Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New KTX vertical to Gangnam by 2015

Suseo Station has been confirmed as the terminus of the Suseo High Speed Railway (Suseo HSR), a KTX vertical line connecting Southwest Seoul with the main axis Seoul-Busan (Gyeongbu HSR) at Pyeongtaek.

Looking at this old map, covering the Northeastern quarter of the country seemed a priority, but Korail has recently improved the Gyeongchun Line (ITX connecting Chuncheon with Cheongnyangni, Seoul Station), and the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics will KTXize and extend this horizontal axis ("KTX coast to coast Incheon-Gangneung"), even if it may not reach the East Sea for budgetary reasons. Furthermore, 40% of South Koreans live in Seoul or Gyeonggi-do.



So. Again. Ultraprivileged Gangnam-Bundang areas are blessed with major transport infrastructures: Suseo Station, which already connects Line 3 with Bundang Line, will become one of the Capital's biggest hubs.

Express Bus Terminal (Lines 3, 7, 9) may have to balance between the KTX stations of Yeongdeungpo (Line 9) and Suseo, whereas north of the Han river, the Seoul Station - Cheongnyangni horizontal axis looks much more simple, with both centers directly connected via Line 1.

Suseo HSR will connect with Gyeongbu HSR at a future Pyeongtaek Junction, north of Cheonan-Asan Station, with two stations in between:
- Jije Station in Jije-dong, Pyeongtaek (Line 1)
- Dongtan Station (New Dongtan City in Hwaseong)

Let's focus more on the other two winners of the deal:
  • Dongtan new town is to cover about 24,000 square meters, and to propose 40,000 dwellings to an expected population of 120,000. But today, it is not directly on the subway map: Seodongtan Station is the sole station on a branchlet of Line 1.
  • Among South Korea's biggest harbors and industrial complexes Pyeongtaek will soon add the US troops leaving Yongsan, Uijeongbu, and Dongducheon to an already impressive military hub comprising two USFK facilities.
The 61 km stretch will be inaugurated in 2015. 

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Japan politics? No to Comfort women, yes to Political whoring

If you had any doubt regarding the motivation behind yet another sabre-rattling period between Japan and its neighbors, know that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda reached his goal: a reelection as president of the Democratic Party of Japan and thus, as Prime Minister. Because his position was particularly weak a couple of weeks ago, he had to push the usual "political whoring" game full throttle - as it happens, he tugged the Dokdo Style tug of war with China over Senkaku-Diaoyu almost all the way beyond the war line.

Again*, in the archipelago, no one can remain in power without pledging allegiance to the pseudo nationalist clique that prevents Japan from facing the darkest moments of its history. Noda regularly licks their boots by promoting visits to Yasukuni shrine, by claiming that Japan's A-class War Criminals are not war criminals, by deliberately reigniting regional tensions and dousing them with gasoline. Prime Ministers pass, the system survives without any reaction from the peaceful people of Japan. The imposture works so well that Korea's extreme right is considering the same tricks (see "Worst followers"). Needless to say, Beijing hardliners are also more than happy to find partners playing their favorite game, and to silence moderates within the nation as well as across the region.

The Japanese people? Overwhelmingly unaware of the monstruosity of the situation. Barely annoyed by Uyoku dantai trucks roaming the cities with shameless extreme right propaganda. Dutifully using the official pink-painted words covering the dark spots of a distant past ("Comfort women" could be a brand of cosy slippers). Our politicians? A distant, selfsustained bunch of cosanguine bureaucrats. Of course they're corrupt and incompetent, but they more or less take care of day to day business. It's not as if we could lose our land or our soul because of them (never mind about Fukushima, never mind about Japan becoming a synonym of revisionism).

I don't know what it will take for the Japanese people to become actual citizens, to realize how ashamed they should be for what the whole political system does in the name of their beautiful nation, to demand an end to revisionism and fascism, and to make sure the next generations are not taught the same distorted vision of history.

I've got news for you, Japan: "Comfort women" were "sex slaves of the Japanese military", and your politicians are, still now, raping your own country before your very eyes. I'm not sorry if I shocked you: if you don't wake up now, you never will.

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* see previous episodes

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

And then there were three

Tensed up and overwhelmed by emotions, he clicks his mouth to utter short sentences, and barely manages to control the dam behind those moist eyes. A brief smile when the audience barks a liberating round of applause - Ahn Cheol-soo has just come out as an official candidate for the December 19 presidential elections - and he quickly returns to his serious speech.

