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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Seoul Marche de Noel

Dear fellow French citizens / French food lovers,

Just like
last year, the 2010 edition of le Marche de Noel du Seorae Village (Xmas Market in 서래마을) will be held from 10 to 16 in Gingko Park (은행나무 공원). Only the date changes : this year, December the 4th.

A Rabelaisian character if I ever saw one, Santa will join the party.

Seoul Village 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A National Museum of Korean Contemporary History ???

You probably already know that the US Embassy is supposed to move down to Yongsan around 2013, when the Yongsan Army Base mutates into a central park. But at the same date, its neighbor on Sejongno*, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, will also have changed its purpose and become the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History.

Whatever that means.

We're quite familiar with musea of "Contemporary Art", but a museum for "Contemporary History"...?

Theoretically, it should cover, if not History as it happens or as it is being written, a period that a significant portion of the population has experienced : in Asia, the term generally covers everything that followed WWII.

But if this Museum will focus on Independance, the boom years, or the fight for democracy, it is also supposed to reach into the late Joseon period and the Japanese Occupation, and into the future. The last few early XXst century survivors won't be around much longer, so curators will soon have to either drop the "Contemporary" part in the title, or whole chunks of their collections. I'm afraid I'd have to wait way too long after my death to see them discard the Hallyu wave section they're planning...

There's also the issue of "cannibalization" with the National Museum...

So I'd rather suggest "National Museum of Modern History", which really echoes the shift from old to new Korea, and encompasses both the past and future. It also puts some distance between the immediate present and its analysis - an analysis always subject to heated controversies, most particularly nowadays**.

As Zhou Enlai answered, when asked about the 1789 French Revolution : "it's too early to tell".

And it's too early to tell if Bae Yong-joon deserves a statue on Sejongno*.

Seoul Village 2010

* sorry, "
** mimicking his counterpart at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Korea , the new president of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, Hyun Byung-chul, has recently been accused of torpedoing his own institution (one third of all commissioners resigned).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We need to talk about KIM

Hours after the shelling of Yeonpyeong island by North Korea (probably part of Kim Jong-un's training as the next mad leader - KIM the Third obviously wanted to be part of the South's naval exercises), the promotional campaign for "Korea, a good neighbor", was still playing on CNN.

Seoul's official reaction to this new provocation is likely to be one notch down the nice cop scale used after the Cheonan Tragedy (earlier this very strange year, also ridden with skirmishes). Some wrists shall even be slapped. And of course, hectoliters of tears shall flow.

"A good neighbor" ? This side of the DMZ, most certainly.

But to paraphrase Lionel Shriver's book*, "We need to talk about KIM" sooner or later.

Seoul Village 2010

"We need to talk about Kevin"

ADDENDUM 20101127

As expected, NK propaganda presents KIM Jong-un as the genius general who successfully prepared the army against this kind of "aggression from the South".

As expected, China doesn't blame NK, and criticizes US-ROK drills.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Yi Sun-shin drives away

As soon as the G20 Seoul Summit 2010 non-event got packed, Admiral Yi Sun-shin was awarded a few months leave from his position at the lower end of Gwanghwamun Square.

His iron statue was removed today, and driven to a rejuvenating lair probably less glamour than Chaum, CHA Hospital recently inaugurated upscale anti-ageing center*.

I sincerely hope Yi won't come back with the same golden tan as his new neighbor King Sejong (see "
Santa Sejong is coming to town").

Anyway, living in Gwanghwamun is a bit like watching a Korean drama : new twists happen every day, but they are quite foreseeable** and you often end up with the same bankable stars.

On the brighter side : since the gate reopened, tourists have been swarming all across the square***. And those who just came for Korean dramas will come back for Seoul.

Seoul Village 2010

* a spectacular, holistic concept for VIPs in the heart of Gangnam, which also happens to be the heart of Korea's booming medical tourism. A reference in birth (and stem cells), CHA Hospital remains ahead of Korean trends and demographics.
** even if, when I wrote "Gwanghwamun restoration : too bballi-bballi ?", I didn't expect the gate to show signs of alteration that quickly : big cracks appeared on its seal just weeks after the inauguration.
*** and the
Sejongno Park is yet to be redesigned.


UPDATE 20101117

Along with the screen where visitors can appear in Yi's outfit, the statue's pedestal has been animated with an original installation by Yi Je-seok : where the Admiral stood, a huge fitting room, his armor lying on the wall, and the message "undressing" (daluijung) on the door. The King will come out of the closet (no pun intended) on December the 22nd, 2010.

UPDATE 20101210

Oh my gold : I saw pictures of the statue in its lair, and it will have the same coating as King Sejong's (a bit like a cheap plastic Disney toy). Now even Seoul's new baby Haechi character looks scarier than Yi with its fangs. Who the hell is in charge of statues out there ?

UPDATE 20101223

Phew. He's back, but he's not doning gold : after many hesitations, officials opted for a lighter dark color.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

G20 Seoul Summit 2010

The best thing about this 2010 G20 Summit ? The logo : a traditional Korean lantern with a modern twist : in motion, radiating positive energy from an almost Obamesque, red and blue sun. Dignified and smart.

Like for previous international events, all downtown buildings posted huge billboards celebrating a truly global company / country... but this time, we are mercifully spared the usual "models" (Park Ji-sung, Park Tae-hwan, Kim Yu-na, Yoo Name-it...). Even the companies themselves are sidelined, the real stars being the logo, and the city that's hosting The Group of Twenty summit.

Of course, this event confirms Seoul as a major business / convention venue, and Korea as a significant player between China and the US (remember : G20 = G2 + a few zeros). Of course, it also represents a major security challenge in the heart of a megalopolis. Of course, there is always the (slim) chance that something productive may come out of it, some kind of "Seoul Declaration" to join the pantheon of Yaltas, Bretton Woods, or other Kyotos...

But I'd like to remember this summit as a non-event. Business as usual for a city that, unlike say Pittsburgh, is used to climbing 8000m mountains, and doesn't need to boast about that kind of stuff anymore. Simply put, a member of the small club of major world capitals.

Seoul Village 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

AREX on time for Seoul - Gimpo - Incheon

Three years after the first section between Incheon and Gimpo airports, the second section of AREX (Korail Airport Railroad) will open on schedule next December 29, putting Incheon Airport 43 mns away from Seoul Station*, where travellers will be able to check in, leaving only passport and security checks to ICN.

The reasons why a rail connection was not built from day one were not only financial : the focus on road traffic (dedicated expressway, taxis) was meant to facilitate the emergence of a(n economically) sustainable ecosystem around the new airport.

Incheon International Airport will turn 10 in 2011. It already proved a total success as a regional hub for Northeast Asia as well as for its quality of service. Over the past twelve months, ICN managed an average 579 aircraft movements (+6.2%) and 90,098 passenger movements (+17.1%) every day**, and its capacity will be boosted from 44 to 62 million passengers by 2015, and 100 millions by 2020.

On the way to Gimpo Airport station (already operational, also on subway lines 5 and 9), Seoul will open 4 new AREX stations : Seoul Station, Gongdeok, Hongik University, and DMC :

Seoul Village 2010

* that's for premium fares (no stopover, designated seats, KRW 13,300), or 53 mn if the train stops at each station (KRW 5,000).
** airport stats Nov 2009-Oct 2010 (vs Nov 2008-Oct 2009)

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