Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Soriju seems to be the sweetest word

Back to Jeonju's hanok village for the 'soriju' making event, 100 days ahead of the opening ceremony for the 2014 Jeonju International Sori Festival (October 8)!

Of course, 'sori' played a central role in an afternoon filled with pungmul, pansori, court music (classic with gayageum, ajaeng, and saenghwang - plus a modern take with piano), and even a contemporary ajaeng-janggu duet.
A rare chance to listen to saenghwang
But we were also here to make the 'soriju', the official makgeolli for the opening ceremony, mixing rice with malt and water and sealing the jar with our good luck wishes.


And because everything was perfectly organized, we could quench our thirst with the delicious 'soriju' prepared 60 days earlier specially for the occasion!

In Korea like in Gaul, a great day ends with a feast and songs. This perfect one* was crowned by a fantastic pansori singer (BANG Sumi, feat. PARK Jechun as her pansori gosu, chopsticks style).


A good place, good friends, good food, good music... Total bliss!

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* started by a victory for France at the World Cup!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Abductors talking abductions - Revisionists talking revisions

Will Shinzo Abe and Kim Jong-un meet some day? Last year, the project seemed a quick fix for both to pose as diplomacy-friendly leaders following impressive streaks of provocations (see "ABE forced to back down a bit. For the moment. Next PR stunt: KIM Jong-un").

It resurfaced a couple of weeks ago, under the perfect alibi: the case of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea, which Pyongyang agreed to discuss in exchange for lifted sanctions. A welcomed bribe for a regime that can't raise its human rights record anyway, and a welcomed 'evidence' that Abe is a man of peace even as he tries to sell the return to militarism in Japan.

As a sad remainder of the true nature of both leaders, the talks were overshadowed by the news that North Korea decided to detain yet another US citizen, and that yet another survivor of Imperial Japan's sexual slavery system (Halmoni Bae Chun-hee) passed away without receiving any official apology from the Japanese government. Of course, Shinzo Abe is right to demand answers for the fate of tens of citizens abducted by North Korea, but wrong to deny the abduction of tens of thousands of girls and women for the Japanese military.

The tiny hopes raised by Barack Obama's remarks on 'Comfort Women' in Seoul (see "So, did Obama visit his own Yeswecan Shrine?") proved short-lived: soon after issuing the embryo of the beginning of the erzatz of proto-pseudo contrite remarks the next day, Japan's 'Prime Sinister' confirmed that apologies were not on his agenda - in yet another outrageous historical reference of his and of all places, in Germany! -, before exposing, as scheduled, his latest sales pitch for the highly controversial 'Collective Self Defense'.

Shinzo Abe: to compensate wrongs of WWII, Germany chose apologies, Japan "set its own standards"! english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2014/05/01/2014050101075.html

All that matters now to Shinzo Abe is not the 'third arrow' of Abenomics, but the two pilars of "ABEIGNomics": historic and constitutional revisionism. Significantly, his government is spending most of its energy during the last sessions of the Diet to present the findings of its controversial 'probe' on the Kono Statement, and to negotiate with New Komeito an agreement a minima on CSD.

