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Monday, April 25, 2011

Seoul Fortress Walls (re)completed by 2014

Seoul confirmed that the restoration of its 18.6 km fortress (see "Donuimun Restoration and Sadaemun Resurrection") would be finished in 2014, and that it would keep pushing for the inscription of this most defining cultural asset on the UNESCO Heritage list.

Of course, the monument itself cannot be fully rebuilt since whole sections are now occupied by roads or (often private) buildings. The idea is to fake seamlessness for pedestrians by building overpasses mimicking the walls, where possible. That's what I expected for Donuimun, but it is now planned around Sungnyemun / Namdaemun and Heunginjimun / Dongdaemun, and I wouldn't be surprised to see another overpass at Hyehwamun. In other sections, the walls shall be more symbolically materialized on the ground.

Let's hope these overpasses will be delicately built... and not serve as alibis to remove pedestrian crossings in key traffic hubs.

Jongno-gu officials have recently started promoting full circle hikes along the wall, and here's their estimation of the distances for pedestrians between each monument. I'll follow their order to drop a few updates about the fortress, starting from Dongdaemun* :

- Heunginjimun (Dongdaemun) to Jangchung Gymnasium (장충체육관, near Dongguk University Station) via Dongdaemun Design Plaza and Gwanghuimun : 1.695 km / 1 hour. Three sections of the wall are missing : on both sides of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza Park, and after the Gwanghuimun Park.

- Jangchung Gymnasium to Sungnyemun (Namdaemun) via Namsan, N Seoul Tower : 4.617 km / 3 hours. Most of Namsan is covered but three sections are missing, the longest in the final stretch, the small hill hosting the Namsan Public Library. Both sides of Sungnyemun are also disconnected from the wall.

- Sungnyemun (Namdaemun) to Donuimun (Seodaemun), or rather Samsung Gangbuk Hospital : 1.4 km / 50 mn. This is the most damaged section : only a short stretch of wall remains along Sogongno (Sogong-dong). Donuimun itself
must be completely rebuilt.

- Donuimun (Seodaemun) to Jongno Culture and Sports Center (Gwanghwamun Art Hall) : 800 m / 25 mn. The wall has been partly restored at the top of the hill separating Gyeonghuigung from what will become Gyeonam New Town (now known as Donhuimun New Town). There, near Hong Nan-pa's house (now a small cute museum), a public garden was inaugurated. And as we saw earlier, the triangle of hanok restaurants between the hospital and Gyeonghuigung will be replaced by another public garden, and the wall shall be prolonged with an overpass to the gate, the key missing gate but not for long anymore. At the other end, a group of "villas" prevents the connection with the main section of the wall, which starts above Sajik Tunnel and goes all the way to Seongbuk-dong.

- Jongno Culture and Sports Center (Gwanghwamun Art Hall) to Changuimun (Buksomun, better known as Jahamun) : 3.1 km / 2 hours. This Inwangsan stretch may be my favorite one : I sat countless times on a rock to enjoy one of the best views over Seoul (see the 2009 focus "
Inwangsan's Great Wall and Seoul's Royal "T" Time"), and not only after a stop at the center's swimming pool !

- Changuimun (Buksomun / Jahamun) to Sukjeongmun (Bukdaemun) : 2 km / 90 mn. This Buam-dong / Seongbuk-dong section includes a Bukhansan summit (344.2 m).

- Sukjeongmun (Bukdaemun) to Waryong Park : 1.5 km / 25 mn. Jongno-gu suggests to reach Samcheonggak from Bukdaemun (400m Northwards / 15 mn), or Samcheong Park from Malbawi Information Center (600 m Southwards / 20 mn, the center being on the way, 200 m after Bukdaemun, on the other side of Samcheong Tunnel).

- Waryong Park to Hyehwamun (Dongsomun) : 1.215 km / 30 mn. The final Heyhwa-dong stretch of the wall doesn't exist anymore. Only a few meters subsist before the Hyehwa Gate, which towers over Dongsomunno and could be typically linked to the next section, just across the street, with an overpass.

