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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

50000 Won Bank Note

The first 50,000-won notes will be released in May or June 2009. That's about USD 35 these days. Barely a fortune compared to a Grant or a EUR 500 notes, but 5 times more than today's highest Korean bank note, the KRW 10,000 featuring King Sejong.

Another first : the 50K features a woman : a painter and an author, Shin Saim-dang (1504 - 1551) is even more famous for mothering and raising the great philosopher Yul-gok (also known as Yi I - 1536-1584).

Korean bank notes have been recently modernized. They don't share the same dimensions anymore : the bigger, the more expensive. And the newcomer will also be 6mm bigger than the 10K.

Its yellow color may be confusing with the light brownish 5,000 won note, especially since the face figures don't feature any comma nor dot : Westerners would write 50,000 (fifty thousand) where Koreans read 5,0000 (five "man" or five "ten thousand").

The project for a KRW 100,000 bank note, also announced two years ago, has been postponed : fears of inflation cripled the process, and no country can afford that kind of risks these days.

For big cash transactions, people may still rely on specific bank checks (and bad guys stick to attache cases instead of enveloppes).

Monday, February 23, 2009

Pierre Gagnaire a Seoul

I don't know whether "Pierre Gagnaire à Séoul" can help revive the very corny Lotte Hotel or not, but it had been ages since I last pushed its doors... and I guess I'm not the only customer to experience this weird feeling on his way to the 35th floor and to the first restaurant by a 3 Michelin Star Chef in Korea.

After Paris, Tokyo, Hong-Kong, and Dubai, the Pierre Gagnaire franchise opened shop in Seoul.

The timing couldn't be worse... or better for the Lotte Group : all luxury restaurants are struggling, but this chaebol is on an aggressive investing drive (purchasing food and beverage companies, building a new 555 m high Lotte World II...), and intends to gain ground as rivals struggle (most rivals : fellow retailer Shinsegae just opened a giant new complex in Busan, and purchased at a bargain price a key building near its headquarters in downtown Seoul).

Enough biz talk. And let's not waste time describing the curvy decor creating two niches with a view on the city center, enhanced by a smart system of mirrors.

Food, now. For this first encounter of the third kind in Seoul and after experiencing some overacted cuisine extravaganzas at "Gaya par Pierre Gagnaire" in Paris, I didn't dare taking too risky a path on the rather stimulating menu, and went for a simple and classic course. No surprise there (ie veal with eel and boletus), except for a few successful innovations maintained on the side (ie amuses-gueule and dessert), and at the right level.

My first impression : not a major disruption, but the possibility for Seoulites to enjoy the real Parisian-style, 3-star thing.

This fills a competitive gap with rival Asian neighbors, and could spark some positive competition at the national level. Eventually. And if Lotte can sustain the "caprice" until better times come.

Knowing that a much quicker and more positive way of putting definitely Seoul on the global culinar map would be to promote high end Korean restaurants : this courageous opening doesn't make for last year's tragic loss (see "Annus Horribilis").

Pierre Gagnaire à Séoul
Lotte Hotel Seoul 35F New Wing, Sogong-dong, Jung-gu, SEOUL, ROK
Tel +82.2.317.7181, 7182

Seoul Village 2009

see other restaurants in Seoul and Korea.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Gustav Klimt at Seoul Arts Center - Pompidou at SeMA

Ten years ago, "major" exhibitions in Seoul featuring big names from the past would propose a couple of works by the Great Master submerged by flocks of side dishes from relatively unknown and distant relatives.

Nowadays, Seoulites can enjoy simultaneously major collections with consistant editorial lines from the Pompidou Center at the SeMA and from Gustav Klimt at the Seoul Arts Center*. They can and they do : in spite of their relatively high entrance fees the shows are drawing masses of visitors not necessarily used to this kind of entertainment.

Seoul has definitely become an international art hub well beyond its national treasures and its traditional position on the contemporary art scene, leveraging on new landmarks (National Museum, Leeum**...), but also on stronger ties with fellow Asian countries (ie always something stimulating to discover at the National Museum in Yongsan), as well as with new European partners (ie for the Monet exhibition a couple of years ago, Pompidou and Vienna today).

I bump into Klimt every now and then, and each time from a closer range. Now we've met in my three favorite cities : in NYC a quarter of a century ago ("Vienna 1900: Art, Architecture & Design" - MOMA 1986), Vienna was the star, in Paris more recently ("Vienne 1900" - Grand Palais 2005), the focus was on four artists (Klimt, Schiele, Moser, and Kokoschka), but today in Seoul, Gustav rules the show.

"Gustav Klimt in Korea 2009" justifies its name : the artist is there, drawing a stimulating map of his own life and mind, displaying a collection of beautiful portraits, meeting a new public hungry for change in another young century.

I still prefer Egon Schiele, and still wonder how far he would have gone if the Spanish Flu didn't claim him that early... But that's another story.

Seoul, as a young and promising art center, is also threatened by a global menace, and already feeling the pinch of the crisis (galleries are struggling, auctions slumping, and I'm not sure the next KIAF will be as great as the 2008 edition). But it shall overcome, because this city has embraced art for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer.

I haven't made up mind mind on the "better or worse" dimension of Rem Koolhaas' shapeshifting of an installation under construction on the Gyeonghuigung's lawn. It keeps evolving each time I look through my windows. First came the massive blocks, then those giant pivoting steel PlayStation buttons, and now this screen covering the exhibition space until its inauguration (April 25th)... But as far as the "richer or poorer" dimension is concerned, the name could be a clue : when a "Prada Transformer" is coming to town, you know the era of art hype is not totally over.

* hurry up for Pompom :

. "Centre Georges Pompidou Exhibition "Heaven for Artists""(Seoul Museum of Art - 20081222 - 20090322)
. "
Gustav Klimt in Korea 2009" - SAC / Hangaram Art Museum (20090202-0515)
** see my blogule (French version) : "Leeum ad vitam aeternam"

Monday, February 16, 2009

Jongmyo - Changdeokgung reunited

Jongmyo visitors can join the Changdeok palace (or vice versa) through a small bridge over a busy 4-lane road separating both UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Jongno-gu.

That miserable road, a long stretch between two beautiful places, offers little to see except the canopy, long grey walls, and intense traffic.

Two more lanes will be added, probably for public transportation (buses are often jammed there), but all traffic shall go underground : at last, both monuments will be reunited in a strong vertical and cultural green line.

Beyond Jongro and prolonging this new perspective between Bukhansan and Namsan, and forming a cross with the recently restored Cheonggyecheon, public gardens will replace the Sewoon shopping center (세운상가), a long and narrow rectangular monstruosity built in 1968.

A few blocks westwards, another urban nightmare, the Nagwon shopping center (낙원상가), will disappear and liberate Samil-ro and the way between the Unhyeongung and Tapgol Park (Pagoda Park).

At the macro level, the Insadong - Gwonnong-dong - Jongno-3-ga triangle is definitely changing for the better. But at the micro level, local authorities are unfortunately not doing anything to prevent whole packs of hanoks from being destroyed, or non descript three story buildings from being erected.

That's the difference between good initiatives and a great vision.

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