Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ad Nauseam: about Dark Tourism, the Blind Spots of Memory, and Free Thrashing Agreements

Yesterday, I survived my first shaky landing in 20 years of Korea and 10 years of Incheon International Airport, courtesy typhoon Bolaven.

We'd knowingly left Seoul's hell (29+ degrees, 90%+ humidity, heavy rain) for a paradise called Cambodia (35+ degrees, 92%+ humidity, pouring rain), prefering the country's rainy season to its touristic rush hour. And we were rewarded with a wonderful trip between Siem Reap - Angkor and Phnom Penh, enjoying the marvels of the Khmer civilizations, the kindness of the people, great culinar experiences, incredibly lively markets and villages....

I'll spare you the 1500+ pixes I took, except these 3 sad ones. It's very unfair for such a beautiful country, but I had to make a few points.

The first picture was taken in Choeung Ek, better known as the "Killing Fields" of Phnom Penh, one of the main sites where the infamous Khmer Rouge regime mass murdered between one and two million innocent citizens.



Many Choeung Ek victims passed by Security Prison 21 (S-21), the symbol of Pol Pot's torture system, and now Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Here too, the unbearable stare of thousands of victims. Worse, you meet pupils instead of empty sockets:



Visiting such sites is always an upsetting experience, even more now that dark tourism has become so pervasive, and often associated with schadenfreude if not voyeurism. But what to make of this? At the top floor of the S-21 museum, an exhibition about the "Cambodia-Okinawa 'Peace Museum' Cooperation Project" was putting at the same level the civilian victims of the battle of Okinawa and the victims of the Cambodian genocide:




Till the end, this visit of Tuol Sleng exposed the worst of human nature. Of course, I feel deep empathy for innocent victims, and between 40 and 150,000 Japanese civilians died during that battle. But exactly like in the touching "Grave of the fireflies" animation movie, the audience is never told the whole story, the responsibilities of the Imperial regime are never mentioned, it's just a sad story about the absurdity of war and destruction, about remembering only one side of history, about painting Japan as a pure victim of World War II.

Putting at the same level the Cambodian genocide and this tragedy, which happened during a battle that also saw about 120,000 soldiers die (mostly within Japanese ranks), is as shocking as putting at the same level victims of the Holocaust and the civilian victims of say WWII Berlin.

This outrageous propaganda is also an insult to the memory of Okinawa victims, who do owe their fate to the madness of war, but also and firstly to the fascist regime that led their country to war crimes and crimes against humanity across the region.

The Japanese who initiated and financed this tasteless 'Peace Project' are deliberately fueling the "selective memory" imposture that obliterates the inconvenient truths of this great nation's history. It took almost 30 years for Cambodians to start prosecuting their war criminals, but over 65 years after WWII, Japan is still eluding its most essential duties as a democracy. Worse: as late as in 1978, when up to 300 innocents were butchered every day in Choeung Ek, Japan decided to enshrine 14 more of its own war criminals in Yasukuni. Still today, ministers keep honoring these war criminals in public.

As if maintaining the Japanese people in ignorance regarding the darkest sides of the Empire wasn't enough, impostors are now purchasing ad space abroad in the name of a caricature of peace that negates history and its lessons. They are shamelessly piggybacking on the Pol Pot franchise, using foreign war criminals to cover up their own war criminals.

Again, I love Japan, but these impostors have to be exposed, and this great country cannot keep eluding its past if it wants to have a sound future. The same can be said about most countries, including mine*, and of course Korea, a country where a former dictator walks free (Chun Doo-hwan), and another is adulated**, a country where the government decided to stop its truth and reconciliation process because it was seeking too much truth and too much reconciliation.

Actually, while reading the "Peace Museum" propaganda in S-21, I was reminded of my visit to another jail where history was not told very fairly: in Seodaemun Prison, you learn a lot about the atrocities committed under the Japanese occupation, but nothing about who was jailed there for which reason in the decades that followed.

History is like a parking lot: crimes are more likely to rehappen wherever you forget to put light, and even more likely where you decide to do so.

There is no other way of defusing the rising tensions across Asia, and particularly between Japan, Korea, and China, three countries about to officialize their FTA (Free Thrashing Agreement). And I seize the opportunity to thank the Korea Herald for publishing my answer to the recent Herald Voice question "How can N.E. Asia improve relations?" (20120827):

"Expose the imposters: hate mongers who feed upon each other, pseudo-nationalists who actually undermine their own nations, people who demand justice abroad but deny it at home. How can Japanese extremists at the same time suggest the ICJ for Dokdo and elude justice for comfort women? How can Chinese extremists at the same time claim islands and distort the whole region’s history and geography? How can Korean extremists demand justice from Japan and deny justice to their own people by terminating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and revising dictatorship eras?"

