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Friday, October 25, 2013

Paradise City v. Sin City

Last Tuesday, Paradise Group unveiled its "Paradise City" project on Yeongjongdo, a walking distance from Incheon International Airport. Construction starts next year and the first section shall be delivered by 2017. Ultimