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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Korea "Tighting" ?

According to a recently published study, Pakistan, Malaysia, India, and Singapore would be the only 4 countries with a 'tighter' culture than Korea's ("Differences Between Tight and Loose Cultures: A 33-Nation Study", Science 27 May 2011 - study led by Michele J. Gelfand*).

In this
study's summary, 'tight' countries "have many strong norms and a low tolerance of deviant behavior", a phenomenon sometimes conditioned by the environment (for instance : high population density, resource scarcity, natural disaster zone...). We could venture deeper into 'distal ecological and historical factors and societal processes', or 'proximal/contemporaneous processes', but I'm not in the mood. So why not stick to 'tight' and 'loose' ?

Note that all top 5 countries maintain death penalty, and are not exactly celebrated for heralding LGBT rights. And if it's far less prone to religious conservatism than Pakistan, Korea remains developped a unique set of rules as the most Confucian country in the world. India and Singapore could be considered structurally 'tight' for obvious yet different reasons, even if one cannot sum up India with the Calcutta or caste system cliches, or Singapore with its Orwellian lists of "don'ts and don'ts".

Should we fully trust this study then ? Researchers compiled thousands of interviews led between 2000 and 2003, which may lead to some conjunctural biases. For instance, 9/11 fueled zealotry and conservatism across Muslim Asia. And were Koreans polled in 2000, still recovering from the 1997-98 crisis, or in 2003, doped by World Cup euphoria and the Sunshine years ? Furthermore, I didn't expect Norway to come 6th (with 9.5 on the tigthness score - PAK 12.3, MLY 11.8, IND 11, KOR 10.4), or Israel 30th (with 3.1... only Hungary, Estonia, and Ukraine follow with respectively 2.9, 2.6, and 1.6)**.

This 'tightness' score mostly sounds like a good marketing gimmick to me. And more fundamentally : I tend not to trust mono-dimensional scores that are supposed to grasp complex phenomena (IQ being probably the ultimate imposture : summing up intelligence in one dimension is a criminal nonsense).

That certainly doesn't make Korea a model of 'looseness', but the country keeps evolving at a much quicker pace than its direct 'competitors', not to mention less 'tightish' countries such as Japan, particularly after 2003.

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* I haven't read it but just got wind of it thanks to the Chosun Daily : "
Korean Society the Fifth 'Tightest in the World'" (Chosun Ilbo 20110530).
** FYI: UK finishes 13th with 6.9, France 18th with 6.3, the US 23rd with 5.1.

Monet to Warhol (Saint Etienne @ Daejeon)

After the Musee d'Orsay in Seoul, the Musee d'Art Moderne de Saint Etienne in Daejeon : this summer, French museums are joining the increasing flock of foreign visitors to Korea (2.8 M over the first 4 months of 2011, or +3% vs the same period last year).

Ask any French citizen about Saint Etienne and you'll hear about 'Les Verts', the soccer team that ruled over French soccer decades ago, and almost made it to the top of Europe (losing the Champions' Cup final to Bayern Munchen back in '76). But 'Sainté' is also a UNESCO Creative City and City of Design, and this museum holds the second modern art collection in France after Centre Beaubourg / Georges Pompidou. I haven't visited it yet so that's another good reason to pass by Daejeon this summer.

Saint Etienne Museum of Modern Art sent 114 works by 82 artists ranging from Monet to Warhol and including Roy Lichtenstein, Picasso, Miro, Fernand Léger, Jean Dubuffet, Yves Klein, or Monumenta 2010 artist Christian Boltanski. Almost simultaneously (20110524-0703), the Daejeon Metropolitan Museum of Arts (DMMA) is also staging a Daejeon - Saint Etienne Exposition mixing artists from both cities (Saint Etienne's roster : Yves Bresson, Jean-Marc Cerino, Elzevir, Franck Lestard, Jerome Loisy, and Sylvia Marquet).

