Friday, February 26, 2010

Bob Dylan knock knock knockin' on Seoul's door

Tired of K-pop ? Longing for the times when pop music used to mean something, when lyrics used to mean something ?

No one can tell today how Robert Allen Zimmerman will perform on that one night in Songpa-gu*, but you're more likely to hear an intriguing version of a great classic than to see sexy dances, and not just because the man will turn 70 next year : Bob Dylan was simply not that kind of teenage wonder (he was over 20 when he released his first single anyway).

OK. 68, talking about a slow train coming... and just for one night in Korea, compared to twelve in Japan... but that's a first. Eleven days earlier, Jeff Beck will haunt the same spot**, and it tells a lot about changes that have a'comed to Korea in matters of musical tastes (among others : world class connoisseurs abound in any field - arts, food, wine...).

OK. Bob Dylan is also an institution, and the concert tells also a lot about the power of Korean entertainment industry. But Seoul Fringe Festival has been around since 1998 and last July, two indie festivals were competing against each other (Jisan Valley Ski Resort in Icheon taking a shot at established Pentaport Rock Festival in Incheon). And if Whitney Houston "paid" a visit earlier this month, groups like Muse are enjoying gigs here.

So enjoy this rare moment.

Seoul Village 2010

* Dylan : March 31st - Olympic Gymnastics Arena, Olympic Park (organizers : Access Entertainment).
*** Beck : March 20th - Olympic Gymnastics Arena, Olympic Park (organizers : Private Curve, Dream Factory Club)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Kyobo Bookstore V2

One thing that almost hasn't changed over the past 20 years in Seoul is the original Kyobo Book Center in Gwanghwamun. Yes, portraits of Nobel laureates were added after KIM Dae-jung's triumph and yes, if you take each area individually everything changed a lot, but the general impression remains the same with that mirror ceiling doubling the crowds and piles of colorful books.

Starting in April 2010*, Korea's first and biggest international bookstore will be closed for a few months to undergo a major renovation, and I'm going to miss it (even if competitors offer alternatives just blocks away).

Yet I'm anxious to see the result. I expect the book, even in its new forms, to remain centerstage, but I guess we won't skip the "well being" / "ubiquitous" flavor of the month. I already imagine a Kyobo Bookstore 2.0 with more screens, and something somewhat organic somewhere like curves, green, and even some water thrown in. Of course, I also expect the "food" section to be up to the institution : there must exist a humane solution between a spotless but soulless coffee franchise and the present non-descript corner where you sit to lap your ice cream in the summer or to sip a hot drink in the winter. Anyway food is not the reason why you visit / don't visit the Kyobo.

I don't know if the bookstore will grow or shrink but I see it always as an open space with maybe clearer sections, why not a small round forum... maybe a mini amphitheatre like in some Parisian FNACs - the only closed space that would make sense (you wouldn't want it to look like a mall). I expect a better integration with the new Gwanghwamun Plaza (main entrance remaining Jongro). I expect more interactivity and events, but not of the "aggressive" kind. This place has always been busy, but respectful of culture and diversity. To preserve its charm, it shouldn't be totally formatted.

So let's wait and see which image this cultural leader chooses to display to the public for the new millenium.

Seoul Village 2010

* you'd better check on their website (
kyobobook.co.kr) for the exact dates, always subject to change.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Subway news : Sillim line, Line 3...

Next month, Seoul will decide among the two finalists (NamSeoul Light Rail Ltd and Yeouido Sillim Light Rail Co., Ltd.) the winning consortium for its future Yeouido-Sillim (여의도-신림) Light Rapid Transit line. Construction shall start in 2012 for an inauguration in 2017 and by then, a complete Southwest - Northwest Seoul connection should be operational : other LRT sections are planned between Eunpyeong-gu (ie Eungam-dong) and Yeouido via Seodaemun-gu (ie Yeonhui-dong).

This new line will start from Gwanak-gu and Seoul National University, but at the very gates, not at the existing station. It will follow Dorimcheon, the stream serpenting across Sillim-dong which give the area a unique charm, and head North towards Yeouido (Saetgang Station, Line 9) via Sillim Station (Line 2), Boramae Park (Line 7) and Daebang Station (Railway).


Overall : 7.82 km and 10 stations including 6 brand new ones. That will add some verticality badly needed by a network that's desperately horizontal in this part of the Capital (only Line 4 is heading straigth South, but that's East of Gwanaksan).

If this line makes perfect sense, I'm not sure Sillim-dong can keep the unique charm I mentioned earlier : high buildings are step by step masking the exceptional natural site around Dorimcheon (please preserve the hills !), and a major cluster will bloom along Hoam-gil on the way to Geumcheon-gu : Sillim New Town. I'm sure the place will be much more popular and more fun in 2017, but it probably won't be the same...

More immediate changes ? Line 3 is about to inaugurate 3 new stations this Thursday, February 18th, 2010. Instead of finishing in Gangnam-gu at Suseo Station (Bundang Line), the orange line will cross Songpa-gu (Garak-dong and Ogeum-dong) :
- connection with Line 8 at Garak Market Station
- new station : National Police Hospital
- connection with Line 5 (a line already met at Jongno-3-ga Station) at Ogeum Station

This extention confirms the importance of the Seongnam-Gangnam corridor, but instead of just commuting, why not visit the Garak wholesale market ? Definitely less cute than your local traditional market (except maybe for informal merchants at the entrance), but quite impressive : the merchandise is more often exposed in bulk than packaged, and depending on the season you can see whole hangars filled with onions or watermelons.

