Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May 31, 2002 - May 31, 2012

Ten years ago this very day, 2002 FIFA World Cup kicked off in the brand new Seoul World Cup Stadium. Defending champions France lost to Senegal 0-1, before drawing 0-0 with Uruguay in Busan, and conceding 0-2 to Denmark in Incheon.

I had tickets for each station of the cross, including ICN and CDG: Les Bleus and I shared the same flight back to France. But I never felt sad, because this excuse for a team didn't deserve to go any further.

Furthermore, there was happiness all around. With that growing red wave about to engulf the whole country.

Frankly, in the years and even in the months ahead of that kick off, I really doubted the event could turn out to be a major popular success. Soccer was by no means the national pastime, and you couldn't feel any fervor build up.
Then, on June 4, South Korea won its opening game against Poland - the country's first victory ever in a World Cup. Massive celebrations followed, each time greater and more impressive. Far beyond victories and qualifications, a complete nation was on the streets, sharing moments of pure happiness for the whole world to see.




Dae-han-min-guk. Korea, united in peace. This side of the DMZ at least.

That was 10 years ago.

Whatever happened to that 2002 spirit?

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Monday, May 28, 2012

A bump on the road (Ventoux-san)

Saying that Seoul is hilly is a bit like saying that Chicago is windy, but it doesn't show as much as it used to: over the past decades, the city has been carpeted with high rise "apateu" blocks, and hungry caterpilars have bitten off most hilltops.

In many cases, new roads simply cut through the highest hills that used to separate villages nesting on each flank. Picture a hot metal bar lowered on a butter mound: it doesn't cost as much as a tunnel, but leaves disgracious concrete walls on both sides of the road - barren Gaussian curves where the city ceases to exist. Sometimes a bridge connects the former halves of a same neighborhood but only the few people living on the very top use them, and you have to go down at least 500 m on either direction to find a pedestrian crosswalk and risk your life through six lanes of traffic. Final score? Cars 1-0 Humans.

Down in the valleys, you often see much smaller versions of these Gaussian curves (or, on a more poetic note, the bowl hat version of the snake that swallowed an elephant in Saint Exupery's "Le Petit Prince"). And these big bumps on the road can be really annoying when you're a pedestrian: you're on the sidewalk at street level, and suddenly you have to go up and downhill while the road remains flat. For no reason, except of course to reach the few houses remaining at that old street level, as pictured here:



But don't imagine that the guy on the bottom left of this drawing can reach the door on the bottom right without passing by the guy on the top of the hill. That would be too easy. Most of the time, local planners considered that one sidewalk was enough. After all, for many of them, cars seem to be the most important beings in the city.

Every week-end, I ride my bicycle to Yonsei University where I play soccer... or rather a sport that vaguely ressembles soccer when I'm on a good day. From Yeonhui-dong, I have no choice but to use the Northern sidewalk along Seongsan-ro. And if I survive the dangerous entrance to Dongseo Oriental Hospital (see "medical tourism"), I have to face not one but two of those bumps before reaching the stadium.

The second bump is no biggie (even if elder citizens would not agree with the statement): its highest point must reach about 2.5 m over street level. Furthermore, the elevation makes possible the connection between a minor tributary and main street, and fluidifies both foot and car traffic. But the first bump... that mean, steep, 75 m long nightmare shouldn't even exist anymore.

The houses that used to top the hill have merged into a big building which can only be reached from a back street, and the whole thing was elevated even higher, protected by a plain wall without any opening. So basically, to get from the door to the bottom left to the door to the bottom right, you have to go up a very abrupt and absurd hill that leads to nowhere:



If I've climbed much steeper slopes in Seoul, this one makes me very very angry. Granted, it gives me a perfect alibi for my poor performance later at Yonsei, but I'm sure everybody in the area would love to see it disappear.

Of course, the obvious thing to do would be to get rid of the hill altogether and to prolong the mansion's walls to street level. That wouldn't cost much, and would change the lives of many citizens.

So last year, when I saw a group of workers studying the hill, I thought that, at long last, change was coming.

All they did was to put a metal handrail along the mansion wall.

Yes they can.

I'm sure Seodaemun citizens felt offended and said something because a few months later, more workers came. That's it, I thought, they're really going to fix it.

