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Monday, May 31, 2010

Smoke free Korea winning ground

Koreans have considerably reduced their consumption of cigarettes over last decade.

After a relapse in 2008, new sets of legislations were passed last year : non smoking areas were extended to 16 major streets and plazas in Seoul (ie Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul Plaza), and in restaurants where it was still tolerated, smoking got restricted to specific sections.

I just learned that smoking will be forbidden in more public areas : bus stops, public parks, and within a 200 m range around school entrances (often "green food zones" where junk food distribution is forbidden).

But I shouldn't use such words as "forbidden" or "restrictions" : this is all about liberating more room for fresh air.

And no, I won't mention "well being" either. I don't smoke, but certain buzzwords tend to make me steam with allergy.

Seoul Village 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

UNESCO World Conference on Arts Education in Seoul, 7 more candidates for the World Heritage List

You've seen the banners downtown, and on the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism : between May 25 and 28, 2010, Seoul hosts the 2nd World Conference on Arts Education*. UNESCO Director-General Irina Georgieva arrived ahead of the conference, right after the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, to discuss all fields of cooperation between her organization and Korea, beyond the topics raised this week by experts from 190 countries and the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures.

The occasion, maybe, to talk about recent submissions on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage. We've seen how active Korea is in that field, and in 2010, the country submitted no fewer than 7 new properties :

=> 2 submissions for ancient mountain fortresses ("sanseong") :

. Namhansanseong in Gwangju (Gyeonggi-do)

. Chungcheongbuk-do Ancient Mountain Fortresses : Samnyeonsanseong (Boeun-gun), Sangdangsanseong (Cheongju), Chungjusanseong (Chungju), Deokjusanseong (Jecheon), Ondalsanseong (Danyang), Jangmisanseong (Chungju), and Mireuksanseong (Geosan).

=> 2 submissions in favor of the Baekje heritage, encompassing city-level clusters, very much like Gyeongju (and once more honoring Korea's great funeral tradition) :

. Gongju and Buyeo Historic Sites : Baekje heritage in Gongju-si and Buyeo-gun, Chungcheongnam-do.

. Iksan Historic Areas : remains and royal tombs of an old Baekje capital in the Wanggung-myeon and Ungpo-myeon area.

=> 1 'prehistoric' submission :

. Bangudae Petroglyphs (Daegokcheon Stream Petroglyphs) in Daegok-ri, Ulsan. Entering the prestigious list could accelerate the process of protection for these priceless prehistoric relics, whose very existence is threatened by a dam. Korea managed to put its dolmens in the list, but is still waiting for its fossilized dinosaurs.

=> 2 'nature / environment' submissions :

. Southwestern Coast Tidal Flats : probably ignited by the 2008 RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands held in Korea, and the realization that Korean coastal wetlands and their habitats are endangered, this submission focuses on Jeolla-do sites (Gochang-gun and Buan-gun in Jeollabuk-do, Suncheon, Boseong-gun, Muan-gun, Sinan-gun in Jeollanam-do). The Louisiana oil spill tragedy may help the cause. And the listing would be a perfect answer to
the Saemangum / Ariul mess.

. Jeollanam-do Salterns in Yeonggwang-gun (I guess the group of salters at the end of Yeomsam-myeon peninsula), and Sinan-gun (there's a big cluster on the islands of Bigeumdo and Dochodo). Beyond the sites, the submission focuses on the local techniques.

5 other sites remain on South Korea's tentative list, to which 6 North Korean candidates could be added, all submitted in 2000 (Goguryo Tombs remain NK's only assets listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List).

Seoul Village 2010

* see
UNESCO website and the Korean website (

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Seoul Rooftops Go Green

Planting gardens on terraces and rooftops is definitely in the air, even in Korea.