In case you missed the previous episodes*, a few useful reminders:
  • "Abenomics" are only a short-term illusion to bribe voters at their own expense, a sleight of hand the time to pass "ABEIGNomics", that in turn shall change Japan forever. 
  • "ABEIGNomics" covers historical revisionism, the end of Japan's post-war pacifism and democracy,  anything that could contribute to a sick Imperial Japan revival (if not geographically, at least politically)... A lifetime obsession for Shinzo Abe, who has the most consistent record to prove it.
  • Shinzo Abe is not an enemy of Korea or China, but the worst enemy of Japan. Provoking Japan's neighbors is only a means for him to reach his ultimate goal: undermining Japan's democracy.
  • Beyond the Article 9 of the Constitution and the 'Collective Self-Defense' fallacy (the concept revives the specter of the 1876 Ganghwa-do Treaty and these days resonates in the most Putinesque way), this man targets the Article 96 that protects the Constitution by setting high requirements for any modification***. 
  • Promulgated in 1946, this Constitution has - mercifully - never been amended ever since: one can only guess how far these extremists would go if they were given free rein, but be certain that they wouldn't stop at Article 9 (even if the said article was recently nominated for Nobel Peace Prize!).
    • As Katsumasa Suzuku (Tomorrow Party of Japan / Japan Future Party) put it****, "Lifting the limits on the right for self-defense will bring us right back to the concept before the last war that led us to destruction".
    • And in a May 8 editorial, The New York Times clearly confirmed the threat: "Japan is facing a genuine test of its democracy".
On Shinzo Abe's constitution push: "Japan is facing a genuine test of its democracy" (NY Times)
  • At home, popular support for Abe would not survive a failure of Abenomics:
    • The core supporters of Abe are fellow fans of Imperial Japan willing to make sure that the darkest sides of Japan's history remains hidden, and sometimes the darkest sides of their own family's history, like Shinzo Abe's with his own grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, a former PM who at least honored more discretely his fellow war criminals. The minority of ultra-conservative bureaucrats who control Japanese politics support him because they share the same concern.
    • Japan Inc. keeps supporting Shinzo Abe for his illusory Abenomics in spite of their worries about ABEIGNomics, and many 'true' nationalists, who despise this disgraceful impostor, still prefer him to liberals. Some even make a parallel between 2014 Japan and 1933 Germany: we know this Hitler is crazy, but don't worry, we have him under control... 
  • But the Japanese people who want to save Japan and to say no to "ABEIGNomics" (Japan's worst enemies, the ones from within) cannot reform national politics from the outside, and the international community must not only oppose Abe's pseudo-nationalist imposture, but support them. 
  • Again, the US must at long last act as a responsible leader and take a moral stand (bonus: they'll save the trilateral alliance, and counterbalance the growing influence of China in Korea and across the region). Of course, the US should under no circumstance consider outsourcing security in Asia to such a bad cop, and Japan shouldn't be allowed to return to militarism without unequivocally and irrevocably denouncing Imperial Japan's wrongdoings and renouncing revisionism. The US can no longer swallow bitter pills from this provoking extremist just because they'd like Japan to invest more in the alliance's defense spending in the region; that's this very same old "he is a S.O.B., but he is our S.O.B." mantra that led post-war Japan to this moral dead-end**. And you don't want Shinzo Abe to inspire his pal Narendra Modi...
  • Tomorrow, Abe will probably paint the Kono Statement as null and void, because he knows that the cause of the victims of sexual slavery for the Japanese military (known under the 'Comfort women' euphemism) is of the utmost importance and emergency. Not only for the last surviving victims, but for the very soul of Japan and its future. Again, it's about universal human rights and justice, and it's not about Japan vs Korea, but about Imperial Japan vs post-war, peaceful Japan. Here too, the US must lead. Not only at the local level (e.g. memorials in NJ, VA, CA, US, Korean and Japanese American lawyers defending Glendale memorial) or in Congress (e.g. Resolution 121, congress members like Mike Honda or, more recently, Loretta Sanchez - see "U.S. Lawmaker Urges Resolution of Sex Slavery Issue"), but also and foremost from the White House.
Last month, a group of Japanese women came up with an original way of exposing Shinzo Abe and his friends: a sex strike by women who refuse to sleep with warmongers (i.e. men supporting attacks on the constitution and its Article 9).

Women who refuse to sleep with warmongering men, a sex strike movement denouncing Abe's attacks on Article 9
So the old 'make love, not war' slogan became a safer 'don't have sex with warniks'.

In an ideal world: Make Love And Democracy, Not War And Fascism.