They erected a staircase on both sides of the hill. More concrete, yeah!

And to sign their masterpiece, they've just put a brand new layer of asphalt. A cherry on an unedible cake.


Here's the new and improved mess, complete with its railing, staircases, and asphalt:


How much for these three brilliant interventions? For the same price, I bet they could have sliced at least half of the monster, and that would have made a lot more difference.

I can't wait for the next touch: a marquee to protect sweating bikers from the baking sun during their ascent of Seoul's Mont Ventoux?

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Seoul Digital Forum: Return To The Future

Over the past quarter of a century, I've survived countless seminars and conferences on innovation, most often as an attendee, sometimes in a different role (organizer, speaker, moderator...), but never with a "Press" badge hanging from my neck. I did just that yesterday. Just for a change, and for fun. What I didn't expect was a trip down memory lane.

First of all, let's set things straight:

0) (to those who knew me in my previous lives) I'm not missing the old times, simply enjoying it, as I've always done ever since I was a teenager. When you're into innovation, you always learn from such fora. And as usual I'm not as much interested in new gizmos (SDF is not the kind of vehicle for that anyway) as in the evolution of the ecosystem, and particularly how it is perceived by its key players, by newcomers, by outsiders.
1) I didn't steal that badge. This is the 9th Annual Seoul Digital Forum, and I happen to blog about Seoul (SeoulVillage.com) as well/poorly as about innovation (mot-bile)*. Besides, ever the caring city for its own diverse ecosystem, Seoul Metropolitan Government recently appointed me as a friendly neighborhood media. For good measure I even brought my old camera (I spared you the press-card-in-the-fedora-hat-band part).
2) I'm an author and a conceptor, not a journalist. I'm not covering an event, just feeding my poor brain with stimulating bits that, at the other end of the system, usually come out as junk as silly and useless as K-pop, only less entertaining, and with more traces of biased opinions in it. If you happen to read it, that's your problem. And if you like it, that's a problem for your shrink to solve.
3) As it turns out, when you have a "Press" badge, your body is also fed with stimulating bits in a cosy Press Room. But you quickly burn the said bits between levels B1 (Vista Hall, Keynotes) and 4F (Art Hall, Press Conferences). And perks are balanced by the fact that if you want to get a good spot, you apparently have to wake up in the middle of the night. My initial spot was really really bad: believe me, you don't want to have Steve Ballmer so close to you.




Seoul Digital Forum 2012 delivered the goods, kicking off with an impressive roster**. Day I started with a guest star who, for a reason that still baffles me, was dubbed a "visionary". Of course, Steve Ballmer is by no means a visionary: this hulk of a boasting salesman is more into products, functionalities and business management than into human beings and vision. Not even convincing as an industry (ex)leader. But life is unfair: nowadays, targeting 450 million devices doesn't sound that sexy when 900 million people are already familiar with the Facebook interface.

Steve B. left to a certain Brad McCabe the Steve J. part of his sales pitch for Windows 8. Tough Jobs, even if Android and Google are the main competitor, not Apple. Brad sounded very happy when he mentioned brand new apps "right out of the box"... but that's precisely a vocabulary Microsoft should ban in places like this. You're not supposed to be shipping boxes anymore, and you don't want people to visualize Skydrive as a UPS truck navigating the cloud (with Google Sky or Google MistView?). That said, Windows n does propose interesting features that Windows n-1 didn't have, starting with the 'blue screen' part of the demo (now a classy grey signals the usual glitch). That was my first stop down memory lane.

I certainly didn't expect disruptive points of view from Warren EAST (ARM) or Mike HARRIS (Gartner) either, only a fair and balanced appreciation of a very wide array of sectors where both maintain a now exoticly limited role in the chain. Both specialists confirmed the obvious market trends (did I mention the cloud?), except of course their own shrinking businesses. For this second station along memory lane, I thought about all those players who managed to survive in such an evolutive environment without really evolving themselves.



