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Monday, July 26, 2021

Seoul: inhuman, all too human

"If Paris were a recurring hero in series of novels, Seoul would rather be a shape-shifting character, always mutating between two short stories. That could be the very definition of a city: a very real work of fiction always trying to liberate itself from its authors."

Published not long after Park Won-soon took office, my essay on Seoul urbanism is now available in English. You can download it for free on "Seoul: inhuman, all too human"*.

Fun to see what changed and what didn't since then. I might consider a sequel, which would probably cover the successes, failures, and impostures of urban regeneration.

(photo: urban farming along Danghyeoncheon, before Nowon-gu revamped it).



One megalopolis, a hundred villages, a thousand visages

1) The industry of dreams – the ideal city

. Industrial housing revolution: from the virtuous cycle to the bubble

. From mass market consumer goods to fashion and services, from utopia to

2) Humans in transit

. Communities and shared spaces

. Life and survival of villages

3) Ideal city 2.0 and new utopias

. The end of an era, but not yet the end of the real estate dream

. From "hard city" to "soft city"

. From New Town to Human Town, villages are back in favor

Seoul Village 2021
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* for the original version (in French), see "Inhuman, all too human Seoul"

Wednesday, June 16, 2021


'My life is not your porn'. You've seen these posters on the streets, when thousands of victims and outraged citizens protested against Korea's pervasive digital sex crimes.

That's also the title of Heather Barr's report for Human Rights Watch*, which confirms Korea's appalling softness when it comes to fighting online sex crime (let alone sex crime in general), an inaction that encouraged a phenomenon now pervasive to the point this high tech nation is plagued with a 'molka' pandemic (perverts hiding mini cameras in public restrooms).

Obviously, so far, protecting the victims or even recognizing their trauma has never been a priority for Korean governments. But now that they've been themselves exposed internationally, let's hope that it will force them to, at long last, act and fight seriously for the victims and against perpetrators.

And again, it's not just digital sex crimes. Korea can't wait any longer to have zero tolerance for sex crimes in general. And to fight against gender discrimination, a cultural enabler to all abuses. 
Also. Please, the time has come to put an end to the artificial gender war that's been destroying Korea's youth over the past few years. Make no mistake, we're talking about the present and the future of a nation with social, economic, and political impacts. Such fallacies can be as toxic and dangerous for democracy as the 'clash of civilizations' a few years ago or conspiracy theories nowadays. Demanding justice for victims and against criminals has nothing to do with being male or female, and Korea has never been stronger than all citizens unite around actual justice.

In this context, the PPP's new leader, LEE Jun-seok, cannot embody the future of Korea as long as he embodies the fight against gender equality. If this ambitious young politician wants to pass for a modern reformer, he has to prove it, and to convince young Korean males to reject anti-feminism. I doubt that's on top of his agenda, but it will be once Korea decides to become a cultural leader in this field as well.

Meanwhile, kudos to Heather, and to all the victims who overcame their traumas and broke their silence to testify for her report.

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* available on HRW's website: "My life is not your porn - Digital sex crimes in Korea".

Monday, May 3, 2021

'Encounters between Korean Art and Literature in the Modern Age' - Night at the Museum

For Korean culture, those were troubled and fascinating times; times of repression and expression, times of Western influences, Japanese occupation, and Korean affirmation. 

Those were modern times, and yet intemporal times. 

When young stars didn't just remain neatly aligned in their respective constellations. When pens and brushes blurred the lines between literature and modern art. With such a conjunction of talent, despair, hope, and urgency.

In a brilliant exhibition, MMCA brings us back to that era in - what better symbol? - its Deoksugung branch.

We see young minds avidly embrace the avant-garde, experiment with sometimes a French touch (Rene Clair, Jean Cocteau, JEONG Ji-yong's 'Cafe France'), we see painters and writers meet and collaborate, we see writers and critics become visual artists, we browse a mesmerizing library with rare first editions (KIM Sowol's Azaleas, MA Hae-song''s fairy tales illustrated by LEE Byung-hyun and KIM Jeong-hwan...), and scores of newspaper extracts - a bit like XIXth century Europe, Korea experienced a democratization of literature, only with a much more powerful poetic force. 