- Hyehwamun (Dongsomun) to Heunginjimun (Dongdaemun) : 2.3 km / 1 hour. Another pleasant journey along Naksan. We now know that the new park at the Dongdaemun end of this mountain will be connected to the gate.

Seoul Village 2011

* about the names of the gates (daemun and somun), see the focus "
Donuimun Restoration and Sadaemun Resurrection"

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hi Seoul Festival 2011

Now focused on non verbal performing arts, the Hi Seoul Festival proposes 6 days of animation : "The Gestures of Spring (Calling for Spring)", between May 5 and 10. The venues ? Yeouido Hangang Park and downtown's main squares : Seoul Plaza, Cheonggye Plaza, and Gwanghwamun Square.

Among the main events, a World Street Theater Parade on Seoul Square (May 5 at noon), the Cheonggyecheon Festival, installations, and special shows.

Check the official website for the program and updates :

Seoul Village 2011

Seochon, Sejong Village, or what ?

Now officially protected from reckless redevelopment, Seochon area is preparing for its cultural rebirth. All the ingredients are there, but a marketing battle seems to be brewing over the brand. How to name the place ?

"Seochon" echoes the village West of the Gyeongbokgung, an axis we've already discussed and a waterway about to be reopened. There could be some confusion with Seocheon-gun in Chungnam, and some confusion with Bukchon : Seo means West and Buk North, but "cheon" means stream and "chon" village.

Like Gahoe-dong on the other side of the royal palace, it would be unfair to pick a dong name out of the hat : the 600 hanoks are scattered across a dozen neighborhoods, each one with its own characteristics (Naeja-dong, Chebu-dong, Nuha-dong, Nusang-dong, Pilun-dong, Ogin-dong, Tongin-dong, Hyoja-dong, Changsang-dong, Tongui-dong...).

I often refer to the area as "Chebu-dong" because that's the central dong, but that's wrong. Technically, most neighborhoods belong to the two "administrative dongs" of Sajik-dong and Hyoja-dong, the former being maybe more suitable since it's associated with a major royal site (Sajik-dan), and a clear destination West of the Gyeongbokgung. Hyoja-dong touches the palace walls, and is more associated with the North and the presidential palace (even if Cheong Wa Dae belongs to Sejongno-dong and the administrative dong of Cheongun-dong).

Recently, some residents have been pushing a "Sejong Maeul / Sejong Village" label, probably because King Sejong was born there : a plate commemorates the location of the hut where the great man was delivered, following the tradition depicted at the nearby National Palace Museum of Korea. But I'm not sure the commoditization of the Sejong brand is such a good idea : this "Sejong Village" sounds like an annex to Sejongno, not a place with its own identity.

Since the whole area grew along the branches of the soon to be reborn stream, why not stick to Seochon ?

Seoul Village 2011

see other Seochon related posts, including "Stop The Hanok Genocide... And Stop Revival As Reenactment" and "Baekundongcheon / Gwanghwamun-gil - A River Runs Through It"

Seoul, to rise again / Enrique Stanko Vraz's visit to Seoul in 1901

There's always some interesting exhibition at the Seoul Museum of History, and quite often two, like nowadays (hurry up if you want to see both : one of them finishes this Sunday)*.

If you're sick and tired of seeing always the same pictures of the late Joseon dynasty, you'll love those taken by Czech photographer Vraz during his three week visit at the turn of last century : abandoned palaces and lively streets, "new" panoramas on well known streets and landmarks (Jongno, Namdaemunno, Maporo, Donhwamun...), and people of all ages looking back at the camera, straight into our IIIrd millenium eyes...

We had the pleasure to watch the exhibition with a group of Seoulites in their at least nineties, most of them pushed in wheelchairs by enthusiastic organizers who read the captions for them... and were corrected anytime they made a mistake about a place they couldn't remember as well as their passengers. Of course, when these elderlies were kids, Donuimun was still standing after all those centuries**, and Dongnimmun a todler monument about their age (the Independence Gate was erected in 1897).

