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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kyobo Bookstore Reopens

Over 150,000 visitors since yesterday : the new and improved Jongno Kyobo Bookstore made the most of its rainy reopening day.

As expected (see "
Kyobo Bookstore V2"), the flagship store is bigger, more modern, and better interfaced with Jongro street (Sejongno remains a different story, but I would bet more than one buck on one cafe in that corner).

Stone gave way to glass and wood, the elevated mini flea-market plaza to a sunken outdoor agora for events and public readings, leading to the main entrance. Transparent elevators offer a direct access to parking lots - a clear improvement from the old journey backstage.

The revolution is less spectacular inside - it's not as if you landed in terra incognita, but areas are better arranged. A faux vintage art section, a wider choice of Foreign Books (and closer to the main entrance), a better exposition for books in general...

Hot Tracks and ArtBox are still there, but Kyobo is also investing in ebooks and I wouldn't be surprised to see them venture into cloud services. What will never change, let's hope, is the unique humanistic spirit that makes the company so well respected across the nation.

Seoul Village 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

N.K. 3.0 rebooted - and relocated

Kim Jong-il allegedly brought his son and designated successor Kim Jong-un to his own father's school in China (Kim Il-sung attended the Yuwen Middle School in Changchun, Jilin).

This "pilgrimage" is of course meant to restate the dynasty*, but also to appease Beijing : it looks as if the KIM Trilogy found its very legitimacy in "the motherland"... in other words, yet another confirmation that the North Korean regime are selling their own country to their big neighbors in exchange for their survival**.

OK. Maybe the People's Liberation Army hasn't come back to Pyeongyang yet. But it's already venturing into other neighboring countries. Last stop ? Pakistanese Kashmir***.

Seoul Village 2010

* see today's S.K. press, ie "Kim Jong-il pilgrimages in China’s Changchun" (JoongAng Daily)
** see previous episodes, including "
after the Cheonan tragedy, the Juche, Sunshine, or China Line ?", "Kim Jong-il's bridge to nowhere"...
*** "
China's Discreet Hold on Pakistan's Northern Borderlands"

Monday, August 23, 2010

ICN : simplified immigration procedures for (some) foreigners

Welcome to Incheon International Airport : no queuing, no question asked, you just have your passport and fingerprints scanned by a machine and voila, you're in or out of Korea. This VIP concept has been provided to Korean citizens but not to foreigners, but that's about to change.

Not for everyone though : to qualify, you have to have enjoyed a permanent residency status for at least 3 years, but that can be lowered to 1 year if you have invested USD 2 M or more into the country.

The Ministry of Justice estimates at 1,300 the number of beneficiaries, but didn't give details about how the new measure will be implemented (ie will the lucky ones be notified or will they have to claim some document at their immigration office ?).

Yesterday, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance announced another kind of simplification for foreign residents as of next year : the possibility to opt for a 15% flat tax rate. Also : more tax incentives for each employee hired through FDI (KRW 10 M).

The relevant administrations shall be briefed soon regarding all those updates. Remember that as a foreign resident in Seoul, you only need to know one number for all questions regarding immigration, tax, and everyday issues : Dasan 120 for the
Seoul Global Center.

Seoul Village 2010

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Jongno Elegy

Browsing the small "Jongno Elegy" exhibition at the Seoul Museum of History was a rather upsetting experience. I felt like a time traveler visiting in year 2509 an exhibition about 2009 Jongno, watching pictures of buildings I used to pass by every day, artifacts from shops I used to roam, and even sitting in a reconstituted Pimatgol restaurant where I dined last year, complete with the graffitis on the walls.

At this stage of redevelopment, not all the places depicted here have even been destroyed yet, but it's as if they were already. The older generations are already used to seeing echoes of such earlier ghosts as the Hanshin Department Store, but they had more time to adjust : It really feels like I pressed the fast forward button and was frustrated of the last gasps of old Jongno.

But as the Museum honors Jongro, the street, it reaches much further back in time, across the capital's 600 years. A cut exposing layers of soil near Jongmyo adds some perspective : paving being a very recent phenomenon, even one century can be translated into a meter high layer of various debris.

You are invited to try the gear of a delivery man, lifting the heavy wood-and-metal structure on your shoulders in the "commoner" version of the more traditional Jongno photo op (you as a Joseon yangban / king / queen).

Elegies are about mourning the dead. This is also about contemplating the process of dying.

Next stop ? Itaewon. Judging by "semu", the museum's magazine, I wouldn't be surprised to see an exhibition about it in the coming years.

