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Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Back to square one. After a brilliant edition at the soon-to-become UUL museum (then the Defense Security Command - see "ASYAAF 2009"), a mediocre stunt at Sungshin Women's University ("ASYAAF 2010"), and a decent performance at the Hongik Museum of Art ("ASYAAF 2011"), the Asian Students and Young Artists Art Festival is back to where it all began: ye olde Seoul Station, now Culture Station Seoul 284.

The concept doesn't change: art from 777 young Asian artists, split into 2 waves (August 1 - 12 / August 14 - 26), with a break in between to distribute the works. And like last year, 9 nations are represented: BAN, CHN, IDN, IND, JAP, KOR, JAP, PAK, SIN, TWN. No medals awarded, except for the red dots signalling sold pieces.

August 1 - 26
Culture Station Seoul 284
1 Tongil-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul 100-162 website:

Seoul Village 2012
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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Seoul Village Criers - a Soundtracking Project

Dear fellow Seoulites,

I'd like to ask you a service.

I've always had a special fondness for Seoul's criers, and I thought it could be interesting to collect their voices. After all, street peddlers are a key ingredient in Seoul's soundtrack. We're always a bit surprised to hear them the first time, and we start missing them only after they're gone.

Here's a knife grinder I like particularly: his "kal" (knife / 칼) has been carved to quasi-muezzinesque perfection:

I also remember the nasal "setaaaaak" (laundry / 세탁) of that laundryman in an "apateu" block. He would fire off one of those every other floor, and you could hear him from quite far away. With a good reason: your trained hear was able to locate him for you ("he's in building 105 around the 11th floor, I have enough time to gather my stuff before he reaches our place").

Routine matters: the pace never changes, because the cry is the crier's brand. And just like for maemi (cicadas), criers had to raise their voices to adapt to the environment: first to high rise blocks, then to sound-proof apartments.

Of course, many use recorded speeches and loud-speakers, and fruit and vegetable salesmen often air their price lists for key items. So if possible I'd prefer a capella performances. What to do with all these sounds? A best of? A documentary? We'll see. But before that, we'll hear. From them. And from you.

Your neighborhood peddlers have interesting voices? Record them, and share them with us. Comment or write to us:
- Special playlist on YouTube: Seoul Village Criers ( )
- on Seoul Village's Facebook page:
- on Twitter: @theseoulvillage
- by email:

Thank you for letting us know more about the context (location, activity), but please don't start hunting this endangered species across Seoul's residential neighborhoods!

Thank you for passing the message around.

And thank you for sharing the soundtrack of your life with us.

Seoul Village 2012
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Monday, July 23, 2012

Sobering news

In which parts of Seoul is heavy drinking the most pervasive? Inje University professors surveyed 11,909 households and 23,126 adults, and published their results yesterday*.

First conclusion: heavy drinking is on the rise and in 2010, 18.2% of Seoulites can be considered high-risk drinkers, with averages ranging from 12.1 to 23.3% depending on districts of residence.

I don't know how detailed the survey is, but you'd like to cross places of consumption with the locations of the homes and offices. The correlation with revenues seems also limited at the "gu" level.

Heavy drinking hotspots don't necessarily match. Typically, Jongno-gu cannot compensate with a large population, unlike Mapo-gu and Seodaemun-gu, which respectively host Hongdae and Sinchon - both serious contenders for Binge-dong -, but belong to the bottom tier (along with Yancheon-gu, Dongjak-gu, and Seocho-gu).

Among the worst performers, Jungnang-gu and Gangdong-gu come more as a surprise than Jongno-gu and Guro-gu, even if Seoul seems overall more loaded on its starboard side:

Seoul Village 2012
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* see article in today's Chosun Ilbo "서울서 최고로 술 많이 먹는 동네, 강남·신촌 아니라…" (Chosun Ilbo 20120724)

AHN Cheol-soo(n)

AHN Cheol-soo all but declared his candidacy for this year's presidential elections, a race until now dominated by PARK Geun-hye, and where only he is perceived as a potential game changer.

A book-program-interview ("안철수의 생각" / "Thoughts of Ahn Cheol-soo") flying off the shelves, instantly followed by a show on SBS ("힐링캠프" / "Healing Camp") drawing an audience twice as big as that of rivals PARK and MOON... it only took a couple of days for him to introduce himself to those who didn't know him well.