On the same ground floor, "Seoul, to rise again" focuses on the 1957-1963*** years that rocked the ROK, when the capital city boomed, and regimes changed (from RHEE Syng-man to PARK Chung-hee). Pictures and films capture the effervescence, the political, social, economical, and urban changes in black and white, plus all the variations of grey.

"Enrique Stanko Vraz's visit to Seoul in 1901 / Soul roku 1901 objektivem E. St. Vraze" (20110414-0612)
"Seoul, to rise again" (20110309-0424)
Seoul Museum of History
Tel (Dasan hotline) : 120

Seoul Village 2011

* make that three with the mini expo on Seoul design assets including the U-Smartway project (see focus)
** Note that Donuimun also will rise again (see "
Donuimun Restoration and Sadaemun Resurrection").
*** and not 1961-1970, like in the volume 4 of the Seoul in Pictures series, also titled "Seoul, to rise again".

Sanchaehyang (Seoul)

More changes happening where Gyeonghuigung-gil forms an elbow :
- Metro newspaper successfully split its mediterranean villa in two, opening the Eastern wall to the street in an original take at the iron frame / stone wall classic... unfortunately to make room for yet another coffee and dessert shop (Ato), and to move the office into its brand new wing, a mini replica of high rise glass building that totally ruins the whole area
- if the old
Namuga ineun jib house lost most of its charm following its renovation (as we mentioned before, the restaurant itself moved right next door), the new tenant is more than OK as far as food is concerned.

Self proclaimed 더덕집 or "deodeokjib" / deodeok house, Sanghaehyang is specialized in that bellflower root* to the point their menu sounds like a Monty Python standard when you replace all 더덕s with the word SPAM. All preparations are available, including in special beef dishes or full course menus.

For instance, 더덕온반 ("deodeokonban") is perfect for a light but soothing lunch : it mixes a hot broth with some sort of chicken bibimbap, and of course the flavor of the month.

Sanghaehyang (restaurant)
Shinmunro-2-ga 1-209, Jongno-gu, SEOUL, Korea 110-062
Tel +82.2.733.1199 - Fax +82.2.733.1159

Seoul Village 2011

* also a speciality at "
Dunnae Minsokchon".

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Seoul from above : 40 years of archives soon available

Next year, Seoul Metropolitan Government will open its satellite databases (1971-2010) : all citizens will have access to forty years of archives and see how each area evolved over time.

The scale is 1/5,000, the best resolution available these days on paper : I often use an excellent Saehan Map / Blue Map of 2004 Seoul featuring maps on left pages and satellite views on right pages. Expecting every year in vain an updated version...

This online database is exactly what I've been dreaming of for years, but only had once the opportunity to experience "IRL", during last year's excellent exhibition "
A Retrospective : Kim Ki-chan and the World of Alleys" : in a display, you could observe a whole charming Seoul village being progressively obliterated and replaced by soulless apartment blocks.

As a teaser, authorities proposed this not so spectacular sample of Ttukseom (top) and COEX (bottom) areas :

I can't wait to browse through those tens of thousands of satellite pictures.

Meanwhile, I'll keep roaming Seoul villages at ground level.

Seoul Village 2011

---UPDATES 2011-2012---
The website (in Korean only):

The Spice (Seoul)

This is Itaewon street, but on the "Northern Garosugil" / "Hannam-dong" / "Hangangjin" half. Twenty years ago, Yukong would be the last stop before Hannam Bridge but now and under the SK brand, the gas station lies in the middle of a tree lined street filled with the kind of restaurants and boutiques you would rather find in Cheongdam-dong (no coincidence there: same money).

Here, all remaining nondescript buildings are progressively replaced with four storey shops and more original facades. Mercifully, newcomers don't seem to grow any higher, which allows some urban consistency in the area (for the mother of all large scale design failures, look further Westwards : the IP Boutique Hotel, a.k.a. Mondrian meets Joe The Plumber).