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* among other French 'niceties' in Cambodia: the country used to be a French protectorate until 1953 (except between 1941 and 1945, when it was occupied by... Japan!), and Pol Pot received his ideological training in Paris.

** Park Chung-hee's regime has been repainted pink ever since his daughter entered the presidential race as "the best possible choice".

Sunday, August 12, 2012

100 years of Koreans in Japan



My "Korea-Japan" Friday was supposed to be quieter, highlighted by this visit to the Seoul Museum of History on the inaugural day of the exhibition about Koreans in Japan, and the bronze medal game between both countries at the Olympics.

Then the news came that President Lee would make a surprise visit to Dokdo, spoiling the mood to say the least*.

But nothing could ruin the first bearable day following the meanest heatwave in decades**, and I enjoyed the stroll along Gyeonghuigung-gil, with a quick hello to my old neighbor, the Korea Football Association building, dressed as usual for the event...



... and at the other end of the street, the museum and its old-map-of-Seoul-slash-fountain in full swing.



What I didn't expect was the massive crowd inside. Turns out I arrived right on time for an inauguration I suspected would have happened in the morning. There goes the ribbon, with the help of Dr KANG Hong-bin, the brilliant director of this museum, KANG Duk-sang, the curator of Tokyo's "History Museum of Japanese Koreans" (재일한인역사자료관) and an ethnic Korean himself, and CHUNG Jae-jeong, President of the Northeast Asian History Foundation:



There are two parts in this exhibition: a focus on the daily lives of Koreans and ethnic Koreans in the archipelago, and KANG Duk-sang's collection of nishiki-e prints. At the same time glorifying imperialism and fueling racism towards Koreans, these colorful pictures contributed, at the end of the XIXth century, to the official propaganda that paved the way for the colonization of Korea by Japan. There are even card games and board games. Textbook propaganda... and we're not even talking about textbooks!

Except for the exotic touch of the prints, I notice many similarities with colonialist materials from the same period in Europe. But the "other" doesn't look that different on the pictures. You do see a cartoon of a crying Korean tiger, but in this collection at least, not the equivalent to the outrageous racist caricatures that persisted late into the XXth century (more or less intentionally, like with Herge's highly controversial "Tintin au Congo", for instance).

The thing is that, like all humans but even more so, Korean and Japanese people are brothers. And it's hard to justify racist propaganda within the family. So the authorities resorted to techniques very similar to WWII antisemitic propaganda, for example a police briefing about how to tell "Joseon" people from "authentic" Japanese people. But with very few physical details - the hair, maybe? And a lot of behavioral traits, like the Confucian marks of respect to an elder citizen. And if you read between the lines, the same jealousy and self-hatred leaking from the racist speech. At one point, police officers are warned they may be tempted to believe Koreans look noble because of the way they walk. And there's the poem of a Japanese citizen, who doesn't understand why a policeman asks him to repeat a silly sentence, until he realizes that's a way of spotting a Korean accent.

I can say "Japanese citizen" because even now, Koreans and ethnic Koreans cannot get the Japanese nationality. Either they keep the Korean nationality, or they drop it for a special status that turns them into apatride oddities. The exhibition tells the story of generations going through daily discriminations and humiliations, even when they want to embrace Japan as their only country. When a brilliant person was exceptionally proposed to take the Japanese nationality in order to become a judge, and even if he had always dreamt of becoming a judge and of being recognized in the Japanese society, he had to refuse because it meant the very negation of his ideal of justice.




A few ethnic Koreans do succeed every now and then, and the compulsory fingerprinting is just a bit less humiliating than it used to be. And of course, in spite of the sick ping pong game between Fareastern hatemongers, the 1923 madness is not likely to happen anytime soon (following an earthquake, racist rumors accused Koreans of adding to the destruction, leading to the mass murder of 6,000 innocent "Joseon" in broad daylight).

But fundamentally, nothing changes, racism remains institutionalized, and this exhibition cannot identify any glimmer of hope for the future of hundreds of thousands of Koreans in a home that refuses to embrace them... at the official level at least: little progress would have been made without the contribution of responsible Japanese citizens, and I was happy to see a significant proportion of Japanese people among the visitors.

