Friday, January 16, 2015

Diagonal crossings, High Lines, and Business Verticals (how pedestrians and businesses remodel Seoul... and vice-versa)

Seoul keeps at the same time looking for more sustainable urban planning approaches, and doing more mistakes, because as usual in this city we tend to try a lot of things, but seldom after serious impact surveys. At least that's far less boring than my other hometown Paris, where we tend to make decade-long impact surveys, but seldom do something else. As you well know, a Seoulite born in Paris, I tend to pile up useless bits on an ever changing cityscape. Here's a batch on recent evolutions for Seoul pedestrians and neighborhoods, with the Seoul High Line project as a natural bridge in-between.



Opening up the city to its citizens (not burying them!)

At the micro level, I really appreciate the recent multiplication of Ginza-style diagonal pedestrian crossings, which make life much more simple and safer for everybody. They de facto create temporary no-drive zones that can change a neighborhood without going all the way to car-free streets (e.g. Yonsei-ro). Pedestrians feel that they own the space, even if that's not all the time; there are even permanent tattoos on the macadam to prove they do:


With diagonal pedestrian crossings, you don't need to have a double PhD in statistics and physics to calculate the optimal path to reach point B alive

I am much less convinced by the project to create a vast underground pedestrian network connecting major Jongno-gu landmarks. That would signal a return to a car-centric past when pedestrians where parasites that had to move underground, like ants or termites, across downtown Seoul. I suspect this project to have something to do with the one I mentioned last fall, which would move Gwanghwamun Square sideways, and re-transform Sejongdae-ro into a highway (see "Gwanghwamun, Donhwamun, and the Tale of two Royal Roads"). In other words, back to square one, or rather back to Zero Gwanghawmun Square.

In the dowtown Seoul I discovered in the early 90s, pedestrians had to either use tunnels or aerial walkways to cross the major roads. And the Seoul High Line would somehow revive the latter.

Named after New York's High Line Park, itself inspired by the Promenade Plantee of Paris, the idea gained momentum in April last year, partly because the city needed to compensate for the planned destruction of an old walkway that Seoulites had deserted because winos had claimed it most of the time.




Leaving a landmark in the capital is very good PR, and a tradition for French presidents in Paris: Pompidou and Beaubourg, Mitterrand and the Pyramide du Louvre, Chirac and the Musee du Quai Branly... Note that Giscard missed the opportunity and tried later to claim the Musee d'Orsay as his work, and that Sarkozy didn't understand that he would have only one mandate (and that one building is easier to complete than a Grand Paris - Le Havre vision).

Leaving a landmark has also become a must for Seoul mayors eyeing a higher office: LEE Myung-bak had Cheonggyecheon (even if his greatest achievement was the creation of bus lanes), OH Se-hoon had Gwanghwamun Plaza (even if his greatest achievement was the revival of Sadaemun and the rebalancing of Gangbuk vs Gangnam, starting with the redistribution of taxes from the rich to the poor districts), and PARK Won-soon seems to be betting on the Seoul High Line.

Last month, Seoul citizens were invited to walk the line on a sunny Sunday afternoon - in other words: to vote with their feet in favor of the project.


PARK Chung-hee on the Seoul Station overpass (1970). But what fascinates me most is the background, Malli-dong and Kim Gi-chan's beloved Jungnim-dong.

Clearly, this walkway looks much better without cars. It is at the same time more scenic and less integrated to its surroundings than its NYC or Paris counterparts.

Covering the railways over a wide stretch would cost much more, but also provide a greater urban continuity. One thing is sure: if the taxi and bus corridors in front of the new Seoul Station have allowed the return of pedestrians at street level, the Toegye-ro - Tongil-ro - Sejongdae-ro - Hangangdae-ro intersection remains an utter mess, and with or without the High Line, it will require a complete and sustainable overhaul.



After its High Line, will benchmark-frenzy Seoul try to copy NYC's Low Line underground park project? (twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/538224048778407936) - remind's me of OH Se-hoon's underground utopia (see "Seoul Goes Underground")


*
Reviving neighborhoods (not destroying them!)

