Sunday, April 9, 2017

All options on the table

Many Korean correspondents in DC have recently shared their highest fears ever over risks of war in the Peninsula, and we can only hope that Donald TRUMP's new envoy to Korea, USS Carl Vinson, won't have to grow more talkative than 'Elusivarus Rex' Rex TILLERSON...

All options are on the table

On one hand, it's scary enough to see this short-fused POTUS pull out a new deadly toy in the region just days after striking Syria...

'The Hustler? XI Jinping not comfortable with Trump's 8 ball Syria-North Korea combo (KIM Jong-un unhappy with Syria strikes) - Heng cartoon' (20170410 -
... On the other hand, the US can't find comfort in the fact that the DPRK's ICBMs needs some more time to reach its mainland: KIM Jong-un proved that he could already strike with precision all the US bases in the region, giving its forces a decisive head start when the gimchi hits the fan.

And I feel just a bit less worried now that Steve BANNON will get fewer chances to chime in where it matters most:

Steve BANNON can't always control himself. Please don't let him walk again.
Of course, all this happens less than a month before the elections in South Korea, where victory seems granted to either the untested AHN Cheol-soo, or the divisive MOON Jae-in. Can the former resist G2 pressure (Trump-Xi)? Can the latter be harder than tofu against KJU?

For the moment, even if all options are on the table here as well, MOON confirms that he can't build trust beyond his own base, and that his easiest path to victory lies in the emergence of small candidates dividing the votes. 

AHN Hee-jung trapped in unwinnable primaries and refocusing on 2022, and conservatives failing to find a champion, Cheol-soo quickly and effortlessly gathered across the aisle the Anyone-But-Moon front, and toughened up enough to show that this time he will go all the way. Recent polls give him the lead in both 5 and 6 candidates scenarii:

'For the first time, a poll with 6 candidates shows AHN Cheol-soo ahead of MOON Jae-in (Chosun Ilbo). Later still can't reach beyond own base' (20170409 -
'Yonhap-KBS poll with 5 candidates confirms AHN Cheol-soo's lead over MOON Jae-in. <20 a="" href="" no="" regional="" rifts="" target="_blank" undecided="">' (20170410 -
For the moment, HONG Joon-pyo, SIM Sang-jung, and YOO Seong-min don't syphon many votes out of the AHN wave. As he focuses on attacking MOON, KIM Chong-in could become more audible, but he doesn't represent the future either.

Interesting to see the latest poll* in detail:
- the traditional age rifts diminish (the younger generation still favor MOON, but less than before, and 'only' until 50)
- the traditional regional rifts seems less relevant (AHN leads in Jeolla-do - where he claimed many seats - and Gwangju as well as in conservative strongholds - Daegu and Gyeongsang-do rally behind him)
- fewer than 20% remain undecided

It will be more about character and issues than ideology. So get ready for April surprises.

A positive April surprise would be the arrest of WOO Byung-woo. Korean justice needs to be purged from its enemies from within, but compromission is so pervasive that many could fall, and one can wonder if judges and prosecutors will have the courage to open Pandora's box. 

Still better than a nuclear explosion. And as the myth goes, hope appears only after all evils have been released from the box. 

But as the percentage of judges who keep heading for the same friendly structures after retirement tells us, the capacity to achieve total success looks like the ultimate myth.

Seoul Village 2017
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* "Ahn beats Moon for first time in hypothetical five-way race: poll" (Yonhap News 20170410)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Weapons of Mass Distraction

If Robert Kelly's adorable kids crashed his BBC interview, their cute videobombing provided a welcomed distraction from KIM Jong-un's WMDs, Cheon Wa Dae's implosion, or China's nuclear reaction to THAAD.

Korea definitely needs to embrace this joyful, multicultural youth coming in peace, but, like Kelly, we also need to keep our eye on the ball. Or rather on juggling balls that tend to multiply and to become highly explosive.