Anyway. Today, four slots were under (re)construction, including one right opposite The Spice (the blue dot on the map, Itaewon street the vertical in the middle), and next to a garden itself under renovation, at the feet of the Yongsan International School of Seoul. The funny clover-shaped landmark building North of the restaurant hosts Passion5, a very pleasant place to get a gelato, a French Kouign-amann, a festive cake, or some macaron (there's also a restaurant upstairs, but Passion5 l'Atelier's menu doesn't look as stimulating as l'Atelier de Joel Robuchon's). On the other side of The Spice (South on the map) : Kyotofu, fresh from NYC... I've got stuck into worse neighborhoods around lunchtime.

You may be wondering when I'll start writing about The Spice itself - I guess that would be now. I could start with the food, but the menu changes tomorrow (along with the chef, an Australian). So I'll talk quality-price ratio : Haute cuisine from KRW 35-42,000, anyone ? Not in the three-Michelin-star league, but a very nice moment nonetheless, some research about taste, and genuine respect for the ingredients even in the details (I don't think I ever tasted as fresh a tapenade - as if a Southeastern France wind gently slapped me in the face).

I felt very much like after a stop at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Market in Paris : simply and happily satisfied. Owner Edward Kwon (Kwon Young-min) is said to have worked with the Alsatian chef, and maybe his restaurant's name echoes Spice Market, also by Vongerichten. But whatever has been said about Kwon's distorted bio and taste for hype, I enjoyed what he proposed today, and this quiet moment.

The Spice (restaurant)
729-45 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, SEOUL, Korea
Tel +82.2.749.2596

Passion5 (ice creams, bakery, patisserie)
729-74 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, SEOUL, Korea
Tel +82.2.2071.9505

Kyotofu (dessert bar)
682-1 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, SEOUL, Korea
Tel +82.2.749.1488

Seoul Village 2011

Sunday, April 17, 2011

New Towns : hanoks in Eunpyeong, a desert in Wangsimni

Hanoks are definitely in : a fortnight ago, I mentioned a project of traditional house complex in Seongbuk-dong (see "Hanok New Town in Seongbuk-dong"), and on Friday, Eunpyeong-gu announced on Friday a new hanok village on the other side of Bukhansan.

By 2014, 220 residences shall be erected over a 71890 square meter stretch at the feet of the mountain, but within Eunpyeong New Town limits : in the Northeasternmost part of block number 3-2... where, I think, a park was initially planned...

So once again, it smells like budongsan spirit to me : a cultural, eco-friendly project masking a real estate, eco-unfriendly operation. This hanok village is not only excellent for the Mayor's image, but a potential jackpot for developers : residences will probably be tagged at a premium cost, turning the village into the jewel of an until then rather weak crown.

OK, OK... hanoks are always welcomed, and this area needed a longlasting landmark (have you seen the new Eunpyeong-gu city hall ?). And the project also includes a nice paved road, plus an undescribed "Eunpyeong Museum" (은평박물관), which I'm pretty sure will display the artifacts exposed two years ago at the Seoul Museum of History (see "
Eunpyeong New Town, Old Tombs").

I hope some of the traditional houses will be open to the public, and not all reserved for wealthier residents. If harmoniously designed, this village could become a peaceful destination for visitors from Eunpyeong and beyond, and an ideal stop for hikers on the way to Bukhansan from Gupabal Station.

A new town that could use a few hanoks is Wangsimni. I passed by the barren site yesterday, on the way to Dongmyo flea market, and under a bright sun, the sandy dunes looked very much like a desert. In guise of a ghost town, a few barracks spared by the destruction : shop owners who refused to give up a strategic location at a corner or on a major axis, and a church that will probably quadruple its size after flocks of newtowners move in. Except for these wise speculators, the whole area will be rebuilt from scratch, and need to tell a story of its own without a trace from the past.

At least, one hundred years from now, Eunpyeong New Town residents will have a place that was given from the start the potential to grow a soul of its own.

Seoul Village 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Oegyujanggak books returned

They're back. Or at least 75 of them. The rest of the 297 Oegyujanggak volumes will arrive by the end of May 2011.