As you browse through these sad testimonies and lists of avoidable tragedies, as you try to overcome negative emotions - extremism feeds upon that feeling of helpless anger -, you can't help but think about the way today's Korea is sometimes dealing with its own growing population of foreigners, particularly migrant workers. Will Korean media help the audience appreciate the mirror effect? 

Once again: yes, Japan must apologize, yes, Japan must change, but Korea cannot at the same time ask for change and refuse to face and fix its own failures.

Seoul Museum of History
"100 years of Koreans in Japan"
55 Saemunan-ro (Sinmun-ro-2-ga), Jongno-gu, Seoul 110.062
Tel: Dasan 120
Website: museum.seoul.kr
(ADDENDUM 20120814: I forgot to mention the projection of movies related to the exhibition - fiction and documentaries, check the website for the program. that's only between Aug. 11 and Aug. 17)


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* see "Worst followers"

** up to 3108 degrees Celsius, the temperature at which smartphones get dumbstruck:


Censorship about censorship in South Korea?

When I opened the International Herald Tribune last Thursday, I made a bet with myself. I've waited until today Sunday and for the moment, I've won it.

The bet? "I'm pretty sure I won't see this article with the same title online, if the article ever makes it online".

The article's headline? "Tweet this! South Korea censors freedom". As you can see, it was Thursday's top headline:



This article mentions a few facts. For instance, that international observers sometimes put South Korea on par with countries like Russia because the government shows little tolerance for critics. I already mentioned the degradation of South Korea rankings in the Press Freedom Index (see "25 years later"). Nothing new under the sun.

But. This is not the kind of headlines that make a government happy. They prefer when major international media talk about Korea's successful olympics, or when they set themselves the political agenda. Say, for example, why not a last minute visit to Dokdo, eh? Done! And by a miraculous coincidence, precisely two days later (see "Worst followers").

One of the reasons why I made this bet with myself (even before the sad Dokdo episode) is that a couple of years ago, there was an interesting mutation of a NYT/IHT article between the web and the print editions, when "South Korea Admits Civilian Massacre During War" became "South Korean panel confirms full horror of civilian massacres" (see "Lost In Translation ?"). For the first time at the international level, this administration officially distanced itself from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission it was supposed to support. The termination of the institution in the months that followed was so messy that the man in charge of the dirty job eventually got fined (see "Truth and Reconciliation - Justice at last").

So as I write these lines, "Tweet this! South Korea censors freedom" has not yet made it to the IHT/NYT websites. Not even under a milder title. And if you search all the articles of the author CHOE Sang-hun, you get a list that covers the ones before, and the one that came later (I actually waited for that to happen to write this piece):


At the headline level at least, I'm sure Cheong Wa Dae approves the new editorial line: the previous articles were exposing the lavish lifestyle of the North Korean elite, and the latest one relates the visit of the Korean President to Dokdo.

Nevermind other truths, and forget about reconciliation.

--- UPDATE 20120816 ---

One week later, the article eventually made it online (link:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/13/world/asia/critics-see-south-korea-internet-curbs-as-censorship.html?_r=1).



Time (and articles) have passed since, and of course the title has changed, distanced itself from the accusations, and lost all its striking power: "Tweet this! South Korea censors freedom" became "Critics See South Korea Internet Curbs as Censorship" in the list of articles from the author, and "Korea Policing the Net. Twist? It's South Korea." in the article page itself. A twisted tweet indeed...



Do you think I still believe I won my bet? You betcha!

--- END OF UPDATE 20120816 ---


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Friday, August 10, 2012

Worst followers

As Korea is working on shifting from the "best follower" position to the "leader" seat, the country seems to take a step backwards with LEE Myung-bak's blitz visit of Dokdo, a first for a Cheong Wa Dae boss.


 
Cheongwadae's webpage this morning

The event comes as a convenient diversion for a ruling party struggling with embarrassing corruption cases that ruined recent rebranding effort* and compromised PARK Geun-hye's run for LEE's seat.

MB himself didn't need to boost his popularity, and he's not running for anything. But he has nothing to lose either. And thanks to this visit, the ultra conservative and ultra nationalist base somehow found a way of leveraging on the country's record harvest at the London Olympics. Picking the day of a major Japan-Korean game maximized the political impact, and Korea eventually claimed the bronze medal, as if boosted by the 'event'.

Of course, the Japanese retaliated by announcing visits of ministers to the utterly controversial Yasukuni Shrine, the traditional pledge of allegiance from a government to the local extreme right. For good measure, they'll even say hello to the remains of imperial war criminals on August 15, Korea's Liberation Day.

