Wednesday, July 25, 2018

'The Accusation' by Bandi

The Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch recently moved its Reading Club meetings from the Jongno District Office's library in Susong-dong to gentrified Waryong-dong, and the quiet basement of North Terrace Building, a fancy book cafe with a stimulating editorial line, consistent with the club's focus on Korean literature in translation*.

On the menu yesterday: Bandi's 'The Accusation'...


'The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea' by Bandi
... as translated by Deborah Smith, so footnote-free, and easy to read for Westerners who don't know much about Korea, let alone North Korea

Don't get me wrong: this easy-read is a must-read! Furthermore, I applaud the choice to spread Bandi's words as far as possible to help more people understand what living under the most oppressive and corrupt regime on Earth means.

I simply wish (and I'm not alone) the opportunity had been seized to make a few key concepts more widely known. For instance, why keep 'Bowibu' (State Security), but not use 'songbun' (DPRK's 'cast' system), which plays a much more important role all across the book? If it helps, picture the cover of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's 'Forced Labor Camp Archipelago'... anyway, it doesn't matter much, and certainly doesn't change the realities described in this brilliant fiction.

Written between 1989 and 1995, the manuscript could only be smuggled out of North Korea in 2013. And Bandi may never escape the land where you're not allowed to think out loud. The author's daily job, as an official writer, is to hammer the regime's doctrine and myths home through edifying fiction, but as an anonymous 'firefly' (the 'Bandi' pseudonym), she/he finds the courage to set her/himself free, and to expose its impostures by pulling the same tricks against it, delivering powerful insights far beyond the usual 'rare glimpses' into Pyongyang.

Actually, oppression can be felt even more acutely in small town Kimilsungistan, even on that remote field, high up in the mountain. The heroes? Simple people struggling to survive as decent family members and citizens in a dystopian system. The villains? The very ones supposed to lead as role models. Each one of Bandi's seven short stories respects the official moral fable topics and structures, but instead of teaching why the system is the answer, the climactic moment of revelation exposes why it is the mother of all problems.

While reading, I thought a lot about Song Byeok, that propaganda painter turned satirist artist after defecting to the South:

Song Byeok's 'Marilyn Monroe' has the face of movie fanatic Kim Jong-il
Except, of course, that Bandi's literature uses a far more subtle and diverse palette. Even through the biases of edition, translation, and that very special para-propaganda genre, I believe Bandi to be not only one unique person**, but also a true humanist, and a great author.

The editors cleverly dropped the manuscript's chronological order, starting 'The Accusation' with stories showing how trust can be a challenge even within the most intimate familial circle, and ending with 'The Red Mushroom', a masterpiece linking modern times to the grand Korean tales tradition, a farce and a tragedy, complete with a Kafkaian trial***, the Saint figure of a hero, and a narrator I suspect to be among the most autobiographical in the whole book: a disillusioned official scribbler compelled to serve the regime because he needs to survive, but also a compassionate soul marveling at how great humans can remain or become, even in this Pandemonium.

Frankly, I don't care if Bandi is 'Mr Bullshit Reporter' or 'Mrs Bullshit Writer'. I care that Bandi cares.

And so should we.


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* yet reaching far beyond - among my favorites:

'Sipping Waryong-dong coffee in a book lover's lair. Among the odd volumes, this 'Pictorial Chosen and Manchuria' (Bank of Chosen 1919) (20180627 - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/1011933015843336193)

** some think there are various contributors, I presume because of the way Bandi convincingly carries male as well as female voices, or ventures into farce as easily as into tear-jerkers, but the risks would have been even more extreme, and the author's own 'voice' / vision remains consistent. 
*** not just K's. Because of KO Inshik's figure, that trial also brought memories of the one in Iain Pears' 'An Instance of the Fingerpost', which Bandi probably never had a chance to read.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Chaebolplex v. Indie Movies - The Sequel

According to KOFIC / KOBIZ, Korea's 2,870 movie screens recorded almost 220 M admissions last year, a 49% increase in ten years. That's enough to take over (30% more populated) France, where admissions gained only 11% over the same period, from 190 to 209 M. Korean and Foreign films have basically maintained their positions on the market: around 50/50 for the number of admissions, 28/72 for the number of films released, knowing that the biggest blockbusters tend to be local (only Avatar appears in the all time top ten, as #3).

