Seoul will only lead to wrong answers : we should be working more comprehensively on making life better and simpler for everyone, and sound decisions will follow.

Seoul Village 2009



* "
More free parking in cities being considered" (JoongAng Ilbo 20091210)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Achievements and Tasks of TRCK's Activities

One week ago, Professor Lee Young-jo (Kyunghee University) was appointed President of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for a two year term, after serving as a commissioner for the organization since 2005.

Today, his predecessor Ahn Byung-ook released the comprehensive statement below.

As we saw earlier, great achievements, but also strong resistance from people who basically "do not understand the development of democracy and social changes, and instinctively are afraid and are refusing their survival". People who don't understand that it's not anymore a question of political fights between "commies" and "republicans", but all about saving their beloved country and helping "most ordinary people" in total despair.

"In consideration of this situation and the duty of the government in reconciliatory measures, the government should establish a broad and fair special law on reparation and compensation for victims which would be a more fundamental approach to this issue". It's time for Korea to prove it is a great democracy with a sense of justice.

Seoul Village 2009

Achievements and Tasks of TRCK's Activities


Ahn, Byung-Ook, Former President of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Republic of Korea (TRCK)

1. Activities of TRCK

The mission of the TRCK is to investigate cases of human rights violations and suspicious deaths due to anti-democratic or anti-human rights behavior and to bring to light distorted or hidden truths. The Commission specifically focuses on the massacre of innocent civilians during the Korean War and the realities of human rights violations during the oppressive era of the authoritarian regime. Through this work, the hidden or distorted truth of the past is uncovered.

Until now, the Commission investigated cases filed by the victims or bereaved families. Within one year after its launching, it received around 11,000 petitions. Among these petitions, human rights violations comprised 300 cases eligible for investigation and Korean War period massacres comprised 9,100 cases. Leftist groups, such as the North Korean People’s Army, committed 1,500 civilian massacres and South Korean soldiers and police committed 7,100 massacres. As of September 2009, the Commission completed 5,000 cases related to wartime massacres and 120 cases involving human rights abuses. Most of the findings verified the petitioners’ claims. The Commission can also investigate historically significant matters without formal petitioner requests but this hasn’t yet been initiated.

The number of truth-finding cases mentioned above is based on individual petitioners. However, in the case of civilian massacres, the cases are classified into similar categories and combined into regional units. Even for cases of human rights violations, a single case would involve many people and require a combined investigation. For a period of four years, approximately 240 staff handled a total of 400 cases. The scale, characteristics, and difficulty of each case vary widely from one another, so it is difficult to put any meaning to these statistical figures.

The 9,100 cases of civilian massacres committed by leftists and rightists during the Korean War represent only a small portion of the total death toll that is expected to reach several hundred thousand. This indicates that most of the bereaved families have not petitioned for investigations.

First, many families were unaware of the Commission’s past settlement activities, and therefore claimed they could not petition for investigations. Upon hearing news of the Commission’s activities, they have recently begun telling their stories of victimization and are pressing for additional truth-finding investigations.

In 2008 and 2009, the Commission conducted a survey in 10 cities across the nation on the status of victims. A total of 10,916 victims were identified through interviews with local residents. However, there are only 490 petitioners who filed for investigations. The scope of the survey was limited to available witnesses who could identify the victims. Without witnesses, this suggests many more victims remain unaccounted for. Nevertheless, based on this estimate of eligible victims, only 5% petitioned for truth-finding investigations.

However, not all families who failed to apply for investigations did so due to a lack of knowledge of the Commission’s existence. Due to lingering anti-communist sentiment in society, people remain fearful that investigations may only lead to further discrimination. If a soldier or police officer killed a family member, people may assume the victim was guilty of anti-government leftist activities. Even if this victim was an ancestor, society may label him or her a leftist and ostracize the descendants.

After the April 1960 Uprising, bereaved family members seized advantage of the dictatorial regime’s expulsion and began to publicize the issue of Korean War period civilian massacres. Two years later, they found themselves imprisoned and executed by the May 16 military regime. A primary reason for the lack of petitions is people’s passive response that nothing special can be achieved by reopening old matters. The victims and bereaved families do not want to resurrect the painful memories they have learned to lock away in the furthest corner of their hearts.

For the bereaved families of the victims of civilian massacres, the passing of time has been so merciless that it is difficult for them to trust the value of fact finding conducted at the state level. Therefore, the Commission’s truth-finding efforts and activities can close the divide between the victims’ sentiment and the necessity of past settlement.