Bell Labs also lost some of their luster over the past decade, narrowing their scope to remain competitive in key areas in spite of a struggling mother company (Alcatel-Lucent). But Bell Labs remain a very special player in RD, with a focus on vision and values. And here, at a time when pure research is sacrificed on the altar of short term profits, talent is still measured by surprise more than results. This may sound like happy hypey talk from a Silicon Valley youngster, but Jeong KIM is a bashful, soft spoken leader, truly willing to promote well being at all levels (physical, mental, societal). Yes, technology does save lives, but it's also becoming ever more pervasive (and even intrusive, for instance with somatic network implants), and generating an ever increasing volume of information. All this means a bigger impact zone, higher stakes, higher risks of privacy breaches at the micro level, or massive destruction at the macro level. As an echo to the Big Data promise of managing the unfathomable, KIM quoted Asimov: 'science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom'. In that context more than ever, a sound education proves crucial. Memory lane station 3: in the eyes of Mr KIM, I saw the wisdom I met in so many researchers who really care.



On a lighter note, Phil LIBIN announced that he'd just signed the lease for Evernote's Seoul office, and that new talents were welcome. His 4 year old start-up keeps gaining new fundings and new users (32 millions as we speak), and the founder himself seems to have gained a few kilos in the process. Can LIBIN's "second brain" (that's how he describes Evernote) keep growing at a faster pace than his body? I was almost wondering when I heard him disregard competition as something he should not worry about - a diplodocus kind of reasoning if I ever heard one (and boy did I hear some as a former strategic intelligence nerd - memo lane station 4). But Evernote's CEO seems to be developping new synapses and neurons (or, as he puts it, A.I. as in "Augmented Intelligence") all right, and particularly in Korea, where a local cellco could soon follow NTT DoCoMo, and where a partnership with a major manufacturer covering a wide array of devices could help him develop an even sexier and more seamless user experience. When I asked him up to where he wanted his second brain to grow, LIBIN answered that Evernote would help users think smarter, that soon suggestions would come to them. And as I pointed out the risk of giving in to Big Data, he said, in substance, that it was not compatible with Evernote's DNA. Let's see how Evernote evolves, evolution being a process relying most heavily on genetic mutations.



Speaking of a major Korean manufacturer covering a wide array of devices, Samsung was represented yesterday by CHANG Donghoon: the head of the design team that delivered the Haptic or Galaxy series is confirming the user-centric approach of a company willing to make the most of foldable displays (remember flexible AMOLED?), sensors, context awareness, invisible and transparent technologies, seamless transitions, natural interactions... That brought me further down memory lane: we'll always be staring at exciting stuff, like what Pranav Mistry does at the MIT Media Lab with his Sixth Sense prototype, and for the magic to work and the engine to rock and roll, there must always be some level of reality we've not quite reached yet.



Reality hit home a long time ago for mobile operators, so I was surprised to hear SK Telecom CTO BYUN Jae-woan mention as something new the fact that cellcos were not at the center anymore, and that they had to abandon their telco mindsets, to reconsider their environment, the way they defined themselves. Memory lane, continued: I really enjoyed working on it in the late 90s for a major player, and was saddened to see SKT waste their considerable advance in the middle of the noughties when they forgot to adapt to a more open environment.



Yesterday, the moment I really felt home was when Ben CERVENY (frog design) pleaded guilty: yes, plays and games are major drivers for innovation. Yes, tech design IS game design, and yes, futility can lead to utility (and yes, to achieve that it takes a lot of work and energy). Memory lane: the first start-up I survived (back in 1993-94) was the French leader in online gaming, and the ultimate lab that got me ready for everything that came after. As it turned out, the same company popped up a few stations later: our marketing used to rely on both Big Data and anthropology, and here was Intel's Genevieve BELL, an enthusiastic anthropologist, showing pictures of both the idealized and the actual home environment of TV viewers. One one side, an impossibly neatly sitted Ingals family smiling from their sofa, on the other a pot-bellied couch potato staring from a jungle of a room. Genevieve commented on the way electronic devices were treated very much the same way our anthropologist pointed out the location of the Minitel in a customer's messy living room.


A good forum on innovation must be spectacular and entertaining, and we had the right people for that:
- Hiroshi ISHIGURO and his more or less humanoids (Geminoid, Telenoid, Elfoid, and, as the ultimate alien, Ishiguroid himself),
- Aaron KOBLIN (Google Creative Lab) and his worldwide web of artworks,
- Marc ABRAHAMS (Ig Nobel Prize) and his Miss Sweetie Poo. Note that all forum organizers should use this major innovation: have a 8 year old girl come to the speakers each time she thinks they talk too much, repeating "please stop, I'm bored" until they give up. Low tech, but kawaiily efficient.




