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)!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sejong City and the beauty of lameduckhood

For most observers, the future of Korea's next capital, Sejong Special Autonomous City, has never looked bright. And when LEE Myung-bak hired, as his new Prime Minister, a fierce oponent to the project, common sense was bound to win over utopia (see "Sejong City").

Chances were CHUNG Un-chan would take all the burden for the change of plans, the President simply accepting his recommendations. Politics as usual.

But no. The Bulldozer, in this bluntest style, did what few politicians dare do in public, and even fewer on prime time TV : he said yes, I agreed with the project, but only to get the votes from Chungcheongnam-do people. Sorry, but now I must do what's good for the country and pull the plug.

Needless to say Chungcheongnam-do voters are not pleased by this honesty. They will have to do with a B Plan yet to be determined.

Sejong City will exist, probably refocused on education and research, and Seoul will remain the capital of South Korea.

Such is the beauty of lameduckhood in Korea : a President serves only one term and is not politically binded. His party ? A one shot disposable vehicule he dumps into deep seas as soon as the satellite has reached its orbit.

Seoul Village 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

Haemil construction, continued (game interrupted)

Today, I visited Mr Chung Mong-joon's new parking lot. Except it was not a parking lot but a public park where people use to jog, play, enjoy the view on the Gyeonghuigung Palace, and breathe fresh air from the woods. Particularly on week-ends.

On previous saturdays, we sometimes had a tough time breathing : toxic exhausts from his future think tank headquarter's working site* invaded the whole area, irritating our eyes and throats, and I seriously worried about the life expectancy of people manipulating this stuff (definitely too aggressive to be just paint), all day long, and without any special protection.

This morning, we had to wait for over one hour to play, and our game was suddenly interrupted when the huge crane folded, using the dead center of the sports field in the process.

Beyond the crane, which itself covered well over 100 square meters, the central field was also dotted with one big truck and two smaller ones, plus at least two personal cars which had nothing to do up here. At one moment, an old man passed by, jotting down on his notebook one or two license plate numbers. Long after he departed, a small water truck joined the party, but was kind enough to park off the field : after all, we had decided to play on the remaining third of the field without waiting for about 30 huge air con systems to be lifted from the ground to the working site... trying not to think about what would happen if one of these blocks fell down on us.

When we thought we would recover the left third of the field, another personal car arrived and made sure the right wing shrunk even more. And when the trucks cleared the area, the crane stopped the game.

Before deciding to play in spite of this mechanical ballet, we had plenty of time to admire the soon to be completed building. As we saw before, it could be an interesting landmark under less controvertial circumstances. Who knows ? After his election, Chung may decide to offer the site to the city, exposing his personal art collection or presidential library...

Last week, workers removed the old and ugly concrete wall separating Haemil grounds from royal grounds, and I hope they will make something nice, more respectful of the surroundings. They wouldn't dare leaving it like that, out in the open, confirming the impression that the Royal Palace and the park behind are just Haemil's backyard**.

But there seems to be something like a moat around the new castle, which now boasts a staircase leading down towards the palace... I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one gate for the future monarch to visit his dependencies...

... and why not, on saturday and sunday mornings, watch some game of parking - football.

Seoul Village 2009

* see previous episodes :

"Haemil - a Think-Tank or only a Tank ?",
"Chung Mong-joon keeps rising...",
and "
Mayor OH Se-hoon answers"

Silgyecheon along Daehangno

Is Seoul city center turning into some kind of Venice ? After Baekseokdongcheon (the main source of Cheonggyecheon, soon to be restored), another stream is getting ready for rebirth, this time on the other side of Gyeongbokgung.

Alright... don't expect gondolas anytime soon : only cicadas can drown* in such streamlets basically tap-controlled by city officials. But they sing better and louder than most gondoliers.

The new waterline, Silgyecheon (실계천), entertains visitors almost all along Daehangno (the 1 km long stretch between Hyehwa-dong Rotary and Ihwa-dong Sagori), on the same side as Marronnier Park. Some of the "artworks" on display there were removed, maybe not enough for my taste**.

With its curves, stones, and vegetation, the streamlet adds a natural touch to an area already lifted up a few notches on the "well being scale" following last year's
salvation of Hyehwa-dong Rotary.

I know it's completely artificial but it could change the whole experience for pedestrians, especially during scorching summers. Temperatures around Cheonggyecheon dropped by 3 degrees celcius after renovation, but of course you cannot compare that pharaonic project with this cosmetic work.

Seoul Village 2009

* see "
Save Korean maemis"
** OK, not all of the sculptures are terrible, and some shall really shine in this new environment, but anybody who's walked that walk knows what I'm talking about. ie now the three multicolor ceramic turds in front of the University seem to have been dropped by some indelicate giant dog on LSD, and waiting for the streamlet to flush them down the drain.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Lost In Translation ?

There are often title variations between the web and print editions of the New York Times / International Herald Tribune.

Take for instance this NYT article "South Korea Admits Civilian Massacre During War", mentioned yesterday in "
Binding praise for South Korea", and here on the homepage of the IHT :

This morning, on the first page of the International Herald Tribune delivered along with the JoongAng Ilbo, I was not surprised to read the same article under the title "South Korean panel confirms full horror of civilian massacres".

If the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Korea is much more than a "panel", this somehow reconciles with the truth : once again, ""a state investigative agency" is not exactly "South Korea""...