Anyone can do some gardening but if you want to do things correctly, that's quite an investment. For instance, various technical layers are needed to collect and recycle water, or to prevent infiltrations. But that's definitely worth the effort : city can devote more space for nature, even at an artificial stage, and owners can significantly reduce charges in Winter and Summer - roofgardens provide natural isolation and air conditioning, and even help regulate urban microclimats.

Seen from above, Seoul boasts beautiful mountains and much more parks than it used to, including at the micro level (the multiplication of neighborhood gongwons being even more important than one Seoul Forest). But the proportion of green remain uneven and insufficient compared to asphalt and concrete. And as we recently saw, greenbelt areas are regularly mutilated by the Government for redevelopments.

Yet, at the rooftop level, change is coming :
- some do it because it's good for the image : green rooftops are becoming a 'well being' / 'ecofriendly' sales argument (ie The Gatehills town houses in Songbuk-dong). In Shinmunro, the ASAN Institute is at last timidly planting on its roof, which was perfectly prepared for the purpose.
- some do it because it's good for business : Ssamziegil set the pace a couple of years ago, and new constructions start adding mid-air gardens to dense urban jungles, using them as magnets to outdoor cafes (ie NOON Square in Myeong-dong).
- some do it on a large scale, for instance burying train tracks under a new park in Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, or covering Garak Wholesale Market in Songpa-gu with a a 131 acre 'ecodome' (the second project is really spectacular for anyone who ever visited that place full of life but also full of dust - see picture, courtesy Samoo Architects & Engineers).

Seoul Metropolitan Government recently announced it would invest KRW 11 bn to build 52,000 sqm of rooftop gardens by the end of the year, covering between 70 and 100% of the costs for public properties, and 50% for private properties (122 buildings in total). Of course, that's good for the upcoming elections, but that's consistent with previous operations (ie neighborhood parks, Dongdaemun Design Plaza), and for a noble cause. "Sacrificing" a house for a public garden is always better, but cannot be done as easily as increasing the market share of green on rooftops.

And of course, any citizen with a few square meters can make a difference. Many across the world are seizing the opportunity to grow their own veggies or even become beekeepers. A good way of spreading the buzz.

Seoul Village 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Retrospective : Kim Ki-chan and the World of Alleys

My two favorite photographers are Korean. CHOI Min-sik, the Master of Busan, catches the soul of Korea and tracks humanity across the globe. His message is social and universal. KIM Gi-chan catches the soul of Seoul and tracks humanity across the alleyways of Jung-gu, Mapo-gu, or Jongno-gu (Junglim-dong, Gongdeok-dong, Dohwa-dong, Haengchon-dong...) His message remains local but also reaches for the universal. Both produced the most vivid and moving portraits of Korea.

I never had the privilege to meet KIM Gi-chan in person, but I clearly remember my first encounter with his pictures, during the winter 1991-92. I was visiting the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Gwacheon for the first time. Enjoying it, but feeling kind of strange in this modern architecture. The cover of his book jumped at me in the museum shop : this is Seoul. This is the Seoul I love but never see in the media nor in the galleries. This is the Seoul many want to hide, to forget, to obliterate, to destroy. Not only the old constructions, but the life that blooms in them and around them, the blood that circulates in those alleyways. At long last, vernacular Seoul. I was so glad that someone not only kept an historical record of it but managed to spread so much joy, empathy, and love around with it.

Kim Gi-chan roamed these mazes for over 30 years, and this retrospective doubled by a series of conferences by experts in photography, urbanism, and sociology provides a very interesting sample : essentially black and white pictures from the anthology "골목안 풍경 30년" / "Thirty Years of Back Alley View 1968-2001", and a few notebooks and manuscripts. For pedagogical purpose, the Museum focused on Jungnim-dong, a hilly neighborhood at the frontier between Jung-gu and Mapo-gu, West of Seoul Station, and most central in the late photographer's work.

Kim Gi-chan died in 2005. Most Junglim-dong hanoks had already died of another kind of cancer, replaced by "apateus" and "villas"*. Seoul ? The city somehow managed to survive, undergoing more mutations and mutilations in the process.