Jongno Elegy (exhibition)
20100813 ~ 20101003
Special Exhibition Hall, Seoul Museum of History
Tel : Dasan 120

Seoul Village 2010

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Gwanghwamun inauguration

I decently couldn't miss the inauguration of Gwanghwamun after all those years of waiting and following every step of the restoration. Furthermore, the weather made the short walk almost pleasant. Last night, a massive thunderstorm raged over our heads, relentlessly pouring buckets everywhere like an unruly army of Fantasia brooms, and today, a bright ray of sun even illuminated Sejongno right after the balloons lifted the banner hiding the gate's nameplate.

4,000 guests and thousands of Seoul citizens attended the show, waiting for a long limousine to arrive from Hyojaro and drop LEE Myung-bak in a pale yellow hanbok. The President reached his place like a Jeoson rock star, accompanied with classical music, and making everyone wonder what the show was all about : the 65th anniversary of Independence, Gwanghwamun inauguration, or a political meeting* ?

Quite an atmosphere, indeed : the colors, music and balloons were sometimes more reminiscent of a Fourth of July in Armpit, Tennessee, or a Bastille Day in a small village in rural Cantal. The National Anthem, sung four times by pro singers, Independence veterans, young kids, and all together, kind of put the focus back on the event.

The nameplate was quickly and successfully unveiled, so that the Presidential speech could start. Nice words about "fair society" (a few days after a massive Presidential Pardon for top politicians and businessmen) and reunification (mostly to introduce a new "reunification tax").

100 years after the official beginning of the Japanese occupation**, LEE also saluted the formal apologies from Naoto Kan : for the first time, a Japanese Government recognized the fact that the annexation was "against the will of the Korean people".

And for the first time, the other day, Japanese extreme-right die harders made a big mistake by inviting Jean-Marie Le Pen and other controversial European figures at Yasukuni : they wanted to react to Kan's refusal to visit this controversial shrine, but doing so, they also exposed their true nature and imposture to their own fellow citizens. Maybe, this time, the Japanese people will start to contest this troubled minority the right to decide who can remain a Prime Minister, and the right to decide what must be written in history textbooks.

Seoul Village 2010

* of course, Independence and Gwanghwamun are also about politics.
** as we all know, it started earlier in Dokdo.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The strange case of Dr Andre KIM and Mr KIM Bong-nam

Kim Bong-nam passed away a few days before turning 75, pneumonia eventually claiming "victory" over cancer.

Andre KIM, Korea's most famous fashion designer, became really popular only a few years ago, when he was forced to give his real name during a testimony, crying over the shame. Many Koreans discovered a human being behind the almost cartoonish character : whatever the circumstances, Andre KIM always donned a white costume and a smiling face, capped with black eyeliner and the weirdest calvitia cover up ever imagined.

KIM was not exactly into minimalism : to sum up his style (easily recognizable be it on a dress, a bicycle, or a fridge - to name only a few items he put his label on), consider that Michael Jackson once asked him to become his private designer... Actually, I couldn't help but think about Wacko Jacko each time I saw Andre : two overgrown and troubled kids refusing to age, and combining an extravagant style with a maladive shyness. This on-stage / back-stage contrast is relatively common in the entertainment industry, but on the few occasions I met KIM, his case seemed quite severe.

His heritage belongs to Korea : a poor country growing rich and confident, daring joy and extraversion even while working as hard as hard can be.

With Andre KIM, Korea lost more than a famous designer : its actual King of Pop.

Seoul Village 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gyeonggyojang back to Donuimun

It's always a bit strange, when I go see a doctor at the Samsung Gangbuk Hospital, to know the reception desk used to be the home of Kim Gu, head of Korea's provisional government, between the 1945 independence and his assassination in 1949, in that very same building, renamed Gyeonggyojang ("Capital Bridge Mansion") as a tribute to that period.

Typical of the Western-Japanese architecture from the occupation years, Gyeonggyojang was built in 1936 by a flamboyant Korean collaborator who offered it to the national hero as a smart flip-flop cover-up. It later became private property and now belongs to Samsung Insurance, who agreed to empty it and return it to the public.

The transformation into a museum (located in 108-1, Pyeong-dong, Jongno-gu) will finish next year but on August 15th, a limited number of selected visitors will be allowed to explore it for the national anniversary.

This old new landmark will provide a perfect purpose of visit on this side of Donuimun : as we saw earlier*, the gate will be restored where it was, precisely in front of this hospital, and I hope Samsung will seize the opportunity to make the complex a bit less overwhelming.

Seoul Village 2010

* "
Donuimun restoration and Sadaemun resurrection"

Friday, August 6, 2010

Seoul Open Night

The second edition* of Seoul Open Night will rage on August 21, 2010 between noon and midnight :

This "nuit blanche" proposes 200 events in galleries, theaters, streets scattered across Insa-dong, Jeong-dong, Daehangno, Bukchon, and Hongdae, including JUMP and NANTA. A 10,000 pass is available on the SON blog ( Not in English yet...

