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Thursday, September 23, 2010


Typhoon Fanapi poured up to 10 cm of rain per hour over Seoul on Chuseok day (261 mm overall, a record for September), causing major damage in Seoul, Incheon, and Gyeonggi-do. More than 10,000 homes (including the 70 year old Seoul Mayor residence in Hyehwa-dong, which was to be relocated anyway*), were damaged by this unusually late monsoon.

If you were there, you probably witnessed spectacular scenes on the streets : streams forming here and there, geysers breaking pavements apart, meter-wide holes cutting traffic on major roads, cascades springing from doorsteps, cars stuck into newborn ponds...

Should Seoul organize olympic games again, Gwanghwamun Lake would make a perfect spot for rowing events. And as I carefully drove across the two feet deep Yonsei Stream, I was surprised not to see any kayakist enjoy the moment (during a similar event in France, I did come across one on a main street).

This typhoon wraps up an extremely humid summer, and whoever the culprit (global warming, the Three Gorges Dam, La Nina, the cashmere industry in Mongolia, Lee Harvey Oswald, all of the above), Korea will have to adapt. Among other things to be redesigned : parts of the sewage and drainage systems, certain road curves, and a few dangerous spots, such as the tunnel connecting Sangamno with Gangbyeon Expressway, where some drivers even drowned in previous flash flood episodes.

Seoul Village

* a new residence is under construction in Hannam-dong, this one is supposed to be transformed into a Seoul Global Business Center for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chuseok dreams : tunnels between Korea, China, and Japan

I remember, before the construction of the Channel Tunnel between France and England, how images of earlier projects would resurface, including those from Napoleon era (early 1800s), where horse coaches would travel on paved road under the sea, tall brick chimneys reaching for the surface every mile or so to help people and animals breathe... The 50.45 km long "Chunnel" is now a reality, changing forever the face of European transports, London becoming almost a suburb of Paris*.

On this Chuseok day, the Chosun Ilbo mentions* 3 undersea railway projects under investigation between Korea and its neighbors. It's not the first time we hear about them, but things seem to be getting more serious.

The shortest project is 3 times longer than the Chunnel : it would connect Jeju-do with the mainland at Mokpo, putting Jeju only 2:26 hours away from Seoul by KTX. Sounds great but a bit disproportionate : I like Jeju very much, but the island only boasts half a million inhabitants. Even boosting the traffic (already millions of tourists every year) wouldn't make the concept viable.

Linking Korea with Japan makes much more sense, Busan-Fukuoka remaining the most likely axis (1 hour and 222.6 km according to the plan). But the connection should then continue across the archipelago far beyond Kyushu, and I wonder if it could be seismically sustainable.

What to say of the third project, a 341 km / 95 mn link between Incheon and Weihai (Shandong), with an artificial island in the middle ? A very ambitious project, but the shortest way if you put North Korea out of the equation, which is precisely the aim of the game : China would easily control major entry points to the peninsula for people and freight, and make reunification less a necessity.
Seoul Village 2010

* those darn Brits would turn the sentence around - after all, they dared chose Waterloo, the symbol of Napoleon's fall, as their main station for the Eurostar bullet train ! Mercifully, the new St Pancras Station is less an embarrassment for French visitors.

** see "
개통땐 서울~제주 KTX로 2시간 26분… 국토해양부 "타당성 조사중"

Friday, September 10, 2010

TRCK : families of victims demand essential follow-up

As many feared (see "TRCK lost in translation or lost in transition ?"), Korea's excellent Truth and Reconciliation Commission appears to have been deliberately torpedoed during its final year. Feeling betrayed by this spectacular turnaround, families of victims issued the following statement :

"[Statement] Truth and Reconciliation Commission, light up the last conscience!!

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Korea has finished their investigation and has 5 months left to complete their term until this December. It will pass into history after fulfilling its 4-year mission as a governmental specialized agency.

At first, the TRC had been launched with nation-wide anticipation for conducting fact-finding investigation about the forbidden area of the past incidents in this society. However, that praise had turned to suspicion at the last stage of its term because of the following reasons.

After change of political regime, the TRC was reorganized with figures that are far from fact-finding. There had been even internal attempts to try to turn over the investigation result which the TRC had perseveringly made progress in until the middle and latter stage of its term. There had also been arbitrary decisions of the TRC.

Regardless of their political backgrounds, those disappointing results spontaneously remind us of what they had done in the past. It is unbelievable that the personnel from New Right, which is regarded to have a distorted view of history, conduct a truth and reconciliation task.

The New Right thinks Japanese Occupation period as a touchstone of modernized society in Korean history and worships Japan as an unforgettable benefactor who blessed our country. Moreover, they are the writing staff of <>, which directly challenges the traditional textbook. They even say they inherited a tradition of notorious ‘Iljinhoe’ in Japanese Occupation period. It is surely quite a sight how they treat our past incidents.

After Youngjo Lee, chairperson of the TRC, controlled the organization, what he has been repeating is that past decisions could be overturned, the commission decision is merely a judgment of majority of the commission members and the commission at that time made an impetuous decision. At the same time, he fools around the bereaved family by saying that the commission is putting forth its best effort to get the best result.