Once again, Seoulites should thank the Seoul Museum of History for its most vital work.

"A Retrospective : Kim Ki-Chan and the World of Alleys" / "골목 안, 넓은 세상 : 김기찬 사진전" (photo exhibition)
Seoul Museum of History - 20100427 ~ 20100530
50 Saemunan-gil / 2-1 Sinmunro-2-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea 110-062
Phone : 120 (Dasan hotline)

Seoul Village 2010

* spectacular change on the before / after aerial pictures : the part that was spared by Samsung Cyber Village Apartments was overwhelmingly transformed, from the U-shaped traditional roofs to the rectangular top of one-room factories.

Anheung's Foggy Dew

Woke up at five this morning. To the familiar sound of the surf.

Water almost reached the top of the concrete pier, at the feet of the wooden stairs leading to our small bungalow. A high tide day ? Good for seafood : shellfish are supposed to give more meat.

The time to enjoy a peaceful walk around the lake of Chollipo Arboretum and to wolf down a decent breakfast, sun has risen enough to timidly caress the small island facing us, a certain Dalkseom, according to the map. "Chicken Island"... Did they rescue a Rob-hen-son Crusoe on that goosebump over the West Sea ?

I can't see any chicken, but I can ear a few seagulls. They too are awake and eager to share the news.

Now small fishing boats are coming and going, one at a time, from and to the small port of Cheollipo. Not much of a rush hour, but horns are honking nonetheless in the distance.

Gotta go.

To the local fish market. Roughly in the same direction as the boats, only by car.

This time, we didn't come for bird watching nor for Taean Haean National Park. The arboretum ? A nice alibi. We just wanted to enjoy Taean-gun on a weekday, off season, when locals can be a little bit more themselves and a little bit less tourist attractions.

It's a short trip to Anheung - maybe thirty kilometers - but a magical mystery (mist-ery ?) tour through the early morning fog : first road 32 through Sowon-myeon, and then road 603 across Geumheung-myeon peninsula, all the way to Sinjindo and Sinjindo-ri, the village around Anheung Port.

The road is even foggier than yesterday. At times, you can't see further than fifteen meters. Almost no traffic, and only a few lost souls emerge from the grey wetness : the ghost of an old farmer, a woman waiting for her bus in a scene worthy of Hayao Myazaki's "
Spirited Away", a middle-aged man in an impeccable office suit, standing by the road and staring at nothing. Probably just beamed straight from the twilight zone (I got the explanation later)...

Parts of the scenery strangely remind me of Belgium in late winter, when the fog rules over patches of bare frozen land - here, the mirrors of unplanted rice paddies. I smile at the parallel, bringing up the mental picture of Seoulites harvesting witloof down Gyeongbokgung Station.

If we don't know when the auctions start, we do have a few clues : they depend on the arrival of the boats, and considering the tide and the traffic this morning on Chollipo bay, it should be about time. As we pass Anheungseong fortress and reach the small harbor, frenzied seagulls give us the ultimate clue : the boats have recently arrived. Indeed, the delivery of the day lies under the main hall. All items have already been packed for the auctions and outside, freshly gutted fish are being laid on drying nets for other buyers.

This is by no means a big harbor nor a big catch, but like all the ones I've witnessed in Korean fish markets, this auction reflects proficiency. Two animators face a perfect line of bidders : equipped with a head mike, the announcer reads a brief description of each lot, before letting the "screamer" do his gig. In French, the main animator is called "le crieur" or "the screamer", and this Korean guy perfectly honors the profession thanks to a powerful, steady note that only stops when a bidder wins. This time, the hallucination is auditive : it very much sounded like a muezzin's call to prayer (memo to myself : when you start seeing minarets and endives in Chungnam, go back to sleep).

I position myself in line with the bidders for a picture. Suddenly, one of them swiftly opens his jacket, gesturing not so discreetely as if he were pocketing back his wallet. A bribery attempt ? No : another one does exactly the same. This is just the official signal to up the bid.