As we've seen countless times New Town out, Redevelopment in, back to the Urban Jungle", "Inhuman, all too human Seoul", the Gyonam-dong saga...), Seoul has not completely given up its old, disfiguring 'New Town' model.


Another Seoul neighborhood destroyed in a 'New Town' project: in Hongeun-dong, Seodaemun-gu - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/555539522843201536 (BTW: join my 800+ followers on Twitter!)
Speculators still pretty much run the show. The Yongsan IBD is cancelled and the US base relocation postponed, but money can't wait for a new big vision. Eight high rise buildings (over 50 floors) have been authorized on both sides of the base, and the front row of buildings circling it will be allowed to go up to 20 floors, guaranteeing a fat return and a privatized view on the future park to a happy few investors, letting the rest of the district out of the loop. Even North of the Han River, Gangnam Style rules...

Yet officially, the trend remains to revive neighborhoods instead of annihilating them. After the 'Human Town' / 'Old Town' approach, a concept based on communities (e.g. "Yeonnam-dong, a new Human Town or a new Old Town, but mercifully not that old New Town"), the next buzzword could be 'industrial convergence', a concept based on business verticals or mini-clusters.

For the moment, this new umbrella for urban regeneration seems to cover too wide a spectrum, from actual industrial zones to more or less farfetched urban storytelling, with the Seoul High Line as its highlight.

The other day, as Seoul mayor met with Richard Plunz (Professor of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia's GSAPP, Director of the Urban Design Lab at the Earth Institute), 7 zones were announced:
 
The seven 'industrial convergence' hubs

Let's have a closer look at these 'magnificent seven':
  • Seoul Digital Media City (Mapo-gu): I already wrote quite a lot about Sangam DMC (see all posts). I'll just add that it's already a national cluster for media and IT, so this is less about 'urban regeneration' than about piggybacking on existing dynamics. Note that the arrival of MBC was one of the few recent changes that helped put the DMC on Seoul's popular culture map: they instantly used their outdoor space to stage events and concerts (from their inauguration to the new year party), integrating the neighborhood in their broadcastings, a bit like Fox News on NYC's Avenue of the Americas. 
  • Seoul Station (Yongsan-gu): the verticals selected are history and tourism, more symbolized by the old station turned into Culture Station 284 than by the future High Line. Seoul Station itself will be beefed up as a key entry point to the capital, and many redevelopments are already under way in its vicinity (e.g. along Hangangdae-ro, Malli-dong, Seosomun Park...). Again, the High Line cannot be the only way to solve the urban mess at ground level.
  • Yeongdonggwon (Gangnam-gu - Songpa-gu): that's around coex and Jamsil Sports Complex, plus of course Hyundai's future HQs. This area didn't need to be wrapped under the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) banner.
  • Seun Sangga (Jongno-gu): inaugurated in 1967, KIM Swoo-geun's fascinating cruise ship forms a long bar between Jongmyo and Chungmuro. Its upper segment was destroyed a few years ago to make room for a small park on Jong-ro, but the reopening of Cheonggyecheon somewhat revived its crux. The whole neighborhood is a DYI paradise now roamed by more contemporary makers in search of odd parts and bits, and Seun Sangga's upper floor hosts the FabLab Seoul (got a project? need a 3D printer or a laser cutter? that's the place). Can this unique start-up hotspot avoid gentrification? Let's hope that at least, its safety will be improved - you don't want to be caught in a fire around here.


  • Seun Sangga's silicon belly - on FabLab's floor (BTW: you can also follow me on Vine!)

  • Chang-dong - Sanggye (Dobong-gu, Nowon-gu): back to Nowon's most coveted space: the Changdong train depot and the Dobong Driver's License Examination Center form a humongous site in Sanggye-dong*, a densely populated area full of apartment blocks divided in very small units. I've regularly posted about Nowon since my 2006 focus, often about subway projects, and always with this site in mind. Back in 2012, it was envisioned as a coex-style complex (see "Nowon confirmed as Seoul's northeast hub "). Last year, the four sections of the project were detailed: the train depot would become a 'Global Business Zone', the drivers center a 'Start-up Zone', and the two blocks on the other side of Jungnangcheon, in Chang-dong, a 'Global Life Zone' (leveraging on cultural and shopping venues built over the past decade). Now the focus is biotech. Whatever. Because of the real estate pressure, the only way here is up.
Changdong (Dobong-gu), Jungnangcheon, Sanggye (Nowon-gu). And more towers all over.