On one hand, many uncertainties seem to have been lifted: PARK Geun-hye's impeachment succeeded brilliantly, she meets her prosecutors tomorrow, a date has been set for the presidential election, conservatives all but gave up 2017*, and MOON Jae-in doesn't appear to lose ground in the polls (this morning RealMeter added 1.5 pts to both him and his main rival AHN Hee-jung, but fifty days before May 9, and even less before party primaries, the latter lags 21 points behind the former).

On the other hand, Korea's beautiful political moment and national unity receded as the old political barnum returned. Pro-PARK factions hijacked the Taegukgi, PARK herself formed a shadow cabinet of fellow hardcore deniers, and MOON tried to revive the Sewol's instrumentalization by tying it to the impeachment the very day the Constitutional Court explicitely confirmed that April 16 couldn't be used to justify PGH's eviction. Still struggling to pass for a uniter, the front runner has yet to reassure many voters about his positions regarding North Korea and national security.

BTW if the Trump Administration were clear enough to say that strategic patience was BAD and OVER, they have yet to say what they will replace it with. I guess something between Elusivarus Rex (Rex Tillerson's No Presser Mode), and Twitterrence (Trump's Twitter Deterrence). 

Anyway, South Korea's subtle balancing act between the US and China has been shaken and stirred by the THAAD crisis, whose impacts went from political to economic to social: in Korean minds, the favorability of China has now fallen even behind Japan's (see this excellent report from the Asan Institute: "Changing Tides: THAAD and Shifting Korean Public Opinion toward the United States and China"). China's retaliation came on top of an already weakened economy, which may face further shocks following the Fed's rate hikes (e.g. something's gotta give with this massive household debt).

As questions of survival reclaim the top of our agendas, can the great promises of last Fall survive this Spring? That hope for a reunited society, that hope for a deep and sound debate about the constitution, that hope for an eradication of corruption, that hope for a 'mani pulite' operation liberating justice from WOO Byung-woo and his friends...?

Yes let's keep our eye on the ball, and yes let's also let the kids roll in. In the end, it's all about them.

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* HWANG Kyo-ahn withdrew his candidacy (... and HONG Seok-hyeon from JoongAng Ilbo - could he be considering a bid in 2022?) 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

EXCLUSIVE-Second interview with KIM Jong-un

Three years after our groundbreaking "Exclusive interview with KIM Jong-un", we were contacted by his PR manager Kellyanne Conway during the week she was grounded by her other authoritarian client. Turned out the North Korean leader enjoyed our chat following the purge of his uncle JANG Song-thaek, and wanted a similar 'madvertorial' after removing his half-brother KIM Jong-nam.

Seoul Village: "Thanks for having me again, I hope I'll survive this interview as well".

KIM Jong-un: "It's up to you. Go ahead, make my day."

SV: "... well, I'll then start by congratulating you for your amazing foresight: three years ago, you told me you would get rid of Jong-nam, which you just did, and you envisioned the future of governmental relations with the press through your JDIZ concept."

KJU: "Right. See how Sean Spicer implements Donald Trump's new Journalist Defense Identification Zone? Now that's another YUGE wall all Americans will end up paying for."

SV: "What do you expect from the new Administration in Washington?"

KJU: "I see a 'kindread' spirit, another dangerous malignant narcissist with the potential to blow up the planet. The question is: between the two of us, who will be the first to fulfill his Nero destiny?"

SV: "Wait - your nuclear arsenal is already big enough to destroy the whole planet?"

KJU: "Do you really believe everything Don and I say? Don't you know that our propaganda arm KCNA stands for Kellyanne Conway North Korean Agency? Besides, our WMDs reach far beyond nukes. I love the smell of VX in the morning... "

SV: "I was about to get to this issue. Using Weapons of Mass Destruction in a public space in a supposedly friendly country, how is that supposed to help your push for lifting sanctions?"

KJU: "That was a surgical strike. Here, 'mass destruction' only refers to the overweightness of that ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE."