The number of movies released exploded (from 380 to 1,765), which is not a guarantee for quality, but an encouraging sign for culture diversity*. Indeed, the big 'chaebolplexes' that control the market have at long last started to propose independent movies.

Which doesn't mean that Korea's indie movie ecosystem is better off.

When six years ago, chaebolplexes were forced to feature them following the 'Pieta' scandal, I worried that they would struggle to kick their bad, closed circuit habits (see "Saving Korean cinema... and even Chaebolplex"), and that's pretty much what happened.

Just a few significant events that followed the 2012 'Pieta Law':
- 2013: ten indie movie producers pool their efforts to create Little Big Pictures
- 2014: CJ Group launches CGV Arthouse (chaebolplexes create their own 'indie' theaters)
- 2015: it gets political when AHN Cheol-soo brings the spotlight on the cause, and indies push for laws similar to the 1948 Paramount Decree (the "antitrust case that ruled against big movie studios operating their own movie theaters"**)
- 2016: Netflix launches in Korea
- 2017: produced by Netflix, BONG Joon-ho's 'Okja' is boycotted by Korea's biggest theater operators
- 2018: IPTV takes over cable TV as main provider, controlled by the Big 3 (KT, SKT, LGU+), and 'chaebolplex' snatch exclusivities for indie movies away from 'independent art houses', even for re-runs.***

How can indie theaters survive, or compete with lavish complexes that in terms of diversity, contribute essentially to one of chaebolplex's core business models: real estate. There are so much new complexes Seoul can host, and the 'art house' alibi provides a perfect 'alternative' offer to developments that target culture-friendly elites.



Institutions like Seoul Cinema or Indie Space embody the resistance, but for how long?


'Smells like Seoul Cinema spirit' (20180517 - www.instagram.com/p/Bi4AYl9ll7H/?taken-by=stephanemot)


'not sure the one in the middle will be featured in a chaebolplex' (20121213 - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/279079561419960320)


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* on this issue, read " Heralding cultural diversity - a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave" (2013)
** "South Korea’s Chaebol-sized Movie Problem"  (WSJ 20150130)
*** "Art house cinemas lose their exclusivity : As more indie films are screened at theater chains, smaller venues suffer losses" (KJD 20180706)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Trump: The Art of the Dealapidation (Exclusive Interview)

Seoul Village: 'Mr President, Welcome to our Korean Errlines'

Donald J. Trump: 'Thanks for having me. I must confess that I was a bit jealous of KIM Jong-un - you already interviewed him three times*'.
 

SV: 'You seem to envy a lot of things from dictators'
 

DJT: 'Look, the whole people of North Korea is forced to love KIM, to attend his inaugurations, to vote for him, to worship him. All the media are compelled to praise him. He doesn't have to worry about laws, human right or justice... I'm great, but I'm not sure I would be able to achieve that before my third term.'
 

SV: 'And he's not even half your age'.
 

DJT: 'Isn't that awesome? This young lad is so talented, he can even ride horses like a stable genius. No wonder we have such a terrific relationship.'



SV: 'We're talking about a cruel dictator, a torturer who murdered even people from his own family.'
 

DJT: 'I know, I'm still a bit weak..., but I'm working on it! And if Robert Mueller manages to have Don Jr flip on me, I won't hesitate to sic my mob friends at both.'
 

SV 'That's the spirit. And speaking of spirits, how could you get so friendly with KIM without boozing along? You don't drink a drop of alcohol'. 

