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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Game over for the 'Hanschluss' scenario?

It was already very clear at the peak of KIM Jong-un's March Madness (see "This Time Is Different - Six Decades of North Korean Follies (The Umpteenth Final Countdown)"): China's new posture has dramatically changed the game, forcing Pyongyang leaders to reconsider their options. Does it mean that the "Hanschluss Scenario" is already dead? Not so fast.

In case you're not familiar with this excuse for a blog*, "Hanschluss" is the term I use for the progressive re-storytelling / re-formating of Korea as a part of China. Again, it doesn't need to go all the way to political integration (i.e. as another province or Special Autonomous Region) or de facto occupation: the infamous Northeast Project, the way revisionists and pseudo researchers have been consistently trying to rewrite history, redraw maps, or claim the Korean cultural heritage, all this amounts to the same. And again, there are countless variations in this scenario because even among hardliners, not everyone shares the same vision: defensive vs imperialistic, more or less comprehensive and pervasive...

I may sound paranoid, but judging by NLL transcripts, even KIM Jong-il worried about that. Yes, Kim The Second also suffered from a bad case of paranoia, but if he didn't, he wouldn't have survived that long. And he somehow managed to balance the three main paths up North, which I dubbed the "Juche Line" (KIM Il-sung's utopia, the illusion of independence, and the strong army that goes with it), the "Sunshine Line" (move closer to the South, pave the way for a reunification), and the "Beijing Line" (Collabos). But that was not a grand "divide and rule" strategy, barely day-to-day survival tactics.

Then LEE Myung-bak pulled the "Sunshine Line" out of the equation, right before the question of the succession became critical. And then came the other buldozer: if KIM Jong-un was briefed to stick to the Juche-Beijing routine, he pushed it far too far beyond the thin red line, alienating his last allies, eating away his last bargaining chips. Logically, the supporters of his regime in Beijing lost faith, and it wasn't long before the regime itself lost face.

Last week's "PARK Jinping" - "XI Geun-hye" summit clearly confirmed who had Beijing's favors now. But South Korea does more than replace North Korea as the favorite brother in the troubled family: it almost becomes an equal, receiving a treatment even fellow superpowers (the "s" being purely theoretical here) never got from China. The only legitimate interlocutor in the peninsula, until the other half decides to act decently.

Memo to Pyongyang leaders: if you can complain as much as you want about not being able to meet the right level of interlocutors, know that you're the ones setting the bar. And know that the new PRC-ROK love story is not just at the Xi-Park level: body languages spoke volumes during the Contract-Signing Olympics that preceded the first speeches. New contracts here, new Samsung plant there (Hyundai might invest in Xi'an as well), PARK Geun-hye's charm offensive reached for the Chinese people: yes, Koreans can be not only friendly but also generous neighbors, right here and now - imagine what it will be when our Northern brothers join the party (no pun intended), what a boom for Northeast China!
Speaking of Northeast China, a memo to Northeast Project leaders: if Korea is treated as an equal by your own State, forget about Hanschlussing it. And forget about keeping South Korea out of the North Korean picture.
Heck, while I'm at it, a memo to hatemongers across Northeast Asia: South Korea offered to repatriate the remains of hundreds of Chinese troops fallen during the Korean War, and China offered to help solve POW issues. If you want peace, you can prepare for war, but also repair war damages.

So "all is well, all will be well, all goes as well as possible", would say Candide: the DPRK will try to save face, maybe by bringing new faces (no, PAK Pong-ju is not a new face, and no, JANG Sung-taek is not immortal), the "Hanschluss Scenario" is dead, and China and Korea will live happily ever after in a peaceful region.
Wait a sec'.