2. Truth-Finding of Civilian Massacres during the Korean War

The aspect and character of the massive killings of the Korean War differ depending on the period of occurrence.

The conflict and confrontation that arose during Korea ’s division led to a wave of violence and massacres. The U.S. Army Military Government and the Syngman Rhee government initiated operations to eliminate the leftist forces at the root. The massacres that followed marked the beginning of the mass killings that would later occur.

After these operations, the Syngman Rhee government, which became an independent government after the division, embarked upon a nationwide roundup of leftist activists. The government established the Bodo League (National Rehabilitation and Guidance League, Gukmin Bodo Ryeonmaeng, 國民輔導聯盟) organization as a means to assimilate leftist forces into the new regime. Tens of thousands of people were either forced to join or voluntarily subscribed regardless of their ideology or thoughts. However, after the Korean War erupted, the Bodo League served a different function. After the North Korean invasion, the Rhee administration ordered the annihilation of all Bodo League members for fear that they may cooperate with enemy forces. Accordingly, tens of thousands of people nationwide were sequentially detained and massacred without any clear reason. In addition, hundreds of alleged communists imprisoned in jail were executed.

The North Korean military and leftists groups’ retaliation followed these mass executions. During North Korea ’s occupation of South Korea , North Korean soldiers killed rightists and the leaders responsible for leftist oppression during the Syngman Rhee regime. This coincided with the Bodo League victims’ family members retaliating and murdering rightwing activists and their families. Three months later, when the North Korean military retreated, the number of atrocities continued to climb. The North Korean military had a list of members that constituted a core axis of the South Korean government. They, along with leftists groups, massacred those on the list. The Korean War was not a war fought over a battle line separating ally and foe. It consumed the entire nation in a chaotic battlefield with the frontline constantly changing day and night. The fighting did not distinguish between soldier and civilian, which led to the unjustly killing of many innocent civilians by bullets and bombs. As North Korean soldiers and leftist forces took to the mountains in guerilla warfare, many civilian families were killed as battles erupted between guerilla forces and the South Korean military and police officials. The U.S. forces reckless bombed and strafed near fleeing villagers while U.S. soldiers killed people based on the suspicion that enemy forces were hiding among civilians.

The South Korean military and rightwing police officers committed retaliatory killings after they regained the capital. Those who joined the North Korean forces or were forced to cooperate were labeled as traitors and killed. Even civilians participated in the madness of reprisals as they killed their neighbors.

The blind massacre of fellow villagers who share the same religion, blood, and politics is unheard of anywhere else in the world or in history. This kind of massacre took place without exception in all parts of the country. Irreparable resentment against neighbors has been born due to the massive killings and our society is one of extreme confrontation due to the destruction of community relationships. As a result, the Korean peninsula remains the last remaining vestige of the Cold War era and shows a strong presence of Cold War order and ideological conflict.


3. Truth-Finding of Human Rights Violation by Public Power

The human rights violation cases to be addressed by the Commission are fabricated espionage, oppression of the democratization and labor movement, suspicious death cover-ups, and other forms of victimization such as torture, cruel treatment, illegal detention, and extortion of property. Among the 620 petitions received, about 300 are eligible for investigation. In particular, the cases of spy fabrication are of great interest. In one case, fishermen who were kidnapped by North Koreans were suddenly interrogated by authorities on espionage charges and sentenced to lifetime imprisonment after returning home 10 years later. All of them were arrested without warrants and illegally detained by investigators for 40 to 90 days. During that period, they were subjected to murderous torture until they submitted false confessions. Once the fabrication was complete, the national security agencies announced that they had arrested spies who were secretly operating for years and the press heavily publicized the announcement. The Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan regimes fabricated spy incidents as a means of social control during the 1970s and 80s. In this process not only did investigators receive rewards for capturing spies, but prosecutors did not hesitate to indict the accused as written in the investigation records, and judges gave guilty verdicts despite having knowledge of innocent people being coerced to submit false espionage confessions. However, the kidnapped fishermen who were framed as spies could barely write their names due to a lack of education and most lacked any self defense capabilities. This was clearly a case where intellectuals conspired to make simple and honest people scapegoats.

In a similar case, many Korean-Japanese visiting Korea to study and workers traveling back and forth to Japan who had contact with the Pro-North Korean Residents’ League in Japan were accused of espionage. The fabrication process of these cases was the same as the previous example.