AP maintained the line "
SKorea confirms some 5,000 wartime executions", dubbing independent TCRK "a government commission". But the news agency finished with the key message, reminiscent of the "mantra" I mentioned yesterday : "The commission recommended that the government offer an official apology, come up with legal and other measures to prevent a repeat of the slaughter, and enact legislation to compensate the victims." Times Online put the focus on that line in its very title : "Commission calls on South Korea to apologise for wartime massacre" (20091127)


Here are the facts :
- during the war, countless civilians were massacred by South Korean authorities
- decades later, the TCRK managed to prove cases for about 4,934 victims
- that's only a tiny fraction of the total (probably much less than 10% of all victims), but the time has come to right the wrongs
- the Korean government cannot escape its obligations anymore (and ultra-conservatives can give up their dreams of stopping the transitional justice process) : beyond grieving families, the whole World is watching now

Change will come to Korea.
Seoul Village 2009

Binding praise for South Korea

The New York Times just delivered an important message to the world : "South Korea Admits Civilian Massacre During War" (20091127).

The message is not "South Korea committed civilian massacre during War" : that monstruous fact was already known as the National Guidance Alliance / Bodo League Massacre (보도연맹 사건).

The real message is : "South Korea is a great country and at peace with itself because it admits its past wrongdoings".

At last !*

Well... South Korea is almost there, but not there yet.

First, the journalist doesn't go all the way, and basically stops at the realization that the announcement from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (news conference last Tuesday, see also communique below**) "marked the first time a state investigative agency confirmed the nature and scale of what is known as "the National Guidance League Incident" _ one of the most horrific and controversial episodes of the 1950-53 war."

Second, and as we've seen before*, "a state investigative agency" is not exactly "South Korea", and for South Korea to really accept its status as a great country, the Korean Government has yet to fulfill its duties and prolong the fantastic job of the TRCK. What strikes the reader when he goes through this communique (and most previous communiques from the Commission) is of course the litany of horrors, but also the mantra at the end of each case :
The Commission recommended the government to issue an official apology, provide support for memorial services, revise official documents including the family registry, and strengthen peace and human rights-related education.
Hereby, the Commission recommended the government to officially apologize to the victims, support memorial services, revise the family registry and other historical records, and provide peace and human rights education.
Hereby, the Commission recommended the government to officially apologize to the victims, support memorial services, revise the family registry and other historical records, and provide peace and human rights education.
Hereby, the Commission recommended the government to officially apologize to the victims, support memorial services, revise the family registry and other historical records, and provide peace and human rights education
Hereby, the Commission recommended the government to officially apologize to the victims, support memorial services, revise the family registry and other historical records, and provide peace and human rights education.

Of course, a South Korean president officially apologized for the state's illegal actions against civilian victims (the late Roh Moo-hyun on January 24, 2008), but each and every case has to be recognized and correctly dealt with. That's a long but indispensable process.

Third, this article exposes one side of one coin. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission re-establishes Truth for victims of pro-North as well as pro-South forces, Truth for victims of Japanese rule as well as Korean authoritarian regimes***... Furthermore, beyond Truth, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is promoting Reconciliation, in spite of limited support from the Government. I recently welcomed the news of a joint memorial for victims of all sides held in Naju, but others took place in Ulsan (precisely for Bodo League victims), Andong, Pyeongtaek...

Korea will be fully liberated when the reconciliation process is completed.

Tears will be shed, including tears from people who committed atrocities****... but yes, Reconciliation feels really good when everybody is there : in Andong, the Ministry of Defense did issue an official apology to the civilians who were killed there by the military and local police.

Forget about the 2010 G20 Summit in Seoul. This is President Lee Myung-bak's unique opportunity to shine at the global level : an Obamaesque "Change has come to Korea" would resonate for generations to come.

Seoul Village 2009

* see previous focuses on transitional justice in Korea (and recent changes in Japan) :
- "
Joint Memorial in the Land of the Mourning Calm"
- "
Truth and Reconciliation : which model for Korea ?"
- "
A Common History"
- "
President Lee, keep digging"


** TRCK's communique (Monday, November 23, 2009)

National Guidance Alliance (Bodo League)-related Massacres in the Gunwi, Gyeongju, and Daegu Regions - Verified on Sept. 8, 2009

The Commission ascertained that at least 99 local residents in Gunwi, Gyeongju, and Daegu were massacred between July and August 1950 by the military and local police and CIC after being blacklisted or accused of being members of the National Guidance Alliance.

In July 1950, dispatched CIC forces and local policemen arrested and temporarily detained members of the National Guidance Alliance at local police stations or detainment centers. The detainees were categorized into three different groups before being transported to Naenam-myeon, Ubo-myeon, and Gunwi-gun and massacred.

The Commission recommended the government to issue an official apology, provide support for memorial services, revise official documents including the family registry, and strengthen peace and human rights-related education.

National Guidance Alliance-related Massacres in the Goryeong, Seongju, and Chilgok Regions in Jeonnam Province - Verified on Sept. 8, 2009

The Commission found that a number of civilians were killed by the local police, military, CIC, and military police after being accused of cooperating with leftists or being a member of the National Guidance Alliance (NGA). The killings took place between July and August 1950 in the Goryeong, Seongju, and Chilgok-gun regions in Gyeongbuk Province .

NGA members were either arrested by local police or summoned to nearby police stations and detained. As North Korean troops advanced southward, the army and military police took custody of the detainees before killing them.

Hereby, the Commission recommended the government to officially apologize to the victims, support memorial services, revise the family registry and other historical records, and provide peace and human rights education.

National Guidance Alliance-related Massacres in Miryang, Gyeongnam Province - Verified on Sept. 8, 2009

The Commission ascertained that members of the National Guidance Alliance in the Miryang region were massacred by the local police and the Gyeongnam CIC between July and August 1950.

The victimized NGA members and those in preventive detention were forcefully confined to various warehouses before being executed in August 1950.

Hereby, the Commission recommended the government to officially apologize to the victims, support memorial services, revise the family registry and other historical records, and provide peace and human rights education.