That said, yet, what we got here is yet another line stopping short of entering Hanam... Line 9 seems in a better position to do so (via Gambu-dong), unless Line 5 prolongs via Macheon-dong or Mangwol-dong. The other end of Line 3 has a brighter perspective, for beyond Goyang (today's terminus : Daehwa-dong, KINTEX), and towards West Paju.

Seoul Village 2010

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy New Year Of The Golden (Silver) Tiger

This is supposed to be the year of the Golden Tiger but you will have to watch for a silver tiger next time you hike up Inwangsan : among the statues erected by Jongno-gu to celebrate the feline who used to roam its mountains until Japanese hunters eradicated it during the early XXth century, a big metal cat will be overlooking Seochon and downtown from the top of the rock.

Nothing scary about it, except for the poor taste of the self proclaimed art work.

A very happy new year to you nonetheless.

Seoul Village 2010

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Visit Korea 2010-2012

A new series of TV ads promoting tourism in Korea ("Korea Inspiring") are being aired internationally. I will spare you the Bae Yong-joon stunt aimed at the Japanese market (a very nice movie spoiled by Yonsama's artificial smile) to focus on this one, featuring a Seung-mu dancer wearing the Jangsam gown, characterized by its long sleeves :



Quite classic, I know, but it beats Bae (what wouldn't ?).

Seoul Village 2010

Visit Korea Year website : visitkoreayear.com

Take a ride on the wild side (Peace Bicycle Nuri Road)

The first 43 kilometers of the Peace Bicycle Nuri Road will open by the end of this year and by 2015, it should run sea to sea all along the DMZ, for 495 kilometers, doubling the existing leisure road and some mountain paths*.

The first 43 km will cover 3 "gun" (counties) of Gangwon-do, starting from the East :

- Goseong-gun (North of Sokcho, a county between the mountains and the East Sea, blessed with beaches, temples, lakes and hiking trails) : 7 km near the Nangman "romantic" road
- Yanggu-gun (a county mixing war scars and beautiful sceneries) : 20 km around Dutayeon (두타연), North of Dosolsan and very close to the border, deep into the mountains. Among the touristic spots : Dutayeon Pond, Dutayeon Falls, observation posts, NK Infiltration Tunnel...
- Hwacheon-gun (a mountainous county crossed by the Northern arm of the Han river) : 16km near the Peace Dam (Pyeonghwaeui Dam) over the North Hangang in Hwacheon-eup.

Eco-tourists will have a better access to Gangwon-do wonders. Of course, this first batch is not a continuous line yet : each stretch is too short to reach the next one, and to link Goseong-gun with Yanggu-gu you need to cross Inje-gun. But eventually, ambitious bikers will be able to ride all along the Demilitarized Zone, with eight stops along the way, specifically designed** to welcome them.

Bicycle infrastructure are a major concern for the MOPAS (Ministry of Public Administration and Safety), which plans to boost usage from 1.2% to 5% of the transport mix between 2009 and 2012 across the country. Bicycle paths will be expanded from 9,170 to 17,600 km and penetration rate for bicycles is expected to double from 16.6% to 30.0%.

A lot of money will be invested, and business opportunities reach beyond infrastructures and eco-tourism : until recently, the bulk of bikes were imported but local manufacturers like Samchuly keep improving and are receiving all the attention from authorities.

As China embraces the automobile age, Korea rediscovers the virtues of the "petite reine". The Pyongyang-Seoul line will probably take more time...

Seoul Village 2010

* see Korea.net ("
Gov't to build bicycle path along DMZ" - 20100209)

** Please, make these as discreet and environmental friendly as possible : genuine eco-tourists don't want bike parking lots blaring the county anthem with a glass building topped with the colorful county character...

Monday, February 8, 2010

MOCA @ Defense Security Command, continued

As we saw earlier, the National Museum of Contemporary Art will open a new branch in Sogyeok-dong. And I was pleased to read today* that the DSC would not be obliterated : all five finalists to the architectural contest will respect an old building which proved its relevance for contemporary art (see ASYAAF 2009 last summer or the Shinhotan exhibition last autumn).

It's hard to judge by the pictures published in the JoongAng Daily, but each project seem to have its way of transforming the Defense Security Command complex (ie under one vast but thin slab for Lee Pil-hoon, scattered in colorful bars for Shin Chun-gyu...**), and all are gaining new volumes under the ground. Finalists will improve their submissions until the final decision in May and the result shouldn't be too intimidating, nor as massive as the National Museum in Yongsan. Mercifully, the jury rejected Frank Gehry - style soulless extravaganzzas (this guy basically runs a nice computer program to compensate the lack of vision of his clients), and that leaves room for sustainable creativity.


This project is significant from a cultural as well as an urban point of view : it will redefine the dialog between the Gyeongbokgung and the other side of Samcheongdong-gil, already a major art gallery cluster, but must also benefit the whole area around Anguk Station : Samcheong-dong restaurants to the North, Gahoe-dong alleys to the West, Insadong to the South... Art lovers will spend whole days zapping from early Joseon to late Lee Myung-bak periods by foot or on a bicycle.

Seoul Village 2010

* "
New museum accentuates cultural hot spot" (JoongAng Daily 20100209)
** the other finalists : Jeong Ill-kyo, Kim Dong-hoon, Mihn Hyun-jun.

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