Monet to Warhol - Masterpieces from the Saint Etienne Museum of Modern Art
De Monet à Warhol - Collections du Musée d'Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne
Daejeon Museum of Art (396 Mannyeon-dong, Seo-gu, Daejeon, ROK -
May 25 - August 28, 2011 / 모네에서워홀까지.com
Tel : +82.42.477.3223 - Ticketlink 1588-7890

Seoul Village 2011
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Musee d'Orsay in Seoul

Hangaram Museum simultaneously proposes two exhibitions with similar titles : "Dream and reality" and "Dreams come true".

If you don't mind, I won't elaborate on the latter (devoted to "The art of Disney's classic fairy tales" - May 14 - September 25, 2011), and focus on the former : "Reve et Realite" will display for the first time in Seoul masterpieces from the Orsay Museum (June 4 - September 25, 2011).

I mean actual masterpieces, not just stuff brought up from the warehouse. If you haven't done so yet, you want to marvel at Cezanne's card players up close, and to appreciate billions of colors no screen will ever manage to catch :

Also on display this Summer in Seoul : Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, Ingres, or Millet, and series of drawings.

A former train station facing the Louvre and Tuileries gardens from across the Seine river in Paris, Musee d'Orsay hosts collections from the XIXth and XXth centuries, including embarrassing series of academic art ('art pompier') but also countless treasures. I can't believe this museum will turn 25 later this year.

Reve et realite - les chefs d'oeuvre du Musee d'Orsay a Seoul / 오르세미술관전 - 고흐의 별밤과 화가들의 꿈
Where: Hangaram Art Museum, Seoul Arts Center
Organizers: GNC Media
Dates: 20110604-0925
More details, closing dates : - +82.2.325.1077

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Korea Foundation Summer Concert for Foreign Residents 2011

A Plan B for Friday, June 17 (or a Plan A if you are not interested in Seoul Global Business Networking Event 2011) ? Korea Foundation, which turns 20 this year, organizes 'Different but the Same', a concert of "oriental and western string melodies", featuring HWANG Byung-ki (a gayageum master), and given at Seoul Namsan Traditional Theater. That's in Namsangol Hanok Village, close to Chungmuro Station (Pil-dong, Jung-gu).

The admission is free and Foreign Residents will be given priority for the application process.

Korea Foundation : ("Join the KFCC events" section). Reservations and inquiries : +82.2.2151.6513 (the KF email specifies that reservations are only possible between June 8 and 14).

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

China imports Hanoks, tames its North Korean "province"

KIM Jong-il interrupted his third visit within one year to China after a clash with PM Wen Jiabao : NK's Dear Leader wanted a comprehensive guarantee from the Central Government for all the frontier projects, but he only got an invitation to negotiate directly with (fellow ?) regional authorities, as well as with private Chinese companies, and only for the Eastern regions. KIM obviously lost face after more or less agreeing (for the zillionth non-binding time) to a denuclearization of the Peninsula and a return to six-party talks. But this drawback doesn't come as a surprise and simply confirms the Hanschluss of "Joseon" by China*. Speaking of China's "Northeast Project", South Korea could be collaborating as well, but unwillingly, and at the cultural level, as it exports its hanok technology to China via a hotel and residence complex of 1,500 houses meant to boost tourism in the region.* Korean minorities represent officially 1% of Heilongjiang's population, but there's a "Jiangnan Korean Ethnic Minority Manzu Xiang" in the Southeastern part of the state, near Ning'all and Ning'anzhen in Mudanjiang area in Ning'an (Ningan) city. Here lied Sanggyeong, a former capital of Balhae, the Korean kingdom that came after Goguryeo in the late 7th century, and covered parts of today's China and Russia. And that's precisely in Ning'an that the complex will be built... I pinpointed the area on Seoul Village map :
View Seoul Village in a larger map I guess we'll probably see more hanoks pop up everywhere across North East China, and the overwhelming majority of Chinese tourists will believe that this is part of their national heritage :
once again, the Northeast Project of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences intends to artificially build the historic and cultural center of Koreanity within Chinese borders, and in that regard, the first encounter between Chinese masses and the Korean culture must happen on Chinese soil. Of course, even if I would have preferred KAL's hanok hotel project in Seoul to bloom first (see "Korean Air Grounded : Seoul 7 Star Hotel Delayed"), I'm happy to see a traditional Korean know-how recognized overseas. But this is first about politics, and those enthusiastic South Korean architects are probably not aware of the big picture behind this not so innocent technology transfer. Seoul Village NEW : follow Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter * see previous episodes, including "Re-engaging North Korea - A Four Party Talk" ("China-North Korea : the Great Hanschluss still the base case scenario" on blogules) ** "한옥 수출" ("Hanok exports" - Chosun Ilbo 20110526)