Victims felt greater despair when they saw that society, and even their neighbors, ignored their appeals. Most cases of political oppression received public attention and became social issues despite the strong regulation of the authoritarian regime. However, compared to that, these truly unfair and tragic cases of human rights abuses were even ignored by close kin. It is only now, that a means for settling past injustices by revealing the truth through the Commission’s investigations has emerged.


4. Evaluation of TRCK Activities

Including the incidents above, retrials of cases investigated by the Commission are being held at the moment to reverse previous guilty rulings. Until now, a total of 46 cases including spy fabrication cases have been recommended by the Commission for retrial, of which 26 have been accepted by the court. Already 17 have been ruled upon, of which all were ruled to be not guilty. Each court issued a separate letter of apology in addition to its not guilty verdict. For instance, the retrial court for the Kim Yang Gi spy fabrication case criticized that, “the evidence submitted by the prosecution has no evidential power or credibility, yet throughout the past five court proceedings, no court has appropriately assessed this information.” Furthermore, “looking back on this case, the evidence submitted here is empty and futile. However, the military investigators, in order to come up with this evidence, restrained the physical freedom of the people, a freedom which is the basis of our nation’s existence, without any grounds, and it is difficult to say that the prosecution, the spokesperson for public benefit, has done its job fully. Above all, the court which is the ultimate protector of human rights, despite its five court proceedings which led to the supreme court, has been consumed with the false images made by empty evidence while blocking its eyes and ears to the claims of the defendant and its attorneys which have been pointing out these wrongdoings. The degree of human rights abuse to the defendant by the format of investigation and ruling is too serious to dismiss this as something that could happen in the harsh period….” This ruling explains well the process of spy fabrication, and belatedly expresses its regret that human rights have been violated due to the judiciary format. If the court had bravely adhered to this attitude in the past, the many violations of human rights would not have occurred.

The late President Roh Moo Hyun also apologized to the Bodo League victims. “As the President, I would like to sincerely apologize on behalf of the nation for the illegal actions committed by state power at the time.” On the occasion of the President’s apology, the victims and families of the Bodo League filed litigations against the country for reparation. In addition, a memorial service was held for the victims where the memorial addresses of the Minister of National Defense and the Police Commissioner were read on behalf of the military and police who were responsible for the atrocities. This can be seen as the least the state could do to comfort and apologize to the bereaved families.

On the other hand, there are also many forces that are actively against the activities of the Commission. First of all, the Public Prosecutors’ Office, which is the central organization dedicated to the protection of human rights, stated that state agencies such as the National Assembly, court, and administrative offices are not required to implement the recommendations of the Commission because there is no legislation that stipulates that other state organizations must mandatorily follow the decisions of the Commission. When the Seoul High Court made its ruling on the retrial of the Suicide Note Ghostwriting Case it announced that, “the truth-finding decisions of the TRCK are also new evidence that can prove innocence.” However, in the “Statement of the Grounds for Immediate Appeal” the prosecution said that the Commission’s decision was not “clear new evidence that could prove innocence” and strongly requested that the court discard the Commission’s decision. Of Course, the TRCK is not a body that gives instructions or orders with authority as mentioned by the prosecution. It only recommends based on discovered truths. Therefore, if the truth is respected, the decisions of the Commission must also be respected. However, the prosecutors are claiming that because it is the truth discovered by a Commission with low authority, it must be excluded.

Meanwhile, at the retrial of the Shin Gwi Yeong family spy fabrication case last August at the Busan District Court, four people including Shin were pronounced innocent. However, one former high ranking official of the anti-communism investigatory agency that conducted the investigations said, “This is a formal act of confirming the decision of the TRCK which is run by violators of the past National Security Law.” He states that by ruling this case of unreasonable human rights violation by torture and coerced investigation, the national police force has become an institute of oppression, and anti-communist investigators have automatically been disgraced as torturers. Furthermore, this official asked, “what meaning does the three special promotions for contribution to national security and the many medals and commendations now have?” He was disappointed that the people who gave their lives to fight communism were now being treated like criminals and receiving insults and criticism. (Refer to the Dongnipsinmun article of September 4, 2009)

This is most likely the common opinion shared by most of the people who worked at security agencies in the past. To people who have lived through the structure of North-South confrontation with the anti-communism logic of the Cold War, the changes we experience today is something inconceivable. It may be the case that these people now harbor a sense that our nation has come to a truly threatening situation with the disquieting forces they tried so hard to eliminate now operating secretly in all seams of our society. They do not understand the development of democracy and social changes, and instinctively are afraid and are refusing their survival. It is none other than the TRCK which is leading the change that they are so afraid of and toppling the stronghold they have built so hard. So, the TRCK is currently the target of these conservative forces.