MOON Jae-in obviously didn't make the most of his time as an official candidate, and the times when he was in virtual ties with PARK in the polls seem long gone. PARK herself lacks charisma. Always dodging touchy issues, she's leveraging on the admiration of elder generations of conservatives for her father, but she never achieved anything beyond backstage politics and frontstage firstladyhood following the death of her mother during an assassination attempt against her father.

AHN has a clear opportunity to reform and reunite the nation if he manages to build a platform consistent with his values, reaching across Korea's utterly divided aisle. More than a few conservative lawmakers may even follow him.

Let's see how the scores evolve. In the polls as well as online, where "AHN Samo" has room for improvement:
. Facebookally, MOON Jae-in leads with 18,073 likes compared to 10,444 for AHN and 4,875 for PARK.
. Twitter-wise, PARK claims 205,759, MOON 29.913, and AHN 24,128

On the other hand, websites seem to mirror their candidates: fun and open for AHN (, paramilitary in English or Kimjongilesque in Korean for PARK (, and very kind, but somehow boring for MOON (


Seoul Village 2012
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Leche Babines (Seoul)

Finding European ingredients in Seoul is much easier than it used to be, particularly following the FTA. But fresh veggies, with a low carbon footprint? That would mean producing in Korea, where farmers tend to overuse pesticides and fertilizers. Ideally, the approach should embrace the slow food and bio trends, but that would be too much to ask.

That's the challenge Aurore and Yongnae took up with "Leche babines", which could be translated with "chop-licking". The Chebu-dong based Belgian-Korean duo set up a Facebook group to crowdsource suggestions and wishes from the community, took part to local events, and even had this small store in Tongui-dong (at the heart of Seochon sur Seine). "Leche babines" sell online a stimulating selection of food you can't easily find in Seoul: artichoke, fennel, leek, shallots, endives, green beans, asparagus, even rabbit meat!

I'm actually licking my chops right now, just visualizing all possibilities (now I even have olfactory illusions).

Enfin! What a relief! Last year, my pathetic attempt of growing leek succeeded only in feeding local magpies. Better let the pros handle it.

Tel +82.10.7181.8829 (FR, EN) - +82.10.8765.0602 (KR)

Seoul Village 2012
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UPDATE 20120814

A new 'Leche Babines' shop opens tomorrow near Gwanghwamun Station exit 8. Check their Facebook page for the map, which points to the Midopa Gwanghwamun Building facing KMI Medical Center:

(thank you Aurore for the good news!)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Seoul village libraries

Seoul city officials want to create 500 new public libraries by 2030 (from 878 in 2011 to 1,000 in 2015, and to 1,372 in 2030). All citizens will have a library nearby, within 10 minutes on foot:
- the number of big libraries will more than double (from 120 to 272). In average, they can accomodate 60 visitors in 260 square meters, and contain 3,000 books.
- the number of "village libraries" will rise from 748 to 1,100, but they're much smaller: 1,000 books, 33 sqm, and only 6 places.

More figures? By 2030, Seoulites should in average read 20 books and own 2 new books every year, instead of just 10 and 0.81 nowadays.

Of course, the best way of promoting reading would be to reform an education system that doesn't allow young minds to fully bloom: Korean kids love to read books, but they lose the habit as soon as they enter the dark and dull tunnel that leads to the final exam.

And of course, by 2030, a library featuring books made with actual paper may be called a "museum".

But beyond culture and literature, the aim is to strengthen community ties, and to create meeting points in every neighborhood. That's consistent with the Mayor's vision (see "Park Won-soon's wishes for Seoul... Village"), even if one can see a few limits, for instance:
- theoretically, libraries are places where you can meet, not places where you can talk - that would be more a book cafe.
- students who don't have a place to study home may be tempted to squat them, and older generations might feel unwelcome. Even today, big libraries have whole battery farming rooms reserved for students who have to book their tiny spots in advance.

Anyway, libraries are bound to evolve in the near future, and reserving now more space for culture at the neighborhood level seems wise.
Seoul Village 2012
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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Park Geun-hye: "The best possible choice"?