National Guidance Alliance-related Massacres in Yangsan, Gyeongnam Province - Verified on Sept. 8, 2009

The Commission found that regional members of the NGA and those in preventive detention were killed by the local police and CIC forces between July and August 1950.

The victims were either forcefully arrested by the police or summoned to the police station where they were detained or transferred to nearby detainment centers before being executed in August 1950.

Hereby, the Commission recommended the government to officially apologize to the victims, support memorial services, revise the family registry and other historical records, and provide peace and human rights education.

National Guidance Alliance-related Massacres in Yeongdeok, Gyeongbuk Province - Verified on Sept. 8, 2009

The Commission ascertained that in July 1950, approximately 270 regional NGA members and those held in preventive detention were illegally victimized by the military and police forces in Yeongdeok, Gyeongbuk Province.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War, the 23rd Regiment of the 3rd Army and Yeongdeok Police were concerned that NGA members may collaborate with the North Korean People’s Army and sabotage operations behind the frontlines. In order to prevent this, the police and army executed the NGA members.

Hereby, the Commission recommended the government to officially apologize to the victims, support memorial services, revise the family registry and other historical records, and provide peace and human rights education.

National Guidance Alliance-related Massacres in Busan and Sacheon - Verified on Sept. 8, 2009

The Commission found that the regional NGA members and those in preventive detention were killed by the Busan CIC and the military and local police between July and September 1950.

The NGA members in the Busan and Sacheon regions were forcefully arrested or summoned to local police stations where they were detained before being executed.

Hereby, the Commission recommended the government to officially apologize to the victims, support memorial services, revise the family registry and other historical records, and provide peace and human rights education.

*** note that abuses from Korean authoritarian regimes were not all ignored by their partners... and in at least one occasion a US representative sanctioned a massacre, as related here by Charles J. HANLEY (AP) :

**** like this "bujangnim" (Mr Chief), recalling the horror of a massacre :

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (Guy Delisle)

If most travelogues glorify epic moments, this one focuses on duller "tweens".

As we learn from this Canadian cartoonist (Delisle comes from the Belle Province of Quebec), "tweens" are images needed to recompose a movement in a cartoon, between two "keys" drawn by chief animators. Boring stuff : one slight change at a time, no creativity involved... so studios outsource "tweens" to cheap labor countries.

Such as North Korea, where the author had to sojourn a few months to monitor the process.

"Pyongyang" is a graphic novel depicting the tweens between two flights.

Don't expect investigative journalism deep inside the country. "Pyongyang" is more the story of a failure to really enter North Korea.

Don't expect tales of hunger and misery. "Pyongyang" is more the story of a slice of melon and isolation.

That should be boring stuff : one slight change at a time, no creativity involved (absurd acts of subversion set aside)... but it's not. Image by image, Guy Delisle traps the reader into a Kafkaesque / Orwellian routine. And unlike Dino Buzzati's "
The Tartar Steppe / The Desert of the Tartars", or "The Great Walls of Samaris" (Stories of the fantastic - by Schuiten and Peeters)*, that's not fiction : only a simple and honest testimony.

Seoul Village 2009

* Buzzati for the rhythm and suspended time, Schuiten-Peeters for the architectural, theatrical, and somehow absurd journey.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Marche de Noel 2009 Sorae Village

Dear fellow French citizens,

You love foie gras, wine, and cheese ? Rejoice !

The 2009 edition of le Marche de Noel du Seorae Village (Xmas Market in 서래마을) will be held from 10 to 16 on December the 5th in Gingko Park (은행나무 공원).

That's in Banpo-4 dong, Seocho-gu, close to the Seoul Palace Hotel, East of Seorae Maeul's main street - the Lycee Francais is on the other side of Seoraero.

Beyond the satisfaction of gourmet palates, the event serves a noble cause (helping the needy).

The Marche de Noel is organized by AFDE-Coree (Association Démocratique des Français à l'Etranger), an association headed by none other than Benjamin Joinau, who knows one thing or two about good food - make that at least two :
Le StEx, La Plancha.

Seoul Village 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bo Chun (Seoul)

I used to live in Dongu Ichon-dong in the early 90s. If some parts of main street Ichon-dong-gil didn't change, appartment blocks now form an almost continuous canyon. The small police station I could see from my bedroom, across the street, is still there... but behind it, Namsan and its tower are nowhere to be seen. Same story for my bedroom, the house around it, and all buildings around the house.

Each time I'm back I have this weird feeling of dreaming this strange dream : it's the same place and a completely different one, with elements of camouflage to fill the blanks...

But today I came here awake, to fill my stomach.

Since the best Japanese restaurant, by the tunnel at the end of the street, was not accepting any more customers, I landed in this special time warp of a place where they serve udong, dopbab, and a gimbap tasting like a stroll by the seashore.

A quiet atmosphere (after 2 p.m. at least), a decor belonging to a different time and space, simple food, true to the genre... I came out full, peaceful, and grateful.

Bo Chun (restaurant)
Ichon-dong-gil, Hyundai Apt 11,
Ichon-1 dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, ROK
Tel : +82.2.795.87.30

Seoul Village 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

2 more tunnels up North

If you look at a map, you can't help but notice how Bukhansan cuts in two the Northern part of Seoul. The need to rethink the whole transportation system is becoming everyday more obvious, with a double boom in the Nortwestern (ie Eunpyeong New Town) and Northeastern (ie Uijeongbu / Nowon-gu / Mia-Gireum New Town...) halves.

Two more tunnels will be dug into Bukhansan by 2013, but they look like quick fixes likely to worsen the situation. And there doesn't seem to be any long term vision, any big picture.

Basically, I often compare Bukhansan with an ocean consisting of 3 parts :
=> the main green body : Bukhansan mountain itself, mostly inhabited except for the national park and temples. Seoul claims only the Southwestern half of this block, the rest being split between Uijeongbu, Yangju, and Goyang.