And of course, we cannot put both visits at the same level:
. Visits to Yasukuni are deliberately meant to honor the worst exactions of Japan's Imperial regime, and to please the extreme right minority that destroys Japan from the inside. "Takeshima" claims are also about keeping this fascist ideal alive (see "Save Dokdo = Save Japan").
. Dokdo is Korean territory and a visit by the President is fully legitimate. It is a strong signal to reaffirm independence and the end of colonization where it all started. Such a visit would make perfect sense following for instance skirmishes between both fleets at the vicinity of the island, to the condition that the President delivered a speech resolutely embracing peace and denouncing sterile hatemongering provocations from all sides, with a clear ambition to put all the venom away. But now, and this way?

I'm not criticizing the visit but the circumstances and the motives, apparently following a national(ist) agenda that shamelessly copies that of Japan's extreme right. If Mr LEE himself may not belong to the club, his government has multiplied suspicious decisions that, to say the least, have raised fundamental questions at home and abroad. Recently, it's as if Korea's extreme right pushed the whole right wing in a suicidal race, not AGAINST Japan's extreme right but IN TANDEM WITH they (and ultimately against the republican and democratic right wing). They really seem to be benchmarking this successful minority that even without public support manage to control Japanese governments to the point they cannot survive without pledging allegiance to them. Since they can't reach power democratically, they control the agenda through guerilla marketing operations with a maximum return on investment.

Again**, all extremists are impostors: the worst enemies of Japan's democracy are Japanese, the worst enemies of Korea's democracy are Korean, and both need each other to survive. That's why extreme right Japanese are very happy to see Korean partners ready to play with them (the more the merrier, the same is happening with China). Fundamentally, Korea's extreme right are jealous of their Japanese and Chinese counterpart, and the government doesn't seem to be doing anything to prevent them from getting bolder as elections loom.

Once more: both the Japanese people and the Korean people have the power and the duty to get rid of these enemies by exposing their impostures and by refusing the sick game of mutual hatred.

And once more, make no mistake: this is not about Japan vs Korea, but about Japan v. itself and about Korea v. itself. And if we're used to sepukku provocations from the archipelago, Korean extremists have recently** proved to be very apt pupils.


This year, in Korea, the real political debate should not be between right and left, but between on one side people from the right as well as from the left who defend the values of democracy and the republic, and on the other people who want to undermine the nation.

As planned, I visited Seoul Museum of History yesterday for the opening day of the exhibition about 100 years of Koreans in Japan (more about that later). I didn't expect such a massive turnout but I hope, and even believe, that LEE's visit had nothing to do with it. I was glad to see more than a few Japanese visitors. And sad to see how much remains to be done for these two peaceful nations to fully love each other.

And I really hope this visit won't make the pilgrimage compulsory for all Presidential hopefuls.

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* see "Saenuri, a brand "new" wor(l)d"

** I'm sincereley tired of listing each time all the posts related to these negative issues - please check the lists of posts and labels on this website.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Seochon's Dead Poets Society (YI Sang, YUN Dong-gu)

YI Sang (1910-1937) and YUN Dong-ju (1917-1945), two of the greatest Korean poets of the last century, died at an early age in Japan after being jailed for crime of opinion. They never lived in a free country: YI was born the very day the annexation treaty was concluded, YUN died a few months before the liberation. YUN did get involved in the independence movement but anyway, being a Korean poet was already a crime of opinion since under the Japanese occupation, Korean culture itself was illegal.

Both used to live in Seochon, west of the Gyeongbokgung. And like the rest of the neighborhood, their long forsaken places are now back in favor:

. YI's hanok was until recently split between two street shops, but it has been restored by the National Trust for Cultural Heritage and Arumjigi, and hosted the "Conversations with Yi Sang" event in spring last year. The address is 18 Jahamun-ro 7-gil (formerly Tongin-dong 154-10, Jongno-gu). A temporary street name if I ever saw one. I bet this strategic diagonal street will be renamed, but not after YI Sang. To me, this is Baekundongcheon-gil, after the main Cheonggyecheon tributary (supposedly) about to be restored*.

