Friday, May 27, 2016

"A shared responsibility to look directly in the eye of history", and a shared evasiveness

History will remember the first time a POTUS and a Japanese PM stood together in Hiroshima more than their empty words.

Hiroshima mon amour
As expected, Shinzo Abe delivered one of his trademark, crocodile-tearful, "History is harsh" speeches*, sparing us his usual fake excuses, because this time, he was not required to provide any. Today, Barack Obama chimed in by using similar smoke screens. And of course, without apologizing.

Yes, 'we have a shared responsibility to look directly in the eye of history', but don't count on us for saying that nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki was wrong, or that Imperial Japan committed war crimes that also need to be remembered.

The choice of a G7 host city is a fantastic opportunity to push a political agenda, and Hiroshima was a finalist for Shinzo Abe, who wants everybody to remember Japan as a pure victim, and to forget that it committed atrocities under the fascist regime he has, along with fellow members of Nippon Kaigi, pledged to restore**. Sorry, Mr Abe, but "No, you can't honor A-Bomb victims in Hiroshima AND War Criminals in Yasukuni".

In his wildest dreams, this incurable provocateur would have selected Yasukuni, but the international community would have condemned him vehemently. He settled for another controversial Shinto shrine he loves to visit as frequently as possible: Ise Grand Shrine doesn't honor war criminals, but it is also led by a eminent member of Nippon Kaigi. And a Japanese government is supposed to respect the separation of State and religion...

Don't forget that as far as extremist lobbies go, Abe follows Shinto Seiji Renmei as well as Nippon Kaigi, and that as a fundamentalist, he wants the restoration of State Shinto, and of the Emperor as the supreme religious and political leader. 

A few Japanese voices raised objections regarding the choice of Ise, but who's listening to the dwindling resistance of the local democracy?

Seoul Village 2016 
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* for last year's two masterpieces, see ""History is harsh" and other sick jokes" and "Decoding the Abe Statement: "why apologize for crimes Japan never committed?""
** see "Imperial Japan v. Japan" on blogules, or previous posts on Shinzo Abe, and most recently regarding the US-Japan conondrum: "Tokyo Trials on trial: after Japan, Abe forces the US to chose between Imperial Japan and postwar Japan"

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Feel The BAN

Each time BAN Ki-moon visits Korea, rumors of a presidential bid get louder, and this time has already set the bar even higher.

As we saw recently with that major 'bankimoonization' attempt (in "Descendants of the Sun(glasses)"), the first bullets have already been fired against a man whose popularity make all his rivals nervous.

Yet BAN owes more his popularity, in this utterly politically divided nation, to his no-drama style and prestigious job than to his substance. Actually, just days ago*, The Economist slammed BAN Ki-moon as "painfully ineloquent, addicted to protocol and lacking in spontaneity and depth", adding that he was "viewed as the dullest - and among the worst" U.N. Secretary-Generals. Ouch. Did they spare him a Godwin's Law moment only because one of his predecessors, Kurt Waldheim, already claimed it - and deservedly so?


Again, BAN has a lot to lose in joining the race for a job I wouldn't wish to my worst enemy. Furthermore, his commanding lead in the polls of last February has all but melted**. Should he still decide to run, he probably wouldn't announce it while in the most neutral of all offices, which would leave him almost a year to campaign until the 2017 elections.

Even if BAN has positioned himself above the right-and-left rift, he would need a real political machine to reach power, not just the personal foundation about to be established in his name (see "Speculations circle Ban’s presidential bid"), which will probably serve as a think tank and non-political vehicle.

As it happens, the leaderless Saenuri Party is looking for a uniting figure, particularly following its crushing defeat in recent legislative elections. Not everybody would welcome him there, and even conservative media like Chosun Ilbo mention The Economist's prosecution speech.

And as the ultimate kiss of death, more or less formal invitations to run for Saenuri have been issued by pro-PARK Geun-hye lawmakers, a godsend for rival parties, who can then say that if BAN runs now, that's under that highly unpopular and divisive banner.