Even more spectacular?
- Josh NESBIT's low tech smart(and caring)phones,
- Mikel MARON's grassroot initiatives to put marginalized communities not only on the map*** but behind and all around it (Groundtruth Initiative, Open StreetMap...). Note how, on this photo, Mikel's body language speaks volumes the above mentioned Steve will never read.





Empowering people, making a fair democracy possible, filling all kind of gaps... that's what smart networks should be all about.

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mot-bile 2012 / SeoulVillage 2012
* among other nonsensical and poorly written blogules (nothing serious, it simply has to come out of my system).

** program of Day I:
Opening Ceremony and Keynote Address: WOO Wongil (Chief Executive Secretary, Seoul Digital Forum / President and CEO, SBS)
Congratulatory Remarks: LEE Kye Cheol (Chairman, Korea Communications Commission)
Keynote Address:
-"A New Era of Opportunity" - Steve BALLMER (CEO, Microsoft)
-"Technology and the Opportunities for a Better Society" - Jeong H KIM (President, Bell Labs / Chief Strategy Officer, Alcatel-Lucent)
-"The Future of IT: Learning from Coexistence Leadership"
- Warren EAST (CEO, ARM Holdings)
-"Enabling Equal Information Access to All Users" - T.V. RAMAN (Research Scientist, Google)
-"Technology, Film, and the Future" - Chris COOKSON (President, Sony Pictures Technologies)
-"Personal Cloud: The 'PC' of Tomorrow" - Mike HARRIS (Group Vice President, Gartner)
-"Shaping New Hopes in the Smart Era" - PYO Hyun-Myung (President, Mobile Business Group, KT Corporation)
-Special Address - PARK Won Soon (Mayor, Seoul Metropolitan Government)
-"Appropriate Technology: Simplicity brings hope to the digital age" - Paul POLAK (CEO, Windhorse International / Founder, International Development Enterprises - IDE), YOO Youngje (Professor, School of Chemical Engineering, Seoul National University / President, Scientists and Engineers Without Borders) - moderator CHANG Soo Y (Professor, Department of Industrial and Management Engineering, POSTECH / Codirector, Sharing and Technologies Incorporated)
-"Smart life enabled by mobile technology: an industry ecosystem will enable user experience" - BYUN Jae-woan (Head of Technology Innovation Center and CTO, SK Telecom)
-"Big Data and our future"
."The key to popular understanding of data is play" - Ben CERVENY (Founder and President, Bloom Studio / Founder, Experience Design Lab, frog design)
."Extending Humanity with technology" - Aaron KOBLIN (Creative Director, Data Arts Team, Google Creative Lab)
."Making one world through Big Data" - LEE Bong-gyou (Professor, Graduate School of Information and Director of the Communications Policy Research Center, Yonsei University)
."Interface: the window that changes the world" - CHANG Donghoon (Senior VP, Head of Design Group of Mobile Communications Division / Head of Design Strategy team at Corporate Design Center, Samsung Electronics)
-"Interface and Humanity":
."Genealogies of anxiety and wonder: our past and future with computing" - Genevieve BELL (Director, Interactions and Experience Research, Intel Labs, Intel)
."Devices, platforms, and a new way of life" - Phil LIBIN (Founder and CEO, Evernote)
.Initially scheduled: "User Interface Designed to Fix Personal Health" (Aza RASKIN)
-"Robots, games, and humor"
."The future life supported by robotic avatars" - Hiroshi ISHIGURO (Director, Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, Osaka University)
."Behavior-change Games and Habit Design" - Michael KIM (Founder and CEO, Kairos Labs)
."Research that makes people laugh, then think" - Marc ABRAHAMS (Founder, Ig Nobel Prize / Editor, Improbable Research / Columnist, The Guardian)
-"Technology, Humanity, and Collaboration":
."Expanding the reach of technology" - Josh NESBIT (CEO, Medic Mobile)
."Mapping the invisible: Open Source Mapping and Visible Communities" - Mikel MARON (President, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team / Codirector, Ground Truth Initiative)

*** note that yesterday, Seoul Mayor PARK Won-soon also mentioned a collaborative use of the map (on trial before the monsoon season): citizens spot problems, locate and report them on the map to shorten delays and improve accuracy.

