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Saturday, September 24, 2011

FC Seoul Expats Day

A perfect weather, a friendly atmosphere, a lively game with five goals... total success for this second edition of the FC Seoul's Expats Day !

Thousands of expats were invited by the club, Seoul Global Center, and 10 Magazine for an afternoon of animation and a K-League clash between FC Seoul and Daejeon Citizens at the Seoul World Cup Stadium (a very special place for me : I attended its inaugural game, the 2002 FIFA World Cup opener - a stunning but well deserved victory of Senegal over France -, or the last confrontation between ROK and PRK) :

Gathering all communities for a festive moment, there's no better way of promoting the club, the league, and the game. The club hosted the event wonderfully, from the organizers backstage to the fans in the tribunes to the players on the field.

Beyond Seoul's own trio of Expats Dejan Damjanovic (three goals for the Montenegrin), Adilson (impressive coverage by the Brazilian), and Mauricio Molina (even in a mediocre day, the Columbian managed to score the final goal), the whole team delivered a very convincing game, leveraging on a strong defense, a swift midfield, and diversified attacks. Daejeon players too felt in a giving mood, offering a few gifts, starting only a few minutes after the kick off with an assist to Damjanovic for his first goal. Park Sung-ho could have played a bit faster to bring more danger, but the Citizens never gave up. Even a little tension at the end of the game didn't spoil the mood : the referee promptly exposed a few cards matching his yellow jersey, and after all, the game itself was not supposed to be friendly.

4-1. This glorious day brings FC Seoul closer to the play-offs (preferably with a ticket for next AFC Champions League - and another K-League title ?), and to a more than ever international audience.

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PS : thanks to Korea4Expats for the tickets !

Friday, September 23, 2011

Medical Tourism

These guys defying gravity look like they could be the next customers of the building they're cleaning.

But paradoxically, they risk much less than pedestrians walking at the feet of this Samsung Gangbuk Hospital : I've already mentioned this tricky crossroads where Donuimun will be restored*.

In a city remarkably equipped for physically challenged people, the direct surroundings of medical institutions can be surprisingly dangerous. Of course, you always have to be careful for customers walking in the hospital's PJs, sometimes even hundreds of yards away with their IV poles, but it's also a matter of accessibility, at times poor, or of parking lots that are not really accident-proof.

Each time I ride my bicycle to Yonsei University, I have to be extra careful when I pass in front of Dongseo Oriental Hospital. Not just because of the patients : traffic at the entrance is at best messy and generally dangerous.

Those exceptions shouldn't last too long in a city where medical tourism keeps booming, particularly in Gangnam-gu, which advertises massively about its state of the art infrastructures.

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* "Donuimun Restoration and Sadaemun Resurrection" - I took this picture on my way to Gyeonggyojang (soon to reopen).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

KTX coast to coast Incheon-Gangneung

It was part of the Pyeongchang 2018 bid but now that's official: the KTX Incheon airport line will be prolonged all the way to Gangneung by 2015, connecting key entry points (ICN, Seoul) to the future olympic venues and the East Sea. A major milestone for a national network in permanent development for conventional as well as high speed lines.

Historically, Korean railways followed the Seoul-Busan axis: the Gyeongbu Line and Jungang Line are basically Nortwest-Southeast parallels, the former starting from Seoul Station and the latter from Cheongnyangni (two multimodal hubs about to be more closely connected in the future).

The KTX dramatically shrunk distances, and now Daejeon competes with Daegu as the main hub between the capital and Busan because it lies at the intersection of the KTX Gyeongbu Line (Seoul-Busan 2h10)and the Honam Line (Seoul-Mokpo 1h46). Initially planned for 2014, Seoul-Gangneung is expected to take 1h39, largely within the goal set by railway authorities for all intra-korean lines (two hours maximum).

The Incheon Airport KTX line (not to be confused with the AREX - "
AREX on time for Seoul - Gimpo - Incheon" - even if it shares the infrastructure) reaches Wonju West station in Gangwon-do, with 5 stops in between:
- Susaek (Gyeongui Line, close to the DMC and Subway Line 6) in Susaek-dong, Eunpyeong-gu, Seoul
- Yongsan (other KTX lines, Jungang Line, and Subway Line 1) in Hangangno 3-ga, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
- Cheongnyangni (Jungang Line, Gyeongwon Line) in Jeonnong-dong, Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul
- Mangu (Gyeongchun Line, Jungang Line, Subway Line 1) in Sangbong-dong, Jungnang-gu, Seoul
- Yongmun (Jungang Line) in Yangpyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do

The old Wonju Station being also on Jungang Line, this is basically an AREX-Jungang combo.