Park Geun-hye officially declared her candidacy for this year's presidential elections, and the polls give her a very comfortable lead, even over Ahn Cheol-soo (who doesn't seem in a hurry to join the race).

I've already said I didn't think that a "Kim The Third - Park The Second" face-off would send the best possible message about Korean democracy. And I was not really surprised to hear how she described her father's 1961 coup: "unavoidable, the best possible choice, and the right decision".

Can you trust someone who at the same time pretends to be "the best possible choice" for South Korea, and describes a military coup as "the best possible choice" for South Korea?

If Park Chung-hee achieved major feats for Korea, his dictatorial regime didn't respect democracy or human rights. If Park Chung-hee himself was not as corrupt as most dictators, he didn't always took the right decisions, starting with his collaboration with Japanese occupants. I noticed how, ahead of PGH's candidacy, a museum in his honor had been inaugurated, and how every critic of the Great Man caused reactions within ultra-conservative circles, who try to rewrite the coup as a democratic revolution.

I'd be curious to know what Mrs Park thinks about national reconciliation, or about the termination of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Seoul Village 2012
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Wonsu me

Two days after the "removal" of top brass RI Yong-ho (see "Pyongyang's Fairy Tales"), KIM Jong-un has officially been named "Wonsu", some sort of a Super-Marshal. To make that possible, Daddy KIM Jong-il had to be posthumously promoted to "Dae Wonsu", the Capo di tutti capi military-wise, a position only KIM Il-sung claimed before.

Definitely in the fast lane to NK Army superstardom ever since KIM The Second had his stroke, KIM The Third theoretically controls the main powerhouse, but it had to happen sooner or later. Even if the lad doesn't even know how to hold a pair of binoculars correctly.

Whoever calls the shots in Pyongyang or Beijing, it's also about conveying the message that the dynasty is not dilluted but strengthened: KIM 3 must not be perceived as a mere KIM 2's "mini-me", KIM 2 himself having been sold as a KIM 1 "mini-me". Jong-un is Il-sung reincarnated, and as we saw earlier, the physical resemblance has been cleverly crafted.

Of course, the real news is the fact that RI's fate was decided by the party, a serious challenge to the 'military first' doctrine. The country's few cash machines are expected to be diverted towards different pockets, probably among Pyongyang nomenklatura circles.

That's very risky for the regime, which doesn't control the rest of the country very well. And you don't want to keep the North Korean army angry at you. Let's see if the new Wonsu can survive 2012.

Seoul Village 2012
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Monday, July 16, 2012


Whatever happened to Seoul's concrete paver bricks?

At one stage, it seemed that the whole city would end up covered with them, but they're progressively losing ground to granite or even fancier stones.

Straight or beveled, rectangular or S-shaped, red-orange, green-maesil, or plain grey, concrete paver bricks used to rule over Seoul. Now I almost miss the whack-a-mole routine of workers rearranging the rows with their wooden mallets.

Of course, not all neighborhoods were paved equal. Some kept a charming "out of bed" style, while others would not tolerate the least crack. An army of curators were then sent to fix the damage, their mallets often tearing apart all the surrounding bricks even before they were contaminated. A brand new stretch would soon emerge, pristine, perfectly aligned and dust-free, sometimes for a full minute.

Because bricks were often simply lain on unleveled layers of sand, ranks would break very easily, and minor rains could cause major landslides. Every now and then, you'd see a body lie in the street gutter, wondering if were a suicide or an act of malice (go figure, now that even humans get pushed onto subway tracks).

I used to live in a place where the sidewalk and paver bricks had a Liz Taylor – Richard Burton kind of love story: within one year, they changed five times for the same without apparent motive. No seismic fault line, no utility work, no sumo club nearby.

Maybe a mob godfather lived in the neighborhood. Maybe the paver brick business was controled by the Mafia, maybe local authorities had to commission every year the same job as a goodwill gesture.

Back then, I often wondered how many million paver bricks covered Seoul. Hundreds of millions? Billions? Did anyone even have a vague notion of that number? Was there an administration in charge?