---
UPDATE 20120524 (photos) ---
UPDATE 20120525 (dang, forgot Phil's pix as well)

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Thing

This hulk of a man (actually, more a Ben Grimm than a Bruce Banner) stood just next to me earlier today, and I'm still feeling kinda shaky.


Luckily, I was not alone in the room with Microsoft CEO Steve "The Thing" Ballmer, who minutes later howled his usual pitch on stage at the 2012 Seoul Digital Forum (W Sheraton). The theme today? "Coexistence". As if you could coexist with this kind of player.

Now I'm comfortably sitting in the press center, waiting for a second round of power hitters. More about it later.


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Seoul is... a village

Summing up Seoul in one picture and one word? No can do. Here's my take at the "Seoul is..." series:



You may recognize a few pictures taken here and there over the past 10 years.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Seoul Writers Workshop 2013 Anthology: Call for Submissions

Fellow wordsmiths, forge ahead!

Seoul Writers Workshop just set the deadline for this year's anthology, and you've got until August 15th to submit your texts.

Fiction, poetry, essay? It's up to you and right now, I haven't made up my own troubled mind... but that's somehow consistent with the theme: "Up/Down, Lost/Found".

Open and stimulating. Just like the previous theme (see last year's "Out of Place"*), and just like SWW itself, a friendly group where all writers feel at home.

Submissions are open to "English-language writers who have lived in Korea for any length of time since 2010. Current residency in Seoul or membership in Seoul Writers Workshop are not necessary." To which I'll add "membership in Seoul Writers Workshop" souldn't sound intimidating even to the shiest scribblers: joining is the easiest and most natural thing to do when you want to share.

By the way. I'd like to add a word or two about a fellow SWW member who recently moved back to the States, and who decided to share all the way about his own up/down, lost/found moments. Alex Clermont just published "Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely: Stories About Love, Life, Death and Discover from an American in South Korea", a collection of texts written about and during his stay in Korea. And if you think that's just yet another travelogue from a Westerner in Seoul, you're in for a surprise. Yes, some background noises will sound familiar, but you want to listen to Alex's sincere, delicate, and powerful author's voice.

Seoul Writers Workshop
Call for Submissions 2013: Up/Down, Lost/Found
Deadline: August 15th
Submission guidelines: seoulwriters.wordpress.com/call-for-submissions-2013
Facebook group: facebook.com/groups/seoulwritersworkshop
ning group (submissions for workshops): seoulwriters.ning.com

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*see also the previous edition (no theme): "Every Second Sunday".

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Seoul Lantern Festival

Get ready for Yeondeunhoe: this year, Seoul's Lotus Lantern Festival* culminates on May 19 with the Lotus Lantern Parade from Dongdaemun to Jogyesa.

You've probably already seen lantern garlands along major streets, or even bumped into some Disney-like Joseonesque character. If the usual hotspot for kitsh installations remains Cheonggyecheon, don't underestimate the Graceland potential of Bongeunsa, now a major player in that field.

The atmosphere is usually more special in Jogyesa (but you never know - remember all those soccer-ball lanterns back in 2002?), and all along Jongno for the parade.

Buddha's birthday will follow, on May 28. But he already blew the candles out in many other countries (April 28). I guess one month doesn't make that much difference when you turn 2556.

Seoul Lantern Festival 2012
May 18-20, 2012
Program: see website (llf.or.kr)

Seoul Village 2012
NEW : follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter * see also "Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival" (2011), "Lotus Lantern Festival" (2010), "King Danjong and Korea's Curse" (2009), "Festival Season(s)" (2008)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Approved for adoption (Couleur de peau: miel)

Adoption is a long a tough process for everyone, and a film tackling the issue sure isn't a walk in the park. Now an autobiographical animation movie / documentary on adoption, imagine the challenge...

After years of hard work, "Approved for adoption" ("Couleur de peau: miel" in French - "Skin color: honey") will be released in France on June 6, and the following week in Belgium, the country that adopted Jung shortly after he was found, at the age of 5, wandering alone on the streets of Seoul.

Now* a 42 year old cartoonist married to another adopted Korean, Jung returns for the first time to his hometown, an emotional journey directed by Laurent Boileau and Jung.