The Wonju-Gangneung extension will connect the two cities that gave their name to the Gangwon-do province when it was founded in 1395 (GANGneung + WONju = GANGWON). Wonju remained the capital for centuries but now Chuncheon rules: it claims 1.4 mn souls compared to 310,000 for Wonju and 230,000 for Gangneung.

Only two stops are scheduled between WON and GANG: Pyeongchang and Daegwallyeong, both in Pyeongchang-gun. Daegwallyeong is famous for the Daegwallyeong Sheep Farm, but two major olympic venues are located in this myeon: Alpensia and Yongpyong resorts.

When I think that driving to Yongpyong took us 6 hours back in 1992, if we were smart enough to leave Seoul before 6 AM to avoid the traffic on the old road... infrastructures have so much improved over the past two decades!

Well. Not all infrastructures proved successful. This new KTX line looks like another nail in Yangyang International Airport's coffin: that's by far the closest one to Pyeongchang as the crow flies, and it's quite ok (yours truly used it back in 2002), but it's a commercial flop and totally desert except for the occasional charter flight.

Even on steroids, a crow cannot beat a KTX.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

For Line 1, take the Seoul Museum of History

Over 4,000 representations of the rock musical "Line 1" were given between 1994 and 2008 in Daehangno's Hakchon Theater.

The play was adapted from "Linie 1" (GRIPS-Theater in Berlin) by Kim Min-gi, a liberal icon whose songs became anthems for democracy movements thirty years ago. The collection of artifacts from the musical was donated to the Seoul Museum of History, where they're on display until October 5.

The exhibition is as usual the pretext to recreate a particular atmosphere of Seoul - here, the mid nineties, and a ride between Seoul Station and Cheongnyangni Station (Seoul subway line 1) as the alibi to meet fictional as well as real fellow Seoulites.

This museum is headed by a man who loves his city and mankind, and I like the way the permanent collections for recent history (1970s-1990s) have been rearranged. That's on the second floor, next to the 3D map of Seoul : there's more room for photography, and in one corner, a genuine shanty workshop to remind all visitors that the Miracle on the Han River was not a walk in the park. My heart sank because I saw exactly the same installation two years ago in real life, behind Seoul Station, not far from Kim Gi-chan's favorite neighborhoods, in an area about to be redevelopped, and where illegal migrant workers remained until the end in dire conditions...

Donated Collection of Rock Musical 'Line 1'
2011-09-08 to 2011-10-05
Seoul Museum of History :
50 Saemunan-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Korea 110-062 (Tel : Dasan 120)

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Deoksugung or Gyeongungung ?

According to the JoongAng Ilbo ("Deoksu's name might be changed"), the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea considers restoring the previous name of Deoksugung to Gyeongungung or Gyeongun palace (경운궁). Technically, the last change didn't occur under official Japanese rule (1910-1945), but under Japanese pressure and after Emperor Gojong's abdication in 1907, almost ironically celebrating the long and honorable life (德壽 / Deok-su) of Korea's first and last emperor. Gojong eventually died there in 1919.

The CHA would like to know what citizens think of this potential change, and personally I wouldn't favor abandoning the Deoksugung appellation.

If Japanese occupation left too many open wounds that still require proper treatments, this one is clearly not one of them. Every major city has monuments and names associated with troubled times, but which have, over time, lost all negative meanings and now positively belong to the city's landscape and history.

The city of Seoul, itself, logically changed its own name right after the Japanese occupation (during which "Keijo" or "Gyeongseong" were used), but Deoksugung's name was obviously not a major issue, and changing names wouldn't make much sense anymore, now that Deoksugung is associated with peace time and a pleasant stroll at the heart of the Korean republic's capital. To me, the restoration of Deoksugung-gil was much more important than the restoration of the palace's (not even) original name.