This is a major mediatic event (and not only for Asiana Airlines, who sponsored beyond the shipment the mugs of experts interviewed on the TV) : in 1866, following the massacre of French missionaries, French troops brought back home (or looted, if you prefer) royal books from the Joseon dynasty and the Oegyunjanggak library and Korean authorities have been asking for their return ever since they discovered that the treasure was still held in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

About twenty years ago, President Francois Mitterrand brought one volume on a permanent lease during his salesman trip to Korea (said Korea ended up with the TGV but not the rest of the books), and last year, Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to finish the job after the Seoul G20 Summit. This time, the lease is automatically renewable, and required a vote at the French national assembly (the transfer got many museums nervous).

The most valuable Korean book kept in France remains Jikji, recognized by the UNESCO as the world's first metal type (1377, decades before Gutenberg's Bible).

Seoul Village 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Saruga begins its metamorphosis

A major landmark in Yeonhui-dong, Saruga shopping center is a traditional source for imported goods, food and beverages, and a sure bet when you need fine fish for sushis... but as you roam countless booths packed with all kinds of goods, you often feel like in a time capsule stuck in the early nineties. And the building itself doesn't look very young.

This is about to change: by May 23rd, Saruga will have finished its renovation and judging by the scaffolding and the destruction of the annex near the parking lot, changes should be spectacular. New dwellings are also planned.

Actually, the whole area is experiencing intense renovations, with tens of houses being rebuilt or redesigned, and scores of new coffee shops or boutiques opening at every corner, turning a rather conservative neighborhood (e.g. former presidents CHUN Doo-whan and ROH Tae-woo, respectively North and South of Yeonhui Samgeori) into a more "bourgeois boheme" spot.

Let's see how Saruga adapts to its new environment, or why not, whether it decides to set the pace again.

--- UPDATE 20110610 ---

"Sahruga" no more, Saruga reopened today with a bigger and more upscale supermarket featuring bilingual signs everywhere, a mini food court, a cafe with terrace on the second floor (Angel-in-us instead of the old furniture shop), a Dunkin Donuts on the first floor, and shops with a direct access to the lateral and back street : only a small island of booths subsists, and large window panes fully integrate the building with its neighborhood (even if the second entrance on Yeonhuimat-ro disappeared).

Seoul Village 2011

Re-engaging North Korea - A Four Party Talk

Very interesting conference yesterday at The Plaza Hotel* : "Responding to the Consolidation of Economic Cooperation between North Korea and China" was sponsored by the Korea Finance Corporation (KoFC, the State-run investment arm), and Maeil Business Newspaper (mbn).

For its 18th edition, this North Korea Policy Forum conference became an international seminar, with China, Japan, and the USA providing keynote speakers (bonus: an opening remark - in Korean - by US Ambassador Kathleen STEPHENS, ahead of Hillary CLINTON's visit later this week). Unfortunately, neither Russia (definitely below the radar regarding the issue), nor DPRK (for obvious reasons) were represented.

This Four Party Talk was followed by a captive audience (see exhibit B**), in spite of a very dense agenda (see full program below***) which didn't leave much time for Q&A nor discussions.

What made this conference really exciting were the differences in appreciation of a definitely complex and tricky situation. And at this game, US players spoke their minds out quite freely, even if some Koreans expressed very clearly their concerns to "Mr China" a.k.a. Professor Zhu Feng, absolutely brilliant in his good cop routine : what engagement ? we're not engaged to North Korea, just good neighbors tired of your family affairs - yes, KIM Jong-il is a bad guy and a headache for us as well, but he's your brother, and brothers don't kill each other - yes, these days, our Chinese government is rather conservative, and is pervasively locking key entry points across North Korea, but the colonization of NK by China is a ludicrous conspiration theory - yes, we're doing every day more business here, but as Pr KIM Chul noticed, our entrepreneurs are so much struggling with their local partners that most are curbing their enthusiasm...

Of course, no one mentioned the Northeast Project of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences : this was about business, with politics clearly off-limits. As if PRC-DPRK relations were apolitical. As if policies had nothing to do with politics...

Anyway, I had fun and would very much like to attend the next edition - maybe in a different order (first the historical background, then the trends, and finally the various scenarii / recos), and in a different format (e.g. three panelists max for each topic ? a lunch between two power sessions instead of a dinner after a marathon ?).