I've been waiting for this jewel for quite some time, and I can't wait to share the trailer that's just been released today (in French - no subtitles yet):




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* make that 47 today... a long process, indeed.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The New Seven Wonders of Green Technologies

Except of course in the case of fair democratic elections, I tend to take popular votes with a grain of salt, particularly in the age of the internet. For instance, last year's intense lobbying to get Jeju-do in the list of the New 7 Wonders of Nature reminded me of that 1999 Time Magazine internet poll supposed to select the Man of the Century: at one point, following a surge by Turkish nationalists, Mustapha Kemal was leading in most categories, from best politician to best scientist and best artist. If the same poll were led today, Pyeongyang would probably ask millions of zombie computers to cast a ballot in favor of KIM Il-sung, or even KIM Jong-il, the most prolific author ever (according to the legend, KIM The Second wrote more than 1,500 books).

I do believe in crowdsourcing, though, and in the benefits of consulting non-experts. But you have to keep a clear editorial line and some level of expertise in order to tame the wildest pet projects (exhibit A, without any picture, please: the infamous 'floating island' built on the Han River after the design of an ordinary Seoul citizen, following an open call for suggestions).

New and exotic ways of tackling environmental challenges have probably come out of a recent brainstorming session organized by Seoul with its citizens ("Great Citizens' Debate On Reducing One Nuclear Power Plant" - April 16, 2012), and I have the confused feeling that there might be some correlation with the list of 7 "Green Technologies" announced last week by Seoul Metropolitan Government for its future R&D investments (KRW 1.5 bn next year).

In Seoul, 90% of greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings and transports, which explains the priority set, until now*, on energy saving technologies and processes, building efficiency, waste management, electric vehicles, fuel cells, public transportation, bikeshare programs, regulations against abuses in air-con / heating... But here, it's hard to find any kind of focus considering the - drum roll please - list of New 7 Wonders of Green Technologies (actually the "Support for Promotion of Green Technology Development in Seoul 2012")**:

1- "development of a power generator using low waterfalls"
2- "elimination of black carbon emanating from meat roasted on open fires in Korean restaurants"
3- "recycling of landfill-bound waste"
4- "development of an anaerobic digestion model and processes for maximizing methane production"
5- "technology for evaluating the performance of LED lighting systems"
6- "development of light LED street lamps focusing on forward lighting"
7- "technology for developing and maintaining natural grass school playgrounds"

Let's start with point 1. If hydropower for low waterfalls is not as worthy of the Ig Nobel Prize as a 50 year long study on knuckle-cracking (for this most essential piece of research, the last Prize recipient used himself as a guinea pig), it doesn't seem to be a priority for a city that does boast splendid mountains, but basically regulates Cheonggyecheon or the Hongjecheon Waterfall by using simple faucets.

To me, point 2 sounds like a bulgogi version of the "Clean Coal" imposture: instead of wasting money on R&D to eliminate "black carbon emanating from meat roasted on open fires in Korean restaurants", why not regulate the use of charcoal altogether? And even I, a BBQ-loving ogre, am fully aware that the best way to reduce the carbon footprint would be to eat less meat.

Now all the way down the list, to point 7. "Developing and maintaining natural grass school playgrounds"? The citizen who suggested this brilliant idea probably never tried to grow natural grass in a country with very dry and cold winters, and very hot and humid summers. No wonder many schools used dirt in the first place, switching to artificial turf when the technology got better and cheaper: you can enjoy green all year round without feeding Monsanto shareholders, and save for genuine biomass over the rest of your campus. If I were Seoul city, I'd rather invest in sustainable low-cost urban farming techniques that can work all year round (soil-less cultivation, vertical crops...), and replace all those acres of "vinyl houses" (the negation of sustainable farming and a visual pollution if I ever saw one), with genuine, "natural" grassland.

Seoul Mayor wants to give away land for citizens to tend small kitchen gardens and I see the point. The concept is very popular in Europe, and has a positive social impact at the micro level of small neighborhoods. It's also good for image, and Lotte Department Store recently installed one on its rooftop as a 'well-being' service to its customers. But implementing it on a large scale, with individuals often abusing chemicals to compete for the best shrubbery, could prove counter-productive. Such initiatives should always remain sincere, and, literally, 'grassroot'.