=> Pyeongchang-dong "island" : a valley essentially connected with the rest of the city via artificial tunnels, serpentine paths in the mountains, and the Hongjaecheon streamlet (along Segeomjeong-gil, towards Seodaemun-gu). Actually, the "sea" of Bukhan mountain stops at the Northern shore of this island : mount Bugak claims East and South, and mount Inwang closes the circle (Inwangsan Strait ?). Two "peninsulas" almost reach this island : Seongbuk-dong and Hongeun-dong, respectively from the East and from the West.

=> elsewhere, "Bukhansan ocean shores" are by no means straight lines. They also include smaller "presque-isles" (such as Ui-dong in Dobong-gu). Bukhansan buttresses push further southwards, adding complexity to the landscape (ie the Ansan "lake" beyond Inwangsan to the West, Naksan to the East).

No subway line crosses this ocean. There is an old railway running just North of the mountain in Yangju (Seoul suburban line - 서울교외선 - was built in the early 60s), but nothing until you reach Subway line 3, over 15 km below. Yeongchang inhabitants rely only on unprotected bus lines for public transportation.

Namsan also needs some fixing but there, the equation looks much more simple : considerably smaller, but also more central after Hanyang grew into Seoul (absorbing Yongsan in the process), that mountain is relatively well covered and criscrossed by several tunnels providing direct connections with the South of Han river (via Hannam Bridge, Banpo Bridge...). In 2000-2001, Subway line 6 filled a major gap in the city map by wrapping the Southern side of the mountain.

Over the past 40 years, the only strategy for Bukhansan area has been digging tunnels for cars :

- First came the Sajik Tunnel, in May 1967. Seoul's first tunnel ever prolonged the Royal T* towards Seodaemun and solved part of the Inwangsan problem. It was upgraded in 1980, one year after the completion of Geumhwa Tunnel. Cutting through mount Ansan, that one prolonged the road to Yonsei University.

- Samcheong Tunnel was completed in December 1970, connecting Samcheong-dong (Jongno-gu) with Seongbuk-dong (then Dongdaemun-gu, now Seongbuk-gu). But it must have been the other way round : the elite living in Seongbuk-dong heights obviously needed a shortcut to join downtown and the center of power without passing by Hyehwa rotary.

- A few months later (August 1971), the much longer Bugak Tunnel connected Pyeongchang island / valley with Jeongneung-dong, Seongbuk-gu. On the other side of this tunnel upgraded in December 1991, Segeomjeong-gil, Pyeonchang-dong's main road, becomes Jeongneung-gil, which leads to the main N/S axis East of Bukhansan : Dongsomunno, named Miaro here and Dobongno upper to the North.

- In December 1980, Gugi Tunnel completed Bukhansan's first East-West axis as it made the junction between Eunpyeong-gu (Bulgwang-dong) and "Pyeongchang island" (Gugi-dong) : now Jiheungno road goes all the way from the same Segeomjeong-gil to Dongilro, the biggest road West of Bukhansan, which becomes Euijuro as it nears city center.

- In August 1986, Jahamun Tunnel doubled the link between the island and downtown, this time West of the Gyeongbokgung, between Cheongun-dong and Buam-dong and next to the old gate. Pyeongchang island appears now more clearly as a part of Jongno-gu. But even if it's much bigger than Samcheongdong-gil, Jahamun-gil is already pouring too much traffic into Gwanghwamun Station area... and one of the new tunnels will bring even more cars there...

- A second West-East axis was built in 1999, this time without any stop in Pyeongchang : the Naebu Expressway (내부순환고속도로) simply crosses this area from Hongeun-dong, Seodaemun-gu to Jeongneung-dong, right below the Bugak Tunnel exit. Most of the journey is in Hongjimun Tunnel and Jeongneung Tunnel, with just, between them, a short outdoor section overlooking the Hongjaecheon streamlet in Pyeongchang-dong (no exit, no entry).

- Sapaesan Tunnel was inaugurated in December 2007 with the Uijeongbu-Songchu / Ilsan section of the Seoul Ring Expressway (서울외곽순환고속도로, also known as Expressway 100 or Seoul Beltway). This 4 km long hole in the Northest part of Bukhansan (not even in Seoul city) was postponed after fierce resistance from local monks who wanted to preserve the soul of the mountain.

So what we have right now is basically a square covering one tenth of Seoul superficies but totally void of subway, and drawn by 4 axis facing saturation :

- North : while Segeomjeong-gil, Pyeongchang's main street, tends to look like a highway in Greater L.A., Naebu Expressway commutes flocks of cars across Seoul very much like the infamous Cheonggyecheon elevated highway used to... but at least it's hiding most of the time in this area.
- West : Dongilro-Uijuro is totally clogged now that Eunpyeong New Town massively welcomes its inhabitants.
- East : similar verdict for Dongsomunno after the completion of Mia-Gireum New Town.
- South : Yulgokno is almost constantly blocked, Sajikno starts "enjoying" the Eunpyeong effect, and each crossroad screams for traffic saturation (Anguk Station, Gyeongbokgung Station, Samcheong-dong-gil, Wonnam-dong Sagori, Ihwa Sagori).

Now here are the two newcomers, to be inaugurated on December 2013 :

=> Pyeongchang Tunnel : 4 lanes, 2.32 km. Toll : KRW 1,000.
Between the main Pyeongchang's main crossroad, Shinyong-dong Samgori (which should then become Sagori), and Seongbuk-dong-gil, the main street leading to Dongseomunno at Hansung University Station (Subway line 4). It somehow prolongs Gogi Tunnel and will prevent Pyeongchang inhabitants from being disturbed by Northwesterners who just want to go Southeast. But overall, more traffic will land on Dongsomunno.

