Thursday, March 31, 2011

Peanut houses and 2-in-1 apartments

More significant trends in the ever changing Korean property market : new alternatives for those who are tired of the "apateu" system but can't afford a town house.

The peanut house is a two storey building with one module for each floor and a common "skin" around. Each household is independent but only one can enjoy the garden at its own level. Beyond the marketing gimmick, the business model seems more interesting than the building itself : it's some sort of a house pool where two households team up, each one bringing the sum equivalent to a 30ish pyeong apartment. They purchase cheap land together and build together an optimized peanut house. For the same price, they can build something bigger and closer to the town house experience. Usually, houses are split later in the process, for instance to get revenues from a rent, or as a spin off to accomodate a newlywed kid.

2-in-1 apartments are designed from the beginning so that the owner can split them in two or reunite them whenever he sees fit. Legally, there's only one owner all the time. Many luxury flats have already two sections, with private quarters for parents in general, but only one kitchen. Here there are two potentially self-sustaining parts (generally a studio on one side and two bedrooms on the other), two entrances, and a plan to complete the separation wall. Perfect for parents who want to offer their kid a relative independence at a cheap cost, as a transition before he can afford his own place. Or for a widower who wants to keep a studio for him or herself, and leave the rest to his child's family. Or for a young couple : instead of moving to a bigger place three years later, why not purchase from the start a home for four people, split the studio for rental (you can then subscribe for a bigger loan), and claim it back when you have a kid... and better revenues ?

What next ? Kangaroo houses ? 3-in-1 apartments ? Three for two bundles, one pack of detergent offered ?

Seoul Village 2011

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Gangnam rule bended

A couple of years ago in Seoul, two thirds of rich dwellings (over 10 eok or KRW 1 bn) were located in Gangnam-gu. This proportion has now fallen below one fourth.

The main reason is the multiplication of new high end apartment complexes in other districts, and the relative deflation of the Gangnam property bubble. So long for the sometimes insane Gangnam exception.

But many rich Gangnamians (Gangnamites ?) have also migrated to other places, with a revival of Gangbuk and historically wealthy neighborhoods like Yongsan. The town house dream is drawing legions back to traditional residential areas, sometimes through expensive redevelopments (ie Seongbuk Gate Hills in Seongbuk-dong, Hannam The Hill in Hannam-dong...), more often through progressive gentrification.

More hype restaurants and selective retailers are opening or planned North of the river, and it's striking to see the young Korean elite roam East Itaewon-dong on week ends - more schizophrenic than ever, the neighborhood remains an international hub in its Western half -, with a Northern Garosu-gil under way. The cultural revolution started a few years ago with the Leeum, but as far as actual culture is concerned, Jongno-gu remains the bourgeois boheme mecca (ie Samcheong-dong, Seochon).

Seoul Village 2011

Hanok New Town in Seongbuk-dong

Another sign of changing times : a Seongbuk Hanok Village project has been unveiled yesterday : 410 houses and 75,000 square meter in Seongbuk-dong, at the feet of Seoul fortress walls. Delivery expected in 2014, and a second batch of 250 traditional homes could follow in 2018.

One can definitely see a trend and a cultural shift. This somehow reminds me of KAL's luxury hanok-style hotel project in Anguk-dong (see "
Korean Air grounded: Seoul 7 star hotel delayed"). In this part of Seongbuk-2-dong, 92% of existing constructions have reached the required age for a reconstruction. They say that the hanok maeul would be the perfect crown around another national treasure, Simujang (만해한용운심우장), the House of "Manhae", the buddist monk and poet Han Yong-un (1879-1944).

But when you look closely, the project could mean the destruction of a few real hanoks. And to me, this sounds like a smart way of pushing development in a protected area. Of course, local tenants love the concept : all projects have been blocked for a decade, and given the recent craze for hanoks and town houses, they're sure to get a nice profit from this one. Particularly since the new hanoks are presented as "below 4 floor" buildings : I have the feeling that they won't be that traditional (old hanoks seldom had a second floor, except for a few luxury residences in Andong, or a late Joseon building in Deoksugung).