Judging by recent news, China is not precisely slowing down in its northwestern projects, across Tibetan and Uighur territories:
  • Lhasa's controversial renovation plans added to international outrage, to the point the local party official had to issue this "positive denial" in the media**: "the project has enhanced protection of Tibetan cultures, improved the old city's infrastructures and lifted the living conditions there".
  • XI Jinping may not be HU Jintao, he did send the troops and tanks to Urumqi, where the situation remains explosive (see Barbara Demick's "Chinese crack down on violence in western Uighur region" - LA Times, 20130629)

And I'm not aware of any crackdown on revisionism this side of the Yalu river. Pseudo-researchers keep being taken non seriously by Chinese scholars on tour overseas, but also kindly tolerated by national authorities, just like the Japanese government lets Uyoku dantai propaganda trucks freely roam its capital.
Anyway, even if this PRC-ROK summit was very good PR, and even if most tricky issues opposing both countries were eluded, a few dissensions were raised in public, and the usual differences in interpretation remained evident.
So as usual, let's wait, see, and remain alert.
Maybe Kim Jong-un is grumbling in his war room, wishing he were some kind of superhero able to make all his worries disappear, and to skip penance time. Maybe in the same room, a few people wish they were real heroes, with enough guts to make him disappear.

Meanwhile, South Korea and Japan plan to resume their own Two Party Talks during ASEAN reunions in Brunei***. China would be willing to help.

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* see previous episodes, for instance "Re-engaging North Korea - A Four Party Talk"(on blogules: "China-North Korea : the Great Hanschluss still the base case scenario")
** "Lhasa completes renovation of old city" (Xinhua, 20130630)
*** "Top diplomats from S. Korea, Japan to hold talks in Brunei" (Yonhap News 20130630)

Monday, June 24, 2013

10 Shades of Black and White

In this short video, 10 shots taken between 2002 and 2009 in backstage Nowon-gu, Gwangjin-gu, Seongbuk-gu, Jongno-gu...:

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Guardian State

Yesterday, New Jersey lost its favorite Soprano, but voiced very loud and clear its support for the women and girls forced into sexual slavery for Imperial Japan's military, passing univocally* a resolution where the Japanese government is called upon to take the most vital steps: to "accept historical responsibility" and to "educate future generations about these crimes". 

Note that the Japanese government is also charged for using an expression that edulcorates the appalling truth of sexual slavery. Again, the "comfort women" expression is deliberate propaganda to prevent the Japanese people from learning the horrors carried out under Imperial rule, a way of prolonging the ordeal of the victims and negating the crimes. I was not surprised to learn today, in a Chosun Ilbo article** about a small museum in Tokyo struggling to survive and to raise awareness about sexual slavery under Imperial Japan rule, that many visitors thought that the expression "comfort women" referred to some kind of nurses.

STATEMENT TO [First Reprint]
DATED: JUNE 3, 2013
The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee reports favorably Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 159 (1R).
This concurrent resolution commemorates and supports comfort women in their fight for proper acknowledgement by the Japanese government of the suffering they endured during their forced internment in military comfort stations and calls upon the Japanese government to accept historical responsibility for the sexual enslavement of comfort women by the Imperial Japanese military and educate future generations about these crimes.
The term “comfort women” is a euphemism used by the Japanese government to describe women forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese military between 1932 and 1945.
As reported, this resolution is identical to Senate Concurrent Resolution No.124 SCA (Weinberg), which the committee also reported favorably on this date.

After New York and California, the Garden State is the third US State to pass a resolution, confirming a strong record in support of the cause***.

But I still long for the moment when the Japanese people will be the one demanding its own government do the right thing. At long last.


See also:

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 * all 40 members of the Senate, and 76 of the 80 members of the assembly voted for it (no votes against, no abstentions, 4 simply didn't vote)
** "도쿄 한복판에 위안부 전시실… 시민 "위안소 존재 알고 충격""
*** see "Silver lining, darker clouds", "We reject as false the choice between revisionism and nationalism - for a Global Truth and Reconciliation Network"

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Songdo, DMC: sequence is of the essence (Part II)

In the first part of my umpeenth focus on Songdo and the Seoul DMC ("Songdo, DMC: sequence is of the essence (Part I)"), I insisted on symbols, images, concepts, purpose. Here, I linger on space and time, key dimensions of urbanism and architecture, where consistencies or discrepancies resonate. Of course, urbanism and architecture are foremost about humans, and when that small detail is not at the center of preoccupations, it shows.

Part I covered sections 0 and 1 of the 'master plan' below, Part II delivers lot # 2 (see also links to related articles at the end of this post), Part III will focus on the importance of timing:

0) City, Interrupted. Puzzle, Ongoing. Landmarks and Landscars
1) Purpose and Identity, Citizens and Citizones, Projects and Projections
2) Connectivity, Continuity and Consistence
3) Longing and Belonging - Sequence is of the Essence
NB: again, Songdo and the DMC cannot be compared (e.g. scale, timelines, stakes, relative importance for local authorities...), and they don't compete directly. This is not a comparison but a parallel update, with random thoughts about the evolution of ambitious urban projects.