SV: "KIM Jong-nam was a journalist?"

KJU: "Like Donald, by 'enemy of the people' I mean 'anyone who can expose my personal illegitimacy'. Jong-nam not only came before me in the line of succession, but he also tried to grow even fatter than me. WON'T HAPPEN."

SV: "Are you following South Korean politics?"

KJU: "Of course we are! Vladimir and I have hacked all the candidates. BIGLY."

SV: "And who's your favorite to succeed PARK Geun-hye?"

KJU: "Even with the help of WikiLeaks, our dear LEE Jae-myung will have some problem winning in a truly democratic system: unlike America and North Korea, South Korea doesn't have an electoral college. SAD."

SV: "Looks like you'll have to cope with MOON Jae-in, because BAN Ki-moon is out, and AHN Hee-jung seems too far behind now."

KJU: "Whatever. Anyway, NOT A BAN."

SV: "Last but not least topic..."

KJU: "... CHINA!!!"

SV: "... China yes. How can you recover from their recent tightening on coal imports from North Korea?"

KJU: "No sweat! Donald and I have already started working on bringing back jobs in coal mining, as part of the NATO."

SV: "?!?"

KJU: "NATO, the North Korea - America Treaty Organization. It also includes partnerships in internment camps for migrants. GREAT DEAL."

SV: "While we're at it, how's your Make Army Great Again program doing? Do you still have Songun completely under your belt?"

KJU: "As always - the biggest bowel movement the world has ever seen!"

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Moving matter and hearts - Choe U-ram in Daegu

If you happen to pass by Daegu, you may witness a very rare gathering of elusive creatures, but be quick, they're about to take off very soon: only a few days left for CHOE U Ram's exhibition at the Daegu Art Museum!

CHOE himself is a very rare creature: at the same time a brilliant artist producing spectacular works, and an extremely modest human being, who sometimes refers to himself as a 'Cheonggyecheon dog', because according to him, even a dog would have learned all these techniques by just roaming the workshop neighborhoods the way he did as he grew up. A poet, a dreamer, and a maker, U-ram also happens to be one of the kindest people I ever met.

This robot hero he painted when he was 7, and the story that came with it were already very touching.

If nowadays, his 'anima machines' use more complex mechanisms and technologies, they are still about turning his fertile imagination into reality.

  URC-1, 2014 by Choe U-Ram from U-Ram Choe on Vimeo.

It was really moving to see all generations of visitors mesmerized by U-ram's poetic wonders.

In front of Choe U-ram's Scarecrow (
And I can't wait to discover what will come next from his Yeonhui-dong workshop.

'Choe U-Ram: [Stil laif]'
1 Nov 2016 – 12 Feb 2017
Daegu Art Museum, Daegu, Korea
40 Misulgwan-ro, Suseong-gu, Daegu 42250, Korea
T +82 (0)53 790 3000

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PS: also from last month's trip to Daegu:
Modern art or carwash? (

Vincent Van Gogh's poppy field, or buchujeon? (

Monday, January 23, 2017

AHN Hee-jung joins the fray

Frankly, there is no way out of impeachment for PARK Geun-hye - the sole story about that blacklist of artists should suffice to seal her fate. Now she's just trying to delay the process, wishing her judges were about to retire. 

Meanwhile, her partner in crime CHOI Soon-sil keeps denying the obvious, and pushing arrogance to new levels. The way she counterattacked her prosecutors by demanding proofs and testimonies, you'd believe she knows in which Thai river she had KO Young-tae's remains fed to the fishes.

"Dirty sleep", an art work featured in a special 'freedom of expression' exhibition at the National Assembly hall: PARK Geun-hye sleeps as the Sewol sinks, and CHOI Soon-sil provides syringes - 20170123 Chosun Ilbo "국회 의원회관에 '나체 상태의 박근혜 대통령' 그림 논란"
Again, let's hope justice will prevail (see "Of power vacua and excesses").