Strolling through the palace by night made the visit even more magical:

 A great exhibition, reminiscent of the exceptional tribute to LEE Jung-seob in the same building:

'Captivating LEE Jung-seob exhibition in MMCA Deoksugung, Seoul' (@theseoulvillage - 20160806 -

KIM Whanki takes a lot of space as he tends to do in collections, but the zeitgeist is much better framed by this 'Portrait of a friend': gifted artist GU Bon-ung capturing genius poet YI Sang:

If the mapping of this creative galaxy aptly remains focused on people always on the move (more than a few ended in North Korea), I couldn't help but imagine a Seoul Museum of History version featuring geographical maps. Just to see where all Guinhoe members lived, how far from Seochon or Yi Sang's Jebi Madang...

We know writers and painters can be artists, authors, neither, or both. And sometimes it runs in the family. PARK Taewon's grandson happens to be an author who can sketch, and even do decent movies (BONG Joon-ho).

Byeolgeongon July 1933 - cover art by HWANG Jeong-su

  • Encounters between Korean Art and Literature in the Modern Age at MMCA Deoksugung (Galleries 1 to 4): until May 30th, 2021, free entrance (except for the entrance to the palace).

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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

From zombie maeul to seed village - from fake startup communities to real Communities-as-a-Startup

As far as train wrecks go, the demographic ones are the easiest to predict. And Korea's bullet train is not exactly slowing down.

Last year, the nation officially posted its first negative growth on record, but COVID-19 had little to do with it. Yes, the pandemic claimed over one thousand lives and that's far too many, but that's also only a fraction of what most countries experienced. Yes, it hindered Foreign influx, but it also drew many members of the Korean diaspora back to the motherland. Yes, it will also impact future births, but last year only prolonged distressing trends: 2020's record low fertility rate (0.84) was preceded by an already scary one (0.92 in 2019).

If you think 2020 was bad, 2021 starts even worse...

... and the previous years already showed how bballi bballi Korea was aging even before the pandemic

In this sub-zero-sum game, the only regions that progressed spectacularly, Sejong and Gyeonggi-do, did it often at the expense of Seoul: the former benefiting from the transfer of governmental administrations, the latter from suicidal real estate policies that further accelerated the capital's decline (now well below the 10 M threshold it passed for the first time in 1988). Yet in March 2021, even Gyeonggi-do posted its first population decrease since the 1980s.

All over the nation, more rural localities are facing extinction*, and Korea continues its urbanistic nonsense, adding more dwellings to an already overflowing market because decision makers don't know any other translation of 'make homes more affordable' (what it needs) than 'build new homes' (which it doesn't need). I'll just repost below part of the rant I wrote five years ago (see "Seoul summerscapes: death, taxes, and budongsan" - 20160917, and all previous posts related to demography):

Now, the pandemic did act a bit like a catalyst at some level. If, so far, the nation hasn't implemented a real lockdown (except for Daegu), many have experienced remote working or remote learning at home in confined conditions. Like everywhere, many are dreaming of individual homes, more private space, a greener environment, many are reassessing their priorities, the rat race. And like everywhere, more city dwellers are considering rural lives. 

Of course, if there's always been a market for the Larzac / flower power fringes, most people wouldn't give up a certain level of services. And the 'winning' regions end up losing their souls when they pour concrete over their pristine shores to lure more city slickers (e.g. Jeju).

Can and should all rural communities be saved? I don't think so. But rural desertification can and should be prevented where it makes sense in a sustainable way.

Spontaneous grassroots initiatives can work, but local authorities can also play a role. What matters is that no one should play it selfishly, or with a short-term vision. Regional and national authorities an also help, particularly in order to mutualize and share resources and to make sure that as few people as possible fall out of the grid on key services and infrastructures.

Take the digital divide, for instance. Broadband coverage being strategic, it has become rather common for regulators and local authorities to push for network sharing schemes between operators, just like SK Telecom, KT Mobile, and LG U+ did last week: the government selected 131 rural and coastal areas which will then be covered by all 3 players, even if it wouldn't have made economic sense for any of them otherwise.

That's a good example on how a macro approach can help prioritize and focus the efforts. Local authorities should also pool to help prevent the closure of such essential infrastructures as hospitals or schools, which often accelerate the down spiral and seal the fate of several localities.