Then it dawned on me: that was it, Seoul itself was in charge! Just like a computer disk needed to be defragmented every now and then to optimize its performances, the city needed to rearrange and move permanently its paver bricks, thus the system of colors. Citizens were unconsciously conscripted to groom the city, to fill its gaps, and to prevent a crash.

And when the sound of mallets drove me crazy, I found consolation in the fact that this defragmentation was still manual. Sooner or later, the whole city would be connected, strong enough to rearrange all by itself terrabits of concrete in bulk, to recarpet hectares of octets at a time. Nevermind the humans, those pathetic bugs bound to get their feet crushed in the process.

Seoul Village 2012
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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pyongyang's Fairy Tales

North Korean military chief RI Yong-ho has just been officially removed from all official positions. He'd been placed by KIM Jong-il to facilitate the transition of power to KIM Jong-un, but that doesn't mean KIM The Third made the call.

Lately, KIM Jong-un has seemed more focused on entertainment, attending a show featuring Disney characters (without Burbank approval, of course) with a mysterious young lady rumored to be his wife.

RI Yong-ho was supposed to be suffering from illness, but I guess his main problem was to represent the "Juche line". Anyway, his removal seems to strengthen Junior's main chaperone, JANG Sung-taek, whom I strongly suspect of representing the "Beijing Line" (see "Re-engaging North Korea - A Four Party Talk").

And Beijing keeps moving its pawns around North Korea. Last week, more roads and railways were announced at the border, fueling speculation of future massive movements of troops.

Again, what I call the "Hanschluss" of Korea by China doesn't require necessarily a military invasion: the Chinese are simply showing basic strategic skills by covering, step by step, all potential entry points at all levels (politic, economic, social, cultural, historical...).
Seoul Village 2012
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Suseongdong Valley

This valley depicted by landscape artist "Gyeomjae" Jeong Seon in his "Eight Scenes of Jang-dong" (early 18th century) has been officially restored last week.

Suseongdong Valley (수성동계곡) is located in Seochon, west of Jahamun-ro, and more precisely in Ogin-dong, Jongno-gu, just north of Baehwa school system. In the area, the main landmark used to be Ogin Apartment, a very ugly green structure reclaimed by the city a couple of years ago (when you walk up Inwangsan you can't miss it).

The program, initiated by Seoul city in May last year*, differs from the previous streamlet restorations because it involves natural rocks instead of concrete, so the result looks less artificial.

The waterway used to join Baekundongcheon, whose restoration may take more time than expected. Reminder**: Baekundongcheon followed nowaday's diagonal streets that go all the way down to Gwanghwamun Station, where the streamlet met Junghakcheon and turned into Cheonggyecheon.

Seoul Village 2012
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* "서울시, 인왕산 수성동계곡 복원공사 30일 본격 착수"

** "Baekundongcheon / Gwanghwamun-gil - A River Runs Through It"

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Seoul's Velvet Underground

Here's Seoul's Velvet Underground sans Nico (smoking being banned on Line 5 as well as in the rest of the public transportation system, including taxis):

I doubt we could match each song from the 1967 album* with any of these stations**... but I'm not familiar with that part of underground Seoul.

Meanwhile, before peeling the banana, I'm waiting for my mandu.

Seoul Village 2012
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* "The Velvet Underground and Nico":
- Sunday morning
- I'm waiting for the man
- Femme fatale
- Venus in Fur
- Run run run
- All tomorrow's parties
- Heroin
- There she goes again
- I'll be your mirror
- The black angel's death song
- European son

** Seoul Subway Line 5 Stations:
Gimpo International Airport
Yeongdeungpo-gu Office
Yeongdeungpo Market
Jongno 3-ga
Euljiro 4-ga
Dongdaemun History & Culture Park
Olympic Park

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cross Road Blues: a street of rain, fire, flying words, and flying rats

This 500 m long stretch of asphalt is by no means Itaewon's most glamorous place: before merging into Bogwang-ro*, it connects main street (Itaewon-ro) with mean streets (red light district).

As part of the complete overhaul of Korea's address system**, it has recently been renamed Usadan-ro (우사단로) to honor Usadan, a shrine to the rain spirits in Bogwang-dong. That's certainly more upscale than the previous name, Sobangseo-gil (소방서 길), which refered to the local Fire Station... and definitely classier than "Hooker Hill", as the area is often referred to (no, not because of the Hookah bars).