Those that have applied for truth-finding investigations are also criticizing the activities of the TRCK. They claim that no satisfactory results are being produced at all. “The TRCK did not conduct thorough investigations into suspicious deaths or oppressive agencies such as associated police, the National Intelligence Service, or the Defense Security Command.” Petitioners protest that if the investigations end here, “the TRCK will degenerate into a silent onlooker of military dictatorship and become one of the wrongdoers.” Many individual petitioners as well downplayed the Commission’s investigations as one that could not even identify the proper offender.

Through the Commission’s investigations we were able to newly identify the reality of this nation’s “past incidents” which were hidden and glossed over for the past 60 years. Our past was one interspersed with truly indescribable suffering and tragedy which took ordinary people as its main prey. It was not the intellectuals, influential figures, or leaders of the resistance that were sacrificed, but the most ordinary people with no particular affiliation to any side that were sacrificed amidst the turbulence. We were only able to confirm that gloomy reality, but failed to inquire into specific reasons or clearly identify the true parties responsible. Also, we were limited to only pronouncing vague responsibility of the state to the victims and could not establish any concrete plans for redemption.

First of all, there is a need to review the character of TRCK activities because it focuses only on requested cases. Conducting investigations upon the petitioner request of individuals basically means that the Commission’s work is no different than handling a civil complaint and notifying the petitioner of the results after investigation. Therefore, depending on the nature of the submitted complaint, the scope of truth-finding as well as associated Commission functions and character of past settlement will be defined. However, according to the Basic Law, petitioners are limited to requesting verification of personal victimization incidents. In fact, all requested cases fall under this category.

Once the facts are revealed through Commission findings, petitioners can receive direct recognition and apology from the state of their unjust treatment. Although acknowledgement of the facts is only nominal without any real benefits, there is great meaning in this that it offers the petitioner an opportunity to hear a direct answer that the death was unfair. On the other hand, for those that did not apply but faced the same tragedy, there is no opportunity to unveil the truth or restore honor through the Commission’s activities. This limits the results of the Commission to only those that have applied and excludes the others. Moreover, because the Commission must put priority on responding to the civil complaint submitted, it is difficult for the investigation to take on a historical approach. In other words, the Commission’s investigation must focus on determining whether or not the petitioner’s claim actually occurred, and cannot look into the structure of how the victimization occurred or the cause and background into why it happened. Instead of investigating into the wrongdoings of the state or powerful state agencies, the investigations are focused on cross examining first line individuals that conducted illegalities upon the orders or command of superiors. In this scenario, the authority of the Commission is not strong enough to investigate against state agencies or upper offices. This is why truth-finding investigations far from the original objective of past settlements are taking place.


5. Establishment of a Past Settlement Foundation and Enactment of a Special Law on Reparation and Compensation for Victims

The truth-finding activities of the TRCK brought light to how great and heavy the pain and suffering was for the many victims and families for the past 60 years. Because the main role of the TRCK was to find the truth, separate tasks must now be implemented to complete the objective of past settlement. The settlement of past deeds can only be fulfilled through a process of truth-finding, relief and restoration of honor for victims, and reconciliation and memorial events. Therefore, it is now necessary to initiate follow-up measures to the truth-finding results. Soon, when the activities of the Commission are completed, a foundation for the settlement of past incidents is needed to complete the objective of past settlement.

Even in the Basic Law for the Settlement of Past incidents it stipulates the establishment of a past settlement foundation to oversee follow-up tasks such as reconciliation. The foundation’s activities include 1) memorial services and the operation & management of a historical archive by the government, 2) support for additional fact finding investigations, 3) and support for cultural and academic events related to truth-finding. So first, as stipulated in Article 32 of the Basic Law, a “Past Incidents Research Foundation” dedicated to the follow-up of truth-finding decisions must be established to achieve the ultimate goal of past settlement. Second, through the establishment of a foundation, broad and deep measures to overcome the past must be taken to seek national unity by resolving social and political conflicts and mistrust which have accumulated due to past incidents. Third, even after the completion of the TRCK’s activities, the state must implement the results and take necessary measures to restore the honor of victims of truth-finding cases and achieve national reconciliation and unity.