That's exactly what PARK Jie-won did. An assembly leader representing the People's Party of AHN Cheol-soo, who also claims the 'uniter reaching across the aisle' sweet spot, PARK said: "BAN has considerable political ambitions, and if the pro-PARK Geun-hye faction in the ruling Saenuri Party rallies around him, he could run for president"***. In other words: if BAN runs, that's because he's not the one he says he is. 

PARK Jie-won's declaration was a bit more subtle than that of Seoul mayor PARK Won-soon, who all but advocated a 'BAN BAN' (as in 'ban BAN', not as in 'fifty-fifty' in Korean - 반반) by saying that BAN should respect the tradition of U.N. Secretary-Generals staying away from national governments after their mandates****.

Unlike AHN Cheol-soo, PARK Won-soon turned his critic in a negative way, and he delivered it himself instead of sending a lieutenant. Make it personal, or stay above the debate?

At least, to feed the buzz in Korea, you don't have to play it Trump-style.

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* see "Master, mistress or mouse?" (The Economist - 20160521)
** Yonhap-KBS (Feb 2016): BAN Ki-moon 28.3%, MOON Jae-in 17.9%. Realmeter (Apr 2016, right after the elections): MOON 42.8%, BAN 42.3% ("Moon, Ban in neck-and-neck race in poll")
*** "UN chief Ban could run for president under right conditions: opposition whip" (Yonhap News - 20160524)
**** "Seoul mayor says Ban should respect U.N. recommendation on political activities" (Yonhap News - 20160525)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Take a walk on the Seoul side

More good news for pedestrians in Seoul: 10 streets will undergo a "road diet" this year, and twice more shall follow every year.

By "road diet", the metropolitan government means slimmer, curvier, healthier streets, like in this example where one traffic lane is turned into sidewalks:

Now if you look at the first 10 streets, some have already great assets as neighborhood connectors, short yet scenic and / or gastronomic walkways, often already lined with trees. But many have little to tell, like the 'apateu' blocks surrounding them. 

Here's the list, starting with my favorite:

  • Saemunan-ro-5-gil (Jongno-gu): between Gwanghwamun and Gyeongbokgung stations, the first parallel to the left of Sejong-daero, backstage for the governmental buildings or the Sejong Cultural Center, but centerstage for such great eateries as my beloved Gwanghwamun-jip (yummy gimchi jjigae below). Redefined by the Four Seasons Seoul, it also signals the beginning of the Baekundongcheon diagonal (see "Baekundongcheon / Gwanghwamun-gil - A River Runs Through It"), and I wouldn't be surprised if that diagonal became car-free in the future...

  • Noksapyeong-daero-26-gil, Yongsan-gu: known for its antique shops, this elbow connects Noksapyeong-daero and Bogwang-ro.
  • Seongsuil-ro-10-gil, Seongdong-gu: a treeless diagonal between Seongsuil-ro and Achasan-ro, and one of the old royal hunting trails - you can tell them because they radiate from where the old stone bridge used to cross Cheonggyecheon / Jungnangcheon.
  • Dongil-ro, Gwangjin-gu: further to the West, Northeast Seoul's backbone follows Jungnangcheon from Yeongdong Bridge. Seoul starts with the Southern section, more interesting around Jayang-dong, but very challenging because of that ugly bridge landing.
  • Gwanak-ro-30-gil, Gwanak-gu: a stretch lined with trees between Gwanak-ro and Kkachisan Park
  • Opaesan-ro-3-gil, Seongbuk-gu: not much to see either between Naebu Expressway and Wolgye-ro, but you already have sidewalks and trees.
  • Nowon-ro-1ga-gil, Nowon-gu: a lower section of Gongneung-dong around the school
  • Guil-ro-10-gil, Guro-gu: between Anyangcheon and the pack of railways south of Guro Station (Line 1), in Guro-dong.
  • Yeouidaebang-ro-44-gil, Dongjak-gu: a scenic walk around Daebang-dong Community Center, and along Noryangjin Neighborhood Park
  • Nonhyeon-ro, Gangnam-gu: maybe the city wants to improve the shopping experience of Gangnamites along the vertical axis between Maebong, Yeoksam, Eonju, Hak-dong, and Apgujeong stations. Or to remind them that they have feet, and that they could, for a change, spare the driver and spoil the Jimmy Choos.
This announcement followed series of updates by the city of its urban plans for 2025 issued last Autumn, including this list of zones preserved from demolition and reconstruction within Sadaemun / the fortress walls (Ikseon-dong also included):

