Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Lotus Lantern Festival

After the coolest month of April since 1908, weather is not supposed to get back to normal before mid-may, on time for the Lotus Lantern Festival.

Let's hope this year's Lantern Parade won't be spoiled by rain or wind : two years ago, the atmosphere was almost magical. As usual, the spectacular procession will walk along Jongro, between Dongdaemun and Jogyesa. That shall be on Sunday (the 16th), between 7 and 9:30 pm*.

This year, Buddah birthday is May the 21st. To be celebrated in every temple, sometimes in surprising ways : back in 2002, the paper lanterns covering Jogyesa were painted as soccer balls.

Don't forget your cameras.

Seoul Village 2010

* check the program of festivities on LLF's website :
llf.org.

Yeonhui-dong Kalguksu (Seoul)

A big parking lot, two valet and two traffic attendants, and the heck of a jam... Yes it's rush hour, yes it's raining, but still, we're only talking about simple noodles : standard and big size kalguksu, for respectively KRW 6,500 and 8,000.

Note that "standard" means a good portion, and "big size" about twice as much. Served in a bone broth, the noodles themselves are rather thin but plentiful. "Banchan" also come in pair : green and red gimchi, equally fresh and good.

Yeonhui-dong Kalguksu is another institution of Yeonhuidongmatgil, not far from
Joeunjib. A popular destination which deliver the goods, even if better appreciated off-peak.

Yeonhui-dong Kalguksu (restaurant)
132-29 Yeonhui-1-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, ROK
Tel +82.2.333.3955

Seoul Village 2010 - see also other restaurants in Seoul and Korea

* to be fair, the menu also includes Korean beef (KRW 20,000)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A bump in the road for serviced residences in Korea ?

Following a decision by Korea's Supreme Court, major serviced residence operators could be asked to cease operations, the time for them to adapt... or rather for Korean law to adapt to modern hospitality standards.

Korea Hotel Association successfully lobbied for this decision, which appears to be based on a loophole somewhere between classic hotels and officetels in Korea. A real problem for a country boasting such ambitions for tourism : global leaders, like France, do have special legislative arrangements for serviced residences. Furthermore, Korea really needed serviced residences to offer the whole range of solutions to international travelers.

A quick and fair solution will probably be found to prevent an embarrassing moment for everyone, and send another positive sign overseas confirming the vitality of Korean hospitality.

Seoul Village 2010

A World Cup Bridge for 2015

Just kicked off : the construction of the World Cup Bridge (월드컵대교) on the Hangang, between Mapo-gu (North) and Yeongdeungpo-gu (South), and between Seongsan Bridge (East) and Gayang Bridge (West).

This 30.7 x 1,980 m shoot will prolong Jeungsanno, a road that cut between World Cup Stadium and World Cup Park, so now you get an idea where the name of the bridge comes from.

The name of Jeungsanno comes from its mountain of origin : Jeungsan, in Jeungsan-dong, Eunpyeong-gu (it continues even further Northwards as Yeonseono). The road follows a stream, Bulgwancheon, and Subway Line 6 until Susaek Station, now the new Digital Media City. A few hectometers were added when the stadium and parc were built, but Jeungsanno stopped right in front of the Han river, waiting for a bridge to come : a big diving board hovering over the main entrance to Seoul from Incheon Airport (Gangbyeonbukno highway), and Nanji-Jigu riverside park.

On the other side, World Cup Bridge will land in Yeongdeungpo-gu in Yanghwa-dong, with a branch stretching Eastwards to Yangpyeong-dong, where traffic will merge with that from Seongsan Bridge on the way to the Seobu / Western Expressway (서부간선도로). Another branch will go Eastwards, cross Anyangcheon, and reach Gangseo-gu at Yeomchang-dong, where it will join another major axis : the road to Gimpo Airport, Gonghangno ("airport road").

If you're lost with all those gus, dongs, and cheons, the big picture :
- the World Cup Bridge will be delivered in 2015, and cost KRW 334.5 bn
- a lot of traffic will be diverted from Seongsan Bridge, easing the way from Gimpo and Incheon to the World Cup Stadium, DMC, and Eunpyeong.
- more asphalt loops and noodles ? you betcha. Cars still rule, but this new bridge does include bike lanes.