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* see all posts related to Shinzo Abe on Seoul Village, for instance "Saving Japan - Let's fall the Indecision Tree", "The Elusive Independence Day - When will Japan officially proclaim its Independence from Imperial Japan?", "Dear Japan, Please Say No To Abeignomics"... 
** see "To better bridge the gap between Japan, Korea, and China, let's measure the gap within Japan"
*** more reminders:
  • To change the Constitution, you need not only a vote by two-thirds of each House of the National Diet, but also a popular vote / referendum. 
  • Shinzo Abe doesn't even have a full support from his own extremist base regarding the Article 9. Typically, within his coalition, the New Komeito party remains to be convinced, most notably within Soka Gakkai, a 'fascist buddhist' movement. 
  • For the moment, Abe is forced to play "three-cushion billiards" (as we Frogs put it) and indirect attacks, most notably by trying to reinterpret the Constitution as it is, or by lowering the age for voters for the referendum.
      • 3 conditional requirements: "a close ally of Japan is under attack / a grave threat to the nation’s security exists if force is not used / another country under attack clearly asks Japan to counterattack"
      • 3 procedural requirements are: "the Prime Minister decides to use force / the Diet approves the PM's decision / the government obtains permission from a third country if Japanese troops must pass through its territory en route to the conflict zone"
    • A couple of days earlier, the lower house of the Diet, the House of Representatives, had passed a bill that changed the rules for Act on Procedures for Amendment of the Constitution of Japan (see "Lower House OKs referendum bill"). 
    • Abe wants to change Japan for good, starting from education, at the root of democracy. He has long been pushing for revisionist textbooks and the teaching of more nationalistic values for the younger generations, always multiplying the provocations to fuel anger and extreme reactions from China and Korea to pose as a victim and boost nationalism (territorial disputes an ideal playground). He is also pushing reforms that shall make illegal the criticism of nationalism or revisionism.
**** "Japan's Abe Takes Step to Enhance Military's Role" (WSJ 20140514)

On Shinzo Abe's constitution push: "Japan is facing a genuine test of its democracy"

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

World Cup v. Korean Keg

It's World Cup time again. Which image of the nation do you want to share? These days, I've been given the choice between the worst of Korea's drinking tradition with PSY's Hangover, and the best of Korea's festive culture with a cheerful 'Daehan Minguk'.


After 'Gangnam Style' and 'Gentleman', and before 'Daddy' this Summer, PSY released 'Hangover', an abject object compared to which his previous hit almost looks like a work of art (and my take at "Gentlemanslaughter" was already not very kind).

Still not sobering up in its 3rd day, the Park Jae-sang - Snoop Dogg duo reaches 41,339,792 views, 409,066 likes, and 143,408 dislikes on YouTube. This 26.0% "dislike ratio" comes after Gentleman's 16.3% (674,716,081 views so far), and Gangnam Style's 11.1% (2,012,404,672 horse burgers served, and counting).

I don't recommend watching this pathetic video that not only lists all the possible disgraces and 'DON'Ts' in etiquette, but also drills nastily through your eardrums for 5 interminable minutes.

I forced myself to down it in one shot. Shortly after, I had to throw up this tweet:

Embarrassing, annoying, headache guaranteed... PSY's "HANGOVER" with Snoop Dogg even worse than expected twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/475800094483034113
I guess @DanaDeMercurio nailed it by writing "I need those 5 minutes of my life back" in a tweet listed, along with mine and a few others, in an article aptly titled "Psy’s Hangover Gives Some Nausea" (Jeyup S. Kwaak - Korea Realtime / Wall Street Journal 20140609).

Anyway, life goes on in the Peninsula. Between graphic videos down South and colorful propaganda up North:

Hangover, the North Korea edition (feat. neither PSY nor Snoop Dogg)

Needless to say, I prefer the more positive image Korea sends to the world every four years: a cheerful community, united not against anyone or anything, but in a peaceful celebration. And particularly a few weeks after the Sewol tragedy, it was great to see Korean youth take the streets of Jeonju hanok village to perform this friendly flashmob:

At the end of the video, there's an interview of Park Je Chun*, who composed this welcoming 'daehan minguk' with festive Korean rhythms, ideal to alternate with the more 'taeguk warrior' / Western rhythm version made popular in 2002. 

I'm making two cameo apparitions in the same video: at the end for my two cents, and at the beginning, seen shooting the flashmob with my smartphone. Here's the short scene I took:


Anyway, go Korea! And please, support responsibly.

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* who was recently named General Commissioner of the Jeonju International Sori Festival, after 3 years as its Creative Director (see "In the zone with Miyeon and Park Je chun")

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Next Stop 2017?

Korea posted its highest turnout in almost two decades for local elections. If the ruling Saenuri party managed to overcome the "Sewol effect"* in key battles (e.g. Incheon, Gyeonggi), the duel for Seoul proved even easier than expected for the incumbent.