UPDATE: see Part III
UPDATE: download the whole focus in PDF format here.


2) Connectivity, Continuity and Consistence

Once more, these "Ubiquitous" cities are not yet "All Over The Place", and work is still in progress, so be patient!

"Songdo Central Gap"
One of Songdo's "Central Gaps". This block will soon be filled with low rise commercial buildings and shops.

Seoul DMC's Blind Spot
One of the DMC's few remaining blind spots last year, along Digital Media street. This LED screen caught a bug, but the artwork is blind anyway.

But before exploring these new cityscapes, let's see how they integrate to their surroundings. If both Songdo and the DMC are connected to Incheon and Gimpo airports as well as to their respective urban environments, some key connectors show a bit too much, and seamlessness or urban continuum were not always top priorities.

For Songdo, that's almost a statement: "this is an exclusive neighborhood, let us grow on our own":
  • Like Incheon Airport and the Incheon Bridge, Songdo is a place where sea meets sky. Skyscrapers emerge from far away in a rather flat landscape, and the newly claimed land also stands out from the sky:

IFEZ view of Songdo
According to the IFEZ master plan, Songdo will reach for Ansan and Incheon's old harbor, while growing a new one. But the IBD has yet to fill all the parts where earthwork has already been completed.
  • Songdo IBD will eventually become a peninsula connected to Sinheung-dong to the north (when District 9 is completed), and firmly anchored to its surroundings through 6 bridges, not to mention of course the spectacular Incheon bridge, a direct link to Incheon Airport. On its northwestern side, it almost touches Dongchun-dong along Saeachim Park (New Morning Park), a promising promenade with a narrow waterway and two mini "mountain chains" in the background (Cheongryangsan-Munhaksan, Songdo's skyline).

  • Unfortunately, Songdo combines two sins commonly seen in Korean new towns: the Great Highway Rift, and the Elevated Highway Curse:

  • - Instead of camouflaging the beefed-up Aam-daero, open air lanes have been added to further separate Songdo from Dongchun-dong and the future Paramount Movie Park Korea. Even if bike lanes have been laid out, cars rule overwhelmingly.

    - Incheon Bridge ends in two concrete ribbons blotting out the scenery: Incheondaegyo Expressway (Highway 110) and Songdo Haeandoro (3rd Gyeongin Expressway along coastal road 77). The 2nd Seoul outer beltway will soon stretch new tentacles over the ocean, making sure the future Incheon New Port is itself cut from the rest of the IBD.

    - This at a time when Seoul bitterly regrets the concrete monsters that disfigure some of its cutest waterways. This at a time when Paris starts covering its belt highway "Peripherique" to improve the osmosis with its direct urban environment, and considers doing the same around its La Defense business district. This at a time when Seoul thinks of ways of hiding the expressways separating Han riversides from the rest of the city... Again, highways don't belong in sustainable cities, and elevated roads are supposed to be patches you use when urban planning failed, the worst possible solution when you start from scratch. New roads should alleviate traffic, not cause more problems and create more demand for cars.

Songdo - Los Angeles
From a distance, Songdo looks as highway-and-car-friendly as L.A.

Brughel meet Songdo
Songdo meet Brughel meet a great Korean classic: the elevated highway.

Songdo's 2nd Bridge
Songdo 2nd Bridge over Saechim Park, the Incheon Bridge expressway to the right
  • Note that subway-wise, the aerotropolis is directly connected to the old Incheon center, but not to the airports: the Incheon Bridge was not doubled with railways, and you have to reach the AREX at Gyeyang Station, at the other end of Incheon Subway Line 1. That's not a long trip, but you draw a "seven" 3 to 4 times longer than the Incheon Bridge's straight line. And if the Suin Line will complete the Suwon-Incheon loop by 2014 (joining Songdo Station to Incheon Station), Songdo IBD hangs by itself at the end of the Line 1 hook. More stations are planned, but for the next one we might have to wait for the Songdo Incheon Tower, and the construction of the business center on the other side of Canal Walk has been postponed.