Seoul Village 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

"Global cluster building" in Seorin-dong

Seoul Metropolitan Government provided more details about their ambitious "Global Cluster Building" :

- WHAT ? The "one-stop services for Seoul expats" concept becomes brick and mortar. Imagine a 14 story (+ 5 basements) building, and under the same roof : the
Seoul Global Center and its vast array of services, the Seoul Immigration Service, a few foreign Chambers of Commerce, a medical center, a cultural area... you name it*.

- WHEN ? work will start early 2011 for an inauguration planned in June 2012.

- WHERE ? Seorin-dong, Jongno-gu, next to Yeongpoong Building, and just meters away from Jonggak Station (Subway Line 1, exit #6). From this new location (right now, a 1,070 square-meter parking lot on Jongro), the Seoul Global Center will be less than 100 m away from the Korea National Tourism Association as the crow flies - humans will simply cross Cheonggyecheon at the small bridge of Gwanggyo. Note that nowadays, the trip from Taepyeongno (SGC headquarters) isn't that long either (hardly 300 m). On Cheonggyecheon and at the crossroads between Tapgol Park, Insadong, Gyeongbokgung, City hall and Deoksugung, the SGC is bound to welcome even more visitors.

While they were at it, SMG also delivered updates about their other brick and mortar projects for foreigners : following the DMC Ville (175 households in Sangam-dong, Mapo-gu), Seoul will operate a second residence for foreigners in Seocho-gu (178 households, inauguration November or December 2010).

Seoul keeps upgrading its hardware and software for foreign visitors and residents at an impressive pace.

Seoul Village 2010

* come to think of it, you probably will be invited to actually give it a name (just like for the
new Coex global business center) : 'Global Cluster Building' is only a tentative name.

Seoul Plaza Hotel joins the renovation frenzy

From May 3rd, the Seoul Plaza Hotel will be closed for renovations. It should reopen 6 month later, about 10 days before the G20 Summit (November 2010). Will remain open for business during the renovation : the Grand Ballroom banquet and wedding facilities, the spa and fitness, and the hotel's restaurants with a direct access from the outside.

The 34 year old hotel will change its white dress for a metal-bronze look, and a new positioning as a "European boutique hotel". The number of guest rooms will be cut from 445 down to 400 to accomodate more suites. The Westin Chosun and Hotel Shilla have also been recently improved, but this one moves after the downturn, a clear sign of optimism from hospitality businesses in Korea. Tourism and logistics infrastructures are among the sectors where Foreign Direct Investment is booming, and Seoul keeps gaining momentum as a major touristic as well as business / convention destination.

On the other side of Seoul Plaza, another landmark is undergoing a total relooking : the new Seoul City Hall just completed its basement levels, so the big wave should start bulging anytime soon*. Meanwhile, you can visit the small exhibition about that major (indeed) project, including images from the propositions that were turned down**.

While I'm at it : Sejongno and Taepyeongno will soon be called "Sejongdaero" or Sejong Avenue. I guess it doesn't change anything as far as the "dongs" are concerned but for the road itself, it means one single name between Gwanghwamun and Sungnyemun, and its confirmation as the spine of downtown Seoul.


Seoul Village 2010

* I can't help but see a tsunami there (see "
Business for the Environment Global Summit 2010 in Seoul")
** Today, the square was not really festive, hosting a ceremony to mourn Cheonan victims

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rodin Retrospective in Seoul

When you visit Musee Rodin in Paris, the building and gardens are part of the experience, and sculptures look even more alive under natural light.

For this Rodin Retrospective in partnership with Musee Rodin, I don't know if SeMA exhibition rooms will let the sunlight play a role (they usually don't), but a walk in the area is always a pleasure, particularly in this season.

And anyway, the collections do cast an interesting light on Auguste Rodin's work, with studies of such monumental works as the Gates of Hell, the Bourgeois de Calais, or Balzac's portrait. Camille Claudel is also invited, along with dancers, the kiss, and the Hand of God :



Furthermore, you can also visit after dark :

* Rodin Retrospective
April 30 - August 22, 2010
SeMA / Seoul Museum of Art (Seosomun branch - Jung-gu)
Closed on Mondays - 10h-20h on Sundays and Holidays - 10-21h Tue-Sat
Tel +82-1577-8968 - website:
rodinseoul.com


Seoul Village 2010

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

ICN Volcano Resort

Already regularly praised as a world leading airport for its quality of service, Incheon Airport coped remarkably well with traffic disruptions due to the icelandic volcano.

