NEW - my 'Seoul Villages' are out - 12 short fictions totally free! Download the free ebook!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Seoul VillageS (free ebook)

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"A series of love letters to Seoul and its many alleyways" (The Korea Times)
"Let's dive into the surreal world built by this urbanism enthusiast (KBS World Radio)


I've walked through all of Seoul's 600+ neighborhoods, and you've come across a significant number of them in this excuse for a blog, but today, you're invited to my fictional Seoul.

Welcome to my 'Seoul Villages', a collection of 12 Seoul 'dragedies', among which 'Year Of The Dog', and 'Guisin-dong', and a few short stories initially published in French. Don't try to escape this ghost neighborhood, don't waste your energy tearing off that plant, and don't even think about catching Korea's most elusive shaman: you just can't shake off death. So let this fictional Seoul claim your soul.

You can download for free 'Seoul Villages' along with my other free ebooks 'on Google Play Books. Check my website for my other books (NB y compris en français).

Your feedback and reviews are welcome (e.g. on Google Play Books, on Amazon, on my dragedies website...).  



Stephane - April 2020


Seoul Village 2020
Welcome to our Korean Errlines! Follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter, follow me on Instagram.
NEW: download 'Seoul Villages', my collection of short stories (free ebook)
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Seoul Villages, the map:
  • Crossroads and forking paths - a foreword by Mr. Ho
  • Seoul Village(s) - a foreword by the author
  • Guisin-dong
  • Year of the Dog
  • de Vermis Seoulis
  • Sweat dream
  • Black Snow
  • Korean wave
  • Tchik!
  • Comin'up next
  • Seoul Metamorphosis
  • (Alleyways – Ogin-dong, Autumn)
  • Hunting for Kim Mudangnim
  • (Alleyways – Sajik-dong, somewhen)
  • Lexicon – Korean terms
'Seoul Villages' - Copyright © Stephane MOT 2013 - All rights reserved. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living, dead, or beyond those stages, is purely coincidental. www.stephanemot.com - www.dragedies.com



Sunday, April 26, 2020

Lower Sejongdaero's turn

Seoul's most defining avenue, Sejongdaero, is getting all the attention it deserves from the municipal government. After the highly controversial plans to revamp its upper half (see "Gwanghwamun Square 3.0 re-Deep-Surfaces"), the focus seems to be on the lower half, between Sejongno sageori and Seoul Station. This includes cosmetic changes in adjacent neighborhoods, most recently in Jeong-dong (see "Jeong-dong forever"), or around Sungnyemun (Jung-gu decided to harmonize signage for 80 stores between Seoullo 7017 and the gate*), but now a more ambitious program will help pedestrians, cyclists, and tree huggers reclaim a space almost as car-centric as the upper section before Gwanghwamun Square.


Sejong-daero towards Gwanghwamun, viewed from the Deoksugung-Seoul Plaza crossing

The main changes (drawn here by Kim Yeong-eun for Yonhap News Agency**), expected by the end of the year, consist in reducing the number of traffic lanes (from 12 to 7-9; at least that's consistent with the new bottlenecks conceived further North around the avenue), and improve the pedestrian experience, particularly around Deoksugung and Sungnyemun / Namdaemun Market:



A lot of trees shall be added to widened sidewalks, with some species diversity which is really positive. Even if naming this "Sejong Forest" (세종숲) sounds a bit over the top (at least the Gyeongui Line Forest Park was more honest with its "숲길", which could be translated into 'Forest walk / way / street').


A plaza and a tree trail shall improve the barren entrance to Namdaemun Market from Sungnyemun


I'm looking forward to the new bicycle lane all along the 1.5km stretch (I criticized the city for not adding some on day one when they renovated the Northern section of Sejongdaero for Gwanghwamun Square), and the eased pedestrian circulation around Sungnyemun, which even after the changes will remain basically a peninsula in a sea of cars:


A better experience for pedestrians and cyclists, but still car centric

Moving back to Deoksugung and Jeong-dong, this close up of Daehanmun shows that, beyond the extension of the plaza and sidewalks, Deoksugung-gil is likely to become car-free, at least partly (and I presume at least on weekends and holidays, like Insadong-gil):



Overall, nothing revolutionary, but significant improvements for Sejong-daero. Needless to say, Mayor Park Won-soon would love to see part of downtown's growing - at least B.C. / Before Coronavirus - tourist traffic walk closer to his pet project Seoullo 7017. before the 2022 presidential elections.
 Again, I can't stress enough the importance of Sejong-daero, the spine of downtown Seoul, at its original core. We're talking urban stem cells here. ICYMI here's the short video I made to explain the dynamic map of Seoul intra muros a.k.a. Sadeaemun (fortress walls, main gates, mountains and streams, key landmarks, vertical and horizontal axes...):