Furthermore, dropping the name Deoksugung would be meaningless without destroying the Deoksugung museum and other parts built during the occupation. We'd rather accept this monument as it is : built by Koreans, altered by the Japanese, now devoted to culture and overall, a major and consistent cultural asset of Seoul that tells a lot about its past, present, and future.

I strongly approved the destruction of the Japanese Government-General Building that deliberately destroyed the very soul of the city, and the restoration of Gyeongbokgung makes perfect sense. But I'm also glad that the new City Hall maintains part of the old Japanese structure. And I militate in favor of the protection of colonial times assets in Incheon. So to respect post-war peace as well as Seoul's full cultural heritage, I oppose the obliteration of the Deoksugung name.

Degrading Deoksugung as the official name would be like erasing sixty years of peaceful history. And please, please, let's not bring down this lovely place to the same arena as Dokdo.

I'm not saying that the Gyeongungung name should be obliterated for good. I simply mean that both appellations are correct (unlike in that other Seoul palace, Changdeokgung, where Huwon is wrongly known as Biwon by most people), but that one belongs only to a long gone past, and certainly neither to the present nor to the future. We shouldn't oppose them nor develop any risk of confusion, which would inevitably lead to stupid word fights were people calling the palace "Deoksu" would be dubbed "collaborators" by the self-proclaimed "patriots" who call it "Gyeongung".

To me, Deoksugung has been meaning something important for decades : the long and honorable life of Korea as an independent nation with a great past, but also a great future, precisely because it overcame sufferings to embrace peace and mutual respect.

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ADDENDUM 20110923

This column was published today in Korea JoongAng Ilbo under the same title.

Korean blitz : all bases loaded

The major blackout Korea just experienced may be the consequence of a hacking of KEPCO earlier this year. It also could be due to a simple bug.

I can't help but believe in the first scenario, which would cast yet another unsettling cloud over the country and its security.

Over the past few months, Korea has proven embarrassing vulnerabilities in strategic areas :
- conventional warfare : military / organizational fiascos following North Korean attacks (ie Yeonpyeong)
- hackings / suspicious blackouts at the core of vital networks : financial (ie banks), media / internet, air traffic, and now electricity...

So regardless of who is responsible here (incompetence) or there (most fingers pointing at North Korea or China), a malicious organization could completely incapacitate Korea within minutes without using any conventional weapon. Even if the aim is not an invasion per se (nor even a diversion preceding an invasion of say North Korea), this would definitely damage the reputation of Korea as an economic powerhouse.

With its drive, infrastructures and talents, Korea should be ahead of Israel in national security. KISA (Korea Information Security Agency) significantly improved its visibility, but the national culture remains focused on hardware.

Samsung has eventually understood it needed to evolve and change business models, but it took series of obvious wake up calls (ie Google wolfing down Motorola). The government will probably follow suit. And if spurs are needed, the potential candidacy of Ahn Cheol-soo at the 2012 presidential elections might help : the founder of antivirus specialist AhnLab has some credentials in the area.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

D-Cube City and Korean Food Street (Byeokgyesu)

If the recently inaugurated D-Cube City has quickly gained a solid reputation among local food lovers, it is well deserved.

Though less spectacular than Seoul Times Square (in nearby Yeongdeungpo-gu) architecturally speaking, the complex devoted more space for the comfort of its visitors, and developed a really original and consistent concept in the food department, with a clear editorial line around three major "verticals" : a trip back to 1920s Shanghai at "China Feng", a "World Street Food" with mouthwatering menus for Japanese food fans, and an already cult "Korean Food Street".

All three are located in the department store section (respectively 6F, B1, and B2), which also includes more classic restaurants and chains, and even a cute Pororo Theme Park. Beyond the dept store / mall : the D-Cube Arts Center, a D-Cube Park, the Sheraton Seoul D-Cube City (I took this view over Shindorim station and Guro-gu from their lobby - spectacular panorama on 41F), an outdoor park, offices and apartments... a major and ambitious project, but not a completely disruptive business model.

Now the food is really something you can't find elsewhere... The originality lies in the fact that it's really the original stuff. Cooks and dishes have been carefully sourced across the country and beyond. For instance, Michelin-starred Mist, the noodle expert, came from Tokyo. And even for such trivial stuff as ddeokbokki, the Chosen One is no other than Mimime : Hongdae's institution even closed shop there to open here - nothing changed regarding the queue, except that you don't have to wait outdoors anymore, and that you can do many other things while waiting for your food.