Through its many investigations, the TRCK has been able to comfort the pain of victims and bereaved families scarred by the illegal activities of the state in the past and through this, they have achieved meaningful results towards forgiveness and reconciliation. It is difficult to settle past incidents in one stroke. The only way is to resolve each case according to its characteristic in stages. The foundation for the settlement of past incidents will resolve the social and political conflict and division due to past issues and greatly contribute to the furtherance of reconciliation and co-existence as well as the development of democracy and the enhancement of human rights.

Next, according to the Commission’s investigations it was verified that many civilians were illegally and innocently killed by state power around the Korean War period. However, the state, although acknowledging the illegalities, has been avoiding its reparation responsibilities.

However, this year, in the reparation lawsuit issued by the bereaved families of the Ulsan Bodo League Case victims against the government, the first trial chamber rejected the extinctive prescription defense of the state and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. This event sparked a train of litigations filed by the bereaved families and gave them high hopes for reparation.

The families of the victims of civilian massacres are filing for claims against the government based on the findings of the TRCK. Under the current system, the only way for these people to claim reparation against the state is through litigation, so according to the thousands of cases decided by the TRCK, the number of reparation lawsuits is expected to spur exponentially.

If the court recognizes the state’s argument of extinctive prescription and dismisses the claims of the bereaved families when the families file a lawsuit against the government upon verification of the truth which took decades to be revealed, the pain of the families will be further amplified. Therefore, instead of a method of reparation and compensation through individual lawsuits, the process should be treated the same across the board by enacting a special law which excludes the petition of extinctive prescription and sets a consistent standard and method for reparation and compensation. This is because although the civilian massacres occurred in all parts of the nation, the characteristics of the cases are similar and they share a common background, not to mention that the secondary sufferings of the bereaved families are also quite similar.

In consideration of this situation and the duty of the government in reconciliatory measures, the government should establish a broad and fair special law on reparation and compensation for victims which would be a more fundamental approach to this issue. For decades, most of the families of the victims of civilian massacres did not even know the truth of the matter, not to mention relief. Even if some knew about the facts, as the socially weak, they could not take the state to court let alone submit a request for the truth to be sought.

Establishing a measure that can fundamentally solve the reparation and compensation requests of the families of civilian massacres and not one-time measures is the way to achieve the true meaning of past settlement as it is also an execution of the state’s basic duty. The global historical trend is to also broadly acknowledge reparation for civilian massacres. The global society has since long ago established various legal devices for the punishment of crimes against humanity and mass killings. In particular, the “Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations” which was adopted by the UN General Assembly (December 16, 2005) details specifically the principles and modalities of reparation for the victims of state violence. Korea should also respect this and refer to this.

Although there is a difference in the amount according to political situation and financial status, most countries that implement past settlement strategies operate a program based on monetary reparation. Now, after restoring the victim’s honor and punishing wrongdoers through judiciary proceedings and truth-finding, we should focus on reparation and compensation. Under the current system and law it is difficult to restore the damages of the victims and families who have suffered for such a long time. In particular, even now after the truth is finally out, the state is trying to avoid reparation on grounds of extinctive prescription which is deepening the pains of bereaved families.

The broad and consistent remedy of cash grants to victims through the establishment of a special law on reparation and compensation for victims is a way to acknowledge the illegal activities committed by our government in the past and is an act of taking responsibility while realizing social justice.

In some aspects, the issues presented against the Commission’s activities are unavoidable. It could be due to the innate limitation of how the Commission was organized. In the case of other countries as well, the findings of a truth-finding commission cannot be without complaints. However, that is no reason for the Commission to be exempt from its responsibility. Moving forward, it is likely that requests for the restoration of the honor of victims, exhumation, and the establishment of memorial sites will become stronger with the passing of time. With these requests, the problems put before the state will become ever more serious by the day, which will call for quick and appropriate measures of resolution. Therefore, measures must be taken with this in mind.

Monet, Picasso, Rouault, Warhol in Seoul

Michael Jackson + Andy Warhol, Claude Monet + Pablo Picasso... two blockbuster exhibitions will entertain Seoulites during the long winter 2009-2010. Those who want some more fire can also enjoy fauvist George Rouault, or any of the tens of exhibitions running across the capital's museums and galleries, or why not discover "Ancient culture of Uzbekistan" at the National Museum of Korea* (thru September 25, 2010).