Canal Walk on the wild side, sunset over Incheon Bridge

  • For the moment, Songdo has to do all the pushing, whereas it should be more a win-win, push-and-pull game with surrounding areas. Typically, the synergies between the IFEZ's 3 sub-projects (Yeongjong-Songdo-Cheongna) and the rest of Gyeonggi-do would be boosted if there were a coastal vertical connecting Cheongna, Incheon's Jung-gu, Songdo, and Siheung-Ansan. That's the role of the future 2nd Seoul outer beltway, but ideally, the vertical should also exist in a railway version. BTW I'm glad that they eventually decided to build a AREX Cheongna Station, but I still can't believe it was not planned from the start - as if the AREX and IFEZ projects existed in different galaxies! As a matter of law, I think no New Town project should get any authorization if there's not at least one subway connection from day one, and Subway Line 1 reached Songdo only in 2009, four years after the delivery of the first blocks (district 2).

The much smaller - and far closer to completion - DMC is now plugged as if to boost broadband communications within Western Seoul as well as between the capital and its neighbors. In spite of its own natural and man-made frontiers:
  • The DMC draws a "T" in the northern half of Sangam-dong, which itself a draws a trapezoid on the Han River. If this block can't be compared to an island or a peninsula like Sondgo, its borders are clearly marked for pedestrians:

    - To the South, the block is separated from the Han River and its riverside park (Nanji Park) by the Gangbyeon Expressway and its 10 lanes of traffic. Also known as Jayuro or "Freedom Expressway", Gangbyeon runs along the Han River all the way to Paju, and connects the capital to Gimpo and Incheon airports. Note that unlike Songdo, the DMC is directly connected via AREX to both airports. Actually, at one stage, the Seoul Lite landmark tower was by itself meant as an all inclusive, miniature aerotropolis for business travelers. It a good thing that this anti-city scenario was dropped.

    - To the North, a disgracious urban separator prevents the DMC from dialoguing with Susaek-dong and Eunpyeong-gu: the Gyeongui Line. Seoul city considers burying it, but it will take time and here, it's as wide as around Seoul Station. And it's doubled with yet another major entry point to Western Seoul: a 6-to-8-lane axis that goes straight from Gwanghwamun to the heart of Goyang and Ilsan, first as Sajik-ro, then as Songsan-ro, here as Susaek-ro, and through Gyeonggi-do as Jungang-ro. Overall, if you include the thin layer of buildings sandwiched between the railways and the road, that's a 300 m - wide band, almost as thick as the bar of the "T". The Digital Media City Station (AREX, Gyeongui Line, Subway Line 6) does connect both sides, but the whole area will boom the day a Gwangwhamun Square-like revolution helps pedestrians claim that bandwidth, critical for seamless communications.

    - To the West, the DMC/Sangam-dong block is separated from Daedok-dong, Goyang city by Gayang-daero / Deogun-ro (8 lanes). And to the East, Jeungsan-ro (8 lanes) and Bulgwangcheon stream (3 bridges) mark the frontier with Songsan-dong / Jung-dong, Mapo-gu.

The Seoul DMC T and Sangam-dong
The T-shaped DMC in the Sangam-dong trapezoid.

  • These vertical connectors (W/E) anchor the whole neighborhood to Western Seoul's two main entry points by road: Gangbyeon Expwy and Susaek-ro (S/N). They also reach across the river: Gayang-daero leads to Gayang-dong, Gangseo-gu, via the Gayang Bridge, and Jeungsan-ro will be prolonged southwards by the World Cup Bridge to Yeongdeungpo-gu (see "A World Cup Bridge for 2015"). Doubled with the Subway Line 6 loop, Jeungsan-ro also links the DMZ to the northernmost parts of Seoul : Eungam, and beyond, Yeonsinnae, Eunpyeong New Town, or Tongil-ro. To reach the Gangnam half of Seoul by rail, you have to reach Subway Line 2, or use the AREX (the future Magok District will only be one station away when Magongnaru Station opens).
  • Overall, the DMC/Sangam block is rather well connected to the grid. But it's not just piggybacking an existing network: it also acts itself as a power plug connecting to Mapo-gu and Seoul parts of Gyeonggi-do previously underserved between the two horizontal backbones:

    - Eastwards, three 4-to-5-km-long "pins" of this plug reach deep into Mapo-gu: the three avenues that support the DMC's "T". At the top, the narrowest and shortest (Seongam-ro / Yeonnam-ro, 4 lanes) follows the lower Gyeongui Line until Donggyo-ro. That's the top of the bar. The other two go all the way to Yanghwa-ro: until Hongdae (Worldcup-bukro, 8 lanes), and Hapjeong (Nanjido-gil / Worldcup-ro, 6 lanes).