By then, chances are many more fundamental changes will have happened. If not the end of North Korea, at least a re-engagement by the South, and potentially a summit (consider the past year : Cheonan sinking and Yeonpyeong-do shelling, KIM Jong-un's promotions, Middle East uprisings, NK reviving its nuke program, Japan spicing North East Asia nuclear nightmares with a new flavor, or the day before the conference a mini-crisis over Mt Gumgang tours...).

If you're familiar with this excuse for a blog, you already know my opinion on North Korea**** :

1) Technically, the North Korean regime is already dead. It only relied on ideology and propaganda, the first lost its substance and the second its efficiency in the eyes of a growing proportion of the population. A little bit like in Iran, ailing and corrupt leaders progressively outsource the power to brutal military forces. At this stage, masses remain overwhelmed and change remains driven by State leaders, but popular rebellions are getting bolder every year, and 450,000 North Koreans have now a mobile phone (reaching far beyond the first nomenklatura circles).

2) The statu quo, or what I called the "Juche line" is not an option - change is coming. For the official end, my base case scenario evolved over time : until the late nineties I believed in an "Albania scenario" (brutal collapse, masses fleeing the country, cult of personality victims abused by con people and more or less religious cults...), but spectacular initiatives from China followed by the highly controversial Northeast Project led me to believe in the more subtle, progressive, and pervasive "Hanschluss scenario". A scenario confirmed by the ambitious developments announced over the following 2-3 years for North East China (on schedule, as we saw yesterday during the conference) : once again, whatever the motives and whatever North Korean leaders do, they also result in artificially relocating the epicenter of Koreanity on Chinese soil, and more physically than intense revisionism about Korean history (ie Goguryo). A scenario sealed by LEE Myung-bak in 2007 : South Korea's disengagement precipitated further the North towards China, leaving no dovish alternative.

3) Of course, China doesn't need to politically integrate North Korea as another province : an unofficial vassal status easy does it, and the process seems very well engaged. Reminder : the Cheonan aggression was about internal affairs, but not between both Koreas. KIM Jong-il had first to reassess his friendship with the army, and second to get some leverage ahead of the "negociations" with the PRC. Chaperoned by CHANG Sung-taek, KIM Jong-un got the nod from Beijing : KJI's brother in law later developped a parallel FDI tool, more China-friendly than the official one. He also lost a rival in a convenient car accident... No need to read fortune cookies to understand that more high ranking officials will join the collaborators to push their luck. With the Yeonpyeong island shelling, Junior assessed his own friendship with the army (nevermind those darn binoculars). Father and son completed the pledge of allegiance with a familial pilgrimage in China, where Grand Dad KIM Il-sung himself got his education, an other way of accepting the only filiation that counts : NK's Motherland is China.

4) The Great Hanschluss is not completed yet. Both China and South Korea are also experiencing ideology crisis at home between conservatism, progressivism, and agnostic pragmatism / reform. South Korea and North Korea share more common ground than survivors of a lost era. They still share an identity and a destiny. And this is not about rejecting China, but about embracing themselves.

Seoul Village 2011

* now it's simply "The Plaza", to mark the difference with the Seoul Plaza in front. That was my first visit there since the renovation (see "
Seoul Plaza Hotel joins the renovation frenzy"). If the outer shell didn't change spectacularly, the inside looks much classier: an Italian designer added a European boutique hotel flavor.

