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Monday, June 25, 2007

Last Cig (2005)

Last Cig (2005) - Copyright Stephane MOT
Photo : "Last Cig" (2005 - Copyright Stephane MOT)

This old man, probably born and raised in the countryside, looks closer to the end than to the ground.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Gaon (Seoul)

Copyright Stephane MOT
Gangnam-gu - Shinsa-dong - 631-23 beonji 135-895 Seoul
The Gaon (restaurant)
Tel : +82.2.3446.8411
Photo : "Gaon Gimchi Clinic" (at Gaon, the preparation of Gimchi requires surgical precision - Copyright Stephane MOT 2004)

To my humble opinion, the reputation of Korean cuisine should normally surpass that of Japanese cuisine within 15 to 20 years. Koreans clearly don't play in the same league and the Japanese know it (they adore Korean food). They can fool Westerners with their sense of presentation but as soon as the public tastes actual Korean cuisine, the game is over - for good. Unfortunately, up to now no Korean restaurant could really visually match their cuisine, but for some prestigious places embalmed in the cult of Tradition.

Gaon created the very much expected precedent, setting from the start the standards at the highest level. To me, Gaon is simply the very best Korean restaurant in the World* because it perfectly honours the great Art Culinaire of Korea. The chef manages to reinvent the classics and masters to the perfection each element (taste, flavor, color, texture, temperature...). And to make it even more sublime, each course is presented in a dish specially designed for it by a great master in ceramics.


* if you find a better one, please send the address ASAP
addendum 20081210 :
Sad, sad, sad news about The Gaon : "Annus Horribilis".

see other restaurants in Seoul and Korea.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Seoul - Jongno-gu - Sejongno
Photo : "Sejongno Caricatures" (Copyright Stephane MOT 2006)

When I first came to Seoul, pedestrians were basically parasites tolerated in a city embracing the cult of Car Almighty. New cars kept piling up at the rate of 400 per day, and I would witness a major crash every other day. Needless to say I could spread thick traffic jam on my toast anytime, not only for breakfast.

Back then, Sejongno (downtown's central axis) was a highway paved with ugly monuments built during the Japanese occupation, but guarded by the statue of the local hero, Admiral Yi Sun-sin. Seoul Station, City Hall et al are still standing, but the country has mercifully removed the massive horror deliberately erected to hide the Gyeongbokgung and destroy the beautiful Bukansan perspective. The National Museum's great collections were offered a (slightly) better shell in Yongsan.

In a relatively near future, passers-by should be able to walk peacefully across the stream (right now, the safest way to survive the walk from one river to the other is to go through the underground maze). Traffic will be limited to two times two lanes ; I just saw the first drafts of restoration projects and I wonder when these brilliant architects will consider building things meant to last over a few years. For Gimchi's sake, something nice can be done at the core of this city. You want to enjoy your walk from the palaces to Insadong.

I had just been a Seoulite for a couple of days and was going out for lunch behind the Kyobo Building with colleagues from the French Embassy, when I felt something pass just inches from my head - then I saw a policeman dodge the bullet... We were in the dead middle of a war... the mother of all snowball battles : maybe a hundred police and military playing like kids, laughing their masks off.

Our offices were next to the US Embassy* and if you like to see uniforms, that's the place to be. The most impressive line up of policemen I ever saw was for the visit of George H. W. Bush (the Elder, a.k.a. 41) : one man posted every meter for a couple of miles, all the way from the Gyeongbokgung to Samgakji Station. No wonder Dubya's Dad got a little bit dizzling later that day.


* at the Leema Building - the Economic Mission moved to Gangnam a few months later.


Copyright Stephane MOT

Jeollanam-do - Damyang-gun (담양군, 潭陽郡) - maeul

An almost deserted maeul just a couple of miles off Damyang.
We're welcomed by a scorching sun, a cripled dog and this old lady.

Only traditional houses - hay and bamboo sticking out of parched walls.

A her friends place, a traditional oven outside at floor level, and sesame grain drying up.

It definitely beats nearby Sunchang, a gochujang (red pepper paste) theme park. Damyang-gun markets itself as a bamboo county (you are surrounded by forests of them, you swim in it in spas, you even eat your rice in it). Quite a few cultural spots (better off season), including Soswaewon garden.


Photo "Open up sesame" (20040827 - copyright Stephane MOT)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Carrefour Junggye

Copyright Stephane MOT
Seoul - Nowon-gu - Junggye - Carrefour Junggye
Photo : "Carrefour du developpement" (Copyright Stephane MOT 2004)

The World's #2 retailer decided to leave Korea in 2006. Carrefour was eventually starting to earn something (and to export varieties of fresh products from small to medium sized Korean producers for its stores in France), but it just couldn't replicate its usual business model : you are not allowed to make purchases at the group level and thus make a difference at the logistics level. Even Wal-Mart failed. Price killers do exist though : you always find ways of crushing producers.

I'm not worrying for Carrefour. They got more than they could dream of from E.Land, who launched a weird mallish concept called Homever late last year.

It's just that you don't find big juici Nashi pears in their Paris store anymore. And Homever's bookstore is less fun to watch : each time I passed by, tens of kids would be sitting everywhere (even in shopping carts - see pix), reading books and not often of the comics / manga kind.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Junggye Maeul

Copyright Stephane MOT 2004Nowon-gu - Junggye - Junggye Maeul

The old Junggye Village is dying. Towers will soon replace this up the hill slum. Villagers were poor but welcoming people. At a fork close to the top, the only shop would lay a mat for customers to sip their beverages, passers-by to join the chat or help for the preparation of gimchi. A rotten trucklet would stop nearby and sell a few veggies to anyone interested.