    - The "cable" end of the plug looks less subtle: blocked by Daedoksan to the West, the three roads merge through Daedok-dong into a road that crosses the southern parts of Goyang and Ilsan, and the western parts of Paju. Gorged with concrete steroids, this axis has become the second "Freedom Highway" (Je-2 Jayuro, #357), complete with brand new "unavoidable" elevated sections...
  • Mercifully, the DMC itself is spared the "Elevated Highway Curse"*. And also the sight, noise and traffic of the Gangbyeon Expressway, thanks to the World Cup Park and its twin hills (Noeul and Haneul). So the former Nanjido landfill**** was not only transformed into an ecopark, but also into a green wall protecting the whole rehabilitated neighborhood. Note that there are also two smaller green hills under the bar of the T (Sangamsan and Mebongsan gave their names to the two central vertical streets, Sangamsan-ro and Mebongsan-ro). So instead of a "T", you rather see from the sky a "M" drawn on a green trapezoid:

Aerial view of Seoul DMC
An 2012 areal view of the DMC (fished from In the bottom half of this picture, we clearly see from left to right Haneul Park, Mebongsan, Jeungsan-ro and its Jeungsan Tunnel, and the World Cup Stadium.

Now when I roam the streets of Songdo and the Seoul DMC during the day or at night, can I feel an urban continuum, a consistency with the original concepts? I'd say that in the DMC, I feel like in a modern Seoul business district among others, and in Songdo, supposedly the epitome of The City of The IIIrd Millenium, almost like in a tribute to the XXth Century:

  • Songdo is already alive and kicking. At the feet of most residential buildings, fleets of kid bikes tell the story of families enjoying fun time outdoors, and the city stretches only over 6 square kilometers at its core, so everything is within walking distance. The map can be easily memorized with its grid and functional blocks, and green areas cover a very significant proportion of the land. Smart details make life easier, for instance to cope with parcels when you're not home for the delivery, or to manage waste and energy... Citizens are confident that future commercial hubs (first around Lotte Mall, then North of Central Park) will boost the whole community.

  • But this dream city looks a bit too sanitized, the urban planners' storytelling too polished and far-reaching. Humans look a bit like extras on a giant stage where the roads are too wide, and the skyscrapers too tall, waiting for directions from above. Everywhere you can read the script for the land, but it's as if the actors expected a play to be written for them as well. I love to walk in cities but between these neverending blocks I feel frustrated. And why surelevate this park? Pedestrians can only see inside when there's an entrance, unlike in say Yeouido's central park, where the whole neighborhood can enjoy the show, not just those who are inside, or above, watching from their penthouses. There are buses on the streets, but very few bikes or taxis. I didn't expect Masdar City's Podcars, but at least a vision for the future, a comprehensive and innovative strategy for transportation. Overall, Songdo reminds me of urbanism from the 1950s, a "modern" vision of a functional American city where cars rule. There's even a Niemey'air of Brasilia - doesn't this Central Park's "Tri-bowl" echo Oscar's famous Congresso Nacional building? I remember being already disappointed by the master plan years ago, then when the first residential districts were delivered, in the mid-naughties. Only Canal Walk emerged as a potentially alleywayish element added to this very classic new town, but occupancy remains low due to delays in the developments around the structure.