** including yours truly (exhibit B: Paris, Texas alias Stephane and Steven - photo by KIM Jae-hun, Maeil Business Newspaper - "
北·中 교류, 일방적 원조서 시장원리로 전환") :

*** Full program:
- Opening remarks : RYU Jae-han (President, KoFC), CHANG Dae-hwan (CEO, Maeil Business Newspaper), Kathleen STEPHENS (US Ambassador to South Korea)
- Panel One ("East Asian Regional Cooperation and North Korea-China Relations" and "China's Approach to North Korea: National Interests and Strategy") :
. moderator : HONG Yang-ho (former Vice-Minister of Unification)
. presenters : Matsuno SHUJI (Ritsumeikan University), John Delury (Yonsei University), Zhu Feng (Beijing University)
. panelists : LEE Chan-woo (Tokyo International University - NB: the first to entertain the audience with maps), Edward REED (from The Asia Foundation - NB : only had time to phrase the key questions, but it was worth the trip), LEE Hui-ok (Sungkyunkwan University), KIM Heung-kyu (Sungshin Women's University), KIM Yong-hyun (Dongguk University)
- Panel Two ("The Present and Future of Economic Cooperation Between North Korea and China" and "China's Growing Influence on North Korea and How South Korea Should Respond") :
. moderator : LEE Sang-man (Chairman, the Steering Committee for the North Korea Policy Forum)
. presenters : YOON Seung-hyun (Yanbian University, NEA Research Institute), Scott SNYDER (Center for US-Korea Policy), PARK Gun-il (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)
. panelists : OH Seung-ryul (Hankuk University of Foreign Studies - NB: the first to mention the obvious limits of official statistics, which capture only part of exchanges between DPRK and PRC), KIM Chul (Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences), CHEONG Seong-chang (Sejong Institute), CHU Suk-yong (KoFC - Ministry of Unification), KIM Se-hyung (Chief Editor, Maeil Business Newspaper)
**** see previous posts on NK, and in particular the focus on the "Great Hanschluss" ("Great Wall of China - Anschlussing Korea (continued)" - also on blogules in English "a greater wall of china - bonus, korea inside (the great hanschluss)" and in French "La Grande Muraille de Chine à l'assaut de la Corée (l'ultime Hanschluss)")

Eric Kayser

July 14th, 2010, the French Embassy. All eyes converge towards Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the FMI and a favorite for 2012 presidential elections.

Not mine : I've already seen DSK at the same place 18 years ago, but it's the first time for Eric Kayser products to make a public appearance in Korea, and they taste absolutely delicious. If some bakers can be good in tradition or innovation, this one scores pretty well on both.

Bastille Day teasing was followed by the inauguration of the first branch in Yeouido (63City B1), and the brand is spreading like butter on a fresh from the oven baguette : The Plaza downtown, Lotte Department Store Cheongnyangni, and soon a restaurant in Samcheong-dong, plus the Galleria Centercity in Cheonan.

Kayser contributes to a spectacular boom in French bakeries (see recently Guillaume or Paul), but let's not forget local competition :
Patisserie B just started making very nice Opera cakes.

Eric Kayser Korea
The Plaza (02.310.7500)
63City Yeouido (02.789.5687)
Lotte Dept Store Cheongnyangni (02.3707.1976)
Galleria Centercity, Cheonan (041.410.9779)

Seoul Village 2011

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Seoul Friendship Fair 2011

My favorite Seoul festival* is back. Seoul Friendship Fair will just like last year be held around Seoul Plaza and Mugyodong-gil, at the feet of the new City Hall.

By the way, that building looks scarier than ever : from the beginning, this towering steel and glass wave reminded me of a tsunami about to crash over Seoul Plaza, but these days, without its final touches, the new exoskeleton structure around the old carcass from the Japanese era looks like a gigantic eagle claw. Yet, just like for Gwanghwamun Square, I'm rather confident : beyond the look, it's mostly about reopening a crucial area to pedestrians, and if Seoul City Hall used to be a hurdle for traffic, it has a great potential as a vital hub once it cracks open like say the Sony Center in Berlin. I'm anxious to see the final result and often have a peek at the working site (the other day, I could enjoy a dramatic view from above, at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents' Club).

But enough chit-chat about architectural projects, let's talk about food.

Yes, the friendship fair is about bringing Korean and Foreign communities together, discovering new cultures, listening to music, or attending dance shows from all over the world, but to me it's mostly about food and roaming all day long from booth to booth to try the most exotic specialities. And for certain cuisines which don't even boast a restaurant in Seoul, the dishes can be of the genuinely home made variety (sometimes even served by the ambassador himself).