Education is paramount, and recent innovations and changes of habits could help change the equation for endangered institutions. We know that remote learning can become part of the mix, but also that some level of physical presence is essential for pupils. In order to maintain schools with a good level of education, why not have for instance confirmed teachers teach in parallel in different classrooms, with a junior assistant in each? 

Some worry about the absence of cultural life, but in Korea, I've already seen artists move their studios to very rural settings, or an old, remote industrial site converted into an art residence. And more fundamentally, there is no such thing as a cultural desert where a community is alive. Involving existing communities guarantees a cultural continuum, a transmission of the knowledge of the land and its history, but this is the ideal opportunity to bring more diversity. In Europe, quite a few rural communities have been revived by Foreigners who came to love them, and felt the love in return. A dying Italian village was repopulated with refugees and there as well, essential services could reopen. 

To help tilt the balance in the right direction, authorities can subsidize essential services. It's good to make sure that within a certain radius there's at least one store that can also provide basic postal / logistical services (not just a mini local platform for the pervasive delivery services). Once you enter a virtuous cycle of organic revival, other infrastructures can be envisioned - e.v. charging station, mini shuttle operations...

You don't want to build something as artificial as these cult-like life-on-Mars simulator bubbles, but grow reasonably ambitious, sustainable, local, impact projects. Transform zombie villages into seed villages where you want to enjoy life and why not, have kids. 

I realize that the concept of 'seed village' is already used for something very different, less inclusive. I was also into startup references. When I observe Korea's and not just Seoul's startup ecosystem, I see a lot of zombie startups that don't make sense, have no business model or future, and only exist and survive because they know how to milk the blind cows of public subsidies (and more than a few private funds, mind you).

I strongly believe that every region claiming to be the next startup magnet (in other words, this being Korea, all regions) should devote a portion of its startup budget to not-necessarily-tech, communities-as-startups approaches. If they manage to build clusters that's great, but in parallel it would be nice for Korea to build a grid of such CaaS (not Containers as a Service but Communities as a Startup). A human network, a community of communities sharing best practices instead of local authorities competing with each others.

It shouldn't be just a Bring-your-own-job party for young entrepreneurs, but an attractive alternative for people of all backgrounds and vocations. And the perfect occasion to fulfill overlooked yet strategic land-oriented missions: for instance, Korea needs to improve its forest maintenance, and to reduce its agricultural goods / food dependency through a more sustainable farming.

Now seems the time to seriously give it a try.

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* see interesting data about the local extinction risk index in "Korea Is Aging Rapidly" (The Dongguk Post 20210412)

Thursday, April 8, 2021

After OH Se-hoon's Hangang Renaissance, Who In 2022?

If both Seoul and Busan delivered landslide victories to PPP candidates, yesterday's by-elections were less a conservative triumph than a crushing defeat for the ruling party, and a double-edged sword win for moderates between two much more consequential votes.

Here's the score:

  • Busan: PARK Hyun-joon (PPP) 63% - KIM Young-choon (DP) 34%
  • Seoul: OH Se-hoon (PPP) 57.5% - PARK Young-sun (DP) 39%
  • Both winners claimed 100% of the districts*.

OH Se-hoon campaigning in Sinchon on April 6 (photo S.M.)

PARK and OH offered rather humble acceptance speeches out of respect for the context and the expectations of voters, but also in sharp contrast with the ruling party who, last year, interpreted their landslide win at the 2020 legislative elections as, instead of a referendum on the handling of the pandemic, an absolute mandate for the very reforms that, under normal circumstances, should have led to their defeat:

  • They not only kept undermining the separation of powers in the name of justice reform, but prolonged the CHO Kuk scandals with the CHOO Mi-ae and YOO Mee-yang scandals... They even managed to create, all by themselves, their strongest presidential challenger to date: YOON Seok-yeol.
  • They not only pushed even further suicidal real estate reforms that kept crushing the middle class and leading have-nots to have even less, but also got entangled in the LH scandals.