Until now, big cities have been the problem, and they have to become the solution as most humans live in urban environments. Yes, cities need more nature, and bringing the countryside into the city is always pleasant, but it's no more a solution than bringing the city into the countryside. Smart urban farming may also help solving the tricky food equation our planet is facing, and reduce the negative impacts of agriculture in rural areas.
"Anaerobic digestion" (point 4) or algae biomass could become sustainable alternatives to fossile fuels, knowing that, of course, the aim of the game is not to "maximiz(e) methane production", methane being great fuel, but also a gas much more damaging than CO2 when it comes to greenhouse effect.

"Recycling of landfill-bound waste" (point 3) is not a new idea, and progress can be made simply by optimizing existing processes. For instance, the Nowon-Dongdaemun waste valorization center used to be lagging behind Seoul's three other centers, working at 67% capacity compared to 80% for Yangcheon-gu, Mapo-gu, and Gangnam-gu. Series of reunions helped close the gap within only 100 days, and even led to reductions in production costs.

Since their promotion was already a priority for the previous administration, Seoul is more in the implementation stage for LED technologies (points 5-6). The city just signed a MOU*** with the 206 member strong Korea LED Association (KLEDA - kleda.or.kr) to replace, with a 40% discount on materials and installation, all the lightings in the underground parking facilities of 1.2 million apartments and 800,000 business buildings by 2014, with hospitals and convenience stores as potential future targets. Those who cannot invest even at that discounted price will continue paying on their following electricity bills as if there were no savings, until the investment is fully paid for. Furthermore, the equivalent of 1% of the equipment will help finance energy for underprivileged citizens. The estimated economy of energy is 297 GWh or KRW 32.7 bn per year.

At our micro level, we're far from producing that much energy with our few solar panels, but they do trim off great chunks of our electricity bill. Even considering the fact that, if you play by the rules and install separate counters, you end up paying more VAT than you should. But that's part of the game. When you want green back, you don't always expect greenbacks.

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*see previous focuses on environment, for instance "Electric buses, Smart Chargers : Seoul is really getting serious", "Seoul Rooftops Go Green", "Public bike rental services bloom in Seoul and around"...

**"Technology to be developed to generate hydroelectric power in Seoul"
***"Seoul to distribute 2 million LED lights by 2014"

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Truth and Reconciliation - Justice at last

Ever since he became head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Korea, more than 2 years ago, LEE Young-jo seemed to be less interested in defending the cause (uncovering the country's troubled past to pave the way for a sounder future), than in undermining the institution and in pleasing fellow right wing activists*.

If LEE failed as the head of the TRCK, he clearly succeeded in that not so hidden agenda: he first banned a key report exposing unconvenient truths, and then quickly led the institution to its termination.

At last, justice caught up with Mr LEE, who's just been fined for abusing his position in order to ban the TRCK report: "Ex-head of truth commission abused authority to ban book" (Korea Times 20120511). LEE also lost the support of the Saenuri Party for the recent legislative elections.

If this verdict won't resurrect the TRCK, it does convey a message to those who try to erase or rewrite History.

The moral of the story? When you try to hide a mine field by covering it with dirt, don't celebrate by dancing on it.

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* See TRCK lost in translation or lost in transition?, and my previous posts related to TRCK, among which:
- TRCK: families of victims demand essential follow-up
- Truth and Reconciliation : which model for Korea ?
- A common History (also published in JoongAng Ilbo as "Japan may face its history")
- President Lee, please keep digging

Friday, May 4, 2012

DMZ picnic

Early May, fresh green everywhere, a soft and gentle breeze... No mosquitoes, no bugs, just a delicate snow of white petals cast by the large tree protecting us from the bright sun. And a korani: this panicked water deer took off right in front of us on our way to a peaceful picnic.

Peaceful? Like distant thunder from a dry summer storm, every twenty minutes or so, a cannon shot reminds us that we're in a restricted area. Same for those small triangular signs, which tell us the spot used to be a landmine. When the area is not cleared, a chaplet of red flags blocks the passage. The big red flags issue yet another warning: drills are under way here, and we're using live ammos. The large red signs with a number on them mark the line beyond which nothing can fly, no bullet can be shot.