=> Eunpyeongsae-gil : 4 lanes, 5.72 km. Toll : KRW 1,100.
Northwest to Southeast between Dongilro in Eunpyeong-gu (about halfway between Gubapal and Yeongsinnae stations - Subway line 3) and Jahamun-gil... more traffic ahead for Jahamun Tunnel ! Bonus, two interchanges : Yeonsin IC at Yeonsinno, and Bulgwang IC near Bulgwang Station (Lines 3 and 6). Here, the main motivation seems to relieve traffic from saturated Dongilro. Only the Ministry of Environment opposes these environmental unfriendly projects. Otherwise, nobody cares if it exports the mess in a National Park and a supposedly protected area.
Eunpyeong-gu definitely needs more connections with the rest of the city, but the priority for a forward looking city should be to develop public transportation, and deter people from using their cars in already saturated areas.

I mean come on : Seoul is digging tunnels #10 and #11, and not one of them has ever been for a subway or a railway ! It's as if the mind frame was set on 1960s and 1970s instead of the new millenium : more people ? build more roads, sell more cars ! and don't bother with medium / long term consequences !

This totally contradicts Seoul's efforts to develop tourism and international attractiveness : downtown is not supposed to become again an environmental nightmare and a communication failure.

New technologies make tunnelling much easier and cheaper : multiply subway lines and bury the cars ! Build underground beltways, get rid of commuting traffic clogging and polluting without any reason the city center**, destroy those ugly elevated highways ! Gangnam (not the gu but the Southern half of Seoul) is building an underground expressway system. How about Gangbuk ? How about a new, sustainable masterplan for public transportation ?

Can anyone please stop this nonsense ?

Seoul Village 2009

* see "
Inwangsan's Great Wall and Seoul's Royal "T" Time"
** I don't think the future tunnel under royal palaces (see "
Jongmyo - Changdeokgung reunited") is considered as something else as an underground section of Yulgokno but typically, it could become one of many entry or exit points for a new inner ring.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wangsimni Old Town

Most buildings have been evacuated now. Some have already lost all window frames, exposing their skull with empty sockets staring at nothing. Large plastic drapes cover the first row to prevent people from trespassing or ghosts from leaving the area.

Yet, I almost prefer that state of redevelopment to the previous one, when human beings roam lifeless streets, when only a few merchants remain open to get the most from compensation schemes, even if only a few customers dare pass by. That's the actual ghost town.

But this process starts much earlier, with the first rumors of redevelopment. Unfortunately, that's the case of every single "dong" of Seoul which is not already redevelopped. That feeling of upcoming disappearance motivated this excuse of a site : Seoul Village is about witnessing a city at a turning point, wondering if its very soul can survive such a titanic trauma.

Wangsimni New Town (왕십리 뉴타운) remains far from delivery, and I've been keeping track of the changes in the area over the years, with a focus on the core to be reborn as a "New Town" : Sangwansimni-dong, Hawangsimni-dong, and the section of Hongik-dong which completes this 337,000 m² losange.

The frontiers are easily recognizable :
- to the North : Cheonggyecheon, and beyond Dongdaemun-gu
- to the South : Wangsimni-gil (the road followed by subway line 2, leading to the West towards the Uljiro / Toegyero fork, and to the East towards the Seongdong Bridge)
- to the West : Nagyero (the street leading towards Sinseol-dong Station), and beyond Jung-gu
- to the East : Muhakno, the street between Sangwangsimni Station and Anam Ogori, named after Muhak, the monk who selected the location of the future capital for the King.

While I'm at it, I recently mentioned the origin of the name "Wangsimni" as the "royal ten li" or the minimum distance separating the palace from the first burial sites (see "
Eunpyeong New Town, Old Tombs"), but another version exists featuring this monk : according to the legend, Muhak would have met a peasant in this very site and asked him where the ideal location for a royal palace would be. The peasant would have answered, pointing towards Bugaksan, "10 more li", which also sounds like "wangsimni". This version is probably too nice to be true. I think the truth must... lie somewhere between both versions. And I can almost imagine, somewhen AFTER the selection of the location for the palace, a place to eat and rest at what must have been a crossroads, and its owner used to telling travellers "to the King ? Ten more li". Who knows ? He could even have named his auberge that way after a while. Decades later, his memory long gone but the name stuck to what became a village, old timers would decide to twist Muhak's tale, merely transforming their Wangsimni into the birthplace of Hanyang. My guess ? They invented that story precisely because the expression wangsimni as "royal ten li" became too popular, bringing bad vibes to a place which had nothing to do with a graveyard.

Whatever. Neither Muhak nor those fabled old timers would recognise Wangsimni New Town : a tower field boasting 5,000 households, 14,000 souls, brand new schools, and very much needed public infrastructures around 3 blocks. The only features reminiscent of the Wangsimni I knew will be the two axis cutting through the losange : Majangno in its center (that's the road parallel to the stream), and the smaller street (vertical except for its last diagonal section) going down to Biudang Bridge.

Construction shall start in March 2010. Actual destruction ? That was a long time ago.

Seoul Village 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

According to Japanese law, Dokdo is not Japanese

Change has definitely come to Japan. As expected*, Yukio Hatoyama is trying to do the right thing by puting an end to all sick nationalist revivals. And the new P.M. seems to be willing to act quickly, going at the root.

Imperialist nostalgists claim Kuril Islands and Dokdo as theirs ? "An unidentified senior Japanese government official" releases the proof that they don't belong to Japan**.

In the midst of an APEC summit, Japan decides to set the record straight and lead the region the most noble way.

As Barack Obama tours the continent, Japan rejects as false the choice between its own History and its own ideals.