In less than three minutes, they've finished the main dish. Shellfish will go even quicklier, before they move to the small crates and their delicate arrangements. The auctions finished, the ballet can start, orchestrated by buyers waving impatiently, their cellphones already overheating.

As we leave, customers are arriving for the open market.

Even if the fog has abated in most portions on the way back, we're still granted a few detours into the twilight zone. Between two layers of mist, we're welcomed by supporters of a politician : the man I saw earlier, with the nice suit and necktie, is now delivering a vibrant speech from a colorful podium facing an empty street. All dressed in the same blue uniform, his cheerleaders bow as we pass. I'm used to the ceremonium at every crossroads during election campaigns but not in the middle of nowhere.

We'll meet many rival factions in busier surroundings : as we browse Seosan Dongbu Market for our 11 o'clock lunch.

Seoul Village 2010

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hyeongjae Sikdang (Seosan)

Back to Seosan Dongbu Market. After the seafood restaurant* and the visit to the fish market, I'm longing for a variety of tastes.

As we walk, I notice two adjumas feasting on an impressive round metal tray : a spicy soup surrounded by a dozen colorful banjan. Much more inspiring than the usual 'dosirak' merchants are delivered on a market. I dare salute them and say it looks really good. Instantly, the older lady stands up and, to my utter embarrassment, walks me to the restaurant.

Hopefully, it's only twenty meters away. The kind merchant / customer / referrer leaves us with an old couple. The small eatery lies at a corner where you can enjoy the view on both a sunny market street and a lively indoor market alley, but while the tenants prepare the fabled plate for our table, we're all watching the Cheonan press conference, a mix between the International Criminal Tribunal and the Nuremberg trial, in absentia KIM Jong-ilis.

We're now in praesentia of our dubu al dang (hot fish egg soup with tofu), surrounded by a classic but delicious jury : clear cabbage broth with shellfish, grilled fish, kongnamul, ketnip, ojingo, fresh algae... simple and tasty food, fresh ingredients, even the rice is excellent.

The unanimous verdict : guilty of first degree yumminess.

Hyeongjae Sikdang / 형재 식당 (restaurant)
Dongbu Market
Seosan, ROK, Chungcheongnam-do
Tel +82 (041) 665.3776

Seoul Village 2010

see also
lists of restaurants in Korea

* "
Seohaean Haemul Mat Jib"
** "
Anheung foggy dew"

Seohaean Haemul Mat Jib (Seosan)

Ideally located at the center of the almost peninsula of Northwestern Chungcheongnam-do, Seosan hosts a fairly large and very lively market with a balanced diet of meat, fish, fruits and veggetables. Thanks to the city's rational plan, Dongbu Market is very accessible from the main road, and there are many parkings on both sides.

For seafood, I tried the biggest provider : "West Coast Seafood Restaurant" (서해안 해물맛집) overlooks the main hall from the second floor. Not in a daring mood, I also tried their flavor of the month, jjukumi shabu-shabu - bokkeum (쭈꾸미 샤브샤브 - 볶음).

Since they weren't many jjukumi left, they threw in a couple of nakji (bigger octopus). Alive. I cruelly watched them break dance in their glass domed jjimjilbang, but tenants are even more cruel : with this large transparent lid, they offer you some sick kind of a 3D TV show. You finish the sauce with a traditional bokkeumbap seasoned with gim (dried laver).

Not as exotic a recipe as the "shabeu-shabeu" marketing gimmick said, and not as spicy as
Woojeong Nakji, but mean enough, and you can appreciate all the ingredients.

Seohaean Haemul Mat Jib / 서해안 해물맛집 (restaurant)
Dongbu Market Sinchukgeonmul 2F, Seosan, ROK, Chungcheongnam-do
Tel +82 (041) 665.5466

Seoul Village 2010

other restaurants in Korea

Monday, May 17, 2010

Yeonhuigol Gumteo (Seoul)

My favorite Yeonhui-dong restaurant has a unique charm and cuteness, the food is both good and cheap, and the tenant very kind. A dream combo getting harder to find every year.