But the jewel of the crown is the Korean Street Food / Korean Food Street : a whole village full of life and terrific food. If the National Folk Museum of Korea were to propose a live show of Korean specialities, that would be it. The full course at Byeokgyesu costs only KRW 11,000 for lunch, and KRW 17,000 for dinner. It may look classic from a distance, but every single banchan has a unique story to tell and an incredible taste to reveal.

It's huge and seats hundreds, but very pleasant - you don't feel in some big food factory, rather in a festive village gathering. Everybody is smiling, simply enjoying the moment, sharing the experience.

D3 City (D-Cube City)
662 Gyeongin-ro, Guro-gu, Seoul 152-887 (360-51 Sindorim-dong)
website (nb: badly needs an update):
Tel +82.2.2211.1000
D-Cube Korean Street Food / Korean Food Street (디큐브 한식 저잣 거리) : B2
Tel +82.2.2211.0730
. Byeokgyesu / 벽계수 (Korean Dining)
. Bandal / 반달 (Korean Pub)
. Yetsan / 옛산 (Korean Barbecue)
. Jatnamubae / 잣나무배 (Korean Snack)
. Dongjitdal / 동짓달 (Cafe)

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ADDENDUM 20110924
I found the business card I thought I'd lost, so I could detail the names of the different parts of the Korean Food Street, in particular the full course restaurant (벽계수).

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ray Banned

It had to happen.

For the first time, I tasted some Korean food that I really disliked. I was warned before, but gave it a shot nonetheless.

Fermented skate (홍어) has a tough reputation, but each bite is supposed to pass more peacefully with a bit of pork, gimchi, and gochujang, wrapped in the traditional lettuce leaf. 

Ever the tastebud daredevil, I tried it bare to enjoy its flavor to the fullest (foulest ?).

Big mistake.

I simply can't describe the experience, and as I try to recall it, I can see my fingers trembling over the keyboard - an early sign of severe PTSD if I ever saw one.

Nothing weird about the look or the texture, but the smell could come from an over-expired if not maggot-infested camembert cheese, and as the thing explodes into your mouth, you almost wish you had ordered rotten skunk sashimi instead. The pungent aftertaste wouldn't be silenced by three coffees, and I bet even beondegi toothpaste wouldn't have succeeded.

A perfect near-death experience before visiting Yongmiri Cemetery, as peaceful as ever (see above picture - that's in Yongmi-ri, Gwangtan-myeon, Paju).

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PS: fellow Korean food lovers, pass this dish and go straight to the nearest Korean restaurant to enjoy this overwhelmingly fantastic cuisine.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Return to Seoul Station

Strange feeling, yesterday, as I roamed the inaugural exhibitions at the brand new old Seoul Station ("Countdown" and YIPPA 2011 - see "Culture Station Seoul 284").

To start with, the light was special, and with that Latino group performing in a distance it almost felt like a summer evening in Spain before a storm. But the air was dry, and the rain wasn't announced before Friday. Yet every color was enhanced, every person on the street an actor on stage. Brighter than ever, the orange of Seoul Square. Saddening as always, the scattered army of the homeless guarding the old Seoul Station.

Even from a closer range, it's hard to believe this landmark has been completely renovated. And as you enter, you realize how small it was : a provincial station at most, and except for the two of us, only a handful of people inside, including the staff.

We started with the Yonhap photo expo, which certainly didn't lift our moods : UN Millennium Development Goals are about tackling every dimensions of human misery, and in "Share the Moment, Share the Future", photographers from all horizons are precisely pointing their fingers where it hurts. Tough images, utter despair, with just the occasional glimmer of hope...

We then moved to "countdown", which doesn't exactly lifts art to new levels, but provided the perfect alibi for a visit to ole Seoul Yeok. Restoration it is, and in its most basic form : each room recovers its initial aspect, and sans furniture ni human traffic, the old train station has the green, gloomy atmosphere of an abandoned hospital. Even the "VIP rooms" feel like the Kubrick's version of King's Overlook hotel. But guess what, that's exactly what I expected and hoped for : unpretentious, not overdone, and respectful of an original architecture that includes charming staircases and cute alcoves as much as dull corridors.