With the help of seven embassies, it took great care of 250 European passengers who couldn't travel back home : free food and beverage coupons, entertainment, comprehensive healthcare, and even massages... our Robinsons could definitely have landed in a less welcoming island, and many were moved by the effort, particularly after watching news of the madness reigning in all airports worldwide.

No airport could be held responsible for what happened, but this one surely acted responsibly.

And wisely : it probably gained 250 new embassadors, who will share their very positive opinion on Korean hospitality whenever they experience discomfort on the go.

Seoul Village 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The people, the Republic of Korea, and pictures - What's in an exhibition ?

These days, photo exhibitions in Seoul have a knack for turning into political statements : recently, we've seen an utterly conservative presentation of Korean War* in Seoul, and now here is a very progressive exhibition about Korea's most recent history (2008-2010). To me, both exhibitions were worth visiting because each one featured interesting pictures, and because together they told a hell of a lot about nowadays rift in Korean national politics.

One could almost mention asymmetric warfare, with a conservative version in Cheonggyecheon based on words and a "top-down" approach, and a progressive version at the Press Center based on images and a "bottom-up" approach.

In Cheonggyecheon, there was a sharp contrast between non-controversial archives and strong political statements, and some comments from the conservative think tank were so extreme or off-key that they made the whole exhibition sound as biased as North Korean propaganda, or as suspicious as Japanese revisionist textbooks (precisely the "models" those ultra-conservatives like to denounce).

No such contrast at the Press Center, where pictures spoke for themselves, their titles simply completing them, sometimes with dark humor (see below). Here, History is in the making : professional and amateur photographers tell the story of the most delicate moments in LEE Myung-bak's presidency. So it rather felt like watching the news from the opposition's point of view : mass demonstrations / candlelight vigils, ROH Moo-hyun's funerals, Ssangyong strike, the four-river project, the MBC / PD Diary controversy, and even the destruction of Sungnyemun... . Here too, the camera is not lying, but the focus is clearly on one side of the coin.

This exhibition is organized by the National Union of Media Workers (NUMW) under a resolutely "grassroots" angle : the people of Korea is telling the story, exposing what's wrong in the country, taking the camera almost as an act of resistance, and shooting, even if images can hurt. The title could tell it all if it were translated into English as "People, shoot the Republic of Korea"... but no translation is provided, and such a confusion around "shooting pictures / shooting bullets" would be impossible in Korean. A fair translation of "국민, 대한민국을 찍다" could be "People, take a picture of the Republic of Korea", or maybe "Take a picture of the people and Republic of Korea". Nothing dramatic... at that level at least (this is by no means the portrait of a civil war, but there are more than a few fights and tragedies).

Regardless of the political message, a few pictures were really great. Special mention to two photographers who stood out from the crowd :
- Lee Myeong-Ik for his artistic note : an amazing choregraphy on the roof of Ssangyong factory (also : a quasi Georges de La Tour corner picture of a demonstrator probably writing a sign with the light of his candle).
- Park Jung-sik (Hankyoreh) for his humor : an adjuma asleep in front of a TV broadcasting a speech of LEE Myung-bak. The title ? "국민과의 대화" or "Dialog with citizens"....

"국민, 대한민국을 찍다"
("People, take a picture of the Republic of Korea" - 20100416-20100421)
Press Center 1F, 25 Taepyeongno-1-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, ROK

This exhibition runs only until April 21st so be quick. And if you're tired of politics (frankly, I kind of am), wait until April 27th and a very promising photo exhibition of the streets of Seoul at the Seoul Museum of History, from my favorite Seoul photographer : KIM Gi-chan.


Seoul Village 2010

* see "Korean War : a photo exhibition at Cheonggyecheon"

---

UPDATED 20100520

link to the KIM Gi-chan exhibition, definitely a must.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Otto Dix in Seoul

Etching is about torturing metal, generally with acid or a blade, to create an image. With Otto Dix, the process starts in the artist's brain and ends up in yours.