I wouldn't wish my worst enemy to become president of South Korea: you either end up dead or in jail, at best covered with mud. And this time, the top guy will face daunting challenges and take unpopular decisions.

Ahn doesn't have a party or even an official team, and anywhere else, there'd no way he could win two months from now. But this is Korea, a political mess where traditional parties are too busy searching and destroying enemies to carry any reform, a democracy bound to change for the better or worst after these elections (see "25 years later").




For Ahn Cheol-soo, it was not a matter of "if" but of of "when"*. He considered the usual springboard before leaving Seoul City Hall to Park Won-soon, and spent the following years preparing himself while all rivals pursued their path to self-destruction.

He waited until the last moment, right after Moon Jae-in's victory at the DUP primaries, depriving him from any chance of gaining momentum. Both Moon and Ahn stand behind Park in the polls, but the outsider expects a decisive boost in the days to come.

And he smartly asked his rivals to join his pledge for a positive campaign, as well as for a constructive collaboration following the elections, whatever their outcome. A pledge neither Saenuri nor DUP can even pretend to agree upon.

Sparks won't fly. Too much mud around for that.

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* see all posts related to Ahn, including "AHN Cheol-soo(n)", "A new mayor for Seoul, a new landscape for 2012"

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Korean culture or Hallyu, Cultural contents or discontents

Ahead of last week, I planned to write one post on each one of these 3 events...

  • Tuesday, September 11: the 7th Seoul International Media Art Biennale* starts at SeMA Seosomun and across the city under a screamingjayhawkinsian theme: "Spell on you":


 
  • Thursday, September 13: DMC 10th Anniversary International Symposium and 2012 Seoul DMC Culture Open. Korea's main multimedia and entertainment cluster will succeed once all majors have joined Sangam, provided they accept to share value with truly independent start-ups**:


  • Friday, September 14: conference at the Institut Francais de Coree, "Strategies de globalisation du cinéma coréen et Hallyu" ("Globalization Strategies for Korean cinema and Hallyu") with French thinker Guy Sorman and Korean movie brain KIM Dong-ho (actor slash producer slash founding director of PIFF/BIFF/Busan International Film Festival), moderated by RYU Jin-lyong, Director of the Hallyu Knowledge Center at the Catholic University of Korea. Ever the optimistic "free-marketer", Sorman believes in the power of individual creators. Kim knows better and understands what it takes to support culture. Note that France is the third market for Korean movies after Korea and the US, and the place where the first major K-pop concert in Europe was organized (SM Entertainment with the support of the Korean government). Of course, everybody agreed on the irrelevance of "Hallyu" / "Korean wave" as an umbrella brand for Korean culture, and on these evidences:
    - you don't want to watch a Korean movie because it's Korean, you want to watch good movies
    - culture and nationalism never mix well


... not to mention this fourth event, which I felt no need to write about...

  • Saturday, September 8: KIM Ki-duk's "Pieta" wins Golden Lion for Best Film at la Mostra in Venice. The first time a Korean movie ever wins a top prize in a major festival. Park Chan-wook's "Oldboy" would have won the Palme d'Or in Cannes in 2004, had there been no US elections later that year: Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" clearly received a push to balance Bush-Cheney's Weapons of Mass Disinformation.


... or of course this summer's hit, about to break the 200M view barrier on YouTube:

  • Psy's horsing around satire of "Gangnam Style" (as far as I'm concerned, it's still the bicycle, and Stephane Jongno Style - 스테판 종로 스타일!):




I eventually decided to serve all 5 at once, "bibim" (bibim pop culture?). Not because I'm a lazy fella, but because together, they tell a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of Korean culture today.

The point? Korean culture is very much alive and kicking, thank you, and there are many reasons to believe that the future is even brighter, but the ecosystem is not totally sound, and it could become even stronger, more creative, and more sustainable.

Before moving to Korea from France, 21 years ago, I had a tough time reaching for Korean culture (or rather "Korean civilization", as Sorman is right to emphasize). I had the chance, as a kid, to own a book of traditional Korean tales, and as a student, to have met a few Koreans and expats who'd lived there. But even in Paris, home to "Langues O" or Musee Guimet, you had to dig deep. Heck. Even after landing in Seoul I felt frustrated: the first day, if it weren't for that courtesy visit to the office downtown, I wouldn't have caught a glimpse of Namdaemun in that - already back then - sea of high rise buildings.