Imperfections are welcome, even if the green wooden windows didn't have to be that respectful of the old days : as you can see on this picture (sorry for the quality, I'm all thumbs with picturephones), they are not weatherproof.

The second floor offers a much brighter face with its 240 degree view on Hangangno, Namdaemun, the Toegyero overpass, Dongja-dong, Galwon-dong, and (for how long ?) Inwangsan and Huam-dong. The former barber shop has been converted into a permanent exhibition about the restoration : judging by the initial state of the building, they had to do more than just scratch the surface of the walls, but considering Korean construction standards in 1925, the Japanese did a pretty decent job in the first place.

This is only the beginning for the "New Old Seoul Station" - again, a more official inauguration is scheduled for March 2011 -, but as expected, it is already a very promising venue for cultural events, and a key asset in a middle of a neighborhood about to experience major redevelopments.

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NB: I wasn't allowed to take a full picture of the main hall because of the works on display. The first photo above, a partial one, was taken from an angle that reminded me of Orsay Museum. I don't remember the stained glass on the ceiling but then again, I was not a frequent user of the old station.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Agony and Ecstasy - Pinault collection in Seoul

What a cultural year for France in Korea ! We've seen French musea send key works to Seoul and Daejeon (respectively Musee d'Orsay and Musee d'Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne*), the nation return Oegyujanggak books to their homeland**, and now our top private collector display some of his goods to the Korean public.

Francois Pinault is quite a figure in France, and his rivalry with fellow billionaire Bernard Arnault considerably added to the legend. Both are tough predators and acute businessmen who transformed their fathers companies into global conglomerates, and they've often been fighting on the same turf, starting on the internet with Kertel and Libertysurf, before the masstige carnage between PPR-Gucci and LVMH. But they are diametrically different characters : while the short and rough Pinault claims his earthy roots, cultivates a powerful network of fellow Bretons, and often attends the games of his Rennes Football Club ("his" at the affectionate as well as financial levels), the tall, polished, and distant Arnault positions himself in quasi-royalry circles and points out the piano as its main hobby.

Their rivalry has shifted into the art arena. And if Arnault had more opportunities in his youth, Pinault started his collection much earlier, gaining a strong reputation in contemporary art circles. France totally lost face when he dropped his project in Boulogne Billancourt : initially, his foundation was to land on Ile Seguin, the site of Renault's historic factory on the Seine river (a dramatic landmark signed Tadao Ando), but local authorities erred... and a once in a lifetime opportunity popped up in Venice, where the billionaire snatched Palazzo Grassi before taking over Punta della Dogana (re-enter Ando), dwarfing the Biennale di Venezia from across the Canal Grande. LVMH eventually opted for Bois de Boulogne and serial museum designer Franck Gehry.

After being converted to contemporary art, Pinault became as passionate as Pompidou. The magnate is not just letting his staff signing checks and piling up names in wharehouses the Citizen Kane way*** : he is involved in every purchase, befriending artists, following their progresses... and of course contributing to their own successes (BTW : there is no accounting for taste but personally, I would rather pick Bourgeois, Bacon, and Kiefer than Warhol, Koons, and Twombly).

For the first time, parts of Pinault's
treasures are exposed in Seoul : at SongEun ArtSpace until November 19. "Agony and Ecstasy", the classic thanatos / eros thema, is served by the usual bling bling suspects : Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami, and Cindy Sherman. Why SongEun ArtSpace ? Maybe Pinault felt some sympathy for the late founder Yoo Sung Yeon, an art lover who made his fortune in less glamorous industries.

You want more contemporary art from France ? 80 Jean-Michel Othoniel works will be exhibited at galerie Plateau starting this Thursday. First of its kind, this comprehensive retrospective is also organized by Centre Pompidou, with the benediction of The Institut Francais de Coree du Sud, another eminent resident of this Sungnyemun neighborhood (OK, the IFC is comfy, the Cafe des Arts yummy, and Sungnyemun about to reopen as a fantastic landmark, but I surely miss the old Centre Culturel Francais next to Gyeongbokgung !).

I remember Othoniel's monumental glass necklace, but the artist has obviously investigated many different media, sometimes at a more intimate level. To the point lust is supposed to be dripping from "My Way". If the former Rodin Gallery permanently hosts one of the Gates of Hell, I guess Othoniel aims at inferno's second circle.

