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.

Seoul Village 2016
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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*****).

Seoul Village 2016
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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)"). 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Man v. Machine, Garry v. Gary

Today, LEE Se-dol lost to Google DeepMind's AlphaGo the first game of their man-vs-machine series held at the Four Seasons Seoul. Even the background color was Deep Blue (sorry Garry Kasparov for rubbing it in).

AlphaGo (white stones) Lee Sedol (black stones) live on @YouTube (rolling stones)
Meanwhile, Kim Jong-un is pushing his grey stone on the board game
As far as victories go, this one was much more predictable than the one of Bernie Sanders in Michigan. And as far as go victories go, AlphaGo already defeated a master last January. Even if Korea sent her most creative and disruptive player, singularity is still not for tomorrow (see on my innovation blog ""Fourth Industrial Revolution" passed Go, but singularity not yet a stone's throw away"). For the moment, to paraphrase Gary Linecker, "go is a simple game: men and machines chase stones for a few hours and at the end, Google always win".

So just to be on the safe side, don't forget to check every now and then your Google and Facebook settings.

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Monday, February 15, 2016

OH Se-hoon returns... but did he ever leave?

Wondering what OH Se-hoon's face is doing on a giant ad towering over Seochon (here seen from Gwanghwamun)?

Fun to see former Seoul mayor OH Se-hoon run in Jongno-gu, and his ad in Seochon (20160215 -

ICYMI, the former Seoul mayor is running for a seat in Jongno-gu. Of course, OH eyes the other end of Gyeongbokgung, Cheong Wa Dae, and the presidential elections he thought were tailored for him, back in 2010, when he got reelected in spite of his party's defeat across the capital.
Winning in 2017 may be a bit early, but conservatives lack a clear leader: CHUNG Mong-joon had a rough year, Kim Moo-sung is too divisive a figure, and if BAN Ki-moon renounces, OH stands a chance.

For his return, picking a left-leaning district sounds like a rather risky bet, but what a symbol: in the heart of Sadaemun, in the Seochon where his administration got hundreds of traditional houses preserved (remember: OH didn't start as a hanok hugger, thank Peter Bartholomew and friends for that bitter lesson*)...

A face off with PARK Won-soon in 2017 could be fun watching. While his successor reluctantly inaugurated his three architectural follies (new city hall, DDP, Some Sevit), and took the helm of ICLEI, OH was on a world tour, first at the Kings College in London, then advising for the Koica (Korea International Cooperation Agency) two emerging capitals for 6 month each: Kigali, Rwanda, and Lima, Peru. He published two diary books about these experiences when he returned to Seoul last year.

Looking back at these five years, OH's spell in the wilderness seems like a nice marketing plan: an exile to beef up the global / human / compassionate leader side, with interviews every six month or so to keep in touch with voters...

If you're kind enough to follow Seoul Village on Twitter (that's @THEseoulvillage), you haven't skipped a beat. Here are a few of my tweets mentioning OH (sorry for the recurring expression 'former Seoul mayor', these tweets usually don't appear next to each other):

OH Se-hoon eventually picks Jongno-gu for his return to Korea politics ("Former Seoul mayor announces bid for parliamentary election" - Yonhap News 20160117). Failure would doom his 2017 dreams. (20160117 -

Former mayor OH Se-hoon won't run again for Seoul (itw w Korea JoongAng Daily), but Korea? To "fulfill political and social responsibility" (20150225 -

Interview of former Seoul mayor OH Se-hoon, now advisor to another capital city: Kigali, Rwanda: "Oh Se-hoon reflects on battle of parties’ welfare policies" (20141119 -

Former Seoul mayor OH Se-hoon pleads guilty. Failed referendum did offer capital city to rivals. Planning a comeback? (20140628 -

Former Seoul mayor OH Se-hoon sharing his experience with Lima, Peru. also on his legacy, welfare, PARK Won-soon: "Since leaving City Hall, Oh’s career has been going places" (20131204 -

Ex Seoul mayor OH Se-hoon plans an international studies tour: China (Northeast Asian security), Stanford (NAFTA), Europe (20120208 -

PS: If you haven't much read from me on these lines lately, that's because I've also been out of town, in Europe and Africa. Don't worry, Seoul remains on my mind, and I'll be back in a few weeks, but I won't run.