No wonder even the inept, irrelevant PPP could defeat this embarrassing crew. Yet conservatives shouldn't make the same mistake as the DP, and believe or claim that conservatism won. It's a democratic, centrist alliance that made all the difference. And what Korea wants, what Korea needs now is neither an ideological, stubborn conservative rule, nor a ideological, stubborn left, but a pragmatic, moderate, centrist, uniting leadership**. 

Actually, conservatives lost the PPP primaries when center-right OH Se-hoon defeated NA Kyung-won. And the pact OH cemented with AHN Cheol-soo (who won the centrist primaries against  KEUM Tae-sup) worked perfectly: they wrapped up their poll-based primaries right on time, and campaigned together in a rare display of political fair play.

Centrist leader AHN Cheol-soo and weather vane kingmaker KIM Chong-in on stage in Sinchon, campaigning for OH Se-hoon on the eve of the 4.7 elections (photos S.M.)

When announced the winner yesterday on TV, OH Se-hoon was obviously very moved, and remained seated for a few seconds. Probably thinking about the miscalculation that cost him his job ten years ago, when he put it in the balance for an unnecessary referendum on school lunches (ironically, the left won by campaigning against a measure of social justice usually pushed by socialist parties - only the rich pay for it)***. Maybe remembering his exile in Kingali and Lima, his failed political return five years ago (see "OH Se-hoon returns... but did he ever leave?").  Certainly reflecting about how, just weeks ago, he was still an underdog...

Now OH looks ideally positioned for the 2027 presidential elections, except for the fact that he is once more facing a hostile majority at the Seoul metropolitan council. He only won the job for 15 months (the remainder of PARK Won-soon's mandate), and will have to campaign again next year with little chance to bring significant change in between: even before the elections, LEE Nak-yon let everybody know that his party would obstruct his every move... LEE's dumb statement immediately backfired but anyway, after yesterday's debacle, the ruling party's former front-runner doesn't stand any chance for 2022's main prize: Cheong Wa Dae.

Who will win next year's presidential elections? 

If the PPP learns the lessons from Seoul, they will try to further evolve, and build a big tent reaching for the center and YOON Seok-youl, whom AHN Cheol-soo has already been rooting for. A PPP momentum means less room for a fully independent candidate. I'm not sure the former top prosecutor will want to run, but this liberal certainly won't do it under a very conservative banner.

The ruling party will probably try to perform some cosmetic changes and bring new faces, but they have to abandon the anti-democracy path they've chosen recently, and preferably with a better candidate than a Trump-style populist like LEE Jae-myung. He could win, but then Korea would lose.

Whatever The Future brings, this being Korea, we shall be hearing some more about real estate during the campaign...

'WTF. Seoul election results by... subway lines and stations!!! Actually quite entertaining. Oh Se-hoon. Park Young-sun' (@theSeoulVillage - 20210407 -

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* Beyond Seoul's 25 'gu', OH even won every single 'dong' / neighborhood, except 3:

  • Seongsan 1-dong (Mapo-gu) by 168 votes
  • Hwagok 8-dong (Gangseo-gu) by 309 votes
  • Guro 3-dong (Guro-gu) by 863 votes. 

** I should add 'inclusive', because that's also what Korea needs. But not yet what Korea wants. OH Tae-yang, the first openly LGBT candidate for Seoul mayor, finished 9th out of 12 with 6,483 votes (0.13%). That's a first step, but Korean politics remain overwhelmingly homophobic.

*** In case you forgot, the referendum that caused OH Se-hoon his job, and the scandal that hit his rival KWAK No-hyun right afterwards, opening a path for a very lucky PARK Won-soon: "Seoul free school lunch referendum (continued)" (20110612), "In memoriam OH Se-hoon" (20110824), "Kwak's "gros couac" (20110830)

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Ramseyer vs Japan

J. Mark Ramseyer probably thought he'd get more praise from his sponsors after publishing yet another revisionist piece. All he managed to do is to bring all spotlight precisely where Japanese extreme-right and Nippon Kaigi don't want them: on their own lies and imposture. 