  • Mullae-dong - Yeongdeungpo (Yeongdeungpo-gu): a couple of blocks away from Seoul's Time Square, 'Ironworks alley' (철공소 골목) is not only a fantastic spot for post-industrial photo ops, but also a nest for young artists and designers. Or was, until recently: the usual curse of real estate speculation went even faster than for previous arty neighborhoods.
"Mullae Art Village, a Seoul village like no other (but aren't them all?)" (BTW: you can also follow me on Facebook!)
  • Janghanpyeong (Dongdaemun-gu): not exactly Seoul's most glamorous neighborhood (between Jangan-dong and Yongdap-dong, between the Naebu and the Dongbu expressways, West of the Cheonho Bridge knot and North of the water treatment plant), Janghanpyeong is known as a hub for used cars hunters, and that's the way the city wants it to remain. It could have some potential, though, once the water treatment is transformed into a more welcoming park.
All this is supposed to follow the model of a successful urban regeneration (!): Bukchon.
 
And all this is not supposed to bring confusion with the 5 zones presented last month. Seoul districts have been divided into five sectors: Seonamgwon (SW, project in Sangdo-dong, Dongjak-gu), Seobukgwon (NW, project in Sinchon), Dosimgwon (Center), Dongbukgwon (NE, projects in Seongsu-dong, Seondong-gu, and Jangwa-dong, Seongbuk-gu), Dongnamgwon (SE, project in Amsa-dong).

*

To be continued...



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* Yes, Chang-dong is in Dobong-gu, but Nowon split from Dobong in 1988, when the New Town was delivered (after a resistance narrated in Kim Dong-won's great documentary the Sanggye-dong Olympics). Note that Dobong, itself a spin-off from Seongbuk-gu (1973), was later split in two, spawning Gangbuk-gu in 1995.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Last Laugh


I cried for Cabu.

Last time I did that for a satirist was in 1988, when Pierre Desproges died 'of a short and funny illness', as he dubbed cancer in the epitaph he wrote for the occasion. But precisely because Desproges died of the cancer he said he wouldn't get because he was against it, I had time to mourn him long before he passed away*.

Yesterday, Cabu was murdered with AK-47 rifles. Among the other victims: fellow journalists, cartoonists, Charlie Hebdo employees, policemen... humans who chose to fight against different kinds of cancers (the kind that can eat away whole societies).

The image that sprang to my mind, when I learned that Cabu had been assassinated, was his 'Grand Duduche', a misfit who, disarmingly candidly, exposes the misfitness of our times.


Cabu's Le Grand Duduche - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/552810111194783744
Of course, I preferred Cabu the acerbic caricaturist, just like I adored the ferociously provocative Desproges. But these two mighty pens were carried by two true humanists. And each time I think of them, I first see two kids with irresistibly facetious smiles.

If death ultimately claims us all, humorists tend to develop a special relationship with it on the way - I actually define humor as the ability to accept death in general and one's weakness in particular, in order to make life in general more acceptable, and one's existence in particular more bearable to others.

And if satirists are not indestructible, all attempts to destroy satire tend to backfire: cancer made Desproges go even further, terrorists turned Cabu and his colleagues into global heroes, and actually helped atheists and true believers unite, hackers provided a record (and probably undeserved) publicity for 'The Interview', censors got Hong Sung-dam's 'Sewol Owol' exposed in the New York Times...

So yes, you can try to hack a media with machetes and AK47s, but satirists will always have the last laugh:


twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/553026084149542912




*

UPDATE 20150112: yesterday, over 300 showed up for the #JeSuisCharlie rally in Seorae Maeul, hundreds of thousands across the globe, millions in France.

twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/554171556729872384



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* and long after, of course - see "Peut-on rire de la mort ?" (1990), "20 ans de séparation" (2008). NB: Desproges was born a few months after Cabu, who would have turned 77 next week.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

That was 2015

So what struck you as the most important moment of 2015?