Seoul Village 2020
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* "서울 중구, 세종대로 등 145개 점포 간판 정비" (Yonhap News 20200420).
** "세종대로 1.5km 구간 보행로 대폭 확장…차로 12개→9개 축소" (Yonhap News 20020426)


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Jeong-dong forever

Thank you Chosun Ilbo for feeding this stroll-starved quarantined Seoulite with Jeong-dong news ("서울 貞洞이 확 바뀐다, 근대역사 숨쉬는 거리로" - Chosun Ilbo 20200407). So. Seoul intends to invest KRW 20 bn by 2022 into what is already one of the capital's most walkable neighborhoods. Basically, a lot of storytelling to connect the dots, plus a few new dots. 

Sidewalks and signs shall be improved along the 2,6 km scenic walk signaled on this map

But first, let me tell you another story about this neighborhood you think you know.

Jeong-dong basically draws a diagonal between two palaces: Deoksugung and Gyeonghuigung, and owes its name to Jeongneung, a royal tomb of the Joseon dynasty. Actually, it used to be also known as Jeongneung-dong.

Wait a minute. Indeed, Jeongneung is located in Jeongneung-dong, but that's in Seongbuk-gu, quite far away.

Blame King Sejong's father for that: King Taejeong was the one who, in 1408, moved the tomb to the opposite end of town, and even beyond the mountain, the city, and its fortress walls. Real estate-wise and  feng shui-wise, quite a downgrade. Why would Taejeong disgrace a royal tomb? Because it honored Queen Sindeok, the second wife of his grand dad, King Taejo, the founder of both the Josson dynasty and Seoul. And Taejeong's grandmother was Taejo's first wife, Queen Shinui. So even if Sindeok played a role in the capital's genesis, she had to get out of royal sight.

Now guess where Jeongneung was located, initially: in Today's British Embassy.

To me, this anecdote illustrates perfectly Jeong-dong's shift from its royal origins to its modern diplomatic tradition.

Of course, this is where Germany, Russia, the US, the UK, France, Italy, Belgium built their consulates at the end of the XIXth century. But if the Brits are still there (see 'Seoul-upon-Han and Yeongguk-dong'), and even if the Russian Legation tower was restored a dozen years ago, most of the rest is gone.

Seoul city intends to revamp Jeongdong Park, at the feet of the Russian Legation to have it themed after the area's rich diplomatic tradition, with a tribute to these lost buildings. Will more people come than today? For the moment, this quiet green patch remains backstage from Jeongdong-gil as well as from Saemunan-ro (accessible through a steep staircase). And Jeongdong-gil itself is already a pleasant, tree-lined stroll dotted with actual buildings full of history or culture: Jeongdong Theater, Sina Memorial Hall (Asiance HQs), Chung Dong First Methodist Church, surviving structures of Ewha Hakdang and Pai Chai Hakdang (Appenzeller Noble Memorial Museum), Jungmyeongjeon Hall...

What always struck me when I saw old pictures of Jeong-dong was the fact that it looked much hillier than today, and now I know why: there was indeed a hill, named after Hwangtohyeon, but it was erased during the occupation. Among the few new dots added to the plan, Seoul will create a small Hwangtohyeon square to commemorate a hill in front of the small police station at the Sejongno intersection.

Most citizens discovered this most central neighborhood when Deoksugung-gil was redesigned in 1998, marking the revival of downtown Seoul as a pedestrian friendly destination*. Another boost came with the 2002 World Cup, when millions gathered right next door on Sejongdaero around City Hall, and what would become the new Seoul Plaza. The SeMA, inaugurated in 1988, would also be renovated in 2002, and its garden at the roundabout remains a popular, Instagrammable spot. 2002 also happens to be the birth year of my beloved Seoul Museum of History at the other end of the neighborhood. More recently, the Seoul Biennales brought new magnets on each side of Jeong-dong: Donuimun Museum Village near Gyeonghuigung (2007), and Seoul HOUR (2019) near Deoksugung.

Of course there's much more than this SE-NW diagonal**. But until a few years ago, the Northeast section of Deoksugung-gil used to be closed to the public around Habib House, the US Ambassador's residence. Thanks to Mark Lippert and Grigsby his basset hound, this key axis opened up, completing at last Jeong-dong's anchoring to all neighboring areas.

Jeong-dong will remain future-proof if it keeps at the same time respecting its past and evolving.

Seoul Village 2020
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* see "Jeongdong-kill"
** Note that its Southeastern half used to be known as Sojeong-dong (close to the 'somun' - Seodomun), and its Northwestern half as Daejeong-dong (close to 'daemun' - Donuimun). About Seoul's Sadaemun and Sasomun, see my small video 'Drawing Sadaemun'

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