At least there's some progress : instead of the usual "villa / tombstone" dilemma, we're proposed yet another artificial hanok village. Of course, the alternative would be very expensive : removing ugly buildings and restoring the remaining old hanoks.

Times are changing in Seoul, but not that quickly.

Seoul Village 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

Public bike rental services bloom in Seoul and around

It's high time we had an update about Seoul's public bicycle rental program (see "Seoul Velib'", back in 2008) : it's definitely getting more serious and official, with a really "Velib'-like" look and feel, a website (bikeseoul.com), a mobile app, and 43 stations in operation.

The concept looks very much like the original one*, which was meant to allow as many citizens as possible to ride bikes across the city, even if they can't afford one :
- you pay a very cheap subscription for a day, a week, or a year (in Paris: respectively EUR 1, 5, and 29), but Seoul also proposes 1 month and 6 month solutions (respectively KRW 1,000, 3,000, 5,000, 15,000, and 30,000).
- you're not renting a specific bike, but you have an unlimited access to special bikes which you have to pick up and drop at any of the special stations within the program
- you're not charged anything if you use it less than 30 mn each time, but you pay at least KRW 1,000 per hour beyond that point
- if you need a bike for more than 30 mn and don't want to pay, you can make a stop or change bikes at any station to get another 30 mn free
- the 24/7/365 service is fully automated with online kiosks and seamless cards
- bonus: the bicycles are much smarter and lighter than in Paris (where theft and hooliganism are unfortunately more frequent, thus the bulky shapes and the absence of screen on the vehicles), and location based services will be available.

With this concept, coverage (number of stations across the city) and availability (number of places per station) are the key factors of success. Paris proposed a very aggressive scenario for Velib's inauguration in July 2007 : 750 stations and 7500 bikes for a 105 sq km city with 300 subway stations (and the 1,000th Velib' station was inaugurated by the end of that same year !).

But Seoul is six times bigger than Paris, and even if new bikes lanes are added at a very interesting pace**, neighboroods are much less seamlessly connected (high mountains, bike-unfriendly streets, Hangang much wider than the Seine river...) : one couldn't expect the same service from day one, and since 2007 I've been thinking over the Seoul case (which probably will be solved by the same company***).

I guess the best way to proceed would be step by step, starting with major bike hubs in different districts, and to progressively connect star-shaped islands / sub-networks.

Maybe that's the way Seoul sees it. With only 43 stations clustered around Sangam and Yeouido, this programm looks less like a full launch than a trial in two areas not too remote from each other, and not too far from the Hangang riversides, Seoul's biggest network of bicycle lanes.

Another clue is the quasi absence of branding for the operation : I cannot imagine Seoul Metropolitan Government zapping this essential element of the mix, or sticking to this dull, logoless "공공 자전거" ("gonggong jajeongeo" or "Seoul City Public Bicyle")...

... Or worse: recycling Haechi, already at work for everything bikish at the municipal level - see exhibit A, from the site
bike.seoul.go.kr (not to be confused with the aforementioned bikeseoul.com, or even seoulbike.com, a website for the seoul bicycle show / exhibition)...

I'm quite sure we'll see an acceleration by the end of this year, and maybe even a decent brand.

Meanwhile, you can already test the system, or other municipally sponsored bicycle rental programs in Korea, like NUBIJA in Changwon (
nubija.changwon.go.kr), or FIFTEEN in Goyang (very well advertized even on major highways with the "Let's FIFTEEN!" campaign, and an iPhone app).

Seoul Village 2011

* Paris Velib', or rather its model: Velo'V (in Lyons, also in France).
** now this is starting to look like a citywide network :
*** since JCDecaux (the world leader in bike sharing with Cyclocity) operates in both capitals, I presume the company is also behind this new project.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yangmiok (Seoul)

Looking for five star tripes ? Head for Yangmiok, maybe the best gopchang in town. Or maybe I should write "daechang" because their speciality, beyond lamb, is large intestine.