The hacking of Universal Studios in February? Most baekduologists now agree that KIM Jong-un wanted to enjoy a sneak peek at the plans of the attraction based on the movie '50 Shades of Grey', for the adult section of the famous theme park.

CHO Hyun-ah's prison break in April? The nation is still wondering how the Korean Air heiress could fool the medical staff, pretending to choke in an episode now known as The Pretzel Fury.

The Abe Statement in August? We all remember how the Prime Minister of the newly restored Empire of Japan apologized for not being able to resuscitate Hideki Tojo.

So many things happened in 2015*... Yet we haven't forgotten 2014. And we will never forget its most heartbreaking moment ("Korea Upside Down")...

Because that's the only way of not getting crazy, we will not forget to celebrate life in its full absurdity either. 

Seoul Village Season IX is about to start. Get ready.

And Happy New Year!

Except maybe for you, Jong-un:





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* for a full list month by month, see my miserable blogules "Happy New Year 2016" (in French: "Bonne Année 2016")

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Interview (no, not that one)

As you well know, The Interview was eventually released on Christmas. But did you know that you could listen to it for free?

If you have one hour to spare, I invite you to listen to the conversation Colin Marshall and I had in a Seoul cafe a couple of months ago.

We both share a love for roaming cities and writing about them, but only Colin is blessed with an uncanny gift for maieutics, a truly clear mind, and a spellbinding voice. If you enjoy that interview as much as I did, praise him. And that annoying gibberish of mine? Don't try to put it on a hot summer day, a night unnecessarily shrunk by insignificant World Cup games, or even my Frenchness.

So take a cup of coffee, and come sit down with us.


"Notebook on Cities and Culture's Korea Tour: Shapeshifter with Stephane Mot"


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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Love In The Time Of Ageing Korea: 'My Love, Don't Cross That River' - 'Old Partner'

Released a couple of weeks ago, Jin Mo-young's old-love-umentary 'My Love, Don't Cross That River' echoes Lee Chung-ryoul's 'Old Partner' (2008), and seems to be following the same success in theaters.


Both movies feature very old couples nearing the end of their lives in rural Korea. 

'My Love' tells the final moments of a 76-year-long marriage (Jo Byeong-man is 99, Gang Gye-yeol 90):



'Old Partner' adds a 40 year-old cow to form a very moving menage-a-trois in Bonghwa-gun, Gyeongsangbuk-do. You can't tell who will die first between this stubborn farmer and the animal he keeps pushing beyond its limits, while in the next field a younger man uses a mechanical plow.



A bit too K-melodrama-ish a way to tell the story of a disappearing Korea, but was there any better way of capturing "Love In The Time Of Ageing Korea"?

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Monday, December 1, 2014

GTX, meet Sinbundang Line

Among the many railway projects presented one year ahead of the Mayoral elections (see "If you ain't broke, fix it: Seoul, Welfare and Railways Deficits"), the Northeast-Southwest diagonal seems to be reaching a consensus between local administrations and the government*. According to its promoters, the cost could be significantly cut - by KRW 5 trillion! - by using existing railway paths, and by sharing infrastructure between the Sinbundang Line and the GTX-A Line in the heart of Seoul.