In Seoul, conservatives lost 5 districts in 4 years. From blue districts to a Blue House?

(Seoul less blue than previously painted, but a confirmation: both parties get mixed results - see "No big loser or winner in elections" - Korea JoongAng Daily 20140606)

Nationwide, the East-West divide turned into a twisted Taegukgi
In Seoul, Saenuri lose Yongsan, but reclaim Jung-gu, and win Jungnang-gu
So among "South Korea's Super PAC" (Park-Ahn-Chung), Park Won-soon emerges as the winner of the day in the race for 2017 and the presidency: while he defeated Chung Mong-joon in a direct clash, Ahn Cheol-soo remained stuck in a NPAD alliance unable to mark clear progresses (the ex-independent already saw his approval rates plummet after he joined forces with the opposition).

On both sides, the perfect timing for new faces to emerge. If any. 


On a personal note, I was allowed to vote for the first time for the mayoral election as a Foreign resident (in 2011, I could for the referendum, not for the main show).

First, the leaflets - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/470823320175132673
Second, the procedures (in 2 languages for foreigners) - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/470844963194826752
Third, the results - cherchez la femme - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/474183999741366272

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* It seems that the ones who most benefited from the Sewol tragedy were the left-wing candidates for education chief (big win for Cho Hi-yeon in Seoul).

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

I love the smell of napalm in the evening

To start with, a BBQ is not the healthiest thing on Earth. But a welding torch...?

Sometimes, bballi-bballi Korea goes a bit to fast for me...

P.S. (so much for Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore): no, it didn't smell of napalm, and yes, it tasted great. Not as much as the lamb stew, though - no flamethrowers involved there.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mens Sana in Computore Sano (Seoul Digital Forum 2014)

Unlike for the 2012 edition*, I decided not to attend SDF 2014 with a "Press" card, but to remain in the audience... which still leaves opportunities to chat with innovators, particularly when they are launching impromptu roundtables at the cafe**, like Alan Mycroft, the enthusiastic father of Raspberry Pi who succeeded in bringing fun back into computer science and students back to both schools and playgrounds. Needless to say, Mycroft wishes Korea's education system were less destructive for creativity.

By the way: this country would be a much better place if failures were recognized as an indispensable component of innovation. In the wake of the Sewol tragedy more than ever, we must learn how to learn from our mistakes, instead of just firing people before they accumulate experience.

And let's not deter those who are willing to try, or turn down a 15 year-old because he's 15 year-old. Let's keep in mind that at that ripe age, Jack Andraka invented his 3-cent cancer detector:

Andraka also called for a democratization of science papers, which should be available for free - knowledge as a human right - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/469346406327529473
And Korea? Please stop looking for the Korean Steve Jobs. Remember that you have Kilnam CHON, who brought internet to Asia and cares for the billions victims of the digital divide. Remember that you never succeed by following the money, but always by leading in values.

1982, Korea's maiden internet network (the first outside the US). Meet its father, Kilnam Chon, at Seoul Digital Forum. twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/468913159601152002
An innovation literally brings something new inside a given environment, which means innovation shouldn't be considered without taking into account its impacts on the said environment, the time factor, the very process of "bringing". Ideally, innovation is simple, cheap, and democratic, and the innovator cares more about helping others than making money. The ideal innovator could well be Alfredo Moser, whose Moser lamp changed the lives of many among the poorest, but didn't change him (see "Alfredo Moser: Bottle light inventor proud to be poor").

Innovators need to be empowered, though, and that's what Mark Randall loves to do. At Adobe, he pushed the suggestion box to the next level by offering a "Kickbox" to all collaborators willing to develop a pet project. Nothing revolutionary, but a concrete message: we give you a process, some money, total freedom, so that you can give your best. And it works.

In any case, never forget to have fun. Like Guy Hoffman when he improvises on piano with his robot. Hoffman's take at anthropomorphy in robotics is not of the 'creepy' kind, like Hiroshi Ishiguro's*: instead of reaching for the most realistic humanoid, he focuses on human-robot interactions, UI/UX, and particularly body language, a universal, emotionally loaded language that speaks volumes.

