NEW - download 'Seoul VillageS (서울 마을들)', my collection of 12 short fictions! Get your free copy of the ebook (4 editions: English, French, Korean, Bilingual English-Korean)!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Bulldozer Canal

President-elect-and-under-judicial-threat LEE Myung-bak confirmed his ambition to build a canal joining the Han and the Nakdong rivers during his first (and theorically only, unless he also manages to remodel the constitution) mandate.

One more project on the Seoul - Busan axis ? I'd rather see Korea build a circular bullet train line to balance the country's infrastructures with a milder impact on the environment. Or even better, invest in the much needed restoration of Seoul's subway stations, many of which are plagued with asbestos dust falls (30% of Seoul Metro's employees are rumored to be suffering from this cancerous material).

As the name of his Cyworld blog shows*, "Bulldozer" LEE is ambitious : one year to plan, three years to build (2009-2011), and one year to campaign for a second term. Not much time to think and plenty of time to sink ?

The former CEO of Hyundai Engineering and Construction wants his pharaonic project to be 100% financed by private companies. All chaebols have already been invited to a roundtable, and Middle East investors are likely to pour the bulk of the $15 bn announced.

A quick reality check already showed the actual number would be triple that... and a tedious real estaty check would probably multiply it tenfold.

A streamlet as a Mayor, a canal as a President... should LEE become the next BAN Ki-moon, he'd probably dig a new ocean or at least an Asian equivalent to the Mediterranean sea.


Saturday, January 5, 2008

One million aliens

1,000,254 foreigners live in Korea. That's not much (a little bit over 2% of the population), but the number almost tripled within the last 10 years. And it starts showing.

Chinese represent 44.1% of the total and Americans 11.8%, but the majority of these Chinese "foreigners" (266,764) are ethnic Koreans... and I wouldn't be surprised to see a similar pattern among the 117,938 US citizens registered by the Ministry of Justice. The Korean diaspora going mobile seems a key driver anyway.

Another internal driver is the recent trend of "spouses imports" : 104,749 immigrants are married to Koreans - three times more than in 2002. And we are not just talking high rise international weddings but also about farmers picking up wives in South East Asian rice paddies. Mixed kids with a cultural handicap (inadapted mother at home and xenophobic neighbors around) are becoming a national issue.

And emerging countries are the main providers of "aliens". Japan and Taiwan lag behind Vietnam, Philippines and Thailand (15.7% for the 3 combined). But if there are 1.5 times more illegal immigrants than 10 years ago, they only represent 22.5% of the total, down from 38.3%.

Songdo New Town intends to compete with the likes of Singapore or Hong Kong, proposing lavish penthouses and wide green spaces one hour away from China and Japan to Westerners. But will they rush to new towns as quickly as Koreans did for Bundang ?

books, movies, music