*

According to the latest proposal (see map below), the common Sinbundang-GTX section shall link Dokbawi Station (Line 6 - Bulgwang-dong, Eunpyeong-gu) to Sinsa Station (Line 3 - Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu). Little surprise here:
  • As expected, the first station to pop up in Pyeongchang-dong valley is at the Sinyeong-dong Samgeori. I hope the tentative name "Segeomjeong Elementary School" will be shrunk to "Segeomjeong", the closest landmark.
  • As expected, one stop is added in Seochon on the other side of the Jahamun Tunnel, along Jahamun-ro. That's at Kyungbock High School in Cheongun-dong.
  • As expected, the lines stop at the existing stations of Gyeonbokgung, Gwanghwamun, and Seoul Station.
  • But instead of following the Jungang Line via Seobinggo Station (or Dongbinggo) - Ichon Station - Yongsan Station, the section between Seoul Station and Sinsa Station passes by Noksapyeong. I like that, because that's the opportunity to cover a gap in the map. But Noksapyong will be the only station in a stretch that, as the crow flies, takes at least 6 km. If from the GTX perspective, there should be as few stops as possible, it would be completely stupid to build a new railway along this axis without adding at least one stop. I strongly suggest Huam-dong, where a lot of projects are already under way.  Yes building a new station costs a lot, but this is a simple case of urban planning 101, check the map. A connection with the Jungang Line could be also added (for instance at Hannam Station).
*
At each end of that half-new, 8-station section, GTX and Sinbundang shall go their own ways:
  • From Sinsa Station (South):
    • Shinbundang Line: the extension from Gangnam Station to Sinsa Station, initially planned for 2018 included Nonhyeon and Sinnonhyeon stations (respectively lines 7 and 9). Will it be the case for the subway and not the GTX, or will these connections be scrapped altogether?
    • GTX-A shall reach directly Samseong Station (Line 2): here too, no connection to line 7 and 9. Nice gift for the coex.
  • From Dokbawi Station (North):
    • GTX-A shall reconnect to Line 6 at Yeonsinnae Station, the station next to Dokbawi! Of course, Yeonsinnae is a much bigger hub, also connected to Line 3, but what a contrast with the situation between Seoul Station and Sinsa Station!
    • Shinbundang shall reach Samsong Station (Line 3, Goyang) via two new stations: "Shindo Middle School" and "Jingwan Middle School", at the Western end of Eunpyeong New Town (Gupabal Station at the other end). Shindo lies in the Southern half, at the feet of "Bukhansan Eunpyeong Hanok Maeul", Jingwan in the Northern half. Clearly, the aim is to capture a big chunk of the new town traffic that have saturated Subway Line 3 and Tongil-ro from the beginning (typical example of the poorly planned project - see my previous posts on new towns).
The latest map - Chosun Ilbo 20141202
("신분당선·GTX(수도권 광역급행철도), 鐵路(철로) 같이 쓴다")
*
Whatever the outcome of this project, it's always fun to see how the various constraints play (topography, urban planning logics, cost, politics, speculation, transportation divide...).

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*see for instance "서울시 “국토부에 ‘신분당선 서북부 연장선-GTX’ 노선공유 제안”" (DongA Ilbo - 20141126)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

KIM Yo-jong - cherchez la femme

We've been flooded with interesting Baekduology updates regarding the women surrounding KIM Jong-un lately - and even before his 40-day 'ankle-management' hiatus (to which we'll return later).

Here's the latest score:
  • KJU's ex: HYON Song-wol reappeared last May on local TV, proving that reports of her death were an exaggeration, and suggesting that rumors of her involvement in debauched videos were probably not that trustworthy either. 
  • KJU's aunt: a defector says that KIM Kyong-hui committed suicide shortly after the execution of her husband JANG Sung-taek. Her poison: whisky, as usual?
  • KJU's wife: RI Sol-ju is not as visible as she used to. Maybe her bling-bling outfits contrast too much with lil' sis' Yo-jong's vintage Baekduwear. Anyway, in this family, giving birth to a potential heir doesn't guarantee anything for the future.
  • KJU's daughter: 2 year-old KIM Ju-ae is too small to ride a white horse, hold a notebook, or even study in Switzerland.
  • KJU's sister: when KIM Jong-un was under media radar, rumors had it KIM Yo-jong was running the show. She's got the Baekdu bloodline and even the Baekdu clothesline. Newly wed, enjoying new prestigious jobs, and a lot of attention from the propaganda, lil' sis' seems to have become more than just the most politically correct female figure to exhibit these days.
So is KIM Yo-jong the next Dear Leader or just a Cheer Leader? Kim The Fourth or Jang The Second? Let's unhearth a few tweets and links.