Dix survived hell : "Der Krieg", WWI, the trenches, and the aftermath - the Weimarian madness that followed. His two series of haunted and haunting etchings contrast with the minimalist halls designed by Rem Koolhaas : death, decay, the nightmarish charge of Stormtroopers wearing gas masks, fake love for sale, the absurd freak show of veterans, either powerless (like this blind man who lost all arms and legs, surrounded by legs... including the one lifted by a dog as it passes by), or allzu machtlich ('Lustmord' as the ultimate PSTD ?)...

There's humor under the knife and the acid - the only way to escape total madness. But compared to this, even Max Beckmann looks like a Disney cartoon.

OTTO DIX - Critical graphics (1920-1924), War (1924) / 오토 딕스 - 비판적 그래픽, 전쟁
20100401-0530
F3, SNU MoA (Seoul National University Museum Museum of Art), Seoul National Uiversity, Gwanak-gu, Seoul, Korea

Seoul Village 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Seoul city center in Namsan ? Heresy !!!

Seoul City plans to erect a monument at its precise geographical center, located by GPS two years ago at the feet of the Namsan Tower (N Tower) :



Why not indeed ? Provided the monument doesn't destroy too much wilderness in an area already plagued by the said tower... and provided it only celebrates the geographical center and nothing more. It doesn't take a GPS (nor even to fold a map) to know Yongsan lies at the center of modern Seoul.

Let me be clear : locating THE REAL CENTER of Seoul anywhere outside of the Sadaemun (Four Gates) area would be a monstruous heresy.

Picking Gwanghwamun itself would make infinitely more sense, and respect the origins of the capital city : the gate to the royal palace somehow symbolizes the starting point for Hanyang, which would later become Seoul.

The only rival I could accept would be City Hall : it's also a political center, but furthermore a symbol of democracy... and still within the Sadaemun limits, an absolute must for such a powerful symbol.

Last nail in the coffin of this new Namsan candidate : there's already one ugly monument to mark Seoul city center : Dorowonpyo (도로원표) signals the starting point to measure distances to other major Korean cities, very much like Notre Dame's "parvis" in Paris*.

Dorowonpyo lies on the tiny triangle of concrete next to Koreana Hotel, on Taepyeongno (see
Seoul Village map). Between Gwanghwamun and City Hall (respectively 800 m and 400 m away), just opposite Cheonggyecheon, the river that cut Hanyang, the old Seoul**, and almost at what is undisputedly Seoul's most central crossroads : Sejongno Sageori.

But Dorowonpyo is also questionable : the location was chosen 94 years ago by Japanese colons ! Retrospectively, we're lucky they didn't select the exact location of Gwanghwamun itself : the occupants destroyed the gate to build their own headquarters, so beyond the historical starting point of Seoul, Dorowonpyo would also celebrate the Japanese Government-General Building !

So I guess I can tolerate a small plaque to signal the GPS center of XXIst century Seoul in Yongsan.

Seoul Village 2010

* sans le ugly monument, of course : a simple plaque does it. BTW : I was born in Paris and I understand the historical value of the symbol, but a religious reference like Notre Dame de Paris doesn't seem fit for a secular republic.

** I often joke about Gangnam not belonging to Seoul : and use, "Gangnam", South of the (Han) river, for "Gangcheon", South of the (Cheonggye) stream ! Apgujeong ? A Bundang suburb, I tellya ! Of course, I don't mean it totally : there are so many parts of Seoul I like South of Hangang.

-----

UPDATE 201005

This article on Seoul Metropolitan Government's website : "
Namsan, geographic center of Seoul". I'm particularly scared by the expression "part of the city's beautification project for the mountain". Administrations have a knack for "beautificating" Seoul mountains.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

FixMyStreet, will you ?

The Fix My Street concept was born in the UK under the mySociety umbrella : volunteer citizens write to their MPs, report problems, and sometimes fix them.

Seoul citizens launched a Korean version of the website : people signal a pothole or a broken sign, and generally within days it's fixed. The concept is very nice and may prevent broken ankles, but there's no guarantee that the result will look good... even if street repairs performed by local administrations don't always look good either.

Something FixMyStreet Korea did really well is their website* and brand : Igeoba ("이거바") stands for Igeorireul bagguja" ("이거리를 바꾸자" - let's change this street) and sounds like Igeobwa ("이거봐"), which means "look !" or "look at this !"