Seoul Village 2009

* see "
A Common History", a dramatic change since "Claiming Dokdo as Takeshima equals claiming Seoul as Gyeongseong"

** see "
Japanese Document Shows Dokdo as Foreign Territory" (Chosun Ilbo 20091116) : "Japan's Ministry of Finance issued a notice document numbered 654 on Aug. 15, 1946, a year after Korean independence, that says Dokdo is foreign soil along with Korea, Taiwan, Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands and the South Sea Islands".

Joint Memorial in the Land of the Mourning Calm

Dado-myeon, Naju-si, Jeollanam-do : a place like many others.

Here too, many people died during the Korean War. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Korea established the sad score at 176-104 in "favor" of Southern officials against communists.

The Hankyoreh related this morning ("
Commemorating victims of the Korean War" - Hankyoreh 20091116) how last Friday, 200 residents overcame old resistances to commemorate, all together, all victims in a joint memorial service.

The journalist quoted a spokesperson who had these words of wisdom : "We think that the victims would wish for their descendents to strengthen the community through forgiveness and cooperation".

There is no better way of looking towards the future : assessing the past, accepting it, recognizing all victims, respecting their memories, curing anger and bitterness by embracing reconciliation.

Dado-myeon, Naju-si, Jeollanam-do : a place like many others.

For one day capital of reunited Korea, and forever in our hearts.

Seoul Village 2009

* see "
Truth and Reconciliation : which model for Korea ?"

ADDENDUM 20091103

A few more joint memorials (source TRCK) :

20091017 - Joint Memorial Service for Civilian Victims in the Ganghwa and Gyodong-do Region
The joint memorial service for civilian victims in the Ganghwa and Gyodong-do regions was held on October 17, 2009. Sponsored by the regional bereaved family association (Representative Seo Young-seon), the memorial ceremony was prepared to console the spirits of the dead who were killed around the time of the January 4th Retreat in 1951. From the Commission’s investigation last March, the 183 civilian victims who were identified were honored at this ceremony. The 5th regiment chief of the Jeonjin Marine Corps, speaking on behalf of the Minister of Defense, Kim Tae-young, said in his memorial address, “We, the military of the nation, will put forth our utmost effort to protect the lives and the property of the people, and the findings of these investigations will be our lessons from the past.”

20091019 - Unveiling Ceremony of the Yeosun Incident Memorial Statue
On October 19, 2009, a memorial service was held in front of the Yeosun Incident Memorial Statue in the city of Yeosu . The ceremony was attended by some 100 people including civil activists, bereaved families, etc. The statue was erected to commemorate the incident, which took place 60 years ago. It bears a detailed engraving that describes the brutal truth of the incident.

20091020 - Joint Memorial Ceremony for Civilian Victims of the Yeosun Incident
Commemorating the 61st anniversary of the Yeosun Incident, some 150 people including bereaved family members, gathered in a field at Suncheon Palma Gymnasium on October 20, 2009. During the ceremony, a memorial service for 439 civilian victims, who were identified through the Commission’s investigation, was held. For the first time, the government subsidized the cost of the memorial service due to the Commission’s case report.
The regiment chief of Suncheon 95th Regiment spoke on behalf of the Ministry of Defense when he said in his memorial address, “It is fortunate to console the spirits of the victims and restore their honor. Our army will put forth our utmost effort to protect the lives and the property of the people, and thus, meeting a high expectation placed upon my shoulders.”
Additionally, he said, “It was fortunate that the Commission’s truth verification was publicized to restore the honor of the victims and their families. Taking this as an exemplary case, the army will do our best to protect the lives and the property of the victims in order to meet the expectations of the people.”

20091021 - Joint Memorial Ceremony for Civilian Victims in the Haenam Region
The joint memorial ceremony for civilian victims in the Haenam region was held on October 21, 2009. Approximately 150 people attended the ceremony, including Kim Dong-choon, the Commission’s standing commissioner; Im Tae-hwan, a representative of the Pan-national Civilian Massacre Victims’ Association; and Kim Chil-seong, a police chief of the Haenam Police.
The ceremony began with the opening remarks of Choi Myung-jin, an anchor for the Christian Broadcasting Station, and also a representative of the National Bereaved Family Association. This was followed by a ritual dance for the dead, an introduction of the Commission’s investigation, and the dictation of memorial addresses by Kim Dong-choon, the Commission’s standing commissioner, and the regional police chief.

20091022 - Joint Memorial Ceremony for Civilian Victims in the Wando RegionThe joint memorial ceremony for civilian victims in the Wando region was held on October 22, 2009. Approximately 400 attendees were present at the ceremony, including Kim Dong-choon, the Commission’s standing commissioner; Oh Won-rok, a chairperson of the National Bereaved Family Association of Civilian Victims; Kim Jong-sik, the governor of Wando-gun; and Kim Jae-seok, the police chief of the Wando Coast Guard. The memorial ceremony was comprised of a funeral ritual and traditional ritual dance, a report introducing the investigation process at the Commission, a memorial poem reading, and a flower offering.

20091023 - Joint Memorial Ceremony for Civilian Victims in the Yeosu and Suncheon Regions
The joint memorial ceremony for civilian victims in the Yeosu and Suncheon regions was held on October 23, 2009. Some 150 attendees were present at the ceremony including bereaved family members. A traditional funeral ritual for the victims was followed by memorial addresses, a narration of memorial poems, and a flower offering.

20091031 - Joint Memorial Ceremony for Civilian Victims in the Pyeongtaek Region
A joint memorial ceremony for civilian victims in the Pyeongtaek region was held on October 31, 2009. Approximately 100 people attended the event. The ceremony included a reading of the memorial statement, traditional funeral rituals, a presentation on the Commission’s investigation results, a flower offering, etc. Unable to attend the ceremony, Kang Hee-rak, the police chief of the Korean National Police Agency and Ahn Byung-ook, the president of the Commission, sent their memorial addresses to the ceremony. These addresses were based on the findings of the Commission’s investigation of ‘Civilian Massacre in Pyeongtaek Cheongbuk-myeon Region.’