DJT 'We binged on junk food, and you know I don't need to drink to embarrass myself. Plus we were both so high on ourselves... We spent our time boasting about our private resorts, and I showed him my Big Button, the interior of The Beast...'
 

SV 'That's your armored limo.'
 

DJT 'Right. I refurbished it completely with Trump gold, and portraits of the Trump dynasty: me, myself, and I. He didn't show me his set of wheels, but he got his bodyguards run a marathon around it while we chatted. I loved it so much, I asked Jim Mattis to add this stunt to our next military parade.'
 

SV 'So your Singapore Summit was a perfect honeymoon, yet there's a debate about the deal you made.'
 

DJT 'I know, I know, I basically agreed with everything Jong-un asked, I torpedoed our joint drills with South Korea, and to make things worse I said that my threats of last year were just rethoric, so that he doesn't feel any pressure anymore. Anyway as soon as I agreed to meet him, I opened the door to Xi Jinping, who already eased the sanctions, and guaranteed Little Rocket Man he had his back - Oops, I'd better save this nickname for when he turns bad again.'
 

SV 'You are taking a lot of risks. You insisted on playing it on your gut feeling, so if or rather when KIM betrays you, you will own it 100%.'
 

DJT 'Absolutely impossible: the buck never stops here, remember? I already said that if he betrays me, I won't apologize, but find excuses. As usual, I'll blame Obama, Hillary, Comey, the Democrats, the deep state, CNN, Hillary, China, the Swamp, or maybe, for a change, Hillary.'
'Take me to your leader' 20180606 (Dennis Rodman lands in Singapore for the Trump-Kim Summit)

SV 'This deal is not only a textbook case of terrible negotiation, but also very bad for America'.
 

DJT 'First, I've never been good at deals, and actually I didn't write 'The Art of the Deal' myself. Haven't you noticed that everything I do goes morally and financially bankrupt. Me? I only know how to bully people, and when they are women to grab them by the...'
 

SV '... I get your first point. And the second one?'
 

DJT 'Of course I know it's bad for America. Why do you think Putin chose me? Do you really believe I'm putting America First? It's always been all bout me. In order to exist, I need to re-create the World everyday in the image of myself, each time while making big splashes on prime time. What I always do is first criticizing things as the worst that ever existed, then promising deals better than anything that existed before, then destroying everything without proposing a solution, then seeing what happens, and then accusing others it it fails. And behold, it was very good'.
 

SV 'Amen to that. But in the case of North Korea, you're breaking things that are highly radioactive... Should South Korea and Japan worry?'
 

DJT 'I don't care about them, but MOON Jae-in has been on cloud nine ever since he stopped my 'bloody nose' plans, and Shinzo Abe, who like me adores fellow strongmen, is already planning a trip to Pyongyang. Anyway I told you: North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat. Won't happen! Now please give me my Nobel Peace Prize.'
 

SV 'Not so fast. You know this deal can't work.'
 

DJT 'Of course it can't. That's why I asked Mike Pompeo to tell Jong-un to take his time, and just do something nice a few weeks before each of my reelections, starting in 2020.'
 

SV 'How about this year's Midterms?'
 

DJT 'These don't count as elections: I'm not on the ballot'


The Groundsparing Declaration - 20180612


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* see "Exclusive interview with KIM Jong-un - Season III" (March 2018), "EXCLUSIVE-Second interview with KIM Jong-un" (February 2017), "Exclusive interview with KIM Jong-un" (December 2013) - all fake, like this one of course!

---
(from SeoulVillage on Twitter):

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Riding along 'horizontal verticals' in Magok District (Part III)

This is the final part of my focus on Magok District:
    1. Framing Magok (Part I - Location)
    2. Magok's horizontal verticals (Part II - Cluster)
    3. Magok's lifespace (Part III - Environment)
The future Seoul Botanic Park will feature 3,0000 plant species (its flower-shaped indoor facility - bottom right - is already visible from a distance).