KAL receives its first Airbus A380

Korean Air unveiled its first A380, and the initial commercial flight is scheduled for 9:10 AM on June 17, 2011, as flight KE380 between ICN and NRT (Incheon and Narita).

A dedicated website has been inaugurated (, but there's not so much about the inside of the plane. All I know is that is will seat 407, much less than the 5 former A380 clients... which should mean special perks for the most expensive seats, and not just the "Kosmo Suites" and "Prestige Sleeper Seats" already presented :

Come on: they're hiding stuff in this movie. Where's the bar ? The jacuzzi ? The screen golf ? The noraebang ? The gimchi spa ?

Okay okay. I hope it won't be as bad as the most extravagant and tasteless plane I ever visited (back in the 80s at the Bourget fair) : an ATR42 sold to petrodollar kings with a window-to-window bed big enough to host a whole harem and golden faucets in the bathroom... sorry I need a barf bag (excellence in fright).

What strikes me most is how, instead of serving long hauls, the giant carrier will first target frequent flyers and business travelers between both capitals. Always that fierce competition for the regional hub...

So I'll have to wait for a direct Paris-Seoul on this big fat bird ripe for Thanksgiving (Emirates does flies one on the Seoul-Dubai route).

(update 201105: the commercial)

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Modern Art Pest Control

When I first noticed those white plastic bags hanging from the trees along Deoksugung walls, I thought a few angry kids had thrown their diapers around in a sudden potty training strike... or more likely, the nearby museum of art had excreted some disruptive installation from the other side of Deoksugung-gil.

But from a closer range, one can see the tubes and syringes reaching for the feet of the trees. So the bags were just containers for pest treatments... the most spectacular so far (I'm more used to the small bottles attached to the trunks).

I've always been amazed by the sharp contrast between the cold and warm seasons and how quickly green comes back with a vengeance, along with all sorts of insects. After one of the coldest Januaries on record, we're enjoying a more decent May, and in a remarkable parallel, humans and bugs have started swarming in their respective outdoor hot spots.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cloudy skies over Sejong City

Today's Korea JoongAng Daily exposed a rather grim situation* for Korea's ex-next-capital city : major investors and developpers as well as land owners prefer to cancel their arrival and pay the fine than to move in Sejong City. And many civil servants will leave their families home after the transfer of their administrations from Seoul.

To add insult to the injury, Samsung eventually opted for Saemangeum, a rival presidential pharaonic utopia**, for its future battery plant.

Big companies have decided to cut their losses, but smaller fish won't have a plan B. So after the political and economic failure, a social crisis seems the logical next step.

Food for thought for speculators : if you gamble on non bullet proof concepts, do it at your own risks. And if the concept itself is a Plan B, consider the Plan B's Plan B, or reconsider the value of the original Plan A.

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* see "
Korea Inc abandons Sejong" (Korea JoongAng Daily 20110520), and on Seoul Village, previous posts about Sejong City : "About handovers and hangovers", "Pyeongchang 2018 vs Sejong City 2010 ?", "Sejong City and the beauty of lameduckhood", "Sejong City"...
** see "
Ari, Arirang, Ari, Ariul City"

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New address system in Korea : 2 more years

As we saw earlier, the Korean address system will undergo a spectacular reform as of January 1, 2012 (see "The Great Korean Revolution : addresses with house numbers and street names").