"Agony and Ecstasy" - Francois Pinault collection
SongEun ArtSpace
Cheongdam-dong 118-2, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Korea 135-100
Tel +82.2.3448.0100

"My Way" - Jean-Michel Othoniel
Galerie Pleateau
Samsung Life Insurance Building 1F, Taepyeongno-2-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, Korea 100-716
Fax +82.2.2259.7799

Institut Francais de Coree du Sud
Woori Building 18F, 10 Bongnae-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, Korea 100-161
Tel +82.2.317.8500

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* see "
Musee d'Orsay in Seoul", ""...
** see "
Oegyujanggak books returned"
*** or more Isabella Stewart Gardner than Henry Clay Frick, to compare Pinault with turn of the (other) century opulent collectors

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sajik Heights and micro-hanokization

My previous post* reminds me I forgot to mention an interesting development over Sajik Tunnel : this new hanok overlooking the traffic.

I waited to have the photo opportunity as a car passenger to show the impact from Sajikno. Of course, what strikes you first is the very ugly Yangeuimun Church, a towering white monster under wraps these days (maybe to transform into a towering colorful monster). The red bar to its right is the Korea Social Science Data Archive (KOSSDA or 한국 사회과학자료원). Further to the right is the Jongno Culture and Sports Center, where I used to go swimming twice a week or so**. And to reach this place from Gwanghwamun Space Bon, I had to pass in front of that hanok spot so I know pretty well every inch along the way.

I could write stories about the alleyway leading up to what I call Sajik Heights from Sajikno, the pawprints left by a dog on the rough concrete staircase, the passage over Sajik Tunnel (now covered with a deck), and the poor white dog who broke my heart each time I passed by her tiny place : either leashed or in her small cage, the poor bitch ruled over a 10 square feet staircase (she managed to get babies once but didn't keep them for long).

Now about this new hanok. There's a bigger one behind, and the owner used to grow an amazing variety veggetables in front of his place, including where this small new extension stands, by the ruins of a house partly serving as a parking lot.

This is a truly minor change, and there are many other hanoks nearby, and more than a few nice "jutaek" on the way to Sajik-dan and Seochon, but this tiny detail could have a lot of significance for the local urban landscape because of its visibility for outsiders at a key location.

I'm not talking about something very spectacular like the restoration of a whole traditional village, but about a small protuberance that catches the corner of your eye and suddenly connects you to a neighborhood, help you reconcile with your city. So many places disappeared over the years, and particularly along major avenues, that it's hard to get a notion of what's been lost without venturing deeper into vernacular Seoul. But from time to time, hope shyly shows its head.

Of course, preserving existing landmarks remains preferable to artificially creating new ones. And right on the other side of the tunnel (in Haengchon-dong, 1-88 beonji), there's an amazing jewel on the verge of collapse : not far from a magnificent gingko tree, this 1923 red brick house is not abandoned but - to say the least - poorly tended. Named Dilkusha ('my heart is happy' in Hindi), it used to be the residence of Albert Taylor, the press correspondant who was jailed for 6 months in Seodaemun Prison - at the 2009 exhibition "Three Foreigners' Reminiscence of Seoul" at Seoul Museum of History two years ago, they mentioned how his wife Mary could see him, from their house, walk the prisoners walk.

At the time of its construction, the view over the valley must have been breathtaking but now, villas almost completely occult it. I hope it can be saved the way a smaller red brick landmark was, just one block away : it is now a mini-museum at the corner of the park recently created at the top of the future Gyonam / Dongnimmun New Town.

We also owe Taylor the
fantastic panorama exhibited on the museum's ground floor (curators had the brilliant idea to match this 90 year old marvel with a contemporary view of downtown Seoul).

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* "
Junggye's "Baeksa Village" shall survive"
** or picknicking higher on Inwangsan (follow the trail on "
Inwangsan's Great Wall and Seoul's Royal "T" Time")

Junggye's "Baeksa Village" shall survive

Here's one of my favorite Seoul villages. If you take a Nowon-gu map, it's easily recognizable as the only area with a crooked shape in an ocean of neat appartment blocks. That's actually how I spotted it for the first time, and I wasn't disapointed by the place, one of Seoul's last typical "moon villages" ("달동네") with a soul of its own and an almost rural lifestyle. I took this picture* of kids playing there exactly seven years ago, and I remember the red peppers drying up on the streets, or the old people inviting us for a chat on their mat at a fork in the road.