It's good, it's fun, and it's a fantastic opportunity to see how international Seoul has become**.

You don't want to miss this.

Seoul Friendship Fair 2011 ("Meeting and sharing of the world, and unity")
Organizers : Seoul Metropolitan Government
Date: May 7 and 8, 2011 (Saturday - Sunday)
Location : downtown around Seoul Plaza and Mugyodong-gil.

Seoul Village 2011

* "
Friendship Fair"
** see also "
In 2050, almost 10% of Korea's population will not be Korean" - note that Yonhap disclosed two statistics today that confirm the trend : elderly citizens in Seoul reach 1 M, foreigners living in Seoul after marrying a Korean spouse 41,000.


ADDENDUM 20110501 - SFF website and map

More details and updates about the events on the official website :

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A rice paddy on Gwanghwamun Square ?

Undeterred by the first official radioactive rain on the Korean capital (nothing serious according to the authorities*), Jongno-gu's Mayor proposed to install rice paddies at Gwanghwamun Square.

Enough to harvest significant volumes of rice, but more certainly enough to boost the Mayor's well-being-tree-hugging profile. Nothing new under the sun : a couple of years ago, French farmers would install a fake wheat field on Paris' Champs Elysees. And every year, wine is made from the city's last grape vines in Montmartre. Furthermore, Jongno-gu has already "produced" some rice in pots along Sajikno (was it last year or the one before ?), but the water didn't remain clean very long.

Just for the beauty of it, why not ? It sure beats the usual kitschy flower beds, and photographers will love it.

Not to mention mosquitoes, of course.

Seoul Village 2011

* Not my idea of an energy drink either : drinking 2 liters of it every day for one year would be equivalent to 40% of an X-ray.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

DMC at full throttle - Songdo from Sim City to Sin City ?

Remember our parallel between Seoul Digital Media City and Incheon's Songdo International Business District* ? Both project have been advancing since, with Songdo building everything from scratch, and the DMC enjoying many transfers from other districts.

Even for education : the Japan School in Seoul moved from Gangnam-gu to the DMC in Mapo-gu, while of Chadwick International School in Songdo was a creation. To be fair, Songdo also benefited from a major transfer with Yonsei Songdo Global Academic Complex (SGAC), and the DMC has already created many original landmarks as well.

Once again, the Songdo project is much bigger and complex to fill, even after signing such majors as Samsung (ie recently for a biopharmaceutical unit). The local press made a fuss about the recent visit of Vegas casino operators, and Grand Korea Leisure, who operate 7 Luck Casino in Seoul, are considering Jeju or Songdo for a second spot... A new Macau much closer to Shanghai and Beijing ?

Meanwhile, leveraging on Seoul Metropolitan Government's determination to create an international multimedia cluster**, the DMC recently received the confirmation from seven major multimedia groups, including JoongAng, back to the broadcasting arena with growing ambitions. Of course, JoongAng Broadcasting Corporation (JoongAng Media Network) already operated Cartoon Network, J Golf, or Q Channel, but the group lost its leadership after the Tongyang Broadcasting Company breakup (note the new entertainment channel brand, jTBC, as an echo to the pre-1980s). The group also purchased CINUS theaters via Isplus (Ilgan Sports).

Korea's biggest media group already moved to the DMC a long time ago : CJ E&M (CJ Entertainment & Media, formerly O Media Holdings) now regroups all the chaebol's media assets, creating a major in music (Mnet, CJ E&M Music.Live, FNC Music, Good Concert, Jisan Valley Rock Festival, Global Gathering...), movies (CJ Entertainment, CGV...), media (CJ Media, On Media, OCN, chCGV, Story On, tvN, OnStyle, NGC Korea, XTM, Olive, CJ O Shopping, CJ Internet...), and games (CJ E&M Games, BiCore, Netmarble...).

Yet the competition is not just national anymore. And there too, Seoul and Incheon are definitely putting more chips on the table...

Seoul Village 2011

* "
Seoul Digital Media City Tour"
** see more recently "
DMC aims at Tinseltown - welcome to Hallyuwood !".

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