***


3) Magok's lifespace


If Gangseo-gu is not an usual darling for real estate speculators, Magok scores much better than most Seoul neighborhoods. Beyond its potential and dynamics in terms of location, connectivity, or research hub, people seem to believe in its quality of life, and to trust SH Corporation for delivering the goods.

Rebranded two years ago Seoul Housing and Communities Corporation*, this public institution has led the development from its early stages, with a mandate to put families, environment and sustainable mobility at the core of the project, a clear difference with other innovation clusters where business preempted everything.

Seoul Business Agency (SBA) did play a central role in Magok as it did in the DMC, but in the latter, residential developments were secondary, and not considered as a key factor of success. And we saw how the Gale International - Posco tandem struggled in Songdo.

Pangyo too enjoyed a partnership between national and local authorities for its Pangyo Techno Valley (Gyeonggi Institute of Science and Technology Promotion established in 2010), but for its residential areas, it only had to surf on the Bundang wave, and from the start flush with private money, that very hyped 'New Town' got 'blessed' with more than a few luxury residences.

Like Pangyo, Magok started essentially from scratch. Revamping Guro Digital Complex, and supporting its evolution into a XXIst century G-Valley demands different efforts from Seoul and Kicox (Korea Industrial Complex Corporation).

Magok wasn't dragged down by ailing neighborhoods in need of regeneration. The central role of public authorities is a guarantee that everybody will profit, not a sign of destitution. I don't think Magok will become as 'bling-bling' as Eastern Gangnam either, but I don't see that as an inconvenient.



How does this 'common good' approach translate into the landscape? For instance, beyond the central park, you don't have a collection of green spaces, each one managed by a gated apartment complex, but neighborhood parks connected by green corridors between open blocks. Branded M-Valley by SH Corporation, the residential complexes remain relatively low rise compared to other recent projects this side of the Han River, keeping in mind that this is a first development. Even if we're still in the classic 'apateu' model, there could be a greater sense of open community than in Pangyo's luxury town houses or from the top of a Songdo penthouse...

The green corridors are wider than Yeonnam-dong's 'Yeontral Park' (the Gyeongui Line Forest Trail), but without the streets, shops or restaurants on their sides, and only a few tables to picnic here and there, which minimizes noise pollution for the residents.

As I noticed before, along large sections of Seoul Botanic Park, blocks devoted to research centers sit right across the street (e.g. for the moment LG Science Park and Kolon One and Only Tower), which could be seen as a form of privatization, but could also become a motivation for them to open up, to let visitors roam their own land, to propose services that would flourish along the frontline in probably more anarchic ways, to blur the lines of a strict zoning. 

Tadao Ando's LG Art Center (see part II) provides a clearer example of how local communities can benefit from private infrastructure: parts of the program will involve residents, and the venue will eventually belong to Seoul city. 

For the moment, residential and research blocks stand out, and local businesses mostly develop around subway stations. The first significant hotel to open in the neighborhood mirrors its positioning: overlooking the park, Courtyard by Marriott is not the chain's most luxury brand, but provides quality stays for both business people and families.


*

Seoul issued guidelines and specs early in the project to make sure that environment, accessibility, or bicycle lanes were taken into account:


Water collection and filtering systems embedded in the buildings, roads, or parks
Accessibility and security at pedestrian crossings
Pedestrian crossings again, this time for bicycle lanes, always a tricky moment for cyclists
With its flatness and absence of major disruptors in its core (hills, river, railways, highways**), Magok District is perfect for cycling. 40% of all roads will have dedicated lanes, in a continuous network connecting the new neighborhood and its Seoul Botanic Park to the Hangang backbone. Beyond a 'Ddareungi' special zone facilitating commuting and leisure rides, or many bike parking facilities, four bike storage systems will be available at subway stations.