Now the question remains who's next in South Korea's doomest office (after acting prez HWANG Kyo-ahn), and in that regard, recent days have brought interesting developments: BAN Ki-moon has totally screwed up his return to Korea, LEE Jae-myung confirmed his candidacy, and AHN Hee-jung pulled out a perfect launch. Can MOON Jae-in maintain his lead until late Spring?

To sum it up: 

1) Korea needs a uniting, moderate, ideology-free leader to leverage on the formidable grassroot movement that saw 96% of the population stand up for democracy.
2) The political landscape is ultra-fragmented: Saenuri completely imploded around pro/anti-Park lines, and rivalries mar the opposition.
3) Two heavyweights lead in the polls, but fail to convince a majority. 
4) MOON Jae-in struggles to pass for a uniter after having embodied systematic opposition for years, and bullied AHN Cheol-soo out of the 2012 race. He's in Hillary's position: the best chance to win on paper, but a jaded politician, and a disliked favorite.
5) BAN Ki-moon had the resume: the UN international aura, ROH Moo-hyun-friendly enough to please the Left, conservative and reform-averse enough to please the Right, a soft spoken gentleman old enough to play the role of the benevolent patriarch of the nation..., but if he shined as a minister, BAN never proved his prowess in the driver's seat, and from the start he let his campaign be hijacked by a Dark Side of the Force desperate to find a leader following PGH's collapse. He had the ideal profile to reach from the center across the aisles, but it will be hard for him to claim the 96% after a week where he distinguished himself by calling PARK Geun-hye and meeting LEE Myung-bak.

6) If LEE Jae-myung gained momentum during the mass demonstrations, his controversial, Trump-style temperament undermines his candidacy. Should he leave the leading trio by the end of next month, his chances would be very slim.

7) It seems that whatever PARK Won-soon says or does, he can't rise in the polls. The Seoul mayor positioned himself as a reformer and an innovator, and counts on the inauguration of Seoul Station 7017 to feed the buzz, but his craze for media attention, very efficient at the local and international levels, tends to backfire at the national level.
8) The third man could turn out to be a different AHN than last time: AHN Cheol-soo did build a political base, but the democratic tsunami reshuffled the whole deck, and ACS is not as inspiring as he initially looked. AHN Hee-jung starts apparently without any base, but he's perfectly leveraging that freedom, and judging by its PR campaign and his no-nonsense, anti-populist positions, he can claim both conservatives and reformers. A convincing interview with Chosun Ilbo, followed by a praising editorial from Maeil Business Newspaper the day before he announced, and he put himself at the center of the map, making LEE Jae-myung's announcement almost inaudible.

As MOON Jae-in flies, BAN Ki-moon stagnates, and the LEE Jae-myung bubble deflates, AHN Hee-jung gains positive reviews for his Chosun interview - 20170122 -

If by end of February, polls show AHN Hee-jung closer to - or even part of - the top 3, he stands a clear chance. The weeks to come will clearly test MOON's grip on the lead, and BAN's capacity to reset his campaign.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Handover Hangover

The unenthusiastic saehaebokmanibadeuseyos that evaporated as early as January 2nd, the post-truth / pre-Trump gloom / doom, the neverending Park-Choi-Woo drama*...

Korea seems to be dragging her feet into the young year, but I also see a lot of people taking the leap. And for a change, not only in that most tragic sense of the term.

Yes, this nation missed its momentum, piled up unnecessary crises, and failed to become a true leader while China and others were catching up, eager to follow the new benchmark. Yes, Korea was betrayed by her own leaders, and their fall will even undermine their too few good initiatives (e.g. nurturing creative ecosystems). Yes, no candidate seems to have the leadership qualities required by the moment.

But yes, new leaders are emerging from the bottom up. Sound citizens and entrepreneurs bringing positive social and economic changes across communities. And of course there is the formidable and overwhelmingly non-ideological democratic movement that bloomed over the last months, a new collective conscience and exigence that hopefully will debunk populists as well as other enemies of democracy.

