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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wonseo-dong's Cheonggyecheon

The quitest side of Gahoe-dong, Wonseo-dong, is about 900 m long and 150 m wide, its Western half a hill covered with "villas" (mostly of the 2-3 story brick kind), and its Eastern half following Changdeokgung-gil, along the Western walls of the Changdeok palace.

Walking along Changdeokgung-gil can be an interesting experience. Starting from Yulgogno (or the palace's parking once you've visited Changgyeonggung), you quickly reach Bukchon-gil, with Yongsusan restaurant at the corner. You want to walk a little bit up that street to enjoy the view behind the walls, particularily at sunset, when the wooden side of Injeongjeon takes the most beautiful red-brown color.

The second section of Changdeokgung-gil displays more hanoks, two buddhist organisations (Eundeok Culture Center, Museum of Korean Buddhist Art), and a couple of small contemporary art galleries.

You then reach a more classic Seoul maeul with its small shops and services, and its non-descript buildings. Here, constructions occupy both sides of the street, but those hiding the palace wall will soon be destroyed. A small stream will be restored there. Nothing as spectacular as Cheonggyecheon but you can imagine how it may change dramatically the atmosphere, transforming this quiet place into a major tourist hub full of restaurants with terraces.

So you'd better enjoy the silence while it's there. Because at this stage of your walk, you cannot hear the city anymore, and the summer air feels much fresher and cleaner because of the mountain and the dense forest on the other side of the wall, next to Huwon (known as "Biwon" or "Secret Garden" during the Japanese occupation).

Further afield, you cross another street to your left, Changdeokgung 6-gil, and if you're riding a bike that's a mean slope, so we're just going to leave it for later.

Keep going straight ahead instead : the street doubles as you discover a more traditional maeul with a bigger proportion of hanoks. The biggest ones are owned by companies or associations, and one of them hosts the Institute of Korean Royal Cuisine. Uphill, the hybrid hulks of a Chaebol house and a center owned by furniture maker Hanssem (DBEW - Design Beyond East & West).

At the end of the street, where the wall turns left, lies a small stone staircase leading to a streamlet, where people used to wash their clothes. If you go down, you can see the other side of the walls through a metal grille : an untended prairie below Sinseonwonjeon. In the other direction : two dark holes probably heading, under the concrete, towards the future restored stream. In the water : some plastic trash and two small live crayfishs. Welcome to downtown Seoul.

Go back to the crossroads, where the traditional home of painter Go Hee-dong was saved from certain destruction after neighbors alerted the authorities. Seoul city purchased the site and started restoring the building... at its pace. This house may be empty, it has some history and character, plus an interesting location... in a word : some potential to serve as a cornerstone for the revitalization of this part of Gahoe-dong.

Too many hanoks have been destroyed or replaced by two-three-storey-"villas" between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeok-gung, causing a legitimate uproar and new regulations. Unfortunately, as too often the case, destructions accelerated as soon as rumors of regulations started circulating. But Seoul intends to turn back the clock and restore as many hanoks as possible, starting with a house on Gye-dong-gil now hosting the "Bukchon Traditional Culture Center".

It seems a little bit too late for Changdeokgung 6-gil : as you climb the alley, all you can see are ugly brick "villas". Untill you reach the highest point, where hanoks are back with a vengeance. You're about to enter Gye-dong, another rectangle-shaped dong between Wonseo-dong and Gahoe-dong, and along Gye-dong-gil, which will lead you all the way back to Anguk Station.

Over the past few years and even months, Gye-dong-gil has been changing dramatically. Or rather drama-cally, since it owes much of its recent international fame to the doomed drama "Winter Sonata". I'm not adding "doomed" as a tribute to a two-penny scenario, but as a reminder of the curse this televisual joke cast on Korean image, culture, and tourism (see the red blogule I spilled on "
Bae Yong-june Airlines" a few years ago).

Whatever. A few scenes were shot at ChoongAng High School (JoongAng High School), which explains the two shops selling Hallyuwood artifacts, collectors and posters on both side of its entrance. History used to remember this site as the ground zero of the March 1st, 1919 movement, not the birthplace of a fake love story...

This shameless display of smiling plastic surgery wonders somehow sets the pace for the rest of Gye-dong-gil, a street progressively turning into a fly ribbon for Japanese tourists with its cosy, cute, and romantic cafes / gift / art and craft / flower / all of the above shops.

Miryang Son Mandu is neither cute nor 'bobo', nor even a hanok... but last time I passed by they were still making good dumplings, near the intersection with Bukchon-gil.