The old method was to be dumped at the same date, but obviously not everyone was ready. So the Government eventually decided to postpone to 2014 the end of the "dong" / "beonji" system*, which will then cohabit two more years.

The best is to keep both addresses on your name cards for the time being (I opted for the new one followed by the old one between brackets).

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* see "
새 도로명주소 전면시행 2년 연기" 관련 설명자료"

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hongdae snacks - THE Guksu, Kongbul, Maroon 51, Gilmotongi Chili Cha Cha Fingerfood Bar...

Riding a bike in Hongik University area is always fun and a perfect opportunity to taste various bits of cheap but original food along the way.

Hongdae is a little bit like Itaewon : a neighborhood progressively evolving into a series of very distinct areas, each one with its own character. Very much like Haebangchon grew an identity of its own, Seogyo-dong developped distinct villages and tribes.

The center remains a typical university area full of youngsters : that's the intersection between Seogyo-ro (the W/E street leading to Hongdae's main gate) and the winding street called Geotgosipeun geori to the North (걷고싶은 거리, the tree dotted "Pedestrian Street" or "I like to walk street" in the local lingo / on the konglish signs) and Juchajang geori to the South (주차장길, the grungier "Parking Street", which actually begins as 어울마당길 or "global gathering road").

Both sides deserving their names, I opted for the North and sat by a window at Kongbul's. The name of the restaurant mixes kongnamul with bulgogi : I had the hot and spicy samgyeopsal variety - nothing revolutionary but you get the expected bang for just a few bucks.

The Southwestern part of Hongdae (near Hapjeong Station, the rectangle square drawn by Picasso Street, Parking Street, Donkmak-gil, and Yanghwaro) is definitely quieter and more residential, even if private residences progressively turn into smart offices, shops and cafes. As spring temperatures rise to the level of a decent European summer, you don't really feel in Seoul.

Even the Korean classics are revisited. For instance, "THE Guksu" ("the noodles") proposes for only KRW 4,000 a very refreshing bibim guksu with a lemony flavor and fried bits that crack under your palate. And at Gilmotongi Chili Cha Cha, a self proclamed "Fingerfood Bar" that could pass for any tteokbokki place, you can have for the same price the trio of croquettes of your choice (KRW 1,700 apiece), and I strongly recommend their basil cream croquette - like a melting risotto in a fried shell.

Gilmotongi Chili Chacha has one mini terrasse seating two, from which you can observe the local fauna. The corner of Seollae-1-gil and Noeul-gil feels like a mix of bobo Bastille and vintage Camden.

Streets are much narrower on the other side of Parking Street, a denser cluster of eateries. We parked our bikes against the fences of Maroon 51's fake lawn, a small green triangle at a fork in the road. They are still in trial period and preparing for the official opening in June 2011 : their bulgogi-rice-egg combo probably needs to develop more character, but I really liked their beef and onion sandwich.

Seogyo-dong 345-2, Mapo-gu, Seoul, ROK
Tel +82.2.322.3545

THE Guksu / 더 국수 (noodle bar)
Seogyo-dong 395-7, Mapo-gu, Seoul, ROK 121-840
(New format : Yanghwa-ro 12-gil 26 (Seogyo-dong))
Tel +82.2.323.4776

Gilmotongi Chili Chacha / 길모통이 칠리차차
Seogyo-dong 400-11, Mapo-gu, Seoul, ROK
(New format : Yanghwa-ro 6-gil 79 (Seogyo-dong))
Tel +82.2.322.8405

Maroon 51
Seogyo-dong 409-14, Mapo-gu, Seoul, ROK
(New format : Wausan-ro 15-gil 34 (Seogyo-dong))
Tel +82.70.8682.5151

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Seoul Global Business Networking Event 2011

Last October, the first Seoul Global Business Networking Event drew crowds to Jongno-gu (see "SGBSC + KBC : small business & big party"). On June 17, Gangnam will be the spot to meet and to update each other for business networkers.