Typically, I found the place by pure luck, but also because I was hunting for this kind of gem in an area I felt could host one.

Unfortunately, Yeonhuigol Gumteo is doomed : this area South of Hongjecheon is expecting redeveloppement like Ellen Ripley her baby alien - in an unknown and dark future. In a city that cares for its soul and identity, the place could be saved and even become a very trendy spot, given the time... but no : instead of preserving low rise areas along its streams, Seoul prefers to plant corridors of apateus that kill all forms of life and natural landmarks.

Hongjecheon has already been disfigured by Naebu Expressway, a concrete dragon serpenting above the valley between Seongsan Bridge and Pyeongchang-dong. But the first day I landed in Yeonhuigol ("Yeonhui Valley"), even that monster contributed to the magic : monsoon rain was pouring, evacuated in impressive waterfalls under each pillar of the elevated freeway. From my table facing a two meter wide windowpane slightly below street level, I could not see the other side of the stream (Hongeun-dong and Moraenae-gil) : only vegetation, the pillars and the lower part of the structure, which then prolonged the small room's incredibly organic ceiling, covered with ivy growing from flower pots positioned in every corner. The light and atmosphere had a dreamlike quality, and suddenly a strange shape emerged from behind the blue bead curtains before parting them to reveal a smiling Yakult Adjuma straigth from a Miyazaki cartoon...

Yeonhuigol serves tasty meat, soups, and stews : samgyeopsal, ugeoji kalbi tang (우거지 갈비탕), sundubu, mandu-guk, pudae jjigae, dakdoritang... with delicious banjan and fresh ingredients from the nearby market. Customers are essentially neighbors and shop owners. You can eat either at a low table, in the main non-descript room, or at a high table, in this small corner which oddly feels like a vintage cafe by the Seine.

Yeonhuigol Gumteo / 연희골 굼터 (restaurant)
717-33 Yeonhui-2-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, ROK
Tel +82.2.3143.6883

Seoul Village 2010

UPDATE 201109

Aaarrgh : this place has been converted into a nondescript meat restaurant ! The magic is over...

Friday, May 14, 2010

DMZ bicycle tour, anyone ?

Following the creation of new bicycle roads along the Demilitarized Zone* and a first trial last month**, Gyeonggi Tourism Organization is organizing bike tours for tourists, starting this month.

Every fourth Sunday (already fully booked for the first edition this May), a 'peloton' of up to 300 will ride a 15 km loop around the Imjin Pavillion. Riders won't actually enter the DMZ but follow the river / Civilian Control Line, and cross the Unification Bridge on their way to Tongilchon Unification Village.

The course is expected to be extended to 25 km, and organized twice a month.

Fee : KRW 10,000 per person.
For inquiries, tel : (031) 952.7805
Apply online on GTO website :

Seoul Village 2010

* see "
Take a ride on the wild side (Peace Bicycle Nuri Road)"
** see "
Bike path at DMZ to open in September"

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friendship Fair

I confess : this is definitely one of my favorite Seoul festivals. So this week-end, I'll be strolling downtown, enjoying food from 56 countries, zapping from one booth to the other. An Uzbek entree ? A Mexican snack ? An Hungarian cabbage ? A Turkish ice cream ? I've got two days to try whichever combo I fancy.

Even if the May 2010 Hi Seoul Festival has been postponed to this Autumn, the 15th Friendship Fair will be held this Saturday and Sunday (8-9 May from 13:00 to 19:00), simultaneously and in the same area as the
2010 Information Fair.

This year again, the party is centered on Mugyo-dong, Jung-gu, with extensions to Cheonggyecheon (North) and Seoul Plaza (South).