20091104 - Joint Memorial Service for Victims Related to the National Guidance Alliance Incidents in Ulsan Region
A joint memorial ceremony for victims of the National Guidance Alliance was held on Nov. 4, 2009, in Ulsan. Approximately 500 people attended the ceremony, including Song Ki-in, the former president of the TRCK; Park Maeng-woo, the city mayor of Ulsan; Yun Myung-hee, the chairperson of the Ulsan City Council; etc. In his memorial statement, Park stated that the Ulsan National Guidance Alliance Incident was such a horrible atrocity beyond description due to the massive victimization of civilians by the state. He found it fortunate that people could gather on that day to console the spirits of the dead.
The Commission verified that 407 registered members of the National Guidance Alliance were shot to death by the state power in August 1950. This was the first time the National Guidance Alliance Register was publicized. On January 24, 2008, the former president of the Republic of Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, officially apologized for the state’s illegal action against civilian victims.

20091105 - Joint Memorial Ceremony for Civilian Victims of the Andong Region
A joint memorial ceremony for civilian victims in the Andong region was held on November 5, 2009. Hosted by the regional bereaved family association, some 150 attendees paid their honor and respect to the victims. The attendees included Kim Dong-choon, the standing commissioner of the TRCK; Kim Hwi-dong, Andong City Mayor; Yoo Seok-woo, the chairperson of the Andong City Council; etc.
The event included a traditional funeral ceremony, a ritual ceremony, a spiritual funeral performance, and a flower offering. The Ministry of Defense issued an official apology to the civilians who were killed in Andong City by the military and local police. The Commission identified 64 victims.

Wrong answer, wrong question

South Korea has a knack for experiencing spectacular social changes at a spectacular speed.

Take denatality, for instance : Korea took over Japan in only a few years, with a major impact on the country's profile and future (see "
In 2050, almost 10% of Korea's population will not be Korean").

The reasons for this trend are well known : the failure of a system which deters would be parents to have and raise a child. You want to ruin your career ? Have a kid ! You want to spend the next twenty years facing the craziest education system on Earth ? Have a kid ! You want to get broke ? Have a kid !

Ignoring the obvious, conservative lobbies are pointing out abortion as the main - if not only - culprit. Exhibit A : in Korea, every year, 450,000 children are born, and 350,000 abortions performed... only a tiny fraction of which are "legal", or rather allowed by the already very conservative Korean law (which only considers life threatening cases or rapes as "OK").

These ayatollahs want the law to be tightened and fully implemented. Instead of tolerance, respect and understanding : punition, fear, and the usual tragedies traditionally associated with backwards countries (health hazards, despair, exclusion, exile, deaths, abuses...). Besides, a climate of war and oppression is the best guarantee for low birthrates.

Their claims are more than seriously taken into account by the government : according to the JoongAng Ilbo, the Presidential Council for Future and Vision will announce on November 25 series of measures to curb low birthrates including "a much tougher line on abortions".

In other words : instead of correcting the wrongs, Korea may decide to worsen them. This would be the worst answer to the wrong question : the question was not "how to maintain and enforce passeist laws ?" but "what can Korea do in order to make parenthood sound like something different than a curse ?"

I fully understand the political motivations, but please don't call this imposture a Vision for the Future.

Seoul Village 2009

ADDENDUM 20091024 : this post was later published as "Outlawing abortion the wrong answer to the wrong question" in JoongAng Ilbo on 20091124

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Goghi (Seoul)

Now here is a spot that symbolizes the gentrification of Seochon aera.

Strategically located at a fork just North of Yeongjumun-gil, the new "bourgeois boheme" center West of Gyeongbokgung (between Tongeui-dong and Changseong-dong, South of Hyoja-dong), Goghi opened last year with a now classic business model :
- "smart" architecture : modern yet low cost design, one big public space with a small parking lot in the front and a small house behind... with a sense of timing (the area is about to be preserved, nearby hanoks shall not be sacrificed as easily)
- "smart" programming : diverse sources of relatively easy revenues to make the most of the same space - a cafe, a bakery, a restaurant proposing a limited choice of brunch sets all day, a gallery, and even cooking lessons.

That said, it's a nice spot to enjoy a break at odd hours in a peaceful atmosphere. They make good bread and use it in their brunch sets. Burgers and paninis are served with a nice salad. Not really Seoulite, and not very cheap (about 15k), but I could appreciate the pause in every season.

Yeah, I always feel a pang of guilt, too... but I sponsor enough small Korean eateries to indulge myself once in a while. Furthermore, as crazy at it may seem in this big artificial room half opened to the elements, a coffee mug in one hand, a book I just fished at Gagarin in the other, I'm often reminded of my pleasant reading hours in Perigord.

GOGHI (cafe - restaurant)
100 Changseong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, ROK 110-070
Tel: (+82) 02-734-4907

Seoul Village 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

Stop The Hanok Genocide... And Stop Revival As Reenactment

Every day, I see hanoks being either destroyed, replaced with nondescript three story "villas" or, at best, "restored" in such a way that except for the roof, you cannot tell there used to be a Korean traditional house under the tasteless decor.

Today*, the JoongAng Ilbo put a terrifying figure on the genocide : of the 20,000 hanoks which managed to survive until 2005 in Seoul, only 14,000 would still be standing now.

The article focuses on two Jongno-gu areas where hanok clusters are being protected : Ikseon-dong (around Unhyeongung) and Chebu-dong (West of Gyeongbokgung). As a Sajik-dong resident, I know both well and if I agree with inhabitants when they say that living in a hanok has its share of discomforts**, the bottomline is that many are bitter because real estate speculation has been terminated.