Travis, Hoffman's latest cute bot was on stage at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, for a closer look and a more comprehensive understanding of his work, check his TEDx talk in Jaifa (more videos on his website - http://guyhoffman.com/category/topvideo):

As computers around us keep getting smarter, and as the best brains collaborate to decypher the human brain and make the next computers even smarter***, it's somehow reassuring to see masses embrace a technophobic human relying on his own intellect. But there as well, it takes a lot of work to make your creation look brilliant: "Sherlock" co-author Steven Moffat confessed that neither Benedict Cumberbatch nor himself were superior minds. And I presume that a robotic arm would have certainly come in handy for Moffat's book signing marathon - this waiting line tells a lot about Sherlock's popularity in Korea:

Of course, not all crimefighters are created equal. And I'm afraid Homicide Watch DC's vibrant activism could be misinterpreted as crocodile tears. If I second all initiatives to make police and legal systems more transparent, I suggested to Laura AMICO that people who've been wrongly suspected should be considered as victims, not just 'dropped charges' in the 'suspect' column. The more experienced KWON Hye-jin (Newstapa.org - Korean Center for Investigative Journalism, the local partner of the ICIJ / International Consortium of Investigative Journalists) has tamed her passion for truth by keeping her eye on the ball: emotions are one thing, justice and journalism different issues.

Yes, there were a few dull talks too - but again, failures are part of the innovation process. And the young participants to the first Global Hackathon will learn as much from their failures as from their successes. Maybe the Australian leader of the winning team will even learn to share the stage more gracefully in the future - but he doesn't need that if he's looking for a Job(s).

The 11th edition of SDF is over but, as a famous cyborg said, "I'll be back".

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* see "Seoul Digital Forum: Return To The Future"
** I wish I had more time to chat with KIM Sangbae, a MIT expert in biomimetics who does amazing things by learning from geckos, cheetahs, meshworms or cockroaches (check the (vi)vids on http://biomimetics.mit.edu/videos). The following day, in his talk, KIM showed the part of BBC's fascinating 'Meat eaters' with the cheetah, pointing out the position and the role of the tail during the hunt, but what strikes me each time I watch this slow motion masterpiece is the eerie stability of the predator's head, like a Steadicam locked on its prey.

*** looking forward to the findings and applications of the Blue Brain and Human Brain projects (Henry Markram - EPFL)... and to tasting the cherry-mushroom mix recommended by Cognitive Cooking (Rob High - IBM Watson).