Seoul Village 2010

* see
2009 edition

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"6.25 and I"

Following their moving daily series of testimonies ahead of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, Chosun Ilbo recently published "6.25 and I" ("나와 6.25" - 6.25전쟁 60주년 조선일보 특별기획 - ISBN 8991965008*).

Ordinary Korean citizen tell their own stories of pain and tragedies, but also of short but intense moments of simple joy. This series stimulated more testimonies from readers to their own families, contributing to the vast remembrance effort across the nation.

I hope this book will be translated some day. Its message is as often in this case universal.

And don't forget : only a few days left until the end of the "
1950 Seoul - 6.25 60th Anniversary Special Exhibition".

Seoul Village 2010

available at Kyobo Book Center

KOTRA opens an Investment Consulting Center to boost FDI

Yonhap announced the opening of KOTRA's new Investment Consulting Center (ICC) in the agency's Seocho-gu headquarters*.

Following the
Seoul Global Center model, the ICC provides a one-stop service (including consultations about tax, customs, videoconference links...) to foreign investors looking for opportunities, but for the whole country, in relationship with all regional and metropolitan agencies.

Korean economy is expected to grow around 6% this year thanks to a very strong first half and a weak Won, but Foreign Direct Investment remains a priority, and as
we recently saw with the DMC, the emergence of competitive clusters provides even clearer opportunities for FDI. Internationalizing the Small and Medium Enterprise ecosystem will also help it grow beyond the sometimes overwhelming influence of local chaebols.

KOTRA's website ( will probably soon disclose more details about this very interesting new tool.

Seoul Village 2010

* Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) : 13 Heolleungno, Yangjae-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, Korea 137-749. Tel +82.2.3460.7114. Fax +82.2.3460.7777

Monday, August 2, 2010

Business Start-up School - 3rd Session (September)

After the March-April 2010 and June 2010 editions, the Seoul Global Center Business Start-up School is back ! About the event :
Seoul Global Center Business Team welcomes expats to the 3rd session of our Business Start-up School. Together with a business counseling service, this program will offer expats in Seoul a chance to learn from helpful courses and network with colleagues, to make their business bigger and better. (※ The Business Start-up School is a free program run by the Seoul Metropolitan Government) General Information · Who: Future Entrepreneurs (International Residents in Seoul) · When: Monday, September 13, 2010 ~ Friday, October 1, 2010 · Where: Seoul Global Center - Seminar Room (5F, Press Center Bldg.) Course & Instructors Description · Basic course: 10 courses, 20 hours · Instructors: Nationals and International experts in the field of Foreign Direct Investment (KOTRA, Seoul Development Institute, Small and Medium Business- Administration, SBA Business Support Center, Korea Development Institute etc...) Selection · 20 students will be selected · Business Plan Reviewing - Candidates with business ideas that have a higher chance of success and show other established readiness (interest, knowledge, etc.) will be selected first - Successful candidates will demonstrate an established capacity to start a business (capital, experience, qualifications)
=> Download application form For more information and updates, contact 'Eva': 02-2075-4139 / 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

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hahoe Village now a UNESCO World Heritage site

Back from Gyeongsangbuk-do, the first thing I saw this morning on the newspaper was the picture of the very place I stayed in : Hahoe Village in Andong city has just been added to the prestigious World Heritage List*, along with Yangdong Village in Gyeongju city**.

Hahoe Maeul definitely deserves the honour for its exceptional site and cultural value, both well preserved.

The comparison with Naganeupseong, another Korean "folk village" I love***, tells a lot about Korean culture :

- Naganeupseong (낙안읍성) is a folk village located in Jeollanam-do, a region blessed for agriculture but always dominated politically by Southeastern Korea. Mostly inhabited by farmers working in the fields around the village and sometimes within it, the village is protected by fortified walls and castle gates (thus the "eupseong" name), and all houses are thatch-roofed and have the brown-orangish color of clay earth. It's a lovely site and a great place to stay overnight if you want to experience the traditional country life.

- Hahoe Maeul is more a "noble" (yangban) than a "folk" village. Its protections are natural : it almost looks like the bulging half of a yin-yang symbol wrapped with Hwacheon stream, with cliffs and mountains at a close distance. Founded by Yu Seong-ryong (Ryu Seong-ryong, 1542–1607), a prestigious Prime Minister and Confucian scholar, Hahoe belongs to its clan : the Pungsan Ryu, or the Yu / 유 family from Pungsan-myeon, this part of Andong city, the heart of Korea's politically dominant region, and an area lined with estates (jongtaek / 종택) still now owned by descendants of clan founders****. Hahoe Folk Village boasts many rich tiled-roof hanoks with white-painted walls, some with two-storey buildings, and in the very elegant local architecture. There are also fields and farms, but even the thatched-roof homes are bigger and less humble than in Nagan. The atmosphere is different, but people are also very kind for such a touristic area. In Hahoe, you can experience either the "noble" or the "commoner" stay for a relatively moderate price, except for the most exclusive residences. More upscale but previously derelict sites are under renovation, and the UNESCO label could change the price tags next year... but I hope people won't change too much.

Also of significance : Hahoe is the place Queen Elisabeth II chose to visit back in 1999. She wouldn't pick the charming Naganeupseong but Andong, the symbol of Korean nobility. What the Queen could meditate is the fact that in Korea, you don't inherit nobility titles : they are awarded to people who deserved them for what they have done and the way they behaved, and I guess that's all nobility should be about.

Which leads us to Confucius, because Gyeongsangbuk-do also happens to be the center of Korean neo-Confucianism, and the region is full of "seowon" or Confucian Schools from the Joseon era.

Unsurprisingly, Byeongsan Seowon (병산서원) is included in the UNESCO list as part of the Hanoe cluster : founded after Yu Seong-ryong, the academy is located on the same side of the river, but on the other side of a small hill now covered with a forest. Likewise, the Yangdong cluster includes two seowon : Oksan Seowon (옥산서원) and Donggang Seowon (동강서원).

Sponsored by the state, the best Gyeongbuk seowon produced country's elite and during the Joseon dynasty, politics and Confucianism fed each other in the region, relegating Buddhism to the background. Yet, temple lovers have many places to visit or to stay in, like Bongjeongsa.

The mix of Confucianism with politics is symbolized by Yi Hwang (1501-1570) : a key figure in both fields and an advisor to Korean kings, he served the country in troubled times and never accepted a political position higher than the local level his mother advised him never to surpass if he wanted to keep both feet on the ground. After Yi's death, his Confucian academy became Dosan Seowon, Gyeongbuk's most famous seowon, in what is now the Dosan-myeon part of Andong city. With its dozen buildings, the complex has elegant proportions and faces a small pavillion on the top of a round hill rising from a vast valley. A perfect place to learn and to read, even if no books are to be seen on the wooden shelves of the old publishing building.

In case you never set foot outside of Seoul, Yi's face and school appear on KRW 1,000 bank notes and his pen name, Toegye, might ring a bell : Toegyero (the road parallel to Jongro, Cheonggyecheon, and Uljiro) is named after him.

On an even more trivial note : on the way to Dosan Seowon, I had a great time at the yearly gut festival of Waryong-myeon. Nothing to do with food (that's "gut" as in 굿, the shamanic ritual, not the entrails), but the local administration offered the meal to anyone attending... and I'm afraid the local broadcasters caught me among the joyful crowd of old farmers, wolfing down delicious naengmyeon, bossam, and pumpkin after watching masked comedians playing a farce in Gyeongbuk dialect.

Even if Gyeongbuk is less famous than Jeolla for food, I put on an additional kilo every day. Local delicacies, and of course, once more, Andong Jjimdalk, were to blame. I could have stayed much longer : if not Confucian wisdom, I surely would have reached Buddha's shape in no time.

I also liked breakfast at Jirye Art Village, a nice spot if you're looking for a hanok stay in a very remote area. The other day, summer flowers and butterflies made the trip even more enjoyable on the winding way to the village - even if, to paraphrase Tom Waits, I did notice that the road needed a haircut, kudzu sometimes pointing its greedy fingers towards the opposite side. The village owner, a poet, grew up in buildings that, as cultural assets, were later moved up from the valley when the Imha dam was erected. I stayed in the cute house with a view on the lake.

There are so many places to visit in Gyeongsangbuk-do, one of Korea's most popular touristic destinations. Check the region's official website ( for updates. I, lazy me, just jotted down some of the places mentioned here on Seoul Village map :
=> Dosan Seowon (도산서원) : 680 Togye-ri, Dosan-myeon, Andong-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do
=> Hahoe Folk Village (하회마을) : Hahoe-ri, Pungcheon-myeon, Andong-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do
=> Yangdong Village (양동마을) : Yangdong-ri, Gangdong-myeon, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbuk- do
=> Jirye Artists' Colony (지례예술촌 - : 769 Bakgok-ri, Imdong-myeon, Andong-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do.
=> Bongjongsa (봉정사, temple) : 901, Taejang-ri, Seohu-myeon, Andong-si, Gyeongsangbuk-do

Seoul Village 2010

* see on UNESCO's website : "
World Heritage Committee inscribes seven cultural sites on World Heritage List" and the page "Historic Villages of Korea : Hahoe and Yangdong".
** I passed by several yangban villages in Gyeongbuk (like Sanun Village in Uiseong-gun), but didn't visit that one, much closer to Pohang.
*** see "
Return to Naganeupseong"
**** it's not rare to hear two people sharing the same surname compare their origins when they first meet, to know which clan they belong to, for example I'm a Uiseong Kim, how about you ? Always this habit of checking if you're part of a common circle (ie university, church...).

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