Of course, you first notice the spots that WILL be redeveloped, like the Sajikistan I mentioned recently ("The Yongsan itch and the Sajik balm"). And the extension of semi-protected zones around Seun Sangga (Jugyo-dong, Ojang-dong, and Chungmuro 5-ga prolonging the direct neighborhoods listed in the regeneration project), or along Jong-ro near Jongmyo (e.g. Inui-dong)...

... not to mention the irony of seeing the DDP in an area 'preserved from large-scale redevelopment'.

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Yeongdong-daero Underground City, Korea (YUCK?)

Last March, KEPCO surpassed Hyundai Motor in market capitalization (KRW 37 tn vs 34). Ironically, since Hyundai's financial trouble have something to do with their purchase from KEPCO, in September 2014, of prime land along Yeongdong-daero, for a whopping USD 10 bn.

As you know (e.g. Yeongdongwon focus in last year's "Diagonal crossings, High Lines, and Business Verticals (how pedestrians and businesses remodel Seoul... and vice-versa)"), that site will host the group's future HQ - Hyundai Motor Global Business Center - at the core of a redesigned COEX-Jamsil business district that will stretch over both sides of Tancheon stream (Samseong-dong and Daechi-dong in Gangnam-gu, Jamsil-dong in Songpa-gu), and grow what is already a significant transportation hub into a gigantic one.

Yesterday, Seoul Metropolitan Government released more details about that part of the puzzle, an 'underground city' to be delivered by 2021:
  • A big whale: 160,000 square meters under Yeongdong-daero (6 underground floors, 630 m long, 70 wide, 51 deep). Cost: KRW 1.169 tn
  • A multimodal hub: subway (Samseong Station on Line 2, Bongeunsa on Line 9), bus (including the City Air Terminal), express railways (GTX-A Samseong-Dongtan, GTX-C Uijeongbu-Samseong-Gunpo, KTX Northeast extension), LRT (Wirye-Sinsa Line - see "Seoul LRT Projects Update (Part 2/2)"). Expected gains in commuting times to Dongtan and City Hall: from respectively 41 and 29 mn by car, to 20 and 5 mn by rail

Views presented last year

The hub will also include various culture and service facilities, and a shopping area complementing the COEX Mall. Pedestrians shall have a better time navigating a space until now devoted to Car Almighty.

With its countless traffic lanes, Yeondong-daero looks like a pre-Gwanghwamun-plaza Sejongno on steroids, and this project seems to consider a similar, tree-less, tip-of-the-iceberg central walkway. But it's not as if masses will roam the surface like downtown: distances are even greater, and most of the fun will remain indoor. As nice as Bongeunsa is, it doesn't rival with Jongno landmarks and Bugaksan.

Still, this transport hub certainly looks less nightmarish than Banpo's Express Bus Terminal, because the Yeongdong-daero / Teheran-ro intersection is far less messy, and because you don't have 'apateu' blocks the scale of say a Banpo Xi. One can also hope that the user experience will be better thought through, more seamless.

How much this will cannibalize business from COEX Mall or Lotte World remains to be seen. But it's already adding trouble to the old business center of Gangnamistan: vacancy rates are expected to keep growing in Gangnam Business District (around Gangnamdae-ro and Teheran-ro at Gangnam Station), even if Hyundai Motor is moving in the time to build its new extravaganza.
Common sense, demographic and economic trends tend to make us think that a success story here would mean a failure somewhere else. And this zero-sum game leaves us every year with more infrastructures to fill.

Let's hope that this 'underground city', which unlike many pharaonic projects does have a purpose, won't be the vast magma chamber of a supervolcano bubble, but at least a successful transport hub.

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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Descendants of the Sun(glasses)

I confess I never watched the "Descendants of the Sun" drama. This 2016 military hero sporting sunglasses reminds me too much of that 1986 Tom 'Top Gun' Cruise, if not that 1966 Park 'Retaliator' Chung-hee. Plus I don't feel comfortable with a Korean national broadcaster glamorizing too much the military when on the other side of the East Sea, Shinzo Abe is trying everything he can, from anime to music groups, to promote JSDF to younger generations... Well you do need sunglasses to face such a Rising Sun revival, but still...

I don't know if KBS aired a marathon of the "Descendants of the Sun" drama on election day to keep young voters home, but in spite of a record audience for the shows, the ruling party lost its majority.

That political drama came as a personal blow for Descendant of the Sunglasses PARK Geun-hye, as well as for at least two candidates to her succession:
- KIM Moo-sung bowed out after the debacle. Anyway, he didn't stand a chance for 2017 (at least he won't even need to be "bankimoonized" - see further down)
- OH Se-hoon failed miserably in his risky Jongno-gu bet* - over and out for politics?

Internal wars are likely to rage within a Saenuri Party that already started imploding when PGH pushed for her own candidates, provoking an outflow of defectors. Which currents will emerge around which leaders? And who will play the role of ROH Moo-hyun's MOON Jae-in for PARK, CHOI Kyoung-hwan?

If you think the time has come for BAN Ki-moon to rise, think again: just days after the elections, some of his best enemies made public his embarrassing reports to CHUN Doo-hwan about KIM Dae-jung in exile in the States...

BAN Ki-moon's dream for 2017 stop here (his 1985 reports on KIM Dae-jung to CHUN Doo-hwan) ( - 20160416)
via @annafifield**
AHN Cheol-soo dreams of drafting disillusioned Saenuri figures with his brand new 38-MP-strong People's Party. If the Minjoo Party claimed much more seats (122), MOON Jae-in can't claim it as a personal victory. His party recorded its first win as soon as he left its leadership - as if even the old KIM Chong-in, who worked for CHUN Doo-hwan and PGH, looked less a figure of the past, and a better leader for the left than him. Worse: Honam (Jeolla-do) voted massively for AHN's camp. And MOON let other faces get the spotlights, like KIM Boo-kyum, who triumphed in conservative Daegu.

If PARK Won-soon didn't run last week, he doesn't hide his ambitions for 2017. Depending on how AHN manages to build on his momentum, the Seoul mayor could have a tough time playing the independent leader. And MOON won't let him hijack Minjoo that easily. 

The months to come could be fun watching... and feature more bankimoonizations.

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* see "OH Se-hoon returns... but did he ever leave?"
** see "반기문, ‘김대중 귀국’ 미국 내 여론 동향 보고…미, 전두환 정부 ‘호헌 지지’ 요청에도 끝내 거절"

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Yongsan itch and the Sajik balm

One up, one down. Seoul speeds up for the redevelopment of Yongsan 4, and puts the brakes on Sajik 2.

We've known for a while* that the future Yongsan Park would be surrounded by high rise structures. After burning their fingers on the doomed Yongsan IBD project, authorities decided to offer their all-you-can-build gifts to speculators in smaller packages, wrapped in green. Here, at the Hangangdae-ro - Seobinggo-ro interesection (Hangangno-dong), a tentative 'Yongsan Parkway' serves as an environmental alibi for more 30-40+ towers:

In Jongno-gu, a far less popular - and far less tragical** - "drama" has also been running for years: the redevelopment of what I call Sajik Heights, the hilly neighborhood nested between Sajik-ro / Sajik Tunnel, Space Bon, and Gyeonghuigung. I've walked its alleyways countless times, and even wrote a short story about Kim Ki-chan meeting my fictional Kim Mudangnim there (the great photographer also used to live in Sajik-dong).