20 years ago, the place swarmed with G.I.s at night, either on watch to make sure Higgs Bosons didn't fly between more or less passably inebriated individuals, or off duty but nonetheless testing this Sarge Hadron Collider from the inside. On the hottest summer nights, at the top of the hill, you would often see dozens of young Westerners holding quarts of (officially) orange juice, and chatting in the middle of the street, except for the early birds who claimed the few seats at Kettle House. Back then, even after the courtesy call paid by (to?) the local cops, the only place that served drinks during the curfew must have been one hell of a cash cow (a cow that would replace milk with soju, that is).

Still nowadays, there's something bourbonstreetish, even on a Sunday afternoon:

I also uploaded a short video of those "Flying Rats Taxiing" on Seoul Village's YouTube playlist. The video's so shaky you may think I'd down a couple of kettles before shooting it, but the truth is that first I'm not a pro, and second a car almost took a slice from my behind while I was filming with my phone.

Actually, I arrived in advance for this month's Wordsmiths gathering (FLOW opening only at five), so I walked a bit uphill. I also passed by where What The Book used to be, wondering how neighborhoods could change if you just let different words fly around.

Given time, the new name Usadan-ro shall be adopted, and help change the image of the whole neighborhood. Even if, just to be on the safe side, local authorities made sure the Northern half of the street couldn't be contaminated: for the moment, the curvy road to the Grand Hyatt, with all its luxury residences, is simply called "Itaewon-ro-27-gil".

Anyway, this place can't be totally evil: a crossroads leading to a church, a former shrine, and the Mosque?

Seoul Village 2012
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* the leg of the "T" in the Hamilton Hotel intersection, Bogwang-ro goes South almost all the way down to the river - it then meets Seobinggo-ro
** see "The Great Korean Revolution : addresses with house numbers and street names" followed by "New address system in Korea : 2 more years"

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Scientific revisionism, continued?

Still under the shock following the recent triumph of Creationists in Korea (see "State-condoned creationism in Korea? A cold-blooded murder against King Sejong"), I smelled something very very fishy as soon as I saw this title for a Viewpoint in today's Korea JoongAng Daily: "Life after Darwin".

Indeed, this piece seems very much to have been written if not by a closet Creationist, at least by a more than questionably honest scientist.

Either way, Didier Raoult is gathering audience. The Director of the Research Unit in Infectious and Tropical Emergent Diseases (URMITE) at the University of the Mediterranee in Marseille is a mass producer of articles criticizing Darwin and more or less directly fueling Creationist propaganda.

Ever since the Intelligent Design imposture collapsed (following the publication of the "Wedge Strategy", a document where their 'inventors', the Discovery Institute, detailed their methods and actual political agenda), creationists and fellow fundamentalists have been trying to find more subtle ways of undermining science and democracy.

This "Life after Darwin" was published by The Project Syndicate, and also appears in The Cambodia Herald. Interestingly enough, today, the "Particle of God" was to make the headlines following yesterday's press conference at the CERN. Not a good day for science revisionists, who needed to be cheered up with some classic Darwin bashing. 

Bring'em on! Higgs Bosons will fly.

PS: I just submitted this to Korea JoongAng Daily:

When a scientist insults intelligence

Didier Raoult’s “Life after Darwin” (Korea JoongAng Daily - July 5, 2012) cannot remain unanswered, particularly at a time when scientific revisionism is gaining ground in Korea: Nature recently published an article exposing an alteration of the Ministry of Education’s guidelines for school textbooks following intense lobbying from Creationists. Such a bold attack on democracy would have instantly made the headlines in the US or in Europe, but it didn’t seem to cause much emotion in Korea beyond scientific circles. Here, the message is much more subtle.

To say the least, Mr. Raoult is a controversial figure. If he’s always careful to officially keep his distances with Creationism and its offsprings (including the Intelligent Design imposture), he nonetheless uses the same deceitful techniques, and his critiques of their nemesis, Darwin, basically recycle arguments from the past with a modern twist. As a result, Mr. Raoult never manages to convincingly challenge evolution itself, but he constantly contributes to the verbose smokescreen at the core of the Intelligent Design's "Wedge strategy". No wonder his writings are widely circulated among Creationist circles.