Clap along if you feel like Ri Sol-ju's an ambitious girl


Clap along if you feel like Kim Yo-jong's running the show
 *
KIM Jo-young the next Dear Leader of just a Cheer Leader?

KIM Yo-jong's rise mechanically helps Kim The Third become Kim The Elder, a father figure. Not just that isolated brat who got his uncle and aunt removed, not just the potential last ruler of the dynasty.

At this stage, KYJ is not portrayed as a next-in-line. She's in the background, trailing behind, more cheerleading than leading. But at least she's in the picture, unlike poor bro KIM Jong-chul, who anyway has never been the one wearing the trousers in this litter of baby dictators (or holding Uncle Jang at gunpoint?).


Among Kim Jong-un's servile notetakers, his sister Kim Yo-jong (in today's Rodong Sinmun via @pearswick) - 20141127 twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/537752025274925056
Yo sista got minista! Kim Jong-un's sister Kim Yo-jong, here in her Kim Jong-il-blue best: "N.K. leader’s sister granted official post" - 20141128 twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/538168596174626818
Kim Yo-jong behind her brother Kim Jong-un, looking elsewhere. In North Korea, military first goes with family first - 20140311 twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/443200177063460864
Still, in case of emergency, the propaganda can always pull out an old picture where KYJ appears directly at the same level as her dad. Kim Jong-un would need Photoshop to produce this kind of shots:
Kim Yo-jong can not only wear Kim-Jong-il-style clothes, but also ride a white horse Baekdu-style with her dad - 20141128 twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/538177527290671104
Meanwhile, in the much more advanced South Korea (where the leader is already the daughter of a dictator), mainstream media are multiplying covers featuring Park Geun-hye in KJUesquely odd photo ops:


In South Korea too, the leader makes all covers smiling in odd photo ops (Park Geun-hye with guitar, with giant screen...) - 20141128 twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/538131845364203520

*
 KIM Jo-young: Kim The Fourth of Jang The Second?

KJY conveniently fills many shoes at the same time: aunt Kyong-hui is gone? here's a new female, blue-blood presence - uncle Jang is out? here's someone more trustable who can take care of cash machines. And she's married to authorities, party friendly... If these guys cut a whole branch of the family tree, they made sure the main one filled the gap.


Kim Jong-un's sister (and fellow horse rider) Kim Yeo-jong gets key power-giver post in party: "Kim Jong-un's Sister 'Given Key Party Post'" - 20130722 twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/359146697454137345


Baekdu Bank? Kim Jong-un's sister Kim Yeo-jong in charge of currency-earning agencies in Workers Party: "Kim Jong-un's Sister Put in Charge of Regime's Coffers" - 20130114 - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/422566341132820480


North Korea defector says Kim Jong-un aunt Kim Kyong-hui killed herself ("Defector: Kim Jong Un’s Aunt Killed Herself Last Year"). With which poison? Whisky? - 20141125 twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/537535971625947136


Meanwhile, Comrade KimYeo-jong gets first Warholian moments in DPRK propaganda: "Kim Jong-un's Sister Secures Place in Nomenklatura" - 20140310 twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/442825248996458496


Aunt Kim Kyong-hui loses seat in parliament, sis Kim Yo-jong's in charge of Kim Jong-un's hairdo, elevator shoes ("Kim Jong-un’s peculiar sister gains prominence") - 20140314 twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/444280375129288705


Piggy's sis got married: Kim Jong-un's sister Kim Yeo-jong tied to top North Korea official (Room 39 or security): "Kim Jong-un's sister weds key official"- 20141029 twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/527272632672980992


Kim The Fourth? Kim Jong-un's lil' sis' Kim Yo-jong gets North Korea propaganda favors, high profile job (" Young sister of North Korean leader takes senior party post: KCNA" @pearswick) - 20141127 twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/537884688371576832


*

Like it or not, for the moment, 'all roads lead to Comrade Kim Yo-jong':
'All roads lead to Comrade Yo Jong', North Korea's new 'princess' ("North Korea's 'princess' moves closer to center of power" by @pearswick) - 20141128 twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/538172764603949056


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