Take this case in 3677 Geumgwang-dong, Jungwon-gu, Seongnam : the picture of a big pothole in the middle of the street, with the map to locate it, were posted on April 8...



And the next day, it's covered (see exhibit B). You can almost wonder if the guy who did it was the very person who posted the case in the first place, or better : the owner of the real estate agency advertised on both pictures...

Personally, I wouldn't encourage this kind of initiatives, except maybe in forsaken places where local authorities say they cannot afford public work. But in any case, it should be done with their approval.

In Seoul, where citizens can easily make themselves heard, there are already hundred ways of contributing to cityscape improvement at the individual level. The positive thing is citizens are more and more taking to heart their environment, and are ready to volunteer for it.

Seoul Village 2010

*
FixMyStreet.kr definitely beats the original (FixMyStreet.com by mysociety.org).

OH Se-hoon launches the "Seoul Human Town" concept

The campaign for Seoul City Hall is definitely on : Mayor OH Se-hoon just revealed his latest urban concept, which at the same time synthetizes earlier proposals into one marketable package... and doesn't leave much room for rival HAN Myeong-sook to position herself*.

Full disclosure here : I don't know much about the programs of other candidates, but I strongly support OH for a second term. Even if he did a few mistakes during his first mandate, he literally saved Seoul from itself, limiting the impact of speculation at the most crucial moment, initiating key projects, and most importantly, proposing an ambitious yet sustainable long term vision for the capital. He is by far the best mayor I've had over my 20 years in Seoul, and I'm anxious to see him push even harder in the years to come.

His predecessor LEE Myung-bak did accomplish very important programs, and beyond his much advertised projects of Cheonggyecheon and Seoul Forest, I praise the way he revolutionized public transit by creating dedicated bus lanes. But "Bulldozer" also fueled speculation to the point not one single part of the city was spared (always a weak spot for his base of haves and have mores).

With his "Seoul Human Town" ("서울휴먼타운") concept, OH Se-hoon is precisely proposing an alternative to Seoul's tragic base case scenario : instead of letting a whole neighborhood grow old and derelict until it's ripe for redevelopment, then destroy everything, and finally plant a big "apateu" block, the idea is to improve a neighborhood, make it a better place for everyone, with a special care for young couples and silver heads... core targets in OH's 2010 campaign**.

Beyond politics, "Seoul Human Town" does seem a smart and simple solution to improve quality of life in many residential areas which have grown into congested zones packed with low-rise houses and "villas" (of course, not even one hanok to salvage). Don't expect any tree in those narrow and dark streets. People don't stay out at night - not necessarily because they feel insecure, but because there's no point walking there, nowhere to sit. When I visit this kind of neighborhoods I often have this confused feeling of hopelessness. This isn't the poor, shanty, dickensian Seoul, but if there's life, it's contained behind closed doors and windows. Typically, there's no business, except maybe for one miserable laundry shop. Small groceries are disappearing one by one, and the last survivors expose a few bottles, toilet paper rolls, or ramyeon packs on depressingly dusty shelves...

OK I guess you get the point : something definitely has to be done. And something better than the all too successful "apateu" concept, which generally doesn't score much higher on the "human" scale.

"Seoul Human Town" intends to combine the best of both worlds :
- from apartment blocks : joint management, economies of scale, maintenance, security, parking space, (some) green areas, a playground, consistence and sustainability
- from your friendly neighborhood : low-rise architecture, the human touch, the sense of belonging, the memory, the soul, the identity of Seoul villages.
- bonus : community services, senior and daycare centers. Ultimately, many parts of the city shall enjoy facilities more adapted to their population densities, but previously unaffordable.

The system also aims at preventing Seoul from becoming a hi-rise-only nightmare : after decades of redevelopment, low-rise still cover 20% of the land but 56% of households already live in apartment complexes.

Nice fairytale, uh ? But we're not talking about turning pumpkins into coaches with a magic wand : just helping people like their own neighborhood. Don't imagine a complete renovation, more a rehabilitation of the environment : the idea is to let the area breathe, to get rid of one building here and there, to convert another one into a community center, to make room for pavements and plants, to add lights and CCTVs, to bury those cable / electricity snake nests hanging up between buildings... Here were the two before / after examples exhibited earlier today*** :



Some will flinch at the CCTVs and the watchman (other imports from apartment complexes), but the watchman is first of all a human being, a part of the community, who helps visitors as well as residents.