Now, Seoul's cultural assets are much more highlighted. And now that the whole world is one click away, a Psy can Gangnamstylize tens of millions of people within a few days. Koreanity / Koreanhood / Koreanness / Koreanitude reaches beyond Korean nationals and expats, and millions declare unconditional love for the country even without having set foot in the Peninsula. But precisely, because the whole world is one click away, the fad can pass, the wave recede, or even turn into something negative: if a wavelet can be cute, a tsunami is rarely welcome.

Consider this: the Korean movie industry partly owes its boom to Hollywood. As a reaction to US lobbies who pushed harder into the country, it received a support similar to that of cinema in France, and it's no wonder both countries boast strong market shares for local productions. So much for the "invisible hand" of the market, Mr Sorman.

Anyway, Korea is progressively emerging. If not as a consistent global player, at least by sending more often visible signals in most cultural fields. To name a few:

- Language. At the same time the most important cultural asset for any people, and the most challenging task for Korea (even Koreans have a tough time mastering this beautiful tool). The trend is obviously very positive, with a boom in the number of people studying the language. But to go even further, pedagogy must improve, and it will necessarily as the base grows. And it is essential to reach beyond the minority target likely to get involved and learn the language. For that, Korea can leverage key assets, and must raise the awareness of Hangeul, a linguistic wonder, and Tripitaka Koreana, also a technological marvel... preferably a more subtle way than the Hunminjeongeum Society way***. Korean vocabulary must also permeate other languages, as naturally and peacefully as possible. Such popular culture as music is a good entry point (the "style" in Psy's title is relevant for the song but a missed opportunity for that purpose), but why not start by harmonizing the spelling of popular foods? Which brings us to the second domain...

- Food. I won't repeat my usual pitch**** on this vital dimension of Korean culture, arguably its best chance of shining durably. The globalization of Korean cuisine is now clearly identified as a major project, and Korean "brands" are getting more visible (dishes, industrial products, ingredients, restaurant chains...), but the political will doesn't always translate in tangible results. Among the most interesting "quality" trends: the rise of slow food and 'appellations', the invitation of world chefs to discover and adapt Korean cuisine and its ingredients... The future lies in the hands of amateur cooks across the globe, and on millions of palates, far beyond those of connoisseurs. And yes, street foods are as important as the finest dishes.

- Land. Korea is at last becoming a touristic destination, and every year visitors discover new dimensions beyond K-drama hotspots and UNESCO landmarks. From Boryeong Mud Festival to Temple Stay, the whole spectrum is covered. All major international editors have now produced guides, and the literature about the country has boomed everywhere. I can't believe the number of magazines and blogs covering every dimensions of Korea. When I started this excuse for a site, I would never have dreamed to see a blog devoted to Seoul subway station neighborhoods (the excellent Seoul SubUrban - seoulsuburban.com), or so many sites gathering so many great pictures of Seoul's fascinating alleyways. And like everywhere else, the democratisation of SNS, imaging tools, location based services enabled an always on process of mapping, recording, tracking - another reason why, for instance, I don't need to post about restaurants anymore. 20 years ago it was almost impossible to find pictures of old Seoul, and now the city does a terrific job at compiling its archives (see "Seoul Through Pictures 6", "Seoul from above : 40 years of archives soon available"...). I'm also glad to see Seoul city's official Facebook page move progressively away from the K-pop bubble and propose series of photos showing all different aspects of the city, even less glamour ones.

- Music. Saying that The Noraebang Nation loves music is an euphemism. But it's significant to notice the differences between "artisans" and "creators": on one hand world class musicians, directors, and voices, on the other few composers or writers really well known abroad. Personally, my favorite Korean song is LEE Mi-ja's "동백아가씨" ("Dongbaek agassi"), a trot that would sound corny as hell if it weren't for LEE's haunting voice. Of course there are great composers and writers, but vibrant democracy activist anthems belong to the past, and if the indie tradition remains, that side of Korean culture is not really well known overseas. Korea is nonetheless becoming a place where important things happen, with a vibrant rock festival scene, and systematic stops for the world tour of top names, from Lady Gaga to Robert Zimmerman (see "Bob Dylan knock knock knockin' on Seoul's door"). Mind if I don't mention K-pop? Actually nowadays, many K-pop hits are composed by non-Koreans - unlike Seo Taeji's "Nan Arayo!", a hit that crossed the frontiers long before the nip and tuck factory (SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, JYP Entertainment) started mass producing dancing clones for export markets. Anyone can make it on YouTube and the success of PSY is a refreshing break, but this virtual horse rider does belong to a major stable.
 