Mr. Raoult criticizes Darwin and Darwinism very much the way I could criticize Hippocrates and Scientism. For instance, he singles out Darwin’s simplistic representation of the tree of life, but without taking into account the scientific progresses made ever since (believe it or not, there’s evolution in science itself as well, and evolution as a science is already experiencing “life after Darwin”!), and the way he mocks at Darwinists as members of a cult mirrors the critics waged against Scientism centuries ago. Fundamentally, he’s not tackling the key issue, and he never succeeds in proving evolution wrong.

Of course, recent discoveries in his field, and the complexity of ecosystems within every living organism are clearly adding to the scientific challenge, but unfortunately for Mr. Raoult, they are only making evolution even more interesting and stimulating to study.

Scientists must always challenge existing theories, and honest scientists are delighted to study new ones when they respect a rigorous scientific approach. Mr. Raoult may be good in his field, he certainly doesn’t respect our intelligence with this very ambiguous piece.

Stephane MOT

Seoul Village 2012
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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ghost in a sale (How many holograms of alcohol in your beer?)

I met another ghost, the other day, in Eunpyeong-gu. The ghost of a clone of some surgically enhanced celeb, promoting a beer brand in the beverage section of an hypermarket:

I couldn't help but think of that flickering Geisha on Blade Runner's electronic ads (giant blimps and billboards).

This here ghost may well look more alive than the original celeb. Still too artificial to be confused with a genuine "replicant".  

To beer or not to be? How many holograms of alcohol in your beer? Do Androids dream of electric sips?

Seoul Village 2012
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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Korean Errlines

Thank you for flying our miserable Korean Errlines.

Well. "Flying" may sound a bit of a stretch: relevance-wise, Seoul Village has been grounded ever since its founding (make that ever since birth for the author). But that's the beauty of Seoul: you don't need to move to feel transported, the city changes before your very eyes at the speed of light. So don't fasten your seat belts, and don't expect oxygen masks to ever drop down, even in case of a loss of pressure. The closest thing to inflight catering we provide is, every now and then, a dull post mentioning vaguely some obscure food or eatery. Inflight entertainment? Sorry, you won't get any K-Pop: I love too much Korea and music to promote that. By the way: we don't provide sick bags either (our apologies to all our readers, particularly to English linguists). What else? This is a non-smoking site, but pencil chewing and fingernail biting are tolerated. And oh: exits are on your right, on your left, wherever you fancy, one click away.

Still there?

I know how it is. You can't shake Seoul off that easily. "You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave."

Anyway, you're doomed. All roads lead to Seoul Village (blogger, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and in some uncertain future, paper):

Seoul Village on the web :

Since January 2007, nonsensical posts about noncritical issues in non-English.

Seoul Village on Twitter: @seoulvillage

More inane stuff, but with a 140 character limit. Bonus: useless pictures.

Seoul Village on Facebook:

Frankly, this page Zucks.

Seoul Village on YouTube:

You're sick and tired of cute cats and good movies? You long for poorly shot videos without any purpose? That's the place. Or rather the places:

1) if you're masochistic enough to want to subscribe and to receive updates for all videos, you must reach my personal channel (, and the specific Seoul Village playlist where I upload all videos (

2) if you simply want to browse more conveniently, I just created a specific Seoul Village channel (, with thematic playlists and links to the relevant (figure of speech) article. It's a mirror site that sorts the Seoul Village videos uploaded on my personal channel, so subscribing to it won't keep you posted. The 6 initial playlists:
- Market: scenes from markets, street food stands...
- On the move: random scenes taken from a subway or a car
- On the spot: somewhere in the city
- Citizens: activism or political issues
- Innovation: tech friendly Korea
- Museum: teasers of past exhibitions

Seoul Village on paper

Seoul and I have been haunting each other for over two decades, and someday, I shall do something with the fictions that keep creeping up on me. A few have already been published in French, others in Seoul Writers anthologies, and I need to exorcise myself from more of them.

2020 UPDATE: here there are! 12 short stories from my fictional Seoul. Download "Seoul VillageS" for free on Google Play Books.

Seoul Village 2012
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