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

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comments and remarks. Also for your patience (comments are moderated and are not published right away - only way to curb the spam, sorry). S.

books, movies, music