- Performing arts. Definitely a strong point for Korea, particularly when you mix dance and voice. From Korean drums to Nanta, from mask dances and shamanic 'gut' to b-boy, from Pansori to K-pop... Yes, that's where I put K-pop, a popular kind of performing art where dance and surgically enhanced masks matter more than music itself*****. Even RAIN is better known for his looks and dance than for his songs, which he writes himself. Note that if the country can boast a strong tradition of festivals nationwide, it has not yet become a place where international artists create major works. It shouldn't be long though, and not just for a question of infrastructure (see previous episodes of the Seoul opera drama).

- Plastic arts. Forty years later, PAIK Nam-june remains the country's only artist with a global star status, and he was not recognized home until the dictature he fled fell. But many creators deserve critical acclaim, Seoul and Korea are a place to be (see "SeMA to block blockbusters"), and there's a lot of money around. Of course, as is too often the case with contemporary art worldwide, outsiders have a tough time getting their chance. But the ecosystem seems very strong, and all bases are covered: young talents, galleries, museums, patrons, exhibitions... And creatively speaking, the tradition-modernity continuum is perfectly working. 

- Cinema. Hallyuwood has never been stronger, and its future headquarters, the DMC, is not even fully operational. BIFF contributes to fuel the influence of an emerging Asian champion. Popular filmmakers and actors are getting international recognition (Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, Choi Min-sik, Song Kang-ho, Jeon Do-yeon...), even if it's a total outsider who caught the spotlights this year: KIM Ki-duk has always been rejected by Korea and recognized by Europe. Korean auteurs regularly receive critical acclaim in international festivals, and there seems to be room for everybody. Yet the system is dominated by very strong players who sometimes deprive creators from their authors' rights, because they're simply used to take all the value, not to share and nurture it.

- Literature. With SHIN Kyung-sook's "Please Look After Mom", Korea now holds an international bestseller. A silver lining in a country plagued by an education system that destroys creativity and all apetite for reading "non-useful" stuff (see "Seoul village libraries"). Among the interesting trends: more visibility for national treasures, a renewed interest for major XXth century authors...

- Media, Broadcasting. Korean media are not yet recognized as major global players, but media concentration has considerably increased under LEE's presidency, and traditional Korean broadcasters have gained visibility overseas, in particular with Arirang and KBS World, sending regular waves to the most distant shores. Among potential global powerhouses, CJ Group can leverage a full control of the value chain at home (production, distribution, broadcasting,...). The quality of contents is an issue: K-dramas are more consumer goods than timeless masterpieces; good exports in the short term, liabilities for the image if nothing comes next. The Land of Netizens has brought major innovations in the online media landscape (ie Ohmynews, Cyworld), but always struggled when it came to build truly international platforms.

- I could go on for years. Among other dimensions:
Sports. The successes at the Olympic Games, the World Cup, or golf tournaments are fine, but Taekwondo played a very important role in the diffusion of the culture. I remember my surprise the first time I heard all the Korean words my teenage nefew learned in France along with the sport. Sports was also the medium that accelerated a minor yet significant cultural change: Western newscasters were criticized for not pronouncing Korean names correctly, and the right order prevailed at the turn of the millenium.

Games are another interesting entry point. Unfortunately, the popular MMORPG invented in Korea, Lineage, has no reference to Korean culture whatsoever.
. Intangible assets. Korea protects its Great Masters, but a little bit too much. The cult of "wonjo" ("original") is a drag for the evolution to new levels, and the old masters are idolized to the point they have no contact with younger talents nor time to teach and pass the knowledge to the next generations. Han-dicrafts are han-dicapped.
. Architecture. The ondol and hanok revival also reaches beyond borders, and old techniques are successfully adapted to modern architecture. All the big names of architecture have produced one or several buildings in Seoul, but Korean architects are not famous overseas. Except for some interior design and a few really creative people who were allowed to toy around on a smaller scale, no wonder if you consider most landmarks.
. ...

Of course, all this is very subjective, selective, reductive, but the trends seem clear: globalization is under way, but more could be done to boost diversity and creativity, and to develop pedagogy / awareness / opportunities for the public.