SDF 2014, the program:
Wednesday May 21
09:00-09:10    Opening Ceremony & Keynote Address Opening & Congratulatory Remarks
09:10 - 09:30    ‘‘The Beginning of ‘New TIME’”
09:30 - 10:00    [KEY1 ‘Connect’] CHON Kilnam
10:00 - 10:30    [KEY2 ‘Capture’] Luis von AHN
10:50 - 11:10    [KEY3 ‘Resonance’] AN Yongil
11:10 - 11:30    [KEY4 ‘Unprejudiced’] WI Euiseok
11:30 - 11:50    [KEY5 ‘Wear’] Eric FRIEDMAN
12:50 - 13:10    [KEY6 ‘Programmable’] Alan MYCROFT
13:10 - 13:30    [KEY7 ‘Working Together’] Lia NAVARRO
13:30 - 13:50    [KEY8 ‘Borderless’] Tony LYU
13:50 - 14:30    [KEY9 ‘Simply Brilliant’]Alfredo MOSER, Illac DIAZ, Claire RIGBY
15:10 - 15:35    [KEY10 ‘Universal’]Sylvia CHAN-OLMSTED, RHEE June Woong
15:35 - 15:55    [KEY11 ‘Empathy’] Laura & Chris AMICO
16:00 - 16:20    [KEY12 ‘Emotional Innovation’] Kwame FERREIRA
16:20 - 16:40    [KEY13 ‘Understanding’] Simon Seojoon KIM
16:40 - 17:20    [KEY14 ‘Radical Connectivity’] Nicco MELE, YOON Youngchul
Thursday May 22
09:00-09:50    Keynote Address
09:10 - 09:50    [KEY15 ‘Uncommon Sense’] Steven MOFFAT & Sue VERTUE
09:50 - 10:10    [KEY16 ‘Brain-reading’] Henry MARKRAM
10:10 - 10:30    [KEY17 ‘Mind-reading’] Rob HIGH
10:50 - 11:10    [KEY18 ‘Moving Design’] KIM Bongjin
11:10 - 11:30    [KEY19 ‘Cure’] YUN Kyongsik, CHO Dongcharn
11:30 - 12:00    [KEY20 ‘Communication & Reflection’]HWANG Kyung-Sig & SON Wha-Chul
13:20 - 13:40    [KEY21 ‘Bridging by Sharing’] LEE Sangchul
13:40 - 14:00    [KEY22 ‘Creativity Within’] Mark RANDALL
14:00 - 14:20    [KEY23 ‘Unwalled Curiosity’] Jack ANDRAKA
14:20 - 14:40    [KEY24 ‘Seeing without Seeing’] Pete ECKERT
15:10 - 15:30    [KEY25 ‘Truth’] KWON Hyejin
15:30 - 15:50    [KEY26 ‘Learn from Nature’] KIM Sangbae
16:00 - 16:20    [KEY27 ‘A Duet’] Guy HOFFMAN
16:20 - 17:00    [KEY28 ‘Amplify’] Daniel Dae KIM, CHANG Tae You, KIM Younghyun, PARK Sangyean
17:10 - 17:50    [KEY29 ‘Hope’] The 1st Global Hackathon Ceremony (“善 Challenge”)
17:50 - 17:55    Closing Remarks · The End
Alternate programs:
SDF DeepDive I - Gaming as Illness and Social Remedies by Graduate School of Culture Technology, KAIST (14:30-17:00 Wednesday May 21) - LEE Dongman, SHIN Yee-jin, PARK Juyong, DOH Young Yim, KIM Huy Kang, SONG Gil-young, Jake SONG, LEE Wonjae, Park Jun Hyun, WOO Jae Joon
SDF DeepDive II - The 1st Global Hackathon “善 Challenge”by AppCenter with SBS Foundation (For 4 days & 3 nights Monday-Thursday May 19-22) - 100 contestants from 16 nations
SDF DeepDive III - Master Class for Media Writing: The Formula for Successful Storytellingby Korea TV & Radio Writers Association with SBS Foundation (14:00-18:40 Thursday May 22) - Steven MOFFAT, Ekuni KAORI

Monday, May 12, 2014

Seoul's Big Data On Slow Motion

The densest traffic in Seoul? In front of Hongdae on Friday afternoons, according to the data crunched by Seoul (over 2013: 7.6 billion GPS records from part of the taxi fleet)*. It makes sense for a city where Hongdae, Cheonggyecheon, and Namdaemun see the slowest traffic on average, and where Friday is the slowest day (21.6 km/h), but makes me wonder if there's not a bias: in front of Hongik University Station, the right lane is very often blocked by cabs waiting for customers, with their GPS recording non-existing traffic jams... That said, let's cruise on.

Know that overall, Seoul posts a 26.4 km/h average speed: 18.7 km/h downtown (thank you Jung-gu!),  26.6 km/h in the rest of the city, and 59.9 km/h on expressways.

The following maps show averages at the district level, which is much less precise than a map of the main axis. It clearly penalizes tiny "red" Jung-gu: a significant share of its roads are perennial bottlenecks, while the much bigger Gangnam-gu compensates its notorious traffic jams with its vast quiet neighborhoods. At the geographical center of the capital, "Blue" Yongsan proves a rather efficient transportation hub. And if Seongbuk-gu comes as a surprise to you, remember that this district is home to almost half a million Seoulites, and that many Nowonites cross it every day, making circulation even more difficult between the Dongsomun-ro - Bukhansan scissors.

Average speeds per district / Weekdays on secondary roads

Weekdays / Weekend

If you want to follow in real time the traffic along Seoul's main axis, or watch live webcams along the way, visit SPATIC's website:

Seoul metropolitan Police Agency Traffic Information Center - spatic.go.kr

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* see "금요일 오후 홍대입구 가면 `거북이` 된다" (Seoul inews - 20140512)
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