  • More heterogeneous, the DMC mirrors the rest of Seoul. A significant part of Sangam-dong, in the Eastern half of the bar of the T, has not even been redevelopped. It includes the neighborhood's citizen center, and a few individual houses, but mostly consists of 3 to 5 story buildings. With Nuritkum Square at its crux, the Western half of the bar is marked by the curve of a "Digital Media Street" whose unfinished northern side has long been euphemized as an "art fence". This is certainly not a beautiful city or a model of urbanism, but it's somehow "softer", more convenient for pedestrians. Even if you have to cross a a wide road here or a railway there, the neighborhood is more at the human scale, the architecture less pretentious. Can it be fakely disruptive at times? Yes. Are we spared the usual "apateu" blocks? No. You're simply in a Seoul neighborhood with a decent green-to-concrete ratio, and an obvious 'business' purpose, not in some exclusive complex. After all, the DMC is not Sangam's only star: more Seoul citizens know the neighborhood for its World Cup Stadium, and many have if not visited at least seen the park and its wind power generators from the expressway.

Seoul city bikesharing station in the DMC
The DMC is one of Seoul city's two test areas for bikesharing services. Well located next to a bus station, this station is fully operational on this beautiful May 2012 day: 7 of the 10 bicycles are being used.

For the DMC as well as for Songdo, and regardless of the conceptual successes or failures, planners focused on sections of space. Timing and sequencing seems to have resulted from constraints rather than from a strategic vision of the city. But for cities, time is of the essence. And planners should make sure they've got the dynamics right from the start.

And for us, that will be the final part of this focus.


End of part II

See part I
See part III


See also posts related to Songdo and the DMC, in particular:
- "Songdo on the world map (Green Climate Fund)" (December 2012)
- "Wet eyes for wetlands and urban mirages" (January 2012)
- "DMC at full throttle - Songdo from Sim City to Sin City ?" (April 2011)
- "DMC aims at Tinseltown - welcome to Hallyuwood!" (February 2011)
- "Seoul Digital Media City Tour" (July 2010)
- ...

See also posts related to urbanism and new towns, including:
- "Sudogwon New Town Blues" (March 2013)
- "Magok District: SIM City as in "Seoul Intra Muros"? Alleyways as in "Seoul Inter Muros"?" (January 2013)
- "From urban mirages to urban decay" (November 2011)
- ...

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* even if the Naebu Expressway starts at its gate. It covers Hongjecheon (see "Along Hongjecheon, my way or the highway"), which Bulgwangcheon joins at the corner of Pyeonghwa Park, at Nongsusansijang-ro.

**** reminder: if Songdo was built from scratch, the DMC was partly built over trash.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Mirrors are abominable

Long time no post about revisionism in Japan, eh*?

I just passed by one of those distorting mirrors over the web, and saw something interesting.

Here, when I mention 'distorting mirrors over the web', I'm not referring to revisionist propaganda, but to the way information can be altered along it virtual journeys.

And when I say that I saw something interesting, I'm not referring to my female self (NB: that's not the first time a translator or a journalist mispells my name as "StephaNIE" or thinks "Stephane" is a girl's name**), but to a 10 year old video that remains scaringly relevant.

I must pause here: I can't help but think about my favorite piece of literature, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", where Jorge-Luis Borges redefined fiction and prefigured our internet's pervasive maze of hoaxes, facts, fictions, and mirror sites. When The Great Blind Librarian wrote "mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of men", he simply couldn't imagine that they could also change their genders.

Now where was I?

Here. And there. Marking a pause, precisely. Because Shinzo Abe kindly decided to hold his own horses***, I seized the opportunity and updated my miserable French blogules, recycling in one single post**** the "Abeignomics" series I'd just shot in broken English on this excuse for a blog. The story was later adapted as a Tribune in the French news website Rue89: "Le Japon prisonnier de son extrême droite révisionniste" (May 20).

What I came across was a short post in The Moderate Voice, where William Kern wrote: "In the latest in a series of similar criticisms from around the world on the Abe government, Rue 89 Stephane Mot writes in small part – and I do mean small, since she goes on for a full 1200 words". A long quote ensues, from the similarly titled***** translation of my Rue89 Tribune in, the non-partisan journalism project Kern founded after working for the IHT in Paris.

I clicked the link to read the translation... and at the very last line, found out that an "I" had unfortunately fallen over my name, like a guillotine over my proud stephanehood.

But again, that's not the interesting part... Ill-chosen words, sorry. I meant that's not the point - gaah, forget it, just watch the video kindly picked to go with the translation.

It's called "Japan's Dirty Secret" (23 May 2003), by Mark Simkin. This ABC News journalist, who spent four years in Japan, manages to raise quite a lot of issues in less than 20 minutes.

