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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Great Korean Revolution : addresses with house numbers and street names

You've probably noticed the recent changes in street signs : in Hangeul and English, in white alphabet over deep blue, almost no alleyway left behind, and a number for each house. They are much more visible than the white on green signs, but design is not the issue.

All addresses are switching from the traditional system of "beonji / dong" (block / neighborhood) to a more Western style system with house number and street names. The official change is planned for 2012 and believe me, that's an much bigger revolution than the recent change to "square meters" from ye olde "pyeong" (about 3.3 m2).

First, let's see how the old postal address system is working or supposed to be working : a "dong" is generally divided into hundreds of "beonji", often a block or a former house, and a Seoul address reads like 135 Blahblah-dong or rather 135 beonji, Blahblah-dong, Younamethatdistrict-gu. Apparently very simple indeed. But most beonjis have been divided into smaller lots after redevelopments. For example, when granddad Kim croaked and each son got his own piece of land, 135 Blahblah-dong was split between 135-1, 135-2, and 135-3 Blahblah-dong. On the other hand, beonjis and subunits can disappear : for instance, a whole block of appartments (or "danji") covering beonjis number 3, 7, 27, and 58 will select "7 beonji" as its only address. Numbers were often given chronologically, following the development, with little consideration for location... even if clusters of beonji series generally lay close to each other, such concepts as "order" or "logic" seem less relevant than "chaos" or "random".

As a result, finding a beonji on a detailed dong map can take some time, even for a trained Seoulite. And if you ever plan to find a place in an old area just by walking from one door to another, forget it : provided you can find where each number is written (start with the mailbox or the gas meter), it will either take you days or drive you mad.

Street names used to be an oddity, but many have been baptised a few years ago, starting with the obvious (ie the main street of a dong being named "Blahblahdong-gil", or the market street "Blahblah Market Street"), moving on to tree names or other poetic images. But most of the time, people living there are not even aware of the existence of a street name.

Street numbers were also introduced, for instance in former slum areas which were not detailed enough on official maps but evolved into dwellings connected to all utilities including Fiber To The Home. But here again, they are not really adopted in the popular culture : they don't match the beonji number, which remains the official address.

This time, it's serious. Change you can really believe in.

Every house will have a street number, numbers growing logically along the street with odd numbers to the left and even to the right, and at major crossroads, you can already see arrows giving such details as "from 1 to 35, Younameit Street" on one side of the road, "from 36 to 246, Younameit Street" on the other side. A common sight in many cities, but a major revolution for Seoul : theoretically, you won't need detailed maps anymore to find a place in a maze of alleyways.

The Kim brother, equals under the old system, may take different paths : depending on their orientations, 135-1 Blahblah-dong can turn into 75 Younameit Street, but 135-2 into a more prestigious 245 Younamethat Avenue.

And how about old Mrs Park, who after ten years, got used to living in Eunhaeng-namu Street ? She may have to brace for another change : beyond the systematization of street numbers, the names of the streets themselves are often dumped for a new and simplified system.

Very convenient but definitely less poetic :

- First, more consistency for road categories : depending on the width, you have either a "gil" (street), a "ro" (avenue), or a "daero" (big avenue or boulevard). Typically, signs on Sejongno now read "Sejongdaero", and Jahamun-gil was upgraded to Jahamun-ro.

- Second, a hierarchy around major axis : for instance, all streets starting from Yeonhui-ro, Yeonhui-dong's main axis, are numbered with odd numbers to the left and even to the right, and named after the main road (Yeonhuiro-11-gil, Yeonhuiro-13-gil...). Even highways adopt the same system and in Gyeonggi-do, "gil" numbers can reach several thousands. This almost "constructal model" has its advantages : "28 Blahblahro-27th street" is easier to find than "the third alley to the right after that Family Mart, twenty meters before the gas station". Collateral damage : street names rich in history (and stories) will disappear. Goodbye Yeonhuimat-gil, Naejadong-gil, and most of the names I've jotted down across this excuse of a site over the last 5 years.

Both systems should coexist for a while, but Seoulites will adopt change quite quickly : overall, it will really change their lives for the better.

I'll keep and cherish my old labyrinth maps nonetheless.