Not very glamorous I know, but as a French citizen in Seoul, I'm often longing for a perfectly grilled AAAAA andouillette, and grilled tripes are the best alternative to that. Back home I wasn't a great fan since we Frogs prefer our tripes wet and soaked in sauce (for instance a la mode de Caen)... not my cup of tea*. In Korea, charcoal grill is the main option and at Yangmiok's, you can have a beef-lamb combo and alternate between really greasy parts and drier ones, and they taste so delicious you don't realize your own stomach is full until you've surpassed its limits.

Not very poetic I now, but this is not about poetry, even if at this stage, one should consider gopchang as art.

As far as the veggie alibi goes, you've got a very nice tofu/herb banchan, salad, and a quite decent ugeoji (우거지) doenjang jjigae which you can sit on the grill to make it boil on charcoal.

And on a lighter note, you finish with the finest nurungji (누룽지) I ever tasted. That's the simple scorched rice in boiling water.


YANGMIOK (restaurant)
Uljiro branch: 161 Euljiro 3-ga, Jung-gu, SEOUL, KOREA
Tel +82.2.2275.8838
COEX branch: 153-55, Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu, SEOUL, KOREA
Tel +82.2.565.8836


Seoul Village 2011

* attn my English friends: that's a figure of speech - I wouldn't dare comparing your national beverage to such a vulgar dish.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Baek nyeon chueotang (Seoul)

"100 year chueotang" faces the Yeonhui Samgeori post office. If this restaurant looks minuscule from the outside, it's actually quite big and can seat many patrons on either low or high tables.

"Chueotang" (추어탕) is a popular mudfish soup with dried radish leaves or "siraegi" (시래기). If you're familiar with seashores in Korea, you've probably seen this "chueo", a grey bearded loach crawling on wet sand. The poor lad doesn't have a very exciting taste by itself, but it completely melts in a soup, so it's up to the rest of the ingredients to make this dish really special.

Here, I must seize the opportunity and praise siraegi, one my favorite Korean foods. You must try once siraegi bokkeumbap (시래기 볶음밥), provided it's properly seasoned and rich in garlic (I even had it once as a sandwich for a soccer game in Paris - to die for !). Drying leaves allows consumption even during the winter, when warm and earthy dishes are not often so green.

This restaurant's owners grow their own radishes and dry the leaves on the roof of their farm. Their soup tastes really good, but anyone can customize it by adding sea salt, garlic, hot pepper, wild sesame... Fresh gimchi and fried chueo complete a limited set of side dishes.

A very good address for chueotang lovers.

BAEK NYEON CHUEOTANG (restaurant)
133-1 Yeonhui-dong, Seodaemun-gu, SEOUL, ROK
Tel +82.2.332.8059

Seoul Village 2011

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Noodle road, from laghman to ramyeon

A couple of years ago, KBS aired a mouthwatering documentary : "Noodle Road", a travel across space, time, and culinary traditions (see trailer below).

In this acclaimed series, we saw how the Uyghurs created the World's first noodles. Nowadays, this Turkish ethnic people are more famous for being victim of oppression from the Chinese government**, but millenia ago, they invented this delicacy, which spread Eastwards but also Westwards, all the way to Sicily. The very name of Uyghur noodles, laghman, sounds like the origin of noodle names across Asia (for instance la mian, ramen, ramyeon).

I recently tasted
Uyghur food in Paris, and it's really unique. Even familiar dishes (ie samosa, lamb soup) have a very special flavor.

I hope Uyghur food will reach again Korean shores. A laghman booth at the next Seoul Friendship Fair ? A Uyghur restaurant someday in Dongdaemun Central Asian Village, who knows ?