Make no mistake about what this is all about: 

  • an insult to the victims of Imperial Japan's sexual slavery system (a.k.a. 'Comfort Women').
  • an insult to academic standards, and a disgrace for a Harvard Law School professor
  • a threat for Japan democracy, helping revisionism permeate society


In case you missed the latest Ramseyer controversies:

  • Dec. 1, 2020: International Review of Law and Economics (in IRLE Volume 65) publishes online 'Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War', a controversial paper where J. Mark Ramseyer claims that there was no case of sexual slavery for the Imperial military, only consensual, contractual prostitution.
    NB: a Mitsubishi Professor of Japanese Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, Ramseyer is listed under the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, but mercifully doesn't appear in RIJS' Constitutional Revision Research Project (he probably would neither pass the academic cut, nor last a minute in front of Alexis Dudden, an advisor to the project).

  • Jan. 12, 2021: "Recovering the Truth about the Comfort Women", a Ramseyer op-ed rolling out the same fallacies, is published by Japan Forward, a English arm of the ultraconservative Sankei Shimbun and a mouthpiece for ultranationalist and revisionist propaganda*.

  • International outrage ensues, particularly from actual scholars and experts. Among others:
    • "An article containing this level of academic misconduct should not have passed peer review, or have been published in an academic journal" ("Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War”: The Case for Retraction on Grounds of Academic Misconduct" - Amy Stanley, Hannah Shepherd, Sayaka Chatani, David Ambaras and Chelsea Szendi Schieder in The Asia Pacific Journal, 20210218). 
    • "For those who read Professor Ramseyer’s article at face value, unseen are assertions that advocate a current Japanese political ideology. This worldview is racially essentialist, revanchist, and history-denying. (...) One of the primary reasons for studying any state-sponsored atrocity in the past is to learn how it happened in order to try to prevent ongoing occurrences of similar violence and not to abuse history by weaponizing it for present purposes. Academic freedom is a core tenet of constitutional democracies, yet academic lies are not." ("The Abuse of History: A Brief Response to J. Mark Ramseyer’s 'Contracting for Sex'" - Alexis Dudden in The Asia Pacific Journal 202102)
    • "Any scholar who understands the falsity of its claims would condemn the article and call for its retraction" ("Letter by Concerned Economists Regarding “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War” in the International Review of Law and Economics")
    • "I don’t have any Korean contracts" (a candid confession by Ramseyer himself, who built his case on them, to Jeannie Suk Gersen, who saves Harvard's honor in this excellent and damning piece: "Seeking the True Story of the Comfort Women" - The New Yorker 20210226) 

      • see also 4 letters on APJIF: **
      • see also Michael Chwe's list of resources on the Ramseyer IRLE controversy:   
      • sign the "Letter by Concerned Economists Regarding “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War” in the International Review of Law and Economics" :

  • Jan. 14, 2021: IRLE postpones the publication of the printed version of its Volume 65 (March issue), but still plans to include Ramseyer's piece, along with comments and replies ("Journal Delays Print Publication of Harvard Law Professor’s Controversial ‘Comfort Women’ Article Amid Outcry" - The Harvard Crimson 20210214)

  • Jan. 20, 2021: Alon Harel, co-editor, confirmed that Ramseyer will 'revise significantly' another controversial paper ("Privatizing Police: Japanese Police, The Korean Massacre, And Private Security Firms" - The Cambridge Handbook of Privatization, June 2019) in which, 'citing rumors, (Ramseyer) depicted Koreans at the time of the post-earthquake chaos around Tokyo in 1923 as "gangs" that "torched buildings, planted bombs, poisoned water supplies" and murdered and raped people' ("Harvard professor Ramseyer to revise paper on 1923 massacre of Koreans in Japan: Cambridge handbook editor" - YNA 20210220) 



Exposing Ramseyer's lies helped the powerful voice of our dear LEE Yong-soo Halmoni resonate even more powerfully. Let's hope that next time the World hears her voice, will be when she represents the victims of Imperial Japan's sex slavery system at the ICJ (sad to see her make the headlines only when thugs attack the victims - see "Eternal Shame").

Needless to say, IRLE should withdraw the paper, and Harvard Law School demand a retraction and official apologies from Ramseyer.

Now internationally disgraced as a liar and a mouthpiece for debunked, extremist theories, Ramseyer poses as the victim of a 'witch hunt'. Sounds familiar? If the international community reacted so quickly and unanimously, that's also because the World is witnessing revisionism at work on a much more recent event: the US insurrection and the Capital Riot that happened just days before Ramseyer published his op-ed in Japan Forward. 