A pigeon, a hanok, a hilly alleyway, Inwangsan - Sajik Heights in 2009

For a decade, Sajik Heights has been preparing for the transformation, and Lotte Castle eventually won the right to build the New Town.

As far as 'urban continuity' goes, it looked consistent with the Gyeonghuigung Xii (Gyonam New Town) rising from the other side of the tunnel / hill / (now almost totally obliterated) fortress wall... 

But Seoul city seized a debate over modifications to stop the process***. Among the landmarks to be protected (let's hope in a less destructive way than nearby Dilkusha****), the 1906 house where Josephine Eaton Peel Campbell lived. I visited that place at the top of the hill, around the time it was used as an office by local residents. It seems to have never been used for the purpose the Campbell estate sold it, which was to promote the education of young girls, in the tradition of Campbell herself, the founder of Baehwa (girls' schools and women's university in Pirun-dong).

Residents are now wondering what's best for them, particularly after witnessing what happened in the vicinity: Gyonam? newtonized. Seochon? bukchonized. So what for Sajikistan?

Whatever happens in the future, something of the old neighborhood shall survive. Or evolve. 

Anyway, it would be nice to see something decent next to a potential UNESCO Heritage site (Yeol still working hard on the Sajik-dan revival*****).

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* see for instance "Yongsan park - fake forests and real estates" (Feb. 2011)
** if a person died in Yongsan, no casualties for the only tragedy I witnessed when I lived in Sajik-dong, a hanok fire back in 2009.
*** "사직2구역 재개발 추진 7년…110년 된 캠벨 사택 어쩌나" (JoongAng Ilbo 20160413)
**** less forsaken than 5 year ago (see "Sajik Heights and micro-hanokization"), the building seems to have undergone serious change in the name of 'preservation' 
***** rites have been performed for a long while, and the restoration helped as well (see "Sajik-dan enshrined, Naeja-dong revived ?")

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Bleu Blanc Rouge

In case you're missing it, Korea and France are celebrating 130 years of diplomatic ties (1886) through series of events promoting Korean culture in France (Sept 2015-Aug 2016) and French culture in Korea (March-December 2016).

"Annee France-Coree 2015-2016" is the occasion to display the cultural diversity* of both nations, beyond the usual suspects (K-pop, pansori, food, fashion, chanson...). And to reach nationwide. Here's part of the program for this week:

To follow Annee France Coree: 

Frankly, I've never seen so many Korean artists exhibited across Paris. From KIM Jungman in Cernushi to Chung Hyun's "L'Homme Debout" in Palais Royal, they ROK the town on or off the festival. Korea's performing arts, cinema, food get more reviews than ever in the media, and its literature also stars at the Salon du Livre or at Etonnants Voyageurs.

Monumental: Kim Jungman vernissage at Musee Cernuschi Paris, ahead of tomorrow's Nuit Blanche (
The Taegukgi pops up everywhere, but in a peaceful and festive manner; on posters (like this one on Seoul, or that one merging the Arc de Triomphe with Gwangwhamun), on the streets during the Techno Parade...

Ad in Paris subway for Séoul Hypnotique event - of course on a Samsung screen! @FranceCoree #ForumdesImages — Seoul Village (@theseoulvillage)
Seoul Bam at the Technoparade - Photo Institut français / Thibault Chapotot
Jean-Paul Gaultier at the DDP (BTW RIP Zaha)? King Sejong francisbaconized by Castelbajac? conferences, debates and expos here and there? check the program for the next events in France or Korea!

At Grand Palais in Paris, experiencing #TasteOfParis with Pierre Sang Boyer's gimchi with lentils (20160212 -

Warning: Onde Sensuelle to ripple over Seoul next week. M in concert! (20160314 -

King Sejong framed by JCDC (20160329 -

Economy and innovation being part of culture, they're also included in the program. And the collaboration between both nations shall bear more fruits thanks to the recently inaugurated French Tech Seoul:

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* a must for Korea, who keeps overselling k-pop and k-anything (see my conference: "Heralding cultural diversity: a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave (1st Congress - WAHS)"). 

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