Yeah yeah, there's also food for your eyes and ears : beyond the joyful atmosphere (in very deed, friendship radiates on all faces), you can enjoy cultural events, performances from 17 foreign troupes (Seoul sister cities like Moscow or Bangkok), and even a clash of titans between Korean B-Boys and traditional dancers.

But don't count on me for the belly dance.

Seoul Village 2010

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Business Start-Up School Program and other Seoul Global Center events

In the mood for starting your own business in Seoul ? You have until May the 20th to apply for the next Business Start-up training provided, free of charge, by the Seoul Global Center, always eager to stimulate the international business ecosystem in the capital city. In order to cope with its success (ie last edition in March, see "Business Start-Up Education Program - Seoul Global Center"), the program will welcome four times more trainees and feature new lectures from prestigious institutions. This new and improved edition combines 'Basic Course', 'In-Depth Course', and 'Field-Trip' courses depending on the 'Desired Business Type' selected in your application form, which you can download here. Period: June 14 (Mon.) ~ June 28 (Mon.) Time: about 3 hours everyday (from around 18:30) Also organized by the Seoul Global Center : - 2010 Information Fair : When ? May 8th and 9th, 2010 (Sat-Sun), 12:00-19:00 Where ? outdoors, between the Seoul Finance Center (Taepyeongno 1-ga, Jung-gu) and Cheonggyechon. Take City Hall Station exit 4 (Lines 1 & 2) or Gwanghwamun Station exit 5 (Line 5). About 40 organizations will provide a wide range of useful information to international residents : Global Village Centers, Public Service Organizations, International communities, Language schools, Medical Services, Sports / Beauty, News / Magazines, Settlement Support, Cultural Events, Travel, Transport Services, Finances / Communication, Housing / Residential Services... Also : cultural exchanges in connection with the 2010 World Festival / Friendship Fair. - 2nd Foreigner's Flea Market : When ? May 29 between 1 and 5 pm Where ? at the Seoul Folk Flea Market in Sinseol-dong, Dongdaemun-gu - take Sinseol-dong Station (Lines 1 & 2) exit 6, 9, or 10. Something for sale ? Expats can register as vendors (it's free of charge) on SGC's website. More about Seoul Global Center services : - on their website ( - on Seoul Village (including this focus : "Invest in Seoul, Seoul is already investing in you !") Seoul Village 2010 ADDENDUM 20100514 The program is now available on Note that the session will eventually run from June 14 to July 3 (different packages of 4 to 19 courses). The application can now also be downloaded on SGC's website. For more information, contact 'Eva' (Tel: +82.2.2075.4139 - email: letsgoeva at

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Tour de Korea

Last stage* for the 2010 "Tour de Corée" : tomorrow in Seoul, starting with a 5.1 km parade between Olympic Park and Mongchontoseong Station (between 9:50 and 9:59 AM).

A 49.2 km race will follow, with a finish planned at 11:04 at Sejongno Sageori, where the barnum shall pass 8 mn earlier for a loop around Gyeongbokgung and Jongmyo via Cheonghwadae, Samcheong-dong, and Jongro. Don't even think about driving your car in the area : come by subway and enjoy the show.

For the 10th edition, this finish on Sejongno mirrors Tour de France finishes on the Champs Elysees (even if in Paris, there's much more than one loop). Last year's winner came from Switzerland (Roger Beuchat).
Seoul Village 2010

* 10 stages overall :
- Jeju (177 km + 1 km parade)
- Gangjin-Yeosu (138.6 km + 4)
- Yeosu-Gunsan (219 km + 6)
- Gunsan-Dangjin (149.7 km + 1.4)
- Dangjin-Cheongju (162.2 km + 9.7)
- Cheongju-Gumi (198 km + 7.5)
- Gumi-Yeongju (144 km + 9.9)
- Yeongju-Yangyang (225.2 km + 9.5)
- Yangyang-Chuncheon (145.5 km + 9)
- Seoul (49.2 km + 5.1)

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