Until now when the investigation has ended, among all the accepted cases, 8,173 petitions are in relation to civilian massacres. 6,701 cases out of 8,173 were identified, 721 cases were dismissed, 445 were incompetent to proceed, and the rest is etc. Compared to the former chairpersons, the rate of dismission and incompetence is much higher. It is OK to say that the commission issued the indulgence to the former government of Seungman Lee.

Regarding damage due to the U.S military bombing, 56 cases out of 157 (35.6%) were decided to get investigated. After Youngjo Lee seized the power as head of TRC, decisions about those cases were delayed continuously and one or two days before time limit, a stack of cases were brought in to the committee of the whole. As a result, 101 cases were categorized as incompetent.

The former chairman Byungook Ahn said that even though the U.S. military needed to bomb, because bombardment without a proper civilian rescue act is clearly a breach of international humanitarian law and law of war, it is hard to evade the responsibility for the U.S. On the other hand, the current chairman Youngjo Lee takes a stance that the U.S bombing would not be legally problematic because intention or illegality was not proved with the criteria of urgent military necessity. If Lee’s parents or whole family were massacred by the bombing, he would not dare to say something which makes non-sense.

Although a great number of civilians died due to massacre by their own government and the U.S mistake, there seems to be no sense of guiltiness in the current government, which is quite surprising. As long as exist the current government which named the former Syngman Lee regime as a father of Korea’s founder and the board members of the TRC who flatter the current government, it seems to have a long way to recover the honor of victims who were butchered unfairly during the Korean war.

It is also worrisome about the contents of the final report which will be presented to the president at the end of this year. If the expression “regret”, which Japanese politician often uses, will be repeated, what is the point of the report?

Although it is late, we call upon staff of the TRC for awakening. For the very last period, we hope they recover the reputation of the civilian victims with their best effort.

In this sense, we urge them to recommend the government the followings. The government should give another chance to the bereaved family who has not applied for their inquiry. A Special Law of reparation and compensation for the bereaved family with an identified case should be enacted. An organization which discuss about excavation of missing corpse, laying the body in state, coming up the follow-up measures of the TRC should be launched. A memorial park and reconciliation foundation should be established.

When those measures are taken, it is a start to regain the impaired reputation of the victims and dry tears of the left family.

We sincerely hope that a great enlightenment of the TRC members becomes a sound of conscience and it be heard loud and clear.

July 23, 2010

Civilian victims of bereaved family union of Korean War
Chairman Wonrok Oh
Representatives Yonghae Yang, Jonghyun Kim, Gwangho Kim, Youngsun Seo, Joonpyo Jang, Namsoon Park, Taejoon Lee"

Sounds like actual "fair society", doesn't it ?

Seoul Village 2010

Monday, September 6, 2010

Reconsidering Sejongno Park

After the Eastern side of Sejongno this morning ("Insadong - Bukchon seamless for pedestrians"), some news from the not so far West.

At the intersection between Naejadong-gil* and Sejongno lies a small public park echoing the historical significance of the area, for centuries a cluster of ministries. But Sejongno Park is neither nice nor welcoming, and most visitors are simply on their way in or out the old parking operated underground. I often wonder how Sejongno would look like if it were animated all the way during cultural events, and particularly if this very spot were better designed : here is a very large space, in an ideal location (between Gyeongbokgung, Gwanghwamun Square, and Sejong Cultural Center), but totally wasted.

That could be about to change : the contract with the tenant expires in 2012 and the city intends to revive the area, creating a sunken garden, also history-themed, which (I presume) could be connected to the existing underground walkway across the boulevard, and maybe even to the King Sejong exhibition space inaugurated last year under Gwanghwamun Plaza.

That would make not only perfect sense but confirm the success of the restoration of Seoul's most prestigious axis. Of course, the design had better be right from the start (please not another Haechi Madang, please not another dangerous staircase that visitors discover only a split second before breaking their own necks...).

I reckon authorities will also keep an eye on demonstrators : since Gwanghwamun Square inauguration, small political gatherings have regularly been using the Cultural Center's staircases as a tribune, and this new spot would be almost at the feet of the Central Government Building... Note that further down the boulevard (Taepyeongno will merge with Sejongno), Mayor OH Se-hoon is facing similar threats : the metropolitan assembly, now overwhelmingly progressive, voted in favor of facilitating demonstrations under his very windows on Seoul Plaza.

More animation ahead, then. And many colorful "events" (pronounce "eee-bent").

Seoul Village 2010

* If you're not familiar with Naejadong-gil, that's the street perpendicular to the boulevard, starting between Sejong Cultural Center and the Central Government Building, with a short tunnel connection to the other side of Sejongno (near the US Embassy), and leading to Sajikno in front of Sajik-dan, with Inwangsan in the background. The street progressively evolves from an administrative / office center to a residential hub (Gwanghwamun Space Bon, Gyeonghuigungoe Achim...), with the Seoul Metropolitan Police in the middle and many eateries.