Because Ramseyer's papers fit and feed perfectly the Nippon Kaigi propaganda and agenda, they contribute to undermine the postwar democracy that lobby has officially pledged to destroy. 

Again, this is not about Japan vs Korea, but about Imperial Japan vs Justice (and justice for Comfort Women), and about Imperial Japan vs postwar, democratic Japan. 

Of course, the weaponization of history mentioned by Dudden didn't start in 2021, and Japan is certainly not the only perpetrator in the region, but there cannot be reconciliation without truth, and democracies can't survive if they let these attacks go unpunished.

Because there should be zero tolerance against revisionism, the academic community is on the front line. And I was truly moved to see it react so quickly and accurately against Ramseyer's piece, with precisely a focus on truth and reconciliation, denying any opportunity for nationalists and hatemongers to exploit or to play ping pong with their counterparts.

Nippon Kaigi and Japanese revisionists are an easy target because they are brazenly stupid. They don't have to be smart because they're not facing any resistance at home, where they control the government and the media; most Japanese never heard of the lobby or their program. The most efficient way to deal with them is to simply expose them and their agenda (which they're stupid enough to proudly disclose) as they are.

The war on revisionism is tougher with more subtle perpetrators, and this episode reminded me of the academic struggle against the Discovery Institute and its Intelligent Design imposture in the US. There as well, far-right fundamentalists with a political agenda promoted falsehoods through propaganda campaigns that mimicked science but totally negated it. The aim was also to undermine democracy and its constitutional fundamentals, to pervert education, and to rewrite text books, but I.D. was more subtle in its approach. Their leaked, internal 'Wedge Document' explained how the public was to be fooled by a confusing blend of a caricature of science and a caricature of faith. To help spread the movement in Europe, mediocre or failed scholars were sponsored to publish pseudo-academic papers that fed the confusion. 

I'm not saying that Japanese extremists pay Ramseyer to publish his debunked junk, but I'm not sure that otherwise this excuse for a scholar could have gotten prestigious sponsors, let alone been awarded the Order of the... Rising Sun.

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* including this one, from the tinfoil hat category: "Some Uncomfortable Truths About Comfort Women for the International Mob" (Archie Miyamoto 20210222)


"After #JMarkRamseyer, #JapanForward added yet another abject revisionist piece to its collection, this time from a #ArchieMiyamoto ( Using the fact that #ImperialJapan crushed #Korea #resistance as a proof of the non existence of #sexslavery?! Really?!" (@theseoulvillage - 20210226)

** Including this brilliant toolkit to help you make up your own mind: "The ‘Comfort Women’ Issue, Freedom of Speech, and Academic Integrity: A Study Aid" (Tessa Morris-Suzuki - The Asia Pacific Journal 202102)

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Seoul Village Season XV

At long last we managed to escape from 2020.

We're certainly not out of the woods yet: the beast is still striking all over the world, our economies have yet to fully experience 'long covid', and vaccination will take much longer than it should (particularly in Korea, where hubris led to an embarrassing failure to secure doses before the second half of 2021).

Beyond this mother of all crises, here's what I liked and didn't like in 2020, what to expect from 2021.


A positive cultural leader, a pro yet fun soft power... the new Korean cool!

Korean culture claimed mainstream recognition in 2020. Of course "Gisaengchung - BONG Joon-ho's existenchial Parasite" scored a perfect grand slam, of course BTS dynamited the charts, but Korean series surfed the wave far beyond the usual Korean dramas, and Foreign media started paying more attention to different beats, from indie music to trot to pansori. I just loved to see Leenalchi succeed at home as well as overseas; that's the Korea I love, and these guys brought priceless freshness and fun when they were most needed.

Respect is what this world needs to better heal, and Korean citizens showed the world how caring for each other and respecting the common good was the way to overcome together. Even Korean American Rep. Andy Kim contributed to this positive image when he humbly cleaned up the US Capitol rotunda after the riots. That's the spirit.

Korea acted as a cultural leader also by innovating in the management and the treatment of the pandemic. The country realized unprecedented breakthroughs in research and development, not just, as usual, at the product level, but at the platform level as well, including in medical fields. 