Hyundai Headquarters are definitely not a hanok. This tower marks the end of Gyedong-gil and of your stroll, unless you decide to either :

- stop at the Bukchon Traditional Culture Center, or
- follow the "hype" crew, heading westwards on Bukchon-gil for a restaurant in Gahoe-dong or Samcheong-dong, or
- stick to the few true "bourgeois-bohemes", who eventually decided to stay overnight in one of Gye-dong's five hanok guest houses

Take your pick.

Miryang Son Mandu (Seoul)

In spite of the multiplication of art galleries, cafes and trendy shops, Gahoe-dong has not been totally Cheongdam-dongized yet. But it's definitely following similar patterns. Even if slightly more the Frisco than the L.A. way...

Nearby Gye-dong is also turning into a hot spot, but with a different flavor. Tourists have been fancying Bukchon area's traditional houses for some time, and the local administration intends to push further its architectural integrity. Newly built Hanoks pop up every year and it does make a difference.

Yes, you'll find this dumpling restaurant in a recent, non-descript, 3-4-story building. But its five or six tables are full of kind people and covered with delicious handmade mandu / manduguk. And it doesn't feel like you're in downtown Seoul ; rather in a quiet city far away from the Capital. I don't know whether that felling will last or not, but this restaurant would better not turn into yet another artificial tea house.

Miryang Son Mandu (밀양손만두)
Jaedong-gil, Gye-dong, Jongno-gu
(on the main street leading to the Joongang school - across the Jongno soccer association)
Tel : +82.2.744.3272

SM 2008

see other restaurants in Seoul and Korea.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hyehwa-dong Rotary

Another elevated road has been removed. Less spectacular than Cheonggyecheon's restoration, the denudation of Hyehwa-dong Rotary is already completely redefining a key crossroads up Daehangno (connections with Changgyeonggungno South-Westwards, Uamro North-Westwards, and mainly Dongsomunro and Seongbuk-gu North-Eastwards).

The reconstruction site is still at its early steps, and green patches have yet to be drawn, but what used to be a scary dark space covered by concrete already looks like the sun catching, passers-by friendly grand' place of a village.

Well. It takes some imagination to see that... but it took some vision and courage to get rid of this convenient shortcut between Mia Sagori and downtown Seoul.

This city is definitely starting to consider passers-by higher on the evolution scale than mere parasites.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Chuck Close at Sungkok Art Museum

The Sungkok Architectural Garden used to have a lovely view on the Gyeongbokgung and Cheonghwadae, but it is now blocked by the Gyeonghuigungoe Achim and Space Bon complexes.
Whatever. The spot remains a cool and peaceful place to enjoy a drink and browse an exhibition.

These days, the museum is hosting the 12th stop of the Chuck Close tour*. The craftsman's work is a tale of patience and organization, and to me, this highly collaborative dimension is the main reason why Close should not be considered an autist (his speech and choice of subjects beyond himself coming distant second and third).

There is something almost Stanley Kubrikish about his obsession for processes and tools, to the risk of producing something vaguely passé. But I feel much more comfortable with a "Dr Strangelove" and a "Barry Lyndon" on my shelves rather than with a Close up my wall.

* "Chuck Close Prints - Process and collaboration" (from 20080619 to 20080928)
Sungkok Art Museum - Shinmunro-2-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul, ROK - Tel +82.2.737.7650

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

National Museum of Korea indeed

The first time I visited Korea's National Museum, it was in late 1991, halfway during its stay in the former Japanese General Government Building that used to hide Gwanghwamun.

Back then, Yongsan Army Base was still a mostly empty space, and the Dragon Hill the highest and ugliest building around. The Yongsan Family Park was yet to be opened (1992), the stalinicoid War Memorial extension to be erected (1994), and the new museum to be inaugurated (2005).

What struck me as I first discovered this massive monolith in 2005 was the size and the dullness of the architecture. But the collections were offered a much better display, with a priority on pedagogy and chronology. Not very creative : a little bit like at the Incheon Airport, you know at a glance which gate will lead you to your destination.
Pedagogy is one thing, propaganda another. And I don't like the political tone this museum seems to be taking these days.
The ROK is celebrating its 60th anniversary and an exhibition on the national flag makes sense. And I was not surprised to notice a dramatic change in the place devoted to the Goguryo era, but what to think of the comments on Dokdo in the new and improved map section ?
The other day, at the Tokyo National Museum, I felt the same unease (ie chronologies that could have been written by Shinichi Fujimura), but not at the same scale.
I hope that what used to be National Musea won't turn into Nationalist Fora ad nausea.