Bicycle-friendly Magok (left, one of the green diagonal corridors between apartment blocks - right, a protected bike lane that could be wider, like for instance the one along Seongmisan-ro in Seongsan-dong).
Magok's bicycle network
So it seems that even in this early stage, Magok is aiming at to the vision I finished my 2013 update with (see 'Magok District on cruise mode'):
"Now the most important remains to give some soul and consistence to this alleywayless place. You want to see residents and researchers venture beyond their homes and campuses, roam the streets, enjoy the city. The park and diagonal canal can give purpose, but let's not forget to optimize every single street for pedestrians and bicycles, make this neighborhood a destination from all directions, in continuity with Hangang Park, and the new neighboring communities (Banghwa, Balsan...)."
*

As usual, as an urbanist, I would have done things differently; Magok District doesn't signal a revolution in the Korean New Town or the Korean innovation cluster models. Yet it redefines Gangseo-gu, and beyond Southwest Seoul. It might even demonstrate that a big residential and business project South of the Han River can succeed without arrogance. What matters is that, ultimately, people live happily together in a place where trees, bicycles, and fellow earthlings are welcome.

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* see "Seoul summerscapes: death, taxes, and budongsan
** if Gonghangdae-ro is a wide and busy axis, it can't be compared to the Gyeongbu Expressway that separates Seopangyo and Dongpangyo

Monday, May 21, 2018

Riding along 'horizontal verticals' in Magok District (Part II)

This is the second part of my focus on Magok District:
    1. Framing Magok (Part I - Location)
    2. Magok's horizontal verticals (Part II - Cluster)
    3. Magok's lifespace (Part III - Environment)


***


2) Magok's horizontal verticals

In the first part we saw how, by its simple location and connectivity, Magok District enjoyed key assets for a business hub. In the third one, we'll see if its environment can, as advertised, attract researchers and creative minds. Here, we'll focus on the innovation cluster promise.

The signature used in recent advertorials sounds familiar, and as usual with previous Korean projects sharing similar ambitions in the past, 'Korean Silicon Valley Magok' ("한국의 실리콘밸리 마곡") is supposed to create a haven where big fish and small fry cohabit. But as usual, chaebol struggle to envision innovation clusters beyond proprietary ecosystems, which can become a major hurdle for diversity and creativity (see "Redrawing Korean Maps - Innovation Clusters").

Magok doesn't aim at aggregating value around business 'verticals' like the Sangam DMC, conceived as the name suggests for media and entertainment, or even Songdo, when it was desperately looking for a way to reboot and better market itself. Here, we're into 'convergence and fusion technology', more in the Pangyo Techno Valley vein, but with a stronger industrial - manufacturing touch.

As the first big fish to sign for this former swampy rice paddy area, LG Group set the tone for 'convergence and fusion', pooling Research and Development teams from key subsidiaries (LG Electronics, LG Chem, LG Display...) in its LG Science Park complex (18 buildings, capacity of 25,000 employees) to better tackle such challenges as robotics or A.I.. Similarly, Lotte Group is looking for new synergies between Lotte Food, Lotte Confectionery, Lotte Chilsung Beverage, and Lotteria...

Should we dub this higher stage of chaebolism 'horizontal verticals'?


Clockwise, the site of Tadao Ando's future LG Art Center / LG Science Hall, LG Science Park's ISC (Integrated Support Center), Kolon One and Only Tower.
LG Science Park Integrated Support Center (www.instagram.com/p/Bi8rK-slfWJ)

LG also provides the neighborhood with a cultural venue designed by Tadao Ando. The new LG Art Center will open in 2020 on Magokjungang 10-gil, across the LG Science Park and next to the park itself. The group will operate the theater for thirty years before offering it to Seoul city.




It's way too early to judge this new ecosystem, particularly since, like in the DMC, small players are supposed to join after the big ones. Urbanism and architecture can give us clues about the potential, though. For instance, LG Science Park can look like series of containers from a distance, but many buildings are porous, with atria and green walkways, giving the ensemble a campus-like touch, more open to its surroundings than other, more monolithic centers.

