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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Kwak's "gros couac"

The ultimate loser in last week's school lunch referendum* may not necessarily be OH Se-hoon.

The man who fought him on the issue, Seoul Education Superintendent KWAK No-hyun, will probably have to resign as well... but for a much less honorable reason : bribery. If corruption is unfortunately pandemic in Korean politics, the role of the corruptor even less glamourous.

KWAK admitted to giving KRW 200 M to a rival following last year's elections, but out of pity because the man was suicidal. Prosecutors believe it was the price for his withdrawal from the race.

Even before the elections, KWAK was criticized for blaming foreign schools and sending his kid to one at the same time. And I've already made my case* against his free lunch program, which is already very much contested as schools face the financial consequences of its implementation. But he promoted a very positive reform : making physical punishment illegal in Seoul schools.

This embarrassing case surfaced on August 24, the very day of the referendum, but only became public the next day : evidences arrived too late, and the risk to change unfairly the outcome of the vote was too big.

OH Se-hoon would have probably mobilized enough voters to pass the referendum. Now he's licking his wounds and looking for a new home, preferably in Gangbuk. Maybe he'll end up renting a hanok, who knows ?

After allowing the destruction of too many hanoks or such assets as Pimatgol, OH embraced preservation (ie for Seochon). And as expected, Seoulites start to realize the importance of this Mayor's legacy, particularly in the transformation of Seoul from a hard city to a soft city (ie neighborhood parks, human towns, redistribution of budgets from rich to poor districts, pedestrian areas, Gwanghwamun Square, art and design centers, global centers...).

As expected too, some of OH's more controversial pet projects will not survive his resignation : the three floating islands are already completed, but some parts of Hangnang Renaissance shall be abandoned, as well as his dream of a highway for tourist boats...

His successor will be elected on October 26, and a few candidates have already declared themselves. Han Myeong-sook (DP), who lost by a thin margin last time, was not among them but she leads the polls... even if she herself is being investigated for corruption. A duel with Na Kyung-won (GDP) would ensure a first female Mayor for the Korean capital.

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* see "
In memoriam OH Se-hoon", "Seoul free school lunch referendum (continued)"...
** see "
Seoul-Incheon canal"

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

In memoriam OH Se-hoon

As Yogi said, it ain't over till it's over. But figures don't look that good for Seoul Mayor OH Se-hoon.

For this doomed school meal referendum*, he needs not only a 50+% majority, but a turnout stronger than 33.3%. Polls confirm a majority of Seoulites agree with him but we're in the middle of the summer and the opposition party called for a boycott of the referendum...

Unsurprisingly, the 33.3% target seems very very unlikely. At 4 PM, participation reached only 19.6% compared to 44.5% for last year's mayoral elections, and 24.2% for the last local elections in April (Jung-gu Commissioner). Final participation for the first ballot was 53.9% (poll stations closed at 6 PM), and 31.4% for the second (open until 8 PM, like today). Worse, the gap is widening between the August 24 and the April 27 ballots : +0.5 at 8 AM, -0.7 at 11 AM, -3.0 at 2 PM, and now -4.6 at 4 PM... The 33.3% target is not even reached yet in GNP strongholds : Seocho-gu and Gangnam-gu barely cross the 25% threshold with respectively 27.6% and 26.9%. A score between 25 and 30% would be honorable but unsufficient.

OH put his job in the balance, and confirmed he wouldn't run for the Presidential elections next year. The man reminds me of ROH Moo-hyun : basically a good person and a potential great president, but not the kind of predators that can rule over Korean politicians.

Miracles can happen, but time is running late.

And whatever happens, OH will bee a free man tonight.

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--- UPDATE 18:00 : participation "jumped" to 22.1%, Seocho and Gangnam now claim 30%+... and with office workers flocking to the polls, is a surprise like last year's last minute victory still possible ? ---

--- UPDATE 20:40 : final score ? Honorable (25.5%) but too low. If OH made some mistakes and compromises, he put Seoul on the world map and on the right track. I wish him well, and I hope for Seoul his successor can keep the same positive trend. ---

* see previous episodes, including "
Seoul free school lunch referendum (continued)"

Yeongeon Samgyetang (Seoul)

At long last, sun is back over Seoul. Why not a good samgyetang to celebrate summer ?

In the Southwestern backstage of Daehangno, Yeongeon Samgyetang usually exhibits a queue stretching over one block but today, we're next in line (beating by a minute a pack of young Seoul University Hospital wolves) and five minutes later, seated in front of a steaming chicken and a egg-size glass of spirit ("seobiseu").