Blockbusters work on bankable names and familiar grounds. But when Andy Warhol instals his colorful barnum in Seoul, it goes beyond the MJ / $ / Marilyn / Campbell quartet splashed on the teaser, and reveals more about The Factory and a compulsive collector. This comprehensive retrospective leverages on an earlier exhibition in Paris ("Le grand monde d'Andy Warhol" - Grand Palais - March-July 2009), and on a partnership with The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

Likewise, Monet and Picasso are only the tip of the Philadelphia Museum of Art iceberg (which roams the Hangang thanks to the Chosun Ilbo). I guess "Renoir and Matisse" would probably draw fewer visitors to the Hangaram Museum. How many will seize the opportunity and pay a visit to Rouault ?

Anyway, Seoulite artistic tastebuds keep being stimulated steadily. And Seoul, which used to be at best an exhibition stopover on the way to or from Tokyo (ie Basquiat in 1997), is now the final destination for avid frequent flyers.

Seoul Village 2009

WHAT: "Monet to Picasso - Masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art"
WHEN: December 16, 2009 - March 28, 2010
WHERE: Hangaram Art Museum, Seoul Arts Center (Seocho-gu)
PHONE : +82.2.580.1300
WWW: sac.or.kr

WHAT: "Georges Rouault - Le Sacre et le Profane"
WHEN: December 15, 2009 - March 28, 2010
WHERE: Hangaram Art Museum, Seoul Arts Center (Seocho-gu)
PHONE: +82.2.588.8421
WWW: sac.or.kr

WHAT: "Andy Warhol, the Greatest" ("The King of Pop Art, beyond the Era Andy Warhol, the Greatest")
WHEN: December 12, 2009 - April 4, 2010
WHERE: Seoul Museum of Art (Seosomun branch - Jung-gu)
PHONE: +82.2.548.8690
WWW: seoulmoa.seoul.go.kr and warhol.co.kr.


* don't wait until september and visit before March the INCA exhibition in the same museum.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Business for the Environment Global Summit 2010 in Seoul

Ahead of the 15th U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP15) which just started in Copenhagen, Korea has, like every major polluter, worked hard to improve its "green" image.

All chaebols somehow prepared for the event, relying essentially on advertising and PR to embellish symbolic actions. But that's likely to change : most recent announcements do include aggressive plans for the future, it's not only a matter of image but of international competitivity. Furthermore, Korean conglomerates cannot just sit and watch rivals parade in their capital city next year.

Because
last August, Seoul was selected as the host for the 2010 B4E Global Summit between April 21 and 23 at the COEX, on time for Earth Day (April 22) and the 2010 Champions of the Earth Awards. The Business for the Environment Summit (b4esummit.com) brings together corporate leaders under prestigious umbrellas : UNEP (the U.N. Environment Program), WWF (the Worldwie Fund for Nature), and UNGC (U.N. Global Compact - unglobalcompact.org).

Seoul also hosted the C40 Large Cities Climate Summit earlier in 2009 (
c40seoulsummit.com - April 18-21). The Large Cities Climate Leadership Group can really make a difference at the global level ("50% of the world's population live in cities, which account for 75% of global energy consumption and 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions and at this rate, by 2030, two thirds of the world’s population is predicted to live in urban areas"), and at the local level, Seoul committed to significant objectives for 2020 : -15% vs 2000 for energy consumption, and -25% vs 1990 for greenhouse gas emissions. At the national level, the recently announced targets for reductions of greenhouse gas emissions can sound disapointing : -30% by 2020 compared to business as usual only mean a reduction of 4% compared to 2005 levels... and Seoul can spur competition with other Korean cities considering its considerable weight in Korea.

Mayor OH Se-hoon pointed out several projects :
- Renewable energies should claim 10% of total in 2020 compared to 0.6% in 2004 : photovoltaic power generators everywhere, more solar panels, a boost for geothermal, and even mini hydro fuel cell power plants.
- More responsible constructions : the city is already delivering labels and guidelines for more energy efficient buildings, incentives for green rooftops, and it will also boast an eco-friendly City Hall (judging by its design, people walking on Seoul Plaza will feel like a tsunami is about to collapse on them). Note that major developpers are also considering improvements : Samsung (#10 among FTSE 500 for Carbon Disclosure) wants to reduce energy consumption of its apartments by 20% in the medium term.
- Sounder transportations : bicycles should reach 10% of urban transportation by 2020 (1.2% in 2006), and bike lanes 418 km by 2014. All Seoul taxis (over 72,000) will use LPG, and at last Eco Buses are on their way. NB: again, a denser subway network would also make sense, and definitely more sense than new highways across the Capital.
- More biomass with new parks and the Hangang Renaissance (replacing concrete with green along the Han river : 23% by 2009, 87% by 2020 - ie Apgujeong, Hapjeong, Ichon, Songsu, Yeouido)
- Restoring streams as natural cooling systems : 17 streams recovered by 2010, 35 by 2020 (temperatures dropped -3° celcius for Cheonggyecheon, probably less for
Silgyecheon...)
- As we saw ("
http://seoulvillage.blogspot.com/2009/08/clean-air-seoul.html"), Seoul later promoted transparency about the quality of air.