For instance, in June 2008, a major 68,000 m² redevelopment project was scrapped by the city in Chebu-dong / Seochon : all hanoks would have been destroyed, and 12-story-buildings erected in this low rise area.

Mayor OH Se-hoon has been trying to stop the hanok hemorrhage since he came into office, and wants to extend to 20 the number of protected areas across the Capital city. A global rule on hanoks would also be necessary without any delay.

Because the two main reasons for the acceleration of the genocide were pro-speculation policies, but also the fear of anti-speculation policies :
- when LEE Myung-bak was the Mayor, he unleashed redevelopment projects to the point that every single area in Seoul is now speculative
- speculators have been anticipating tougher regulations from OH Se-hoon, destroying hanoks before new laws passed, even if they didn't have any plans to build : many empty spots are now used as parking lots to make some money before construction.

Seoul city sponsors hanok renovations following traditional techniques, but doesn't want all hanok clusters to become as artificial as Bukchon-dong : enough tourist shops and guest houses, actual Seoulites must really live there. In their city, not in a museum city.

Revival goes far beyond reenactment.

Seoul Village 2009

* "The debate over hanok heating up" (JoongAng Ilbo 20091110)
** ie you simply cannot compare to new apartment standards, and privacy can be an issue.

see other Seochon related posts, including "Baekundongcheon / Gwanghwamun-gil - A River Runs Through It"

Monday, November 2, 2009

Eunpyeong New Town, Old Tombs

Eunpyeong New Town is spreading its wings along Bukhansan, welcoming thousands of households in brand new apartment buildings.

How about former inhabitants ? The living ones have long been compensated, and the dead ones have eventually their time to shine starting this week in Seoul Museum of History*.

The dead ones ? 5,000 tombs have already been excavated in the area. Some remnants and artifacts stretching over centuries will be exposed, including bones revealing widespread scoliosis among the older generations, porcelain, earrings, or mudang (shaman) material.

Why did this site become a huge cemetery for nobles as well as for commoners ? Feng shui has something to do with it, but so did the Joseon law, which imposed a minimum distance between the royal palace and burial sites : 10 li, or about 4 km depending on which "li" you're talking.

The Royal Ten Li can be translated as 왕 십 리 or wang shib li. To get an idea, check on a map the distance between Gyeongbokgung and Wanghimni (왕십리).


Eunpyeong Excavation: The Exceptional Story
2009-11-04 ~ 2009-12-13
Seoul Museum of History - (02)724-0114

Seoul Village 2009

* and until Nov. 8, "Three Foreigners' Reminiscence of Seoul" (Albert W. Taylor in the 1920s, Fred W. Dykes in the late 1940s, Nomura Motoyuki between 1968 and 1985).

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dongdaemun History Culture Park

Dongdaemun History Culture Park was inaugurated last week (on October 27), exposing as planned old walls revealed after the removal of Dongdaemun Stadium (see "Buldozing Seoul again...").

Yesterday, the stadium's second death was voted : Dongdaemun Stadium Station (동대문운동장역) shall be rebranded Dondgaemun History Culture Park Station (동대문역사문화공원역).

I'm glad we're spared "Dongdaemun Design Plaza & Park Station", or "Dongdaemun Design Plaza Station" (or for that matter, any "Plaza"). Insisting on "History and culture" and "park" in this very area is a sound and future-proof choice : the "design" label tends to become obsolete as soon as you apply it, and this could almost depreciate the whole area at the same level as say Doota instead of lifting it up. BTW : the DDP itself is supposed to be inaugurated in 2011, one year after the celebrations of Seoul as the World capital of design.

Another subway station is about to alter its name in Dongdaemun-gu : "University of Seoul" (UOS or "Silibdae", not to be confused with Seoul National University : SNU lies in Gwanak-gu) will be added after "Cheongnyangni Station". It makes sense since that's the closest station to the University, but a future light subway line connecting Cheongnyangni with Sinnae-dong (Jungnang-gu) was supposed to have a stop at the entrance of the University in Jeonnong-dong.

Seoul Village 2009

Anheung Jjinbbang (Anheung)

It all started outside of the village, quite far beyond the bridge, on road 42 in the direction of Hoengseong : a house facing a vast plain covered with fields.

"Anheung Jjinbbang" opened another shop in front of the Myeon Office (Township), probably to maintain a presence in a "maeul" transformed in Jjinbbang Land : about every other house in Anheung sells steamed buns.

But people are only queuing for the original one, which made the place famous... and I guess the family rich, judging by their parking lot on route 42 and the line at the Myeon Office, like in front of a Village theater in NYC. But the movie marquee keeps advertising the same blockbuster : Route 42, Bun To Be Wild, a.k.a. your classic jjinbbang filled with red bean.

It goes in a few bites and it's only for the pick-up, but Seoulites stay in line for over one hour on Sunday afternoons, on they way back to the Capital.

The staff keeps preparing 6 large plates every 20 mn, each plate the equivalent of 3 boxes tops, because here you buy it by boxes of 20 (KRW 7,000). And one single customer can leave with a 5-storey tower in his arms : two boxes for the family, one for the neighbor, another as a trophy for collegues stuck in the city... and one for the road.

The same guy probably never purchases more than one jjinbbang in a week (heck, more likely than not not more than 3 during a whole year), but nobody seems to complain. This "jjinbbang village" is a touristic attraction and this very place an institution.

I gave up after the 4th one on the way back, but I went that far only because the traffic made the trip last for 4 hours.

Anheung Jjinbbang / 안흥찐빵 (snack)
Anheung-ri, Anheung-myeon, Hoengseong-gun, Gangwon-do, South Korea 225-821

Seoul Village 2009

books, movies, music