. YUN's house (actually the house of his classmate, a novelist) is now a nondescript 'villa' about halfway along Ogin-dong's main axis, at 57 Ogin-gil, formerly Nusang-dong 9, Jongno-gu. Ogin-gil connects Tongin Market and the not sorely missed Ogin Apartment, and that's probably the way YUN went up Inwang mountain for the walks that inspired him. He must have often followed the path towards Bugaksan (under which the Jahamun Tunnel was dug half a century later**), because the spot renamed "Hill of the Poet Yun Dong-ju" ("윤동주 시인의 언덕") in 2009 is located much further, next to Changuimun, the North Gate of Seoul fortress. Making up for the lack of museum to honor the poet, a Yun Dong-ju Literature House has recently been inaugurated on this hill. It hosts a collection of artifacts as well as literary events:
Yun Dong-ju Literature House (윤동주 문학관):
3-100 Cheongun-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea (119 Changuimun-ro).
Tel: +82 2.765.0703.


Unfortunately, not all former residences of artists have been saved***, yet the trend is definitely positive. As Seochon reclaims its past glory and welcomes more and more tourists, cultural assets are a key differenciator compared to Bukchon. Note that the other side of the Gyeongbokgung is also promoting preservation: the home of painter GO Hui-dong (1886-1965) in Wonseo-dong was saved from destruction at the last moment, and for a long while you could see it rot between protective metal walls. The hanok is now illuminating the elbow of Changdeokgung-gil.

For centuries, the names of many Seochon neighborhoods have been resonating in Korean literature, and if I wouldn't want to see the whole place transformed into a city-museum or a theme park, I wish less prestigious landmarks were also included in the big picture. I'm thinking about the cult Daeo Bookstore (대오서점), a tiny Blue House that recently threatened to fold its last pages:

 

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* see "Baekundongcheon / Gwanghwamun-gil - A River Runs Through It".
** see "2 more tunnels up North"
*** not to mention a former empress (another Yun's place, see "The Empress's Last Bang").

---

UPDATE 20120808: I added the 3 places on Seoul Village Map (reminder: the blue line follows Baekundongcheon's path):


View Seoul Village in a larger map

Sunday, August 5, 2012

East Village (Seoul)

If you want Korean cuisine with a modern twist, you can try Itaewon's "East Village".


East Village means the Hannam side of Itaewon, and a lower-to-mid-east Manhattan touch. And indeed, I was at the same time the only non-Korean customer this Saturday evening, and feeling more in NYC than in Seoul.


In this part of main street Itaewon, you're neither in the Western "traditionnally international" end, nor in the Eastern "newly Gangnamized" end (which definitely feels "Californian" to me). The restaurant is located a little before Cheil building when you come from the West, and in this more urban and less pretentious buffer zone, you'd almost expect to see front stoops along the sidewalk. Typically, there's a fun-looking place named "Hulk" where they serve simple Korean food in a basement, a perfect spot for non-chaebol local youth to get their invigorating fix.


I guess East Village is targeting more demanding palates - and thicker wallets - who are tired of alternating between fine Western restaurants and prestigious hanjeongsik tables. There is a need for modern high end Korean cuisine, and different ways to achieve this ambition. Where "The Gaon" pushed traditional Korean cuisine to perfection, "East Village" tries to instil new flavors or seasonings in the classics without denaturating them.


Of course, the chef (a different Kwon than the Ed operating further eastwards at "The Spice"), doesn't always succeed in surprising us, and the main bemol would be the end of the meal: by no means a "dragon head, snake tail" experience, but the last dish and the dessert were not up to what came before. The mandu soup and green tea ice cream were good, but not to die for, and save for one caramelized walnut, not very very original.


But by the time you reach that part you've already been satisfied, starting with a Hanwoo tartare in an endive leaf, fresh takes at Noryangjin's fishes of the day, or a Damyang style ddeok galbi.


I'm happy to see this kind of ambition in a Korean restaurant, and even happier to see Korean patrons embrace it.


East Village (restaurant)

736-9 Hannam-dong (214-1 Itaewon-ro), Yongsan-gu, Seoul, ROK
Tel +82.2.790.7782


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---
UPDATE 20120806 (card)

Friday, August 3, 2012

Seoul Old Towns or New Human Towns? New City Hall or Tsunamheat Wave?

In the classic New Town model, you annihilate a whole neighborhood, and you replace it with a block of aseptic tombstone buildings. In the "Human Town" concept*, you promote a more sustainable redevelopment which preserves the structure (buildings and streets), improves the infrastructure (streets and parkings in particular), adds community services, and plants a few CCTVs (This is Korea: Hyeong is watching you).

As expected, PARK Won-soon decided to prolong OH Se-hoon's project for lack of an alternative in the short term**, but politically, he had to rebrand it. So goodbye "Human Town", here comes the "Old Town" concept.