Compared to his predecessor, OH has a more pervasive approach, demultiplied at the local level. LEE Myung-bak is uniquely focused on great projects, but I do applaud the brand new project to extend subway networks all across the country... provided it's not just a token to appease railway unions or to please builders and speculators.

Seoul Village 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Streaming Seoul 2009

You want to share a 1 to 3 mn long movie about Seoul ? You have until December 31st, 2009 to participate to the Streaming Seoul 2009 video contest.

Applications, details, and freebies on
streamingseoul.net

Seoul Village 2009

Winter Sports at Gwanghwamun Square

Gwanghwamun Plaza now hosts many events previously held in front of city hall. If big concerts and gatherings remain on Seoul Plaza, the winter ice rink moved up Sejongno, covering the flowerbed recently transformed into a lifeless field.

The 3 rinks (20x20 m, 20x30 m, 20x50 m) linked with an iceway will open from 10 AM to 10 PM (11 PM on weekends and holidays), and from December 12th to February 15th for a KRW 1,000 admission fee.

But the most striking feature remains the spectacular toboggan under construction in the Northernmost section of Gwanghwamun Plaza. A weird extension to Bukhansan, this short and steep jump pad (34 m high, 100 m long) will host the 2009 FIS Snowboard World Cup Big Air Competition (December 13, Seoul Snow Jam on December 11 at 6 PM).

Not very sejonesque... but to celebrate, Bukhansan did exhibit a thin layer of snow on Saturday.

Seoul Village 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

North Korea's lost won

This is not Pyongyang's first reevaluation, but it's the first time the regime acts so recklessly in that matter.

The population was granted one week to replace their old wons with the new and improved currency. Failure to do so would leave them with almost worthless notes (1 new NK won = 100 old NK won).

Officially, the aim of the game is to crack down abuses from people perverted by capitalism, or at least the little of it which made its way into what was left of the local economy. No one will come with a lot of money without good explanations.

But the actual profiteers of NK's corrupt system (in particular the nomenklatura) already changed their cash into US dollars or Chinese yuans, well ahead of the announcement. The only victims will be those who will opt for transparency.

This measure follows closings of parallel markets, safety valves for populations every day more left to their own devices... or rather lack of.

According to South Korean medias, the country would be on the verge of revolt, and streets littered with old bank notes deliberately torn in the middle of Kim Jong-il's portraits. Military forces received the order to shoot at sight anyone who tries to escape the last Stalinian paradise.

If Pyongyang authorities really want to accelerate takeover from China*, that's a smart move...

Seoul Village 2009 - also on blogules V.F. "La Coree du Nord evalue mal les effets de sa reevaluation"

* see "
KIM Jong-il's bridge to nowhere"

Thursday, December 3, 2009

CJ Group announces BBGO, an international bibimbap restaurant chain

I expected CJ Group to act as a leader in the promotion of Korean cuisine overseas, why not by leveraging on such assets as Cafe Sobahn, a creative bibimbap concept (see "Korean food aiming at Top 5").

At last, they seem to be willing to deliver the goods : CJ Group announced the launch of a new bibimbap restaurant chain in the US (Los Angeles), China (Beijing and Shanghai), and Singapore. A meal would cost around USD 10, positioning the chain in the family restaurant bracket, but well above fast food restaurants.

Frankly, the brand comes as a disappointment : BBGO (pronounced bibigo) evoques cheap BBQ rather than quality bibimbap... Less fun than that BibimBar in NYC. Maybe BBGO is just the code name : .com URLs are taken for bbgo, bb-go, bibigo, and even bibimgo.

Anyway, that's a major improvement from CJ Freshway's "Welly&", unarguably the Ground Zero of branding. I hope the same will be said about the food and atmosphere : "BBGO" could become an interesting entry point to Korean food.

Bibimbap makes perfect sense : a typically Korean dish, sound food, infinite ways of combining flavors...

Furthermore, CJ starts with "friendly neighborhoods", which could help fine tune the concept before going truly global.