This is not just about a K-pop fad anymore. Korea proved it could be at the same time super-pro, and super-cool... just like SON Heung-min!


The Dark Side of the Moon

2020 should have marked MOON Jae-in's triumph, with the ruling party's landslide victory at the elections, surfing on a brilliant success against the first wave of coronavirus... but his handling of three key issues durably tarnished his legacy.  Actually the very same issues I spotted two years ago (see "Moon Landing - The Cheong Wa Dae Curse"):

- Economy: dogmatism over pragmatism, that's certainly not the way to think in this millennium, particularly when small businesses struggle to survive. This pandemic only constituted a second wave after reforms that already claimed a lot of victims among the weakest ones. And what to say of the real estate mess? The ayatollah in charge of the reforms even wrote a book explaining that the aim of the game was precisely to hurt the little guys, because studies show that when the middle class benefits from the market, they tend to vote more conservative... Simply put, this government deliberately betrayed the very ones he pledged to defend.

- North Korea: now the government doesn't even try to pretend anymore. Protecting the KIM Jong-un regime matters more than defending human rights, defectors who criticize him have become the enemy, and KIM Yo-jong all but dictates the laws (see "KIM Yo-jong Crash Landing On You"). Human Rights Watch and other international bodies have denounced this moral failure, but that's not even the worst that has happened last year.

- Justice: if MOON Jae-in's approval rates are nosediving, that's because his administration has betrayed the spirit of 2016, the democratic values they were supposed to herald, and yes, even the memory of ROH Moo-hyun. Now international media are starting to look at MOON through less rose-colored glasses, and even some hardcore stans find that they went too far. Because when it comes to undermining justice and separation of powers, this administration has out-trumped Donald TRUMPCHO Kuk and CHOO Mi-ae have out-williambarred William BARR, and the ruling party has out-GOPed the Republicans. The only person who stands on their path is the incorruptible Eliot NESS MOON Jae-in himself named to lead the prosecution reform. YOON Seok-youl refused to turn a blind eye on the corruption within Cheong Wa Dae and the ruling party, and decided to defend democracy and the Constitution instead of his party. By harassing him and his teams in the most outrageous ways even by trumpian standards, these thugs managed to turn a selfless liberal into a hero even for conservatives. YOON is now leading in the polls for the 2022 presidential election, but like Robert MUELLER, he's more interested in defending the integrity of justice and the soul of the nation than in a political career. 

What does 2021 have in store?

The race for 2022 starts this year, with key mayoral elections in Seoul and Busan. The ruling party should easily keep the control of the capital city, but its leaders lost a lot of credit at the national level (see above) as well as at the local level (between the lack of transparency in the controversial Sejong-daero project and the scandals surrounding PARK Won-soon suicide - see "Mayor Park to ground control"). 

After the moral collapse of the right and left wings, Korea seems ripe for a centrist, uniting figure, but no one emerges there. Because the ruling party betrayed its own values, there's an opportunity at the center right, and OH Se-hoon hasn't given up his grand national ambitions. He proposed AHN Cheol-soo to join the People Power Party and run for Seoul mayor in 2021, which would clear the way for OH in 2022, and for AHN in 2027. To the left, the future could belong to people like GEUM Tae-seop, a moderate who left the ruling party because he felt it lost its moral compass. Yet at this stage, no one is as popular as YOON. 

We will see which welcome pack KIM Jong-un prepared for Joe BIDEN, how long Yoshihide SUGA survives on top (anyway, whoever succeeds him, without or "With Yoshihide Suga, Nippon Kaigi remains in charge of Japan politics"), what kind of pressure China intends to exert on South Korea... 

We will of course keep an eye on the evolution of Seoul's cityscape, the 3rd Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, the impact of Sejong-daero revamping. 

And I might have a surprise or two in the fiction department. Thank you again, dear readers, for downloading my collection of short stories, 'Seoul VillageS', from all over the world. Your kind feedback brightened this dark year.

I wish us all a better year 2021, full of health and love. And if this year of the cow brings us another roaring tiger, let's not lose hope and let's not forget the power of laughter.

Seoul Village 2021
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PS - ICYMI, the manual to 2020:


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