That's the "Type 2" model of Seoul Human Towns, designed for single-family housing areas. More comprehensive redevelopments are planned for multi-family housing areas, in the 100,000 square meter range (Type 1), but that one is not a really new concept, and it rather looks like a "mini-new town" with low-rise buildings :



"Seoul Human Town" will first be implemented for 300 families in 3 pilot neighborhoods : Seongbuk-dong (Seongbuk-gu), Insu-dong (Gangbuk-gu), and Amsa-dong (Gangdong-gu), respectively 45,781, 43,475, and 31,043 sqm. Other sites : around 239-1 Yeonnam-dong and 93-104 Sangsu-dong (both in Mapo-gu), and around 38-148 Yongmun-dong in Yongsan-gu.

Back to "Type 2" then. Can it fly ? And how about the money ?

Seoul city will provide support at the organizational and financial levels : it's also a way or allocating existing ressources a more efficient way. Authorities won't force people to move or abandon their houses if they don't want to, but they will coerce developpers into reserving, inside each new complex, a few apartments for those who accept expropriation. It can work, but the whole system is based on concertation and most owners are hooked on the usual redevelopment dream, so a lot of patience and pedagogy will be needed.

Hopefully, OH Se-hoon already paved the way by implementing a clear framework for renovations, remodelings, and redevelopments : if most initiatives remain private, the city is now involved from the earliest stage, and many safeguards have been created to fight against rampant embezzlement and corruption.

Anyway it's worth trying. There will be deceptions, but also new ideas that will benefit the whole community. And at the end of the day, more Seoulites will learn to associate urbanism with common sense.
Seoul Village 2010

* see "
the mayoral race is on"
** Seoul Mayor focuses his attention on key moments in life which, to say the least, are not being well tackled in Korea, such as having kids and raising them, or growing older : typically, the country lacks infrastructures to sit babies for working couples, its education system has grown into an unfair and prohibitive monster, and its aging population can't always enjoy a full life after retirement.
*** "
서울시, 신개념 저층주거지 ‘서울휴먼타운’ 조성"

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spectacular extensions of Seoul Subway Lines 4-5-6-7 ?

Seoul, Incheon, and Gyeonggi-do signed series of agreements to pursue the dream of a common "Gyeongin Megacity" : together, they already claim 25 million citizens and a considerable portion of Korean economy, but they are eager for more. More visitors, more businesses, and more infrastructures.

Rapid transit solutions, such as underground driveways and the GTX / Great Train eXpress, are under way to make most parts of the megacity accessible within one hour. Korea's first train line already linked Incheon (then Jemulpo) with Seoul* : Gyeongin Line (경인선) was built in 1899.

The extension of Seoul subway beyond city limits is another major project. Of course, all regional networks are already connected, but lines 4 to 7 would grow considerably :

. Line 4 : 17 km extension from Dangogae to Jinjeop-eup, a major New Town in Namyangju - note that Dangogae itself is to become the center of Sanggye New Town. As planned, the subway car depot shall move from Sanggye-dong, along with the Dobong Driving Center, giving way for the long expected establishment of Nowon Station area as Seoul's Northeastern hub (see 2006 focus on Nowon-gu). To me, this project will fly because all parties, and particularly Nowon-gu and Namyangju, are dying to see it happen.

. Line 5 : 11 km extension from Sangil-dong to Hasangok-dong in Hanam. That's beyond Circular Highway 100 at the Hanam InterChange with Highway 35, which also leads to Paldang Bridge (consistent with the recent extension of Hangang bike road). I guess this line would follow road 43, a densily populated axis. To me, all this depends on the merger project** between Hanam, Seongnam, and Gwangju. Hanam cruelly lacks a subway line, but decisions could take time.

. Line 6 : 6 km extension from Sinnae to Donong-dong in Namyangju, another New Town (Buyeong e-Dreamtown). And that's also beyond Highway 100, at Guri InterChange. This one could also fly, but there's already the Jungang Line (train), and the express train to Chuncheon will soon be inaugurated. I would rather recommend a vertical line across Guri and Namyangju, for instance from Sinnae to Uijeongbu, parallel to Circular 100.