Seoul Village 2016
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* see "Am I My Hanok's Keeper? Peter E. Bartholomew's Defense and Illustration of Korean Architecture"

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Seun Sangga back on the (road)map

Last August, I didn't feel very optimistic about Seun Sangga's regeneration plans. KIM Swoo-geun's cruise liner of a landmark didn't look like a priority for Seoul authorities, who seemed to focus exclusively on the more controversial Seoul Station 7017 project*.

The competition for Seun Sangga had been won a few weeks earlier by a local team (Architect KIM Taek-bin, Pr. CHANG Yong Soon from Hongik University, Pr. LEE Sang-koo from Gyeonggi University) with a 'Modern Vernacular' concept that included boxes along the deck, and a slope on the Jongmyo side.

After many discussions with local citizens and stakeholders, the city modified a few things, and announced late last month that the 2017 timeline would be respected.

Seun Sangga "reestablished" by 2017: Seoul confirms timeline (20160130 -
Regardless of the project selected, this will be a tricky process, and a challenge not only for urban planners but for Seoul Housing to preserve social diversity. This beloved neighborhood will probably not remain the same, but let's hope that its core dynamics will survive.

And let's see how this 3D map of the Seun Sangga area (probably the work of one of the competitors) evolves.
Love it. A giant 3d SeunSangga neighborhood map at Seoul FabLab (20160106 -
The map's hanging on the walls of Seoul FabLab, a paradise for young 'makers', and I can't dream of a better symbol for this unique ecosystem and its future.

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* In "Seoul Station 7017: Forget 2017?":
"Personally, I wouldn't have bet on this very risky SS7017 as my main option for a landmark. For instance, solving the Seun Sangga conundrum was also very tricky (starting with safety issues), but much more important for Seoul's balance and urban regeneration.
Still time to reassess priorities, I guess." 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

2016 Under The Carpet

What a transition to the new year!
  • As feared (see "Miracle?!?"), the December 28 deal between Japan and Korea was just a compromise to end the diplomatic impasse, and didn't resolve the 'Comfort Women' issue. The last survivors won't see justice, Shinzo ABE goes away with his classic elusive smokescreen, like last August*, and PARK Geun-hye with yet another journey into damage control mode. Obviously, the grandson of the war criminal in charge of forced labor and the daughter of the dictator who organized mass prostitution around UN/US army bases to collect foreign currencies** decided to sweep the sexual slavery issue under the rug, along with a hatchet that won't require such heavy tools to unearth.
  • The most hawkish clique of North Korea's "Juche Line" celebrated the mysterious death of "Sunshine Line" KIM Yang-gon with special fireworks: a new nuclear test that produced, according to KIM Jong-un himself, "the thrilling sound of a H-bomb explosion" - a bit far(t)-fetched, but even without adding to Beijing pollution, that underground blip was meant to infuriate the "Beijing Line".
  • When you think South Korea's opposition has reached the bottom, they keep digging their fingernails out: as MOON Jae-in and AHN Cheol-soo replay their old Burton-Taylor routine, PARK Won-soon ignores vetoes to start his risky landmark Seoul Station 7017 project. But presidential-candidate-wise, ruling party Saenuri must also cope with KIM Moo-sung, a man who confirmed he could collect embarrassing trumpisms.

As for me, I keep digging my own internet tomb with these clumsy lines. Seoul Village starts its 10th year, a spinoff of my even older 'blogules' for everything related to Seoul and Korea. 

Thank you, Dear Readers, for sticking to this inedible bibim of mine, that mixes non-edited posts*** about topics I fancy, ranging from "urbanism" to "culture" or "politics", with a touch of "business / techno" (the innovation side landing more often on my 'mot-bile' blog).

I know I should pull the plug, and I must confess I regularly toy with the idea for all of my blogs (and already did for most of them). Even more so following the actual H-bomb announcement of this turn of the year: the end of Robert Koehler's The Marmot's Hole.

Now that's pure class: say stop when you're at the top of the game, and even close the entrance to the comfort zone to resist the temptation to return to it. Hats off to you Robert!

Now that the Marmot's gone, will Robert Koehler the photographer bring new colors to

And Happy New Year to all!

Seoul Village 2016
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* see "Decoding the Abe Statement: "why apologize for crimes Japan never committed?"
** see "Comfort Women': No Resolution Without Resoluteness. From Everyone, Please."
*** see "All posts"

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