Unlike the actual Silicon Valley, where most companies of all sizes and shapes settled in existing urban or peri-urban environments, this research complex consists of contiguous lots, most of which will be developed by one powerful player. So if you're having a coffee in the Eastern half of Magok District, chances are it will be in a building owned by one of those, which may alter the way you pitch your startup over a cup of java.



***

If Magok District will welcome garage startups, they are not its main target. The aim is to boost innovative research in industries that do have fuzzy edges, but also complex cores and cycles, and it already signed enough significant players to succeed. More will want to join in a site ideally located for logistics and within the capital city, but quality of life will also be a factor. Ideally, Magok's environment must stimulate creativity, but in not necessarily too 'speedy' and disruptive ways. 

Is it likely to deliver? That's what we'll check in our last part of this focus.

 
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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Riding along 'horizontal verticals' in Magok District (Part I)

As we've seen before*, Magok District deserves specific attention as Seoul's last big chunk of undeveloped land (until they decide to chop off all remaining mountains), and one of Korea's ambitious innovation clusters.

If new pieces keep being added every now and then to this urban jigsaw puzzle, recent weeks have seen major developments and PR operations, particularly with the inauguration of LG Science Park by MOON Jae-in, two years after PARK Geun-hye's speech at its groundbreaking ceremony. Of course, since many initiatives in Korea boil down to real estate, a lot of this PR aims at promoting new residences in a neighborhood that's been rather overperforming the market.

Time seems ripe for an update on Magok's narrative, reality, and fundamentals. Could it mark an evolution in Seoul's postwar urbanism (for the big picture, see 'Inhuman, all too human Seoul')? Certainly not a real disruption, since in many ways it remains a classic, zoned Korean 'New Town'. And the focus being on business, let's see how this 'swamp thing' can compares to - or coopetes with? - neighborhoods I've seen rise from a landfill (Digital Media City), the sea (Songdo), or a valley (Pangyo).

Like my 2013 focus on the DMC and Songdo***, I'll slice this one into 3 pieces:
    1. Framing Magok (Part I - Location)
    2. Magok's horizontal verticals (Part II - Cluster)
    3. Magok's lifespace (Part III - Environment)


'Magok's future Seoul Botanic Park' (20180518 - www.instagram.com/p/Bi6Wi5illxo)


***

1) Framing Magok

What better image to help you grasp the scale and level of completion of the 3.6 M square meter Magok District than this recent aerial view?


Magok District from above in 2017 (Seoul Metropolitan Government)

Stretching over Magok-dong and Gayang-dong, Magok District lies at the very heart of Gangseo-gu, which badly needed a center to make better sense. It's articulated around the gu's backbone: its road to Gimpo Airport, Gonghang-daero.
  • To the West: Banghwa-daero, Banghwa New Town, and Gonghang-dong which hosts the airport. 
  • To the North: Olympic Expressway and the Han River
  • To the East: Gangseo-ro (East), and Deungchon-dong. 
  • To the South: the new Balsan District and Gangseo Agricultural and Marine Products Market.



Actually, only a tendril of Seoul Botanic Park - but a most essential one - reaches the Han River. Most of the district remains under Yangcheon-ro, blocked to the West by the Seonam Water Recycling Center, and to the East by Gungsan, a cute hill which I hope will be preserved, along with the village at its feet.

Magok's four defining dimensions were 'industrial', 'business and commercial', 'residential', 'parks and green', with zones clearly visible from the initial masterplan:



Within the district, three main axes have been created to border its 503,000 sqm park:
  • Magokjungang-ro to the West, with Magok Station (Line 5) at the intersection with Gonghangdaero, and Magongnaru Station (Line 9, and soon AREX) to split what's North of it into two even parts. If Gongangdaero is as wide as a highway, Magongnaru area is booming around the relatively narrow winding road leading to previously developed Banghwa-dong. 
  • The much quieter Magokdong-ro to the East separates for the moment two LG research blocks, with Kolon's spectacular One and Only Tower (!) at the interection with the third axis.
  • Magokjungang 10-gil marks the park's Southern border, with LG Science Park on the frontline (obviously, LG's L still stands for Lucky; the early bird did catch the worm).
So this is basically the frame being filled step by step...
' map keeps filling up (ad in my mailbox)' (20141207 - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/541499306344448000)
 ... its central park still missing, but continuously advertised as a key asset:


