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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hop on!

Seoul and Korea provide more and more tourist friendly services, and if I never used their bus programs, I'm quite impressed by their dynamism. Two new exciting routes are just starting these days.

At the national level, a new free shuttle bus for foreigners between Seoul and Jeonju will start tomorrow to celebrate the Visit Jeonbuk Year (for 26 weeks, see links and details below). All you need is: to bring your foreign passport, to book online, and to be among the lucky lottery winners (). And if you're too lazy to even plan ahead your trip, know that you land in Jeonju Hanok Village, in Wansan-gu, the historic center. If you missed this great city (great not only for Korean cuisine lovers), you have no excuse now. Even if you don't win the lottery, go!

Seoul-wise, Seoul City Tour Bus inaugurated its Traditional Markets Tour on February 22*. Double deckers will start every 35 mns for a 105 mn journey, and you can hop on and off at any of the 15 stops:
  • 37. Departure from Doota (Dongdaemun Doosan Tower)
  • 38. Bangsan Market (and its baking street, all the ustensils), Jungbu Market (dried fish and food)
  • 39. Lotte Young Plaza (opposite Myeongdong's NOON Square, and next to Lotte Dept Store - if you don't want to shop "traditional market" all the way)
  • 40. Seoul Station Bus Terminal no. 6
  • 41. Namdaemun Market
  • 42. Myeong-dong
  • 43. Jonggak (and Bosingak)
  • 44. Tapgol Park, Insadong
  • 45. Sewoon Electronics Plaza 
  • 46. Gwangjang Market
  • 47. Pyeonghwa Market - Dongdaemun fashion town
  • 48. Dongmyo shrine, Dokkaebi Market (Banghak-dong), Pungmul Market (flea market, Sungin-dong)
  • 49. Yangnyeong Market (oriental medicine)
  • 50. Majang Market (meat and livestock, Majang-dong)
  • 51. Jungang Market (Singdang-dong)
This service is not free, but KRW 12,000 max (for adults), that's a fantastic deal to discover Seoul's main traditional markets in one day (from 9:30 to 18:30), particularly when you don't know the city: seats are equipped with audioguides and screens, and there's even an interpreter on board (ENG/JAP/CHN) to help you decide where to stop and what to do... which may include cultural visits (eg Dongmyo, Insadong, Tapgol, Bosingak), and should include snacks in every market. Why not have your fix at Gwangjang (see "(Gimbap) Drug Wars in Gwangjang Market"), try "Kalguksu alley and Gamegol mandu (Namdaemun market)", eat dry squid in Jungbu Market, red meat in Majang Market?... I should hop off now, before I drool all over the keyboard.

Seoul-Jeonju free shuttle: - email: - Tel: +82.2.1577.2507. Departures 3 times a week - Friday, Saturday, Sunday -, between March 1st and August 25. Check also K-Shuttle lines (, and Jeonju City website (
Seoul City Tour (NB: much more detailed on VisitSeoul) - Tel: +82.2.1544.4239 (Traditional Markets Tour), +82.2.777.6090 (Seoul City Courses)
... and always: - VisitKorea - Korea Travel hotline: 1330

Seoul Village 2013
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* the fifth course after "City Circulation" (26 stops across Gangbuk with all major highlights), "Cheonggyecheon-Royal Palaces" (13 stops), and 2 non-stop "Nighttime Courses" that include the Han Riverside.

20130228 UPDATE

Just received this ad by email (links to VisitSeoul):

Dennis Rodman in North Korea (live feed)

The Harlem Globetrotters are in town, and the town is Pyongyang.

According to their official website, "Harlem Globetrotters Make Historic Trip to Bring Smiles and Entertainment to Kids in North Korea ", and indeed, KIM Junior is said to be an avid basketball fan.

Harlem shake v. Gangnam Style? Since it can't get much sillier, here's my 0.3 point shot at the event (on Seoul Village twitter account):

08:56 - More spent nuclear fuel in North Korea: Rodman swimming in Ryugyong Hotel's swimming pool:

09:16 - Dennis "The Worm" Rodman in Pyongyang. To counter cyberattacks from North Korea? 

09:20 - After Google's Schmidt, NBA's Rodman. Kim Jong-un probably shooting a reality TV show: "The Gulag Celebrity" 

18:11 - Basketball diplomacy crisis: no space left on Dennis Rodman for a Kim Jong-un tattoo 


Just to prove how successful this PR operation is: we're so much absorbed in the show that we hardly hear North Korean artillery drills. According to Yonhap News*, they targeted Seoul, with "shells loaded with concrete". As if Seoul needed more concrete...

At the end of the day, let's hope Kim The Third won't confuse the buzzer with the red button.

Seoul Village 2013
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* "N. Korea conducts artillery drills targeting Seoul: source" (Yonhap News)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Park 2 Day 1 in pictures

After 2 ROHs, 2 KIMs, and 1 LEE, I woke up with my first President PARK this morning*. The second one for many Koreans, who still now define PARK Geun-hye as "the daughter of".