Anyway, the place is always worth the visit :
National Museum of Korea (국립중앙박물관)
135 Seobinggo-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, ROK
Tel +82.2.2077.9000 - website :
"Taegukgi" exhibition : from 20080814 to 20081119

Monday, August 18, 2008

Jyeong-dong Guk Si (Seoul)

Cold noodles in soy milk (Kong-guksu / 콩국수) can be the most refreshing dishes in summer. The sesame version (Kkae-guksu / 깨국수) is tastier, and Jyeongdong Guksi's may be too tasty to be totally natural.

But then there is the location : on Deoksugung-gil, not far from the Jeongdong-sagori and the Nanta Theater. If your idea of a snack is rather a sandwich, cross the street and go to Ihwa's Birds & Bugs cafe.

Jyeong-dong Guk Si / Jyeongdong Guksi (졍동국시)
22-2 Jeong-dong, Jung-gu, SEOUL, ROK
Tel : +82.732.0114

SM 2008

see other restaurants in Seoul and Korea.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Media in Korea

You don't speak Korean but you want to follow what's going on there ? Check today's daily news headlines page in Seoul Village. And you'll find below a few useful sites in English :

=> Yonhap News Agency :
=> Daily newspapers :
. JoongAng Ilbo (with an English edition in print, along with the IHT) :
. Chosun Ilbo (English only on the web) :
. Dong-A Ilbo (English only on the web) :
. Hankyoreh (English only on the web) :
. Korea Herald (English edition only, web and print) :
. Korea Times (English edition only, web and print) :
=> Radio and TV channels with online radio and TV players :
. Arirang TV (international) :
. KBS World : (national site in Korean KBS :
. SBS Global : (national site in Korean SBS :

You can also check the list of Korean media who visited Seoul Village and my personal portal.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Waiting for the next Olympic games

Following the Olympic Games on Korean TV can be kind of frustrating : the volume of images is absolutely gigantic, but they mostly consist of runs and reruns of Korean triumphs because TV rights have been awarded to a pool of all major broadcasters, and for fear of losing the audience wars, no one dares show any event featuring no national athlete.

And even when there is a Korean athlete, you need to get the side informations over the web (no, I don't enjoy watching Park Tae-hwan ad nauseam and yes, Michael Phelps won that race and snatched a world record).

SBS more than doubled the price to get the TV rights for Olympic Games 2010-2014. The $72.5M deal includes full multimedia rights for North Korea.

Let's hope that by then, all bad habits will have changed both sides of the DMZ.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Korea on the rocks part II

Winds have been blowing in many directions over Dokdo since our last visit*.

Japanese hardliners could almost claim victory after getting from the US Board of Geographic Names to obliterate Dokdo and to promote the Japanese-leaning "Liancourt Rocks" and "Sea of Japan" labels.

But then LEE Myung-bak and George W. Bush met, sat down, prayed for a while, and voila Dokdo back on the maps.

Yasuo Fukuda, the Japanese Prime Minister who obviously switched to nationalist mode only to prepare his cabinet reshuffle, will probably have to visit Yasukuni shrine a few times and ignite a few controversies in order to remain in power. I don't wish him good luck.

And now China is claiming Ieodo (Parangdo until 2001 - Suyan Rock for China and Socotra Rocks for the ROTW), a rock located between Jeju-do and China**. I'm not familiar with this issue but if the closest uncontested territories are Korean, then Chinese, then Japanese, Korea's claim seems less evident than for Dokdo.

As an underwater body, the rock cannot be claimed by anyone, but Korea built the Ieodo Ocean Research Station (along with a helipad) on its top during the 90s.

On that one, China's move seems rather defensive...
But ever the best strategists, the Chinese pick the best timing to position themselves : Bush is leaving Taiwan today for Beijing in order to attend the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games.

Speaking of games... this looks like chess : will Korea declare pat with China (OK for the neutrality of this area as an act of goodwill, but you stop claiming the Goguryeo heritage) ? or will Korea cling to this Ieodo pawn to the risk of threatening his Dokdo royal couple ?

* see "
Claiming Dokdo as Takeshima equals claiming Seoul as Gyeongseong" (20080518), and the following blogules in French : "Le Japon décide de recoloniser Dokdo" (20080714) and "Néofascisme et racisme au programme" (20080719)
** see "
China Promotes Claims over Korean Island" (20080808 Chosun Ilbo)

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