Speaking of which, the organizers themselves keep rocking pretty well :
- the Seoul Global Center prepares for September a second global business support center in Yeouido, after the first SGBSC (COEX - Gangnam) - and of course its future HQ for next year (see "
"Global cluster building" in Seorin-dong"). Furthermore, certified alumnis of the SGC Business Start Up School (BSS) can now benefit from the Seoul City SME Promotion Fund to obtain official credit guaranteees from Seoul Metropolitan Government (ask SGC business services - SGBSC for further details).
- KBC is now claiming almost 1300 members, including a growing number of Europe- based people considering their first networking event.

What : Seoul Global Business Networking Event - "An Evening for International Entrepreneurship"Who : hosted by the SGBSC & KBC
. Seoul Global Business Support Center (SGBSC) : Korea Business Central (KBC) : koreabusinesscentral.comWhen : June 17, 2011 from 6pm to 10pm
Where : The Be-Hive Gallery & Business Venue
(Cheongdam-dong 78-5, Gangnam-gu, Seoul 135-100 / 02-3446-3713 /
More details, how to register : to be announced soon on (
KBC's event page)

Seoul Village 2011

* SGC :

UPDATE 201105

Event logo (see above), and registration link :

Sunday, May 8, 2011

From Head to Toe (Hats and Shoes) - Folk Museum and Nonhyup Museum

In spite of dramatic demographic changes, schools closing down, or rice paddies giving way to concrete, rural Korea can still be reached out, but not all Seoulites are interested in this kind of tourism.

Nonghyup, the agricultural cooperative, allows the younger generations to keep in touch with ancient traditions, and adults can also enjoy its agricultural museum, just next to its Seodaemun Station HQ.

And of course there's always the Folk Museum, with a much wider range of topics from daily life to yangban culture (since my last visit, an old hanok has been transplanted from Chungcheongbuk-do, in front of the museum)... and the peaceful Gyeongbokgung settings at the feet of Bukhansan.

"From Head to Toe" is not a big exhibition but it displays rare items, like this surprisingly modern hat case, or spectacular accessories for special occasions. Also : old illustrations from Western visitors, traditional tales featuring stories of hats or shoes...

National Folk Museum of Korea (
"From Head to Toe - Hats and Shoes" (20110420-0613)
Samcheongno 37, Jongno-gu, Seoul 110-820 Korea*
Tel +82.2.3704.3114

Nonghyup Agricultural Museum (
75 Chungjeongno-1-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, Korea
Tel +82.2080.5727

Seoul Village 2011

* note the change : "Samcheongno" became "Samcheongdong-gil" (see "
The Great Korean Revolution : addresses with house numbers and street names")

Friday, May 6, 2011

Join Seoul Village on Facebook and Twitter !

Seoul grows on you, and over the past few years, Seoul Village grew on me. I mean literally and virtually.

To the point it requires a specific space on Facebook and Twitter. I would be delighted to see you like the Facebook page and follow theseoulvillage Twitter*.

Seoul Village's Facebook page:

Seoul Village on Twitter : @theseoulvillage

Follow theseoulvillage on Twitter

And while you're at it, you can also join me on Facebook : either/or on my
personal page - on dragedies, my book's page (new) - on my author page (new).

Seoul Village 2011

* an homonym popped up some time ago


UPDATE 201107 - Twitpic timeline.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Brews and bruises

I confess : I'm a coffee addict. And for people like me, Korea was not so friendly 20 years ago : except in five stars hotels, finding a real expresso was very difficult, and only a few coffee shops were open in the Capital.

Times have definitely changed, but not necessarily for the better.

On the bright side : coffee is not only available but affordable, and not just the all time fave 2/2/2 coffee/sugar/milk mix ("dulduldul coffee" or 둘둘둘 커피). It started with beans sold at the price of gold in department stores, and now the whole range of products and accessories can be found. Symptomatically, Nestle is quickly gaining ground in the mass market (Supremo instant coffee) as well as with its more upscale and proprietary concept Nespresso, and in the franchise channel (Nescafe Cafe).