The daughter of whom? Of PARK Chung-hee, of course. But the daughter of what, exactly? Of a "dictator", confirmed the BBC today, along with most international media. Of a "strongman", according to the guidelines suggested by conservative PR outlets in Korea... guidelines followed by the TIME editors, who controversially changed their December 17 cover, initially planned with the "D" word:

One thing is sure: the officials in charge of her inauguration in Yeouido could have picked a better TV background for the swear-in moment than this unsmiling Westerner with sunglasses, like a Man In Black keeping an eye on some valuable CIA asset. Even if Secretary of State John Kerry skipped the event, NK propagandists will probably photoshop a puppeteer hand out of this dark background:

Worse: if you enlarge the picture, you get Yingluck Shinawatra, a person mostly known as Taksin Shinawatra's sister, even now that she is Thailand's Prime Minister, a job she owes only to this familial tie:

So you'll probably see many official pictures framed, like this AP shot, in a tight close-up...

... unless PR wizzards opt for this picture, taken later in the day, during PARK's surrealistic stop at Gwanghwamun Square, on her way to Cheong Wa Dae:

photo Yonhap News
Here, the new president opened a giant purse, revealing a teletubbiesque tree of hope from which she randomly picked of low hanging fruits: wishes for a better welfare written by Korean citizens. She read a couple of them aloud, like a mom would do with poems from her kids, before rushing back to her stretch limo, as if last year's campaign never ended, with its "daughter/mother of the nation" positioning**, and its incessant succession of symbolic photo ops (eg below the tightest close up I shot from the future president - "Park Geun-hye bballi bballi campaigning" - October 2012 on SeoulVillage's YouTube channel):

PARK made one last stop (in front of Cheongwadae Sarangchae, welcomed by traditional music and friendly neighbors from Cheongun-dong and Hyoja-dong), before going back to where it all began: a Blue House where cameras followed her all the way up the grand staircase.
On this Oscar night and in spite of the hanbok, Park Geun-hye did much better than Jennifer Lawrence. Apparently, no Clark Gable was waiting for her. Anyway, time to lower the curtain and to get to work.

A reframed picture, a colorful tree, a big red staircase... of course these reductive images are not all there is to remember from such a historic day. There were also political messages, as expected focused on the 3 elephants in nowaday's Korean corridor: North Korea (the "biggest victim" from its own nuclear test), economy, and welfare.

But still** as this stage, we can't tell for sure who the person known as "the daughter of" truly is, and what she will eventually be remembered as.

Seoul Village 2013
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* technically, one should add GOH Kun, who was acting president during ROH Moo-hyun's impeachment in 2004.
** see "The Anipang Election: Park wins big, but who won?"

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Release the NKraken

All the rage in Pyongyang:
the Button-pushing game
(warning: some old-timers may detonate)

South Korea and the US will hold their yearly drill between March 11 and 25, for the first time under Seoul leadership. Pyongyang might be tempted to add a few fireworks, Yeonpyeong-do style (see "We need to talk about KIM"). Of course, the year of the Snake already started with a bang, KIM The Third detonating his first nuclear device on February 12th. As usual, the underground test was carried in Kilju-gun, Hamgyongbuk-do, not far from the border with China, and closer to Russia than to South Korea.

The country's third test had been announced soon after UN Sanctions approved by Beijing, before Barack Obama's State of the Union address, and well ahead of the changing of the guard at Cheong Wa Dae**. A message delicately wrapped in a new-yet-vintage propaganda package: yes, our so-called space launches were actually missile tests, gloves and masks are off now, we'll wipe the US from the surface of the Earth, and its South Korean sidekick while we're at it... beware, we're as Off the wall, as Bad, and as Dangerous as Michael Jackson.

KIM Jong-un remained much more secretive regarding his wife's alleged pregnancy*; maybe he's less worried about the Chinese Syndrom than about the Kate Middleton Syndrom. Actually, the message is as usual first directed to the powers that be at home and in Beijing, stretching the long-time ally's patience to reedrichardsian limits.

This time, the people of China started complaining about the ambivalence of their own leaders. XI Jinping, who's been encouraging critics of the regime up to a certain point, could leverage this apparent climate change. Now that China can pose as a victim, and North Korea as an independent nation, backstage negociations could reach faster and deeper than ever.

Seoul Village 2013
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* RI Sol-ju is rumored to have delivered a KIM The Fourth to celebrate KIM Il-sung's 100th anniversary
** PARK Geun-hye officially replaces LEE Myung-bak on February 25 at 0:00:01, even if her inauguration is celebrated on Monday

Monday, February 18, 2013


Sorry for getting back to you so late; I just came back from Incredible India to Intense Korea, and I'll need some time to adjust after 3,000 km on the road (not to mention the planes, buses, trains, cars, cycle rickshaw, elephants...). Yes, I also have over 5,000 pictures to sort, but they're worthless compared to the real thing.

There to, I came across fascinating alleyways, villages, and ghosts. The most haunting one? That tall meditator standing eyes wide open, facing the traffic on the median lane of our side of the highway, somewhere between Jaipur and Agra. He disappeared between two lorries and miraculously emerged alive, the sari violently flapping around his skinny frame. When we passed by him, he didn't even blink.


My snapshots series from Rajasthan, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh:

Seoul Village 2013
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