***


Keep in mind this brief framing of Magok District when we move on to its business purpose (Part II) and living environment (Part III). It already reveals precious advantages:
  • a simple, compact, and flat map
  • seamlessly integrated to its urban vicinity, unlike Songdo, or even Pangyo (highway) and the DMC (railway). As you know, I value "urban continuity" as a key factor of success.
  • even if it's located in the capital's far west, Magok District is very close to the airport (a clear advantage over Pangyo for instance), but also directly connected to the historic center (Gwanghwamun via Line 5), and to key business hubs (e.g. Yeouido, Yeongdongdaero via Bongeunsa Line 9). When AREX opens at Magongnaru Station, the synergies with DMC and Guro Digital Complex, both one stop away, will be even easier.
  • in spite of the Olympic Expressway, Magok provides a unique corridor to the Han River, and its park enjoys relatively little competition in a wide radius. Can it bring Gangseo-gu's half million inhabitants closer together, and reach beyond?

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* e.g. "Magok District on cruise mode", "Magok District: SIM City as in "Seoul Intra Muros"? Alleyways as in "Seoul Inter Muros"?", all posts related to Magok District.
** "Songdo, DMC: sequence is of the essence (Part I)", "Part II", "Part III"

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Chirps vs Tweets


'Chirps vs tweets - Inter Korean Summit' (20180428 - twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/990027815734013952)
What a week... a long expected reunion, waves of relief, hope, doubts, cautious euphoria, speeches, informal chats, laughs, tweets, and actual bird chirps.

I'm of course referring to the 2018 Asan Plenum, kicked off by a surreal Trumpian gospel according to Edwin J. Fuller, and wrapped up by a stimulating manel on North Korea. As the theme 'Illiberal International Order' suggests, it's a tad early to wear rose-colored glasses, and a 'red nose' still remains possible (even if Victor CHA joked that he'd 'never heard of it'). When Paul Wolfowitz passes for a dove heralding liberal democracies, you want to be cautious. Once more, kudos to HAHM Chaibong and the Asan Institute, it was great to see familiar and new faces speaking their minds out at such a defining moment.

And what moment. Not that handshake, not that bear hug, not even that Clinton-Yeltsin-ish burst of laughter after a few drinks (see below). But the moment when a North Korean leader left his mob to walk alone across the demarcation line. If we'd been there before, we'd never seen that.

So whom to credit most for this breakthrough? Donald TRUMP certainly served as a catalyst, and XI Jinping as an enabler, but nothing could have happened without MOON Jae-in, and the man who's seen it all, SEO Hoon.

Can we trust DPRK when they say they will give up nukes? Not really - exhibit A Inter Korean Summit I, exhibit B Inter Korean Summit II.

Can DPRK trust us? Not really - exhibit A Gaddafi, exhibit B Iran Deal.

Anyway, as someone uses to say: 'let's see what happens'.
 


ICYMI, Asan Plenum Day 1 in tweets: in tweets
 




ICYMI - - the DMZ strut, KIM Yo-jong's choregraphy, RI Sol-ju's dash, and that other Panmunjom Declaration carved on the trunk of the tree planted by both leaders: 'J hearts J'

CVID?

- 'Complete...'
- 'Verifiable...'
- 'Irreversible...'
- 'Detoxification!'
- 'Sorry, I can't give that one up'
#cvid


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* Michael wondered what was so funny about that $ 100 bill, and the answer is of course that it was old counterfeit money from North Korea, the $ 300 bill with Kim Jong-un's face, and Uncle Jang at the Treasury (twitter.com/theseoulvillage/status/990165973658255360

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