As you know, over the past few years, I've often been complaining about the opposite excess : now there are too many coffee shops around, to the point you often can see five or six franchises within a 100 m radius, and some streets look like Monty Python menus (following Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf : Hello Beans, Beanie Bean, Green Bean Coffee, Bean & Leaf, Beans Bins, Bean Tree 200, Taste Bean, Bella Bean, Beans to Coffee, Bean Sausage and Spam**...). The market grew with Starbucks and local franchises (ie Angel-in-us and Hollys Coffee) but literally exploded over the past few years with many newcomers joining the party, including less specialized franchises (McDonalds or Paris Baguette opening special cafe joints), galleries and boutiques growing coffee and waffle branches, and countless individuals tranforming their parkings or basements into coffee shops. So this reaches far beyond the already impressive coffee franchise boom described in a Korea JoongAng Daily focus today* (from 2 to 3,000 shops over the last year only for this single channel !).

This article updated me about the most aggressive player on the market, Caffe Bene. A couple of weeks ago, a fellow coffee addict (sorry to tell you this Chris, but judging by Foursquare, you are at a much more advanced stage than I) wondered how many branches they had and I answered their target was 300 because that was the latest figure I had. And it seemed already crazy for a company that didn't even exist three years ago. Hold on : now the undisputed market leader, Caffe Bene claimed 553 houses last month and targets 800 by the end of this year. That's insane.

The brand was built from scratch with intense marketing and a partnership with iHQ, an entertainment company providing famous, popular faces, and product placement in trendy dramas to fuel the buzz. I don't know if Caffe Bene execs are aware of the kind of quality problems Starbucks faced a couple of years ago, when they were only interested in opening new coffee houses...

Of course, Koreans are consuming more and more coffee every year (an average 312 cups in 2010 according to the same article, +23% vs 2006), but this trend is simply not sustainable and we've got all the ingredients for a bubble (including at the real estate level, because this is Korea).

Many individual are risking all their savings in this bubble. For instance, some parents sign with a franchise to secure a job for their unemployed kids with a cheaper entry-ticket than a restaurant, but the equation doesn't add up, or junior simply doesn't have it. The brand doesn't care much : it's not their money, and they will easily find other suckers to boost their figures in the race for the best locations. But a family is left in shambles.

In the end, everybody loses : brands cannot differenciate anymore because they commoditized everything, consumers lose the pleasure of sipping nondescript KRW 7,000 expressos in tasteless environments, and Seoul loses its very soul.

And I'm not getting any better either : there are three empty mugs on my desk. Gotta refill'em up.

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* "
Korea’s coffee craze boosts local franchises"
** okay, I made up the last one... but only the last one.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival

The season of festivals is in full swing, and a photo-op favorite about to bloom : this year, the Lantern Festival will stretch between May 6th and Buddha's Birthday (May 10th), and the always spectacular lantern parade conveniently set for Saturday evening (May 7th between 7 and 9:30 pm).

Follow the parade from Dongdaemun to Jogyesa, and enjoy the temple's festive atmosphere after dark, with all the lanterns lit, unless you decide to stay around Jonggak for the dances and illuminations (9:30-11:00). I guess organizers cannot cope with too big a crowd at the main temple. That must be the reason why, this year, the festival reaches South with an exhibition of traditional lanterns at Bongeunsa (the Samseong-dong temple)... and why organizers are looking for foreign monitors to help cope with a crowd more and more international every year.

For the full schedule, check as usual the Yeongdeunghoe website ( :

Seoul Village 2011

20110504 UPDATE

From today's Korea JoongAng Daily ("
An ocean of light honors Buddha"), interesting statistics confirming the international trend : last year, 30% of all visitors were non-Koreans. Half a million visitors are expected for the 2011 edition.

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