Seoul Village 2011

* Noodle Road, the KBS trailer:



** the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is experiencing the same special treatment as Tibet.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Saint Patrick’s Festival Seoul

Hooleying, gaelic football, music, dance, beer, and a sea of green ? That's La Fheile Padraig, aka Saint Patrick Day, or the annual celebration of the patron saint of Ireland, every March 17.

The 11th Saint Patrick’s Festival in Seoul waited for today (March 19) because it's a Saturday, thousands of people will join, and the night can be long.

Kick off at 11:30 in Insadong - closing time 5 PM, but holleys will be held later at JR Bar for Itaewon and Dublin Terrace for Gangnam.

Check the schedule for Insadong and Gangnam on the Irish Association of Korea's website (
iak.co.kr) : http://www.iak.co.kr/event/event.php?vm=vie&idx=75.

Spraoi a bheith agat !

Seoul Village 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011

Shaken and stirred

I confess : the first time one of the Daiichi nuclear reactors coughed in Fukushima-ken, I selfishly checked which way winds were blowing over Japan and shamefully sighed with relief.

The Japanese built most of their nuclear facilities on their Eastern shores precisely because Earth rotations ensure dominant Western winds.

But the same can be said about Korea (except for Yeonggwang nuclear plant in Yeonggwang-gun, Jeollanam-do)... and China. So Koreans should more worry about Russian or Chinese nukes, not to mention their own.

By the way: even further afield Westwards, LEE Myung-bak is breaking ground today for the first Korean nuclear power plant in the United Arab Emirates.

Seoul Village 2011

ADDENDUM 20110321

Cesium 137 carried by the winds ? A governmental think tank confirmed yesterday, but that would be a recurrent issue with yellow dust winds from... China (told you so).
To follow official measurements in Korea, check IERnet (KINS info system) : iernet.kins.re.kr or daily updates on Daum or Naver.
The French authority regularly makes a few models for the dispersion of radioactive materials across the globe : irsn.fr

Friday, March 11, 2011

Saemangeum Gunsan Free Economic Zone (SGFEZ)

We've already mentioned Saemangeum*, the arch claimed over the sea between Gunsan / Buan-gun in Jeollabuk-do, and yet another New Town slash Dream Hub slash Ubiquitous City slash Well Being Greentopia slash Former Korean President Pet Project.

The Saemangeum Gunsan Free Economic Zone (SGFEZ) has beefed up its communication through its SGFEZ.com website, and an exhibition organized with ARU (London Met's Architecture Research Unit).

Here are the latest visuals :


Note how the number of zones on which they communicate decreased to 3, the only remaining verticals being "tourism" and "industrial" :

- There's more focus on the environment, and Gogunsan Islands become an asset, almost a brand :


- "Saemangeum Industrial Zone", next to Gunsan's "Gunjang National Industrial Complex" up North :


- "Saemangeum Tourism Zone", at the Southern end of the project :


Expect more changes ahead : infrastructures are supposed to be progressively rolled out until 2020, and the timeline stretches until 2040. Parsecs away for Korean urban planners... and in completely alternate universes for Korean politicians.

Seoul Village 2011

*"
Ari, Arirang, Ari, Ariul City"

Back from Menilmuche

I somewhat reconciled with my other hometown. I love Paris as much as Seoul, but its charms look sometimes too polished...

I guess all I needed was to ride a bike across the real Paris, off the usual tracks.

And I enjoyed the ride, even as I struggled on Menilmontant heights with my heavy Velib', shaking all over on unevenly paved alleyways. I felt home again, like I do when I enjoy an animated neighborhood in what's left of the real Seoul.

Cities have souls, not just one. Priceless urban and human assets. Seoul is starting to realize the value of some of its most magical spots, but just like Paris has a tendency to gentrify or 'boboize' them. A few manage to survive the right way : neither by turning into micromuseums where everybody seems to be conserved in formol, nor by turning into fakely cute but actually impersonal coffee shop / boutique tourist traps, but by evolving in more respectful and inclusive ways, where new entrants in the community make the ecosystem richer and more diverse.

Back to Seoul Villages now.

Seoul Village 2011

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