. Line 7 : 33 km extension from Jangam to Pocheon, up North. Line 7 was already a quite long one (it almost reaches Bucheon), but this would open new horizons for Northeastern Gyeonggi-do and beyond. Clearly, the region wants to put this area on the map, to correct geographic imbalances in economic development... but who would support the investment ?

Stay tuned until the next announcements.

Anyway, I'm not keeping track of all new subway projects : that would be a full time job.

Seoul Village 2010

* actually at the beginning Noryangjin (thus the fish market), which back then didn't belong to Seoul but Siheung
** see "Gwangju completes Seongnam-Hanam merger"

Sunday, April 11, 2010

May 2010 edition of Hi Seoul Festival cancelled - the mayoral race is on

Mayor OH Se-hoon decided to cancel the upcoming festival as a mark of respect for the victims of the Cheonan tragedy (the Korean Navy ship presumably sunk by a North Korean device late last month).

The incumbent is also preparing his campaign for reelection. His main rival ? HAN Myeong-sook. Just cleared of bribery charges, Korea's first woman Prime Minister (2006-2007) immediately visited the tomb of the late Roh Moo-hyun.

The messages are clear :
- Han claims the Roh heritage and positions herself as the national opposition leader,
- instead of campaigning the traditional, festive way, Oh focuses on his job and credentials : Seoul ranks now 12th among world capitals compared to 27th when he took office back in 2006... and 5th, his next target.

The experienced stateswoman vs the rising star, some may try to sell it as a Clinton-Obama remake but it should be much more mundane.

Regional elections (mayoral for Seoul Teukbyeolsi) day is June 2.


Seoul Village 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

"Unguarded Moment" - Steve McCurry in Seoul

Of course, there's the haunting green stare of that "Afghan girl" on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic (identified as Sharbat Gula in a 2002 sequel), and that old man saving his sewing machine from the flood, not to mention those flamingo fishermen... but American photographer Steve McCurry caught much more "Unguarded Moments" for the visitors to this exhibition at Sejong Cultural Center, clustered around 5 thematics : Place (as usual, Asia), Meaning (mostly portraits), Art, Immanent Power (more uplifting), and Composition (generally groups).



"Unguarded Moments" - Steve McCurry
Sejong Cultural Center, Main Exhibition Hall - 81-3 Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul, ROK
Dates: 2010/04/08-05/30
Tel: +82.2.3412.1700 (via MaxTicket.com : 1544-0113)

Seoul Village 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ssamzie-gil without Ssamzie ?

Ssamzie has been declared bankrupt. Insadong fans know more the fashion company for its Ssamzie-gil, a concept so successful a MOU was signed with Songdo promoters to open another one in the Canal Walk section of the project.

I don't think Ssamzie-gil will close, but there might be more change in the editorial line - Ssamzie already lost some of the talents it sourced.

Seoul Village 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010

Red carpet for the World Cup

Seoul is bracing for the 2010 FIFA World Cup with Seoul Plaza as the usual main gathering ground, and Cheonggyecheon Square a pleasant and potentially more refreshing sidekick.

For those who were in Seoul back in 2002, it probably won't feel like the first time (how could it ?), but it should be quite something. So check your calendars for the Group B games (NB: kick-off time in South Africa) :
June 12 (13h30) : Korea - Greece
June 17 (13h30) : Argentina - Korea
June 22 (20h30) : Nigeria - Korea

If Korea beats Greece in its first game, expect a very hot night on June 22. But the attraction will also come from Group G, and I'm sure Seoulites will also closely follow the Chollima, North Korea's national team :
June 15 (20h30) : Brazil - DPRK
June 21 (13h30) : Portugal - DPRK
June 25 (16h00) : DPRK - Cote d'Ivoire

I don't think both Koreas will meet this year : that would be in the semi-finals, and mean both teams survived particularly lethal groups... No can do ?

Seoul Village 2010

UPDATE 20100609 : "Be the Reds, but not too red ?"

Sunday, April 4, 2010

2012 : zero trans fat

Headed by Prime Minister Chung Un-chan, Korea's food safety policy committee recently decided to ban trans fat from all processed foods by 2012. 93% of such products are already exempt in a country where the labelling system provides good transparency on this issue, except maybe for a few indirectly imported goods.