Because the DMZ is like an onion, it has layers. Like these thick concrete walls running across strategic valleys to slow down North Korean tanks. South Korean tanks? We saw plenty of those as we toured the zone, along with packs of soldiers exercising, countless training ranges (even a real size JSA mock-up).

No wonder our korani felt a triffle nervous when it saw a group of humans. But we're not soldiers, nor even poachers. Just civilians attending a seminar with the DMZ Culture Forum*. More interested in how to promote AND preserve the DMZ's cultural assets - I'm stressing the "AND" because in Korea, promotion has a knack for being incompatible with preservation.

The DMZ's military heritage is already been taken care of. And technically, the war is not even over. Heck, officially, the armistice itself has not been ratified by South Korea (BTW the signature didn't happen in Panmunjom but in Kaesong).

The topic of the day was nature. And we experienced first hand what might be lost once this curtain is torn down. A Korea that vanished almost everywhere else. Charming valleys, pristine landscapes, no "apateu" blocks, no concrete messes ruining every single hilltop. Time suspended. A bballi-bballi-free Korea.

Of course, everything is at the same time as artificial as this owl guarding a peach orchard. Or as the only village of farmers residing there, a surreal Architectural Digest that tells a lot about the brighter side of living in an overprotected area.

Overprotected for whom? Ever the pleasant and pleasing guy, CHUN Doo-hwan arranged decades ago a scheme to help scores of Seoul friends snatch huge parcels of land for almost nothing: after the war, impossible to tell for sure who owned which land, and the man in charge stated that if three witnesses concurred in their accounts, cases could be settled...

Unless a moratorium is implemented before sounder policies are crafted, you probably can kiss those pristine landscapes a sad goodbye.

Seoul Village 2012

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*DMZ Culture Forum (DMZ문화포럼 - dmzculture.org)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Seoul Friendship Fair 2012, Global Seoul Mates

My favorite fair is back*! And this year, we may have the perfect weather to enjoy the program.

If you're a newbie, Seoul Friendship Fair proposes a week end of performances from foreign troops (dance, music) around City Hall and Mugyo-dong, but I confess I mostly come for the food, another festival from all horizons. After all, cuisine should be considered a major performing art, shouldn't it?

The full program for this edition (May 5-6) is on the website seoulfriendshipfair.org, along with, this year, food recipes from all over the world. Great initiative... even if the recipes are only available in Korean. Fair enough: I should read Korean, shouldn't I?

By the way: I've just been officially appointed a Global Seoul-Mate thanks to you, Dear Readers, who've been visiting from over 220 countries and territories over the past 5 years. The aim of this program is to help global audiences know more about the city, and that happens to be part of the collateral damage caused by this excuse for a blog. Don't worry, Seoul Village will remain totally independent, nonsensical, and poorly written.
Seoul-ly yours,

Seoul Village 2012
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* see "Seoul Friendship Fair 2011", "Seoul Friendship Fair" (2010)...

UPDATED 20120512

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Emperors in Istanbul - National Museum of Korea




Here's an event I certainly won't miss: an exhibition on past empires of Turkey at the National Museum of Korea, featuring works from prestigious institutions (from Istanbul and Ankara: Topkapi, the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art...)*.

The NMK previously delivered 3 impressive focuses on Egypt, Persia, and the Inca, bringing to Korean audiences treasures never seen before in the region. This time again, an ambitious editorial line, reaching beyond the usual suspects (the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires), towards the Greco-Roman civilization and Phrygia, but also into the Hittite Empire.

I'm glad the SeMA put a brake on blockbuster exhibitions (see "SeMA to block blockbusters"), but I think the NMK is doing a good job at drawing large audiences to its hulk of a museum, and you see many parents and kids pleased to discover more than they expected / came for, growing hunger for more discoveries.

* Civilizations of Turkey, Emperors in Istanbul
20120501-0902
National Museum of Korea
Seobinggo-ro 137 (Yongsan-dong 6-ga 168-6), Seoul 140-026
Website: istanbul2012.co.kr
Tel: 1666-4392

Seoul Village 2012
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UPDATE 20120513
National Museum of Korea No 19 has just been published - see focus p.21
http://www.museum.go.kr/files/upload/ebook/6/vol19.pdf

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