Among the things I'd like to see:
- a reform of education (see previous posts)
- more sub-titles for Korean movies: Seoul is multiplying foreigner-friendly theaters and that's great, but with IPTV all Korean movies should be available with this feature. I'd watch ten times more Korean movies if this simple revolution happened.
- more context in the promotion of Korean contents, an historic perspective, keys for neophytes to visualize the cultural continuum
- guarantees for authors and creators: scenarists should be credited and keep their authors' rights, artists should get the fair payment for their work, not just feel grateful for being exposed.
- and most urgently, a licensing system that specifies the duties of broadcasters for cultural diversity. If you zap channels on your TV, all movie channels air the same kind of popular action movies and the pedagogy cannot be done, the public is not even aware of the existence of other contents. And it should not only a matter of what but a matter of who: major broadcasters should be prevented from using solely their own catalogue, and even finance independent creation as is the case in France. There's no other way of guaranteeing actual cultural diversity, and of course a sound and balanced ecosystem.
- ...

Seoul Village 2012
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* a.k.a. Mediacity Seoul (20120911-1104 - see mediacityseoul.kr)
** see among other posts related to the DMC: "Seoul Digital Media City Tour" (July 2010), "DMC aims at Tinseltown - welcome to Hallyuwood !" (February 2011), "DMC at full throttle - Songdo from Sim City to Sin City ?" (April 2011)... Note that SMG wants the buzz to move to the other side of the Han River, towards its Magok District project in Gangseo-gu.
*** see "Hangeul exports to Indonesia subject to dumping?"
**** see "Korean Cuisine Aiming At World's Top Five. China is watching"
***** and a non-sustainable business as it is - "K-popping bubbles"

---
UPDATED 20120918 (typos!!! and links)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Seoul, The Special City



Seoul is crowdsourcing a new slogan on Facebook and everybody's welcome to join (until September 14 Korean time).

My answer was very simple:

1) I find the signature "Infinitely Yours" absolutely perfect, it would be sad to dump it.

2) Please don't follow other cities and places with a me-too slogan (eg adjective + Seoul).

3) My -poor- shot: "Seoul, The Special City" (echoes Seoul Teukbyeolsi, uniqueness, care for those in need of attention)

Your turn now!

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Here comes the sun


Seoul city just published* a Request For Proposals for small solar power plants across the city.

Seoul Citizen's Solar Power Coop will operate the following sites:
- the Gangseo Agricultural and Fishery Wholesale Market in Balsan-dong, Gangseo-gu (16,635 sqm, 1,600 KW)
- the treatment station in Sangam-dong, Mapo-gu (3024 sqm, 270 KW)
- the Mangu youth center in Mangu-dong, Jungnang-gu (1,094 sqm, 100 KW)
- the Gangdong Bus Garage in Gangil-dong, Gangdong-gu (895 sqm, 90 KW)
- Dongbu Women's Center (Seoul Women's Foundation) in Jayang-dong, Gwangjin-gu (800 sqm, 80 KW)

The remaining three projects shall be handled by consortia:
- Amsa Water Purification Center in Amsa-dong, Gangdong-gu (10,130 sqm, 1,000 KW)
- Yeongdeungpo Arisu Water Purification Center in Yanghwa-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu (9,177 sqm, 910 KW)
- Gangnam Resource Recovery Facility in Suseo-dong, Gangnam-gu (3,800 sqm, 380 KW)

Overall: 4.43 MW for 45,555 square meters, a classic ratio of 10 sqm for 1 KW.

Nice, but far from the 230 MW announced last may in Seoul's ambitious plan for hydrogen fuel cell power: by 2014, Seoul will boast power plants, plus 102 cells in buildings. Enough to serve 400,000 households.

Well the economics of solar energy are well known, and you have to start somewhere. And anyway, it's good to see Seoul make good use of its roofs, which are also getting greener by the day. I already mentioned a big boost more than two years ago (see incentives and projects in "Seoul Rooftops Go Green"), and this summer, the above pictured Dongdaemun Design Plaza alone has added 20,330 sqm: 55.3% on the tail, 29.7% on the Convention Hall, 14.9% on the Exhibition Hall. Five different species of sedums have been selected: less demanding than grass or other plants for maintenance, sebum is an interesting CO2 trap that also reduces dust concentration in the air.

Now how to fill the 80,000 sqm inside Zaha Hadid's dramatic empty shell? That's yet another challenge for Seoul Metropolitan Government.

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* "서울시 햇빛발전소 시범사업 제안서 공모 추가 공고" (seoul.go.kr 20120910)

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