If the name does celebrate the end of the New Town model, it may sound a bit confusing since we're talking about dwellings often built in the 1980s and even later... and rather the quick-and-dirty way: in general, a 'dandok jutaek' (단독주택 / single family house) is transformed into a 'villa' (imagine a no-frill 3-story condo, not the lavish Bill Gates mansion), or worse, a 'one-room' farm (generally a cheap rabbit hutch for poor students).


But who cares about appellations? The important thing is to save urban systems before it's too late: speculation makes it much easier to build from scratch a "Greenfield New Town" in the countryside than to invest in downtown renovation***. Urbanism is never a zero-sum game, particularly considering Korean demographics, and "build it and they'll come" often means "build it and they'll leave a place that deserves some attention as well". Take Incheon, for instance: Songdo can work, and even Cheongna can make it, but downtown Incheon has been totally discarded, and if you use public transportations it often takes less time to reach Seoul than to go from one neighborhood to another within the old town.


11 neighborhoods have been selected to experiment the "new" concept, and authorities try to add cultural dimension when the context allows it, for instance:
. In Dobong-dong (Dobong-gu): the 43,000 square meter block (around 280 beonji) lies between Dobongsan Station and the mountain with its national park, so it will follow a 'mixed tourism and residential' theme.
. In Daerim-dong (Yeongdeungpo-gu): the 40,000 sqm block is located in a neighborhood with a significant Chinese minority (around 1027 beonji, near Daerim Station and Daerimcheon), and Seoul city decided to focus on the 'multicultural residence' dimension.


Among the other locations:
. Siheung-3-dong, in the southwestern corner of Geumcheon-gu, next to Gwangmyeon, and Ansan):  a low-rise pocket near relatively recent bed towns, at the feet of Hoamsan, a western branch of Gwanaksan.
. Eungam-dong, Eunpyeong-gu: a New Town recently popped up in the neighborhood, unfortunately against Bukhansan.
This administration seems to be pushing harder than their predecessors. I hope not too hard: you wouldn't want forsaken residential neighborhoods to become kitsch theme parks.


Now there are a couple of projects I think OH Se-hoon pushed too hard. Today, I won't mention the embarrassing floating islands again (oops, I just did), but Yoo Kerl's new Seoul City Hall.

Ever since I saw the model four years ago I've raised more than a few doubts about the design of this "tsunami". I don't mean the concept in general (I wanted Seoul to keep elements from the old building, and to open up the place as a keystone and crossing point), but the design of the fakely organic shell, which I found not only obsolete and disgraceful (even more now that the final coating is visible), but even offensive: coming up with this, 3-4 years after the big Asian tsunami... Note that someone did even worse later: a twin project in Yongsan reminiscent of 9/11, with some kind of an explosion / cloud connecting both buildings in their midsections.

I didn't quite believe in the 'environmental-friendly' pitch either. To me, it was a bit like with the glass pyramid in the Louvres museum: the most important part of the renovation was the new system underground, but everybody focused on the tip of the iceberg, this small triangle. And everybody was criticizing architect I. M. Pei because the modern structure was denaturing the old palace, but I was more worried about the greenhouse effect and the heat visitors would feel inside.

I would have bet a buck on some similar fate for the new Seoul plaza land(water)mark. Look at what happened to Yongsan-gu Office! A perfect example of architectural extravaganza designed for a Korean local administration at the peak of the bubble years, this abomination becomes an oven as soon as the sun strikes.

Well this morning, I'm eating my hat on that one. The Chosun Daily revealed that one month ahead of the inauguration and without air conditionning, the building was 6 degrees cooler than outside (31 vs 37 Celsius). There's a green wall inside, and the outer shell has three layers, including a special glass: very thick and coated with a special metal film, it blocks four times more infrared rays. The wave structure creates a natural air cycle, and the hottest parts escape from the building, near the top (see this "Architectural Redigest" graph in their link****).

Salt please.

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* "OH Se-hoon launches the "Seoul Human Town" concept"
** see last part of my 2011 essay on urbanism in Seoul, "Inhuman, all too human Seoul" - the essay itself is in French "Seoul: inhumaine, trop humaine"). That part is titled 'De la New Town à l'Human Town, le retour en grâce des villages' ('From New Towns to Human Towns, villages are back in good favors')
*** see the 'About New Towns and the laws of gravitation' part of "Wet eyes for wetlands and urban mirages" **** "내달 입주하는 서울시 새청사… 에어컨 안 켜고 온도 측정해보니… 유리찜통인 줄 알았는데 바깥보다 6도 낮았다"

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