Korea is ahead of most Asian countries (not to mention places like France) in the worldwide crusade against trans fats, a source of with many health hazards, most notably coronary heart disease.

Note that Korea has also made noticeable progresses in other fields, cutting down for instance the level of salt in instant noodles or stews. Improving standards for processed foods is a necessity : you wouldn't find anything beyond ramyeon two decades ago and now, an incredible variety of dishes is available, and all major retailers keep launching new products every month to follow societal trends.

The most spectacular innovations in merchandizing can be seen in SSMs / Super-SuperMarkets : led by hypermarket leaders (E-Mart Everyday, HomePlus Express...), this booming segment of distribution that all but killed small retailers developed large sections obviously targeting urban singles and DINKs who can afford diverse and complex meals, but not the time to cook them.

Over the past two decades, Korea experienced a change that took twice as much time in Western Europe, and it spectacularly impacted the morphology of people on the street : back then, you would hardly see an overweight person or someone taller than 1.8 m. The backlash is also happening more quickly : the traditionally balanced diet is being reconsidered as not so corny and speaking of cereals, even the dreaded rice-barley mix of yore, imposed in times of shortages, is back with a vengeance... also in the instant rice version.

Seoul Village 2010

Friday, April 2, 2010

u-Shelters : smart bus stops in Seoul

Seoul city is considering extending the concept of bus stops it tested in four stations between Jongno-1-ga and Jongno-4-ga*.

Dubbed u-Shelter (always that "ubiquitous" fad, as if shelters could move), the new station has sensors, a screen, a camera, and wireless connectivity :



So while waiting, you can enjoy weather / air quality** / traffic news and forecasts, as well as local-based contents and services :



The city seems fond of a technology also implemented on Cheonggyecheon Square : thanks to a webcam, visitors can take their own pictures and e-mail them across the world.

Another concept has been implemented in front of the old Seoul Station (still under renovation) : the glass walls protecting the station are used as screens displaying animations and weather infos.

Seoul Village 2010

* "
Smart bus stops in Seoul"

** see also "Clean air @ Seoul"

Sajik-dan enshrined, Naeja-dong revived ?

Scaffolding off, Sajik Park exposes its newly restored wall : the traditional stone, wood, and tile construction protects Sajik-dan more efficiently and elegantly than the awful iron fence that used to welcome visitors to that prestigious shrine, the pendant to Jongmyo West of Gyeongbokgung*.

Now Hongsalmun looks again like a gate and not just an isolated monument. And the rites performed in Sajik-dan move closer to their recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage.

This restoration also paves the way for the great Jongno-gu project to redesign the historic Yulgokno-Sajikno axis. I guess it will include traffic lights with pedestrian crossings somewhere between Medong-gil / Pilundae-gil and Naejadong-gil, as well as (speaking of paving the way) decent sidewalks on both sides of Sajikno along Naeja-dong : removing the overpass was a nice first step, but you get tired of potholes.

The Southern half of Naeja-dong is about to change too, and I hope for the better. A first meeting was held last month between residents and local authorities, generally the initial stage for redevelopment, but new regulations also confirmed the protection of hanoks and this area has quite a few to save. The Western part is occupied by the massive headquarters of Seoul Metropolitan Police and at the other end there's a big officetel (Blois), a church, and a collection of medium-sized buildings. In between, an intricate network of small streets full of hanoks, most of them restaurants, marked by Jangchunggo-gil : the only street cutting fully the block between Sajikno and Naejadong-gil is slightly curvy and hilly, and most houses on the Eastern side are traditional ones, which gives it an interesting charm and potential. I often wonder how it would look if both sides were "rehanokized". It would not only save the existing cluster, but also create a very interesting touristic and gastronomic spot opposite Chebu-dong and on the way to Sajik-dan or Sungok Art Museum.

Furthermore, it would also make sense from an historical point of view : this is precisely the place where all the catering was prepared for festivities at the Gyeonbokgung, between the palace and the shrine celebrating harvests and food.


Seoul Village 2010

* "Inwangsan's Great Wall and Seoul's Royal "T" Time". We already mentioned the restoration of this wall (see "The Sandwich").

see other Seochon related posts, including "Baekundongcheon / Gwanghwamun-gil - A River Runs Through It"

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