UPDATE 201104
The official website :
The map in English :

Friday, October 15, 2010

The fastuous and the furious : trimming down Seoul city's most embarrassing projects

Good riddance. Seoul city council, now dominated by the Democratic Party*, tuned down OH Se-hoon's least sustainable projects, starting with the opera house planned for 2014 on Nodeul-do : the gizmo was designed by architect Park Seung-hong as part of the Han River Arts Island with the outspoken ambition to make a splash (Sydney Opera or Guggenheim Bilbao style).

Does the upper half of Seoul need a world class shell for performing arts ? Certainly. But the whole concept needs reconsideration, and 'design' is neither the starting point nor the aim of the game.

I won't shed any tear on the embarrassing Namsan gondolas project either. If foreign tourists are at last flocking into the revived Korean capital, the Vegas line certainly won't sell in the long term.

Seoul Village 2010

* see "
Oh Se-hoon V2.0"

SGBSC + KBC : small business & big party

If anyone doubted about the vitality of Seoul's international small business ecosystem and the importance of addressing its specific needs, yesterday's networking event at Min's Club gave the ultimate proof : more than two hundred people buzzed under a delicious night (and next to delicious refreshments) before swarming across the old Insadong residence, trading cards and sharing projects.

"An Evening of New Traditions" was hosted by Seoul Global Business Support Center and Korea Business Central, themselves two booming start-ups :
the Seoul Global Center COEX unit opened earlier this year, and Steven S. Bammel's founded his community only one year ago.

I was already impressed by the turnout at KBC's first networking event last June, but the SGBSC clearly brought another dimension (and not only for the shift from "All That Beer" to "all that champagne" !). Seoul Business Agency aims at two events per year, targetting an attendance even 3 times bigger next time. The venue ? The National Museum of Korea.

After all, small business is a national cause, and small businesses deserve a right to think big.

Seoul Village 2010

Seoul Global Business Support Center :
Korea Business Central :


ADDENDUM 20101108 (video of the event, from

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

KOREA JoongAng Daily, IHT inside

As of October 18 and to celebrate its 10th anniversary, the English edition of JoongAng Ilbo is trying a rather bold move.

Basically, the winning receipe doesn't change : 12 pages of Korean news (JoongAng Daily), 3-4 times more of international news (International Herald Tribune).

The rebranding seems rather mild : JoongAng Daily simply becomes KOREA JOONGANG DAILY. Hardly a revolution, particularly since the US edition of JAD is already called "Korea Daily"... but the title appears now in full caps, which clearly confirms ambitions in brand strengthening :

The IHT presence in the logo is a must for loyal IHT readers, who could feel disturbed at their usual newsstands. Because here comes the boldest move.

The JAD used to be wrapped inside the IHT, almost like a local freebie for people who first bought an international newspaper, but now it's the opposite : the Korean newspaper will be on top, carrying the duo on its own shoulders.

Both moves mean a more frontal competition with older rivals Korea Times and Korea Herald, but also prove the group's ambitions : JoongAng Ilbo is confident in KOREA JOONGANG DAILY's chances of success, and probably well beyond the Korean borders. The leading publisher simply decided to act as a leader, and to give its main brand the international visibility it deserves.

Seoul Village 2010

UPDATE 20101018

I uploaded the new logo above. Note also the frame on each frontpage sampling the partner's headlines : "World News by International Herald Tribune" very visible on the KJD, and "KOREA JOONGANG DAILY" on the IHT.

UPDATE 20101031

Korea Times answers with this editorial stressing its long history... and own international ambitions : "Korea Times news exported worldwide".

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Every Second Sunday

Fancy some original fiction or poetry ? Take a bite of the Seoul Writers Workshop's 3rd annual anthology. And don't feel guilty about that sweet literary tooth of yours : proceeds from sales support the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center.

Many stories featured in this anthology have been discussed over the past few months during lively, coffee-guzzling workshops at Hello Beans in Itaewon, where new members are welcomed every second Sunday : this is not an exclusive, tight-lipped club - simply a great opportunity for writers to share and enjoy each other's works. And don't feel deterred if you are not a native speaker : the SWW already embraces all continents*.

Seoul Writers :
on Facebook

"Every Second Sunday" - 2010 Anthology
Edited by C.R.F. Sanders, Kathryn Whinney, Ang McLaughlin, Elena Sanchez
ISBN: 978-1-45383555-5
Also on sale at What The Book.

Seoul Village 2010

* Full disclosure here : yours truly, a French citizen with (as you well know) a poor command of English language (not to mention his own !), contributed to this edition with a short teaser : "Kim Mudangnim".

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