Yes, Korea is in crisis, but that's precisely now that she can become a true leader, if she seizes the moment to redefine a sustainable vision for society, economics, and politics.

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* Park Geun-hye - Choi Soon-sil - Woo Byung-woo (see "Of power vacua and excesses"). Will they all be in jail one year from now? Distressing to see how the 3 topics in last year's first post (see "2016 under the carpet") managed to get even worse since:
- one year ago, Shinzo ABE and PGH agreed to insult history as a tandem, and today the former is recalling his ambo over the latest 'comfort women' row.
- one year ago, KIM Jong-un was playing with nukes, and today he's about to test Trump's control of the red and blue buttons (the blue one's for Tweeter, can you remember that, Don?)
- one year ago, the Korean opposition was fighting over who would be the best leader for the 2017 elections. Today, MOON Jae-in, AHN Cheol-soo, PARK Won-soon and all have to add LEE Jae-myung to their worries, and election day is likely to happen much earlier than scheduled.
... should I continue with time bombs that were bound to explode, yet somehow managed to grow even fatter (e.g. household debt)...? so happy next year! ("Happy New Year 2018" / "Bonne année 2018")

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Don't miss Le Corbusier in Seoul... The artist, not the urban planner!

Voluptuous sculptures, delicate aquarels, explosions of forms and colors...

... frankly, these are not the first things that come to mind when you think Le Corbusier and Seoul. For me, the association rather suggests that radical 1925 Plan Voisin for Paris, where he imagined the destruction of two square miles at the center of the capital to make room for what now looks like your classic Seoul New Town:

This model for Corbu's Plan Voisin (1925) looks like most 2016 mock ups in Seoul new town model houses. And Jeanneret would turn in his grave if he saw how his pilotis are used and abused across the Korean capital...

But mercifully, the not-to-be-missed exhibition at Seoul Arts Center doesn't venture into that particular dimension of Le Corbusier's amazingly prolific mind.

Le Corbusier Special Exhibition
Hangaram Design Museum (
2016.12.06(TUE) - 2017.03.26(SUN) - 11:00-19:00 (MAR 11:00-20:00)
Corbu time. Inauguration of Le Corbusier expo at Seoul Arts Center (With Antoine Picon - 20161206 -
If I braced for something big, I certainly didn't expect anything that overwhelming. This isn't an exhibition, but a full art museum devoted to a bulimic absorber of cultural influences, encompassing almost all forms of art, architecture being almost reduced to a pleasant background music, flowing naturally as the artist's lightest composition.

Many works have never been exhibited, and this prefigures an actual Le Corbusier museum in a much wider way than say last year's retrospective in Paris... even if the poster looks familiar (and even if, somehow, that one also struck a musical chord):

The weird music of architecture: these days you can play Le Corbusier on a Renzo Piano - Centre Pompidou, Paris (20150707 -

Flanking commissioner and Ronchamp expert Daniele Pauly, Ambassadors Linus von Castelmur (Switzerland) and Fabien Penone (France). Special mention to the former for elegantly mentioning in his opening speech even the most controversial sides of Corbu, as all nations and the UNESCO celebrate his cultural impact*

Many of Corbu artworks echo great artists (Picasso, Braque, Schiele..), but I have a weakness for this almost childish 'Paysage parisien imaginaire' (1917) - a dream-nightmare-ish view of Paname blended with Istanbul, with a contrast between colorful life and dark death (hanged man, war plane, constrained ships...)

Significantly, the artist is most celebrated as a great architect in a colorless, side space, under the eyes of Tadao Ando.

C for Corbu - Le Corbusier in Seoul (20161206 -

Anyway, don't you dare miss this major event. And if you happen to pass by Paris, don't miss his appartement-atelier, which literally speaks volume about the man*.
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* via La Fondation Le Corbusier's website -

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