Wishing them the best,
Seoul Village 2009

---

ADDENDUM 20091207

Elsewhere on the value chain, Korea Agro-Fisheries Trade Corporation and NJ based Rhee Bros. Inc. signed a deal to allow more Korean "farm and processed food products to be sold throughout the United States" ("Korean food to reach more U.S. stores" - Yonhap 20091207).


---
ADDENDUM 20120731

bibigo(es) global and opens its first restaurant in London, near Oxford Circus.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Salgotyi Bridge

Researchers from Hanyang University will dig under the pier and along the piles of Salgotyi Bridge (Salgotyi Dari / 살곶이 다리), hoping to find artifacts from the early Joseon dynasty at the very feet of their own university.

Officially called Cheongok Bridge (Cheongokgyo / 천곡교) today, this most particular structure on the Jungnangcheon links the Northern and Southern halves of Seongdong-gu.

I say "most particular" for three reasons : this bridge is unnecessarily long, drawing a diagonal instead of the shortest cut, it's a rather odd feature in a strange place, and it's a very very old fellow.
Why this odd angle ? Maybe Salgotyi is just pointing towards Bukhansan for good karma. Maybe the diagonal reduces the risks of destruction when the stream grows stronger. After all, it was built after an important junction : here, Cheonggyecheon joins Jungnangcheon, which continues Westwards along Seongsu (now home to Seoul Forest) until it reaches the Han river.

Why the strange atmosphere ? This waterway-crossroad is doubled with and almost hidden by a highway-crossroad, and tripled with a railway-crossroad - most people drive by without noticing it, trying not to miss their exits or connections.
- the Southern "riverside" is completely covered by Dongbu Expressway : eight lanes of heavy traffic along the Jungnangcheon
- to the North, Cheonggyecheon's mouth exposes a few rotten teeth (concrete blocks probably meant to break the current where both streams merge)
- until recently the stream was covered with concrete until the end, but another elevated highway was built, covering this mouth with two gigantic arms : Naebu Expressway reaching for Dongbu Expressway, one two-lane-bridge for each direction.
- the "cheek" East of Cheonggyecheon's mouth (Yongdap-dong) is a vast industrial nightmare : a subway car depot, a water treatment plant
- the Western cheek used to be basically a wasteland : the University's backyard under Sageun-dong-gil
- like a Fu Manchu mustache on this disgracious face, Subway line splits over two bridges : Seongdong Bridge for the junction between Hanyang University Station and Ttukseom Station, Jangan Railway Bridge the Songsu Station - Yongdap Station link

... and like a fragile caterpillar at the feet of giant concrete bridges with their impressive piles, a very narrow and flat bridge stretches its small legs (only one meter above the water). From a distance and given the environment, it looks like a derelict concrete structure, waiting to be removed, but Salgotyi Dari was built with stones in 1483 (14th year of King Seongjong rule). During the XXth century, floods damaged the structure and concrete add-ons, but original piles remain.

This monument is already protected, but excavations could cast a new light in this previously forsaken area. Because believe it or not, if you put aside the two expressways, the situation has dramatically improved in the area :

. First, Cheonggyecheon restoration changed the mouth of the stream, now covered with vegetation particularly on its Eastern cheek... where the water treatment plant will be replaced by a big public park.
. The "teeth" breaking the current under the elevated highway host flocks of ducks and cranes which apparently find plenty of food to fish.
. The wasteland on the Western cheek became Salgotyi Park, a small sports complex for local residents.
. New bicycles lanes are full of bikers who can ride along Cheonggyecheon up to Yongdu-dong (Dongdaemun-gu), and all along Jungnangcheon from Dobong-gu / Nowon-gu to the Hangang bike network.
. Just a few hectometers west of Salgotyi Bridge, riverside grows much wider and greener, and the lane passes at the feet of Eungbong-dong hill, with its pagoda on the top and its beautiful colors in the spring or autumn.
. ...

Of course, the overwhelming feeling remains : the place looks more like a dump than a cultural / environmental hotspot. Because Seoul did the same mistake in the early 2000s as it did thirty years before : covering the city with more highways instead of finding more sustainable ways of commuting people.

More lanes are being added up North on the same Jungnangcheon and that's a shame as Seoul must prepare to reduce the number of cars intra-muros. That's a moral and environmental obligation, but also a demographical inevitability.

Maybe there's a pattern in oblique ways to join mainstream.


Seoul Village 2009

books, movies, music