The bird can look small, but the portion is more than enough, and tastier than most rivals. Their rice, glutinous, mixes ideally with the stew. A satisfying victory over what's left of summer.

Yeongeon Samgyetang / 연건삼계탕 (restaurant)
86 Yeongeon-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, ROK
Tel : +82.2.762.5084

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Attractiveness of Seoul - participate to the survey

What makes Seoul so attractive ? You have the answer.

Until August 24, you can
participate to a special survey for Seoul Metropolitan Government / Seoul Global Center :

My own picks are not very original :
- Sejongno and its Gwanghwamun-Bukhansan panorama (with the cultural venues around)
- Street food (particularly in the city's lively markets)
- Seoul mountains (its lungs and precious natural assets)

I had to make a tough choice, but they somehow follow three key verticals of this miserable blog : cityscape, food, and environment.

Have your say !

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Culture Station Seoul 284

After two years of renovation, the Old Seoul Station has just been reinaugurated as "Culture Station Seoul 284" (문화역서울 284), a name that echoes the status of this 111 year-old building (Korean Historic Site No. 284), as well as its new purpose.

Note that this red brick landmark already hosted ASYAAF 2008, and that the following year, the old Defense Security Command welcomed the
memorable 2009 edition before experiencing itself a similar metamorphosis*.

The Former Seoul Station Building's metamorphosis is limited (the outer shell and the first two floors have been preserved) and progressive : a first exhibition starts today and will last until February 11, 2012, the official opening. In March 2012, all facilities will be fully functional.

So the countdown has started, and "Countdown" is precisely the name of the inaugural exhibition, where 20 Korean artists present their works or perform live.

Also starting today at the new venue : YIPPA 2011. Yonhap International Press Photo Awards 2011 are on display in 9 cities including NYC and Seoul. This year's thema, "Share the Moment, Share the Future", was a tribute to the UN Millennium Development Goals, and the Grand Prize went to AP's Emilio Morenatti for 'Cholera victims' :

Even if Cultural Station Seoul 284 (an echo to Paris 104 ?) seems less ambitious than the future MOCA, it fills a cultural void at a major gateway and shall welcome many visitors, including people in transit in this multimodal transportation hub.

What a decade for Seoul ! After the 2004-2005 wave (Leeum, Seoul Museum of History, new National Museum of Korea...), another batch of cultural venues is on its way : beyond this "284" and Seoul MOCA, let's not forget the future "National Museum of Contemporary History"**.

Culture Station Seoul 284" / 문화역서울 284 :
112 Bongnae-dong 2-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, Korea
Dongja-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
1 Tongil-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul 100-162***
YIPPA 2011 :

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* a future key cultural asset, see ""
** construction started soon after our focus (see "A National Museum of Korean Contemporary History ???").
*** They write "1 Dongil-ro" but the actual spelling is 1 Tongil-ro. Eastern Seoul's main axis (it follows subway line 3), Tongil-ro continues beyond Gupabal and Seoul city limits, but the axis used to be called Uiju-ro between Seoul Station and Hongeun Sageori. Yet another change for this Old Seoul Station Museum : the station's official address used to be 112 Bongnae-dong 2-ga, Jung-gu, but some people mentioned Dongja-dong in Yongsan-gu.

20110907 UPDATE - now all documentations from this new cultural venue agree on the label "Culture Station Seoul 284" (good bye weird "cultural" then)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

More room(s) for Seoul students

City officials have decided to recycle part of their real estate for students : Seoul will build residences with a focus on sites near universities (within a 1 km radius), preferably stretching over 700 square meters. 20,000 units are planned.

Typically, 142 rooms will be created at Yonsei University's North Gate, facing existing Yeonhui-dong facilities. Note that Yonsei itself has recently renovated parts of its residences and launched new projects, including a cancer treatment center for its Severance Hospital.

A great portion of the 'one-room' market is provided by individuals who sometimes split their own homes into tiny cells, cramming as many as possible. Raising the standards is good for the image of a country where, as we saw earlier, the number of Foreign students has been multiplied by 30 over the past decade.

Speaking of education and budget issues : scheduled for August 24, the 'free meal' referendum is, as expected (see "
Seoul free school lunch referendum (continued)"), getting trickier by the day :
- polls show a large majority against the populist "free for all" system, but overruling the council vote would result in a technical delay that makes the choice less clear : one one hand, free lunches for all elementary school students from 2011 and all middle school students from 2012 (according to the council vote), and on the other, a system focused on low revenue households to be implemented step-by-step by 2014.
- the recent tragic summer floods (see "
Climate Change in Korea") logically caught all the spotlights and put more pressure on the administration

To be continued...

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