The focus is on Unit 731: as a former torturer flies to Harbin to apologize to Chinese survivors, Simkin tells everything about the dark side of today's Japan, without sparing the US, who by clinching the infamous deal with Shiro Ishii, prevented justice from happening, and Japan from facing its past, paving the way for revisionists such as Shinzo Abe.

If you think Japan can do without formal apologies for the crimes committed under Imperial rule, think again. All Japanese citizens should watch this non distorting mirror if they want to save their peaceful democracy, and prevent further abominations from happening.

Stephane (without an I)
NB: that's my fault. I changed Abenomics into Abeignomics.
An "I" for an "N"?

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* already eight days ("Silver lining, darker clouds"), time really flies.
**  So far, the Asia Times remains the only one to have dubbed me "Stephan".
*** "ABE forced to back down a bit. For the moment. Next PR stunt: KIM Jong-un" (May 15)
**** "AbeIGNomics - Shinzo Abe a fait son coming out: il est bien le pire ennemi du Japon" (blogules V.F., May 18)
***** "Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a Threat to Democratic Japan (Rue 89, France)" (, May 31), "Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a Threat to Democratic Japan (Rue 89, France)" (The Moderate Voice, May 31)

UPDATE 20200406 - Rue89 link updated to new NouvelObs URL.

Monday, June 10, 2013


Dear Seoul,

I'm Sorry. I've been messing around with other cities, lately. Yes, again.
You know I can't resist exploring the most intimate alleyways when I scent some. And did Rome go heavy on jasmine perfume, late May?

Rome, doorstep by step - Copyright Stephane MOT 20130524

Granted, Beijing didn't smell that nice when I passed by. But there's always some market in some hutong, something nice cooking in some siheyuan...

Hutong market time - Stephane MOT 201306

See? I only betrayed you with fellow capital cities... No no, not Paris, only Rome and Beijing this time.

Plus Barcelona - she's a capital, ain't she? Catalunya wants to split, remember? 

No, not me. I don't want to split, mi amor.

Un gato en bicicleta - Barcelona 20130601 - Stephane MOT

Well. To be perfectly honest, there were also a bunch of Andalusian hotties (Sevilla, Malaga, Ronda, Cordoba), but who could resist this whirlwind of lines and curves - or their tapas, for ddeok's sake?

Malagasketball - Malaga 201305 Stephane MOT

Cordoba tapas - 201305 Stephane MOT

Will you forgive me this time again? Please.

With (almost) all my love

Yours unfaithfully yet truly,



Dear Stephane,

I'm glad you raised the issue. To tell you the truth, you've never been the only Seoulite in my heart, and I have to care for people in real tourment - not only international travelers with pseudo-consciences. But please, take no offense, Dear. I still love you, and I know you.

I know you never stopped loving me ever since you met me, over twenty years ago. And back then, I didn't put any make up to seduce foreigners! I know your love grew even stronger each time I lost one my most charming neighborhoods.

And I know what attracted you in these distant alleyways. Yes, most cities have taken better care of themselves than I have. Yes, I'm an old lady, but only a toddler when it comes to preserving my urban heritage. Yet we all face the same tragedies sooner or later.

I know whom you were thinking about when you roamed Rome's now gentrified Trastevere. I know whom you were thinking about when you saw "for sale" / "for rent" signs on almost every other building across Spain's oldest neighborhoods. I know whom you were thinking about when you went up Barcelona's Poble Espanyol, probably the world's most vintage fake traditional village, a cardboard tourist trap now struggling as much as the originals it mimicked. I know who you were thinking about when you walked through Beijing hutongs, with these cranes towering over pulverized traditional houses, these whole stretches already "Bukchonized" or Samcheong-dong-style revamped with fancy shops and restaurants, and in the most remote places, these old timers wondering when their last cluster will go...  

It's not you I'm mad at, Stephane.

At your laziness, maybe.

All I ask you is to finish your collection of fictions. Come on, you're only a few alleyways away from completing your Seoul villages. But be careful, that's at the same time the most delicate part, and the strongest cement which holds the whole thing together.

It's okay if you err in these alleyways, take your time. But please stop blogging, do some writing.

Idly yours,


Seoul Village 2013
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