Located on the Western slopes of Buramsan, "백사 마을" (Baeksa Maeul or Baeksa Village) doesn't owe its name to the fact that it hosts the 104-san beonji of Junggye-bun-dong (also spelled "baeksa"), but to a legendary "white snake" ("baeksa"). And "White Snake Village"'s serpentine main "street" leads you to the edge of a forest that didn't exist back in 1967, when the area first drew the attention of the media (and when Park Chung-hee's reforestation program hadn't turned Seoul's bald red hills into green lungs yet).

Last time I visited the place back in 2004, there were already talks of redevelopment. You could see many "budongsan" opening shop at the feet of the village, and in those new town crazy years, I wouldn't have bet any buck on a survival for this forsaken place.

Baeksa Maeul again made the (local) headlines not so long ago, when LH Corporation's new town plans were made public. Not very original, but at least we were spared the usual tombstone giants.

Today, the village makes national headlines because all plans have been dropped (in financial turmoil, LH has cancelled many programs over the past year), and local authorities have opted for a softer "remodelling" that partially preserves the shape, the streets, and hopefully the spirit of this very cute place. Among other sources, I recommend this KBS video ("
마지막 달동네 ‘백사마을’, 마을 한켠에 보존") where you can enjoy many different views on Baeksa Village, including films from 1967 :

I'm really happy. Not only because White Snake Village has a chance to survive without losing its soul, but because all this noise shall boost preservation for the other few surviving gems and moon villages still clinging to the city's mountain slopes.

More likely, speculators will rush here and there to snatch cheap land and build big mansions before local authorities manage to secure the areas. Not far from there in Sanggye, I could see that happen in Danggogae's former slums years ago.

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* you've seen this picture in "Junggye Maeul" (June 2007), as well as, among other "Seoul crumbs", in dragedies.

UPDATE 20110906 : added a snapshot from the KBS video showing the village before/after remodelling.

Gyeonggi Business & Culture Networking Day

Following the success of Seoul Global Business Support Center networking events*, KBC (Korea Business Central) organizes with Gyeonggi Province, and the GAFIC (Gyeonggi Association of Foreign Invested Companies) the first Gyeonggi Business & Culture Networking Day.

It was only a matter of when and where for Steven S. Bammel : KBC's founder is an FDI Advisor to Gyeonggi-do and a consultant to GAFIC :
- the when ? Saturday, October 8, 2011, starting at 2 PM for the cultural experience.
- the where ? The prestigious Hwaseong Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site surrounding the old city of Suwon.

A very impressive venue, and a great opportunity to meet with key members of the province's thriving business ecosystem.

For all details and online registration (only KRW 10,000 for early birds !), connect to
KBC's website. Also :
- Gyeonggi Province :
- KBC :

Seoul Village 2011
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* see "
SGBSC + KBC : small business & big party", "Seoul Global Business Networking Event 2011"

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Wireless Korea

All Seoulites are used to this kind of bibimmyeon packs of wires floating over their heads in every street. They're part of the cityscape (I took this picture, titled 'Wireless Korea', back in 2003 near Hongdae), but also messy and potentially dangerous : electricity, FTTH, or cable TV run through them, and magpies often build their nests at key intersections, provoking the occasional fire or network collapse.

At long last, the city has decided to do something about it and to bury them underground, starting with Jangchung-dong (a hilly neighborhood hosting the circular indoor Jangchung Gymnasium at the feet of Shilla Hotel), and Dongjak-gu.

This 'software' approach could prolong the community-based 'human town concept'*, where pavements and green spaces tend to multiply, and closed walls to disappear.

Way to go... but considering Korea's unfathomable multilayer plug-ins / upgrades tradition, authorities would better make their brand new cable-ways easily accessible.

Speaking of local authorities : AhnLab founder Ahn Cheol-Soo declared his potential bid as an independent candidate for Seoul mayorship, instantly claiming the top spot in the polls (39.5%). I guess he'd have to beef up his V3 antivirus software against rampant corruption.

Seoul Village 2011
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* see "OH Se-hoon launches the "Seoul Human Town" concept"

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