Steep hill but nice view on the city. Beyond, woods poorly taken care of but well guarded by noisy memmis.

20070621 (photo "Unequal access" copyright Stephane MOT 20040825)


Copyright Stephane MOT 2002
Seoul - Jung-gu, Hwanghak-dong

South of the Cheonggyecheon and a few blocks East of Dongdaemun, Hwanghak-dong is mutating.

The flea market has been vaporized (or rather Fly-Toxed - I saw troops of thugs paid by the developpers charge the last die harders a couple of years ago), some aseptized remnants transfered near Dongmyo, and a tragic permanent fair of cheap imports set up in Dongdaemun Stadium (on the death row as well).

The Sindang food market lost its charm after the "restoration" of the streamlet. Last time I passed by The Lotte Castle it was almost completed. I was walking all the way from Majang-dong to Euljiro, along the new and improved Cheonggyecheon. At night, the working site wasn't lit at all, and this dark, massive hulk stood over me like a titanic drawing by Philippe Druillet. Not exactly the kind of castles you see while kayaking on Dordogne river...

20070621 (photo "Somewhere under the rainbow" - copyright Stephane MOT 2002)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Nowon-gu map

These maps complete the focus on Nowon-gu, which comprises 5 administrative areas :
- Sanggye-dong (10 dong)
- Junggye-dong (5 dong)
- Hagye-dong (2 dong)
- Wolgye-dong (4 dong)
- Gongneung-dong (3 dong)

Sanggye, Nowon's biggest district, hosts two key hubs around Nowon and Sanggye stations :

View Seoul Village in a larger map

For a detailed view, see also
Seoul city interactive map.

Seoul Village 2007


Copyright Stephane MOT
Nowon-gu (노원구; ) is Seoul's Northeastest and most populated district.
Population : 619,509 inhabitants (2006)
Area : 35.44 km² (max 6 km W-E, max 9 km N-S)
City Hall and official website :

Photo : "Nowon noway" (2004 - Copyright Stephane MOT)

Geography :

Nowon's main frontiers are :

  • to the West, the Jungnangcheon. Part of the district (Wolgye-dong) lies on the other side of this confluent of the Han river which also separates Nowon from Dobong-gu.

  • to the East, Buramsan and Suraksan mountains (and beyond, the city of Namyangju)

  • to the North, the city of Uijongbu

  • to the South, the district of Jungnang-gu (plus Seongbuk-gu for Wolgye-dong)
Nowon consists of 24 dong and 5 major areas (see map) :
  • Sanggye - North (10 dong)

  • Junggye - Center East (5 dong)

  • Hagye - Center South (2 dong)

  • Wolgye - South West (4 dong)

  • Gongneung - South East (3 dong)

History :

Originally a quiet and flat valley of fields dotted with a few villages of farmers (some names do subsit - ie Madeul Station), Nowon was untill 1988 the Eastern part of Dobong-gu.

The new "gu" was meant to become a bed town for the booming population, mainly newly formed households who couldn't afford more central areas. Like in Jamsil, this massive development included from the start tens of blocs of 5 to 15 storey appartment buildings. But here, most appartments were small and remote from the new city centers.

Yet, thanks to its strong internal / demographical dynamics, Nowon managed to grow from a cheap bed town into a major hub at the North of the capital, with a soul of its own and Nowon Station at its heart :
  • transports : the crossroads of subway lines 4 and 7 will also welcome a major city air terminal bound to serve the North of Seoul and the neighboring cities. The old train terminal will be relocated in Namyangju and the Dobong driving center in a more remote area of the district).

  • commerce : all businesses and national / international franchises, including a Lotte Department Store born a medium range Midopa Department Store in 1992 and now the most luxurious store in North East Seoul. The city air terminal will also host a major commercial center.

  • services : the city hall, major corporations' local branches, plus all the district's motels are near the station.

  • culture : the baby boomers turned teenagers boost the Dept Store's movie theaters, and the local cultural center regularily proposes foreign shows. A new stadium is under construction.

  • environment : Sanggye's central area is getting greener. Closer thant the old mountain's regional parks : the Jungnangcheon's riverside park, the future central park, restoration of a smaller stream...
The most select area of the gu, Junggye, remains the hottest spot for schools and housing (plus many important stores, including a Lotte Mart and a Carrefour turned Homever in 2006). A new subway line will connect Eunhaeng Sageori / 은행사거리 (Crossroads of the Banks), a major center. Between Nowon and Eunhaeng Sageori, the small stream joining Suraksan and Bulamsan mountains to Jungnangcheon, Danghyeoncheon (당현천), will be restored and could become an important cultural axis.

Sanggye New Town will totally reshape Danggogae Station area... destroying some of the few slums remaining after the completion of Seoul's circular highway 100. The remote Junggye maeul is also disappearing. I had the time to take a few pictures of both before realtors took the rest...

Nowon was meant as a popular district, as in popular for the people. Traditionnaly spared by the real estate bubble, Nowon is now getting popular for investors as well, and many Gangnam-gu speculators have recently contributed to a dramatic rise in housing prices. Many blocks are being redevelopped and all the ingredients of a pleasant place are already there.

Stephane MOT 2006

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