UPDATE 20110524 - Sejongno Park under renovation

Insadong - Bukchon seamless for pedestrians

We're regularly stressing the growing importance of the Northern side of Anguk area as a tourist destination opposite Insadong : already a major cluster of art galleries on the way to Samcheong-dong and Bukchon area), it will host a key museum (the MOCA's Seoul branch), and a 7 star hotel is even considered*.

Yet the connection is not so seamless for pedestrians : the crossing between Insadong-gil and the police station is unconvenient and as saturated as Omotesanto on week-ends. Furthermore, more lanes will be created because of the Yulgokno tunnel**. Nowadays, most tourists head South towards Insadong, but the traffic is becoming more balanced and that trend is bound to be confirmed in the future.

Jongno-gu just decided to tackle the issue :
- prolongation of Insadong car-free axis : the diagonal will continue North of Yulgokno along Gyoyuk-gil (the narrow street bordered with schools) until Bukchon-gil (ArSonje corner). The street itself will be repaved on both sides to reinforce continuity
- connection of this axis with Samcheongdong-gil (Bukchon-gil's section West of ArSonje crossroads).
- creation of a new crosswalk at Yulgokno between Insadong and Gyoyuk-gil

Step by step, the heart of Seoul is definitely becoming more pedestrian friendly.

Seoul Village 2010

* see "" and "Korean Air Grounded : Seoul 7 Star Hotel Delayed"
** see "
Jongno-gu renovation - continued"

KIAF, Busan Biennale, and Gwangju Biennale

Every other year, contemporary art hunters hop across Korea. Among other stops, a trio of now established events :

KIAF 2010 : after
really claiming international recognition in 2008, the Korea International Art Fair pushes harder into the global stage. Names ? I could mention Damien HIRST because Britannia is ruling this year and this show has a lot to do with hype and money, but since art is involved, I picked this "Untitled" by Jean-Michel BASQUIAT.
- what : 5,000 works exhibited, 1,500 artists, 193 galleries from 16 countries (guest country UK with 15 galleries, Japan 16, Germany 13...), special exhibition "Creative Present: Korea Media Art"...
- when : 2010/09/09-13 (vernissage Sept 8th)
- where : 1F Hall A&B, COEX, Seoul
- more :

2010 Busan Biennale : more compact than the previous edition, this biennale isn't as much a pan-Asian mecca as the PIFF for the movie industry.
- what : theme "Living in Evolution", Special Exhibition "Now, Asian Art". Artistic director Azumaya Takashi. 75 artists, 135 works.
- when : 2010/09/11-11/20
- where : Busan Museum of Art, Busan Yacht Center, Gwangalli Beach, Busan Cultural Center, Busan City Hall... (main exhibition and side events)
- more :

8th Gwangju Biennale : A mix of new commissions and older works is supposed to give a temporary museum touch to this emotional edition themed after Ko Un's poem "Maninbo" ("10,000 Lives"), itself a tribute to the 1980 Gwangju uprising. 30 years after the massacre, visitors will meet completely different faces in a completely different environment.
- what : theme "10,000 Lives", 134 works stretching over the last century. Curated by young artistic director Massimiliano Gioni.
- when : 2010/09/03-11/07
- where : Gwangju Biennale Hall, Gwangju Museum of Art, Gwangju Folk Museum
- more :

Seoul Village 2010

Hi Seoul Festival

Postponed last may, the Hi Seoul Festival is eventually back. On a lower key than the previous editions (probably a consequence of local elections), but at the same time more open and lively : about 70 non verbal performing groups will animate Seoul for a whole week, giving 200 shows with a focus on Hangang Parks and Gwanghwamun.

The concept of this edition, "Motion in Seoul, Emotion in Seoul", makes sure people from all horizons can enjoy all events, even if they don't speak Korean.

Note that "non Verbal" doesn't necessarily mean "silent" : fireworks will ignite the festival and let all Seoulites know something is cooking. By the way, "Nanta" / "Cooking" will be there (along with other such star non verbal shows as "Jump").

On the other hand, "non verbal" and "motion" doesn't necessarily mean "banging on bongos / chopping boards / you name it". If you're really into that, don't miss the 2010 Seoul Drum Festival (September 24 to 30 - Seoul Forest, Dream Forest, Sowol Art Hall).

Hi Seoul Festival : October 2 to 10 (fireworks : October 1)
More about the event : / Tel 1688-0120. Organizers : SFAC

Seoul Village 2010

Yeongam-gun braces for inaugural Formula One Grand Prix

The first Korean Grand Prix* ever is expected for October 24, 2010... provided the organizers (KAVO - Korea Auto Valley Operation) manage to get the nod from the FIA.

We wish the 5.6 km long Yeongam Korea International Circuit
a better start than Nero Space Center, another gas-guzzling XXIst century oddity in rural Jeollanam-do.

Decibels put aside and recent exotic outgrowths of the franchise notwithstanding, hosting the F1 Barnum remains a honor for a country, particularly as it boasts unprecedented successes in high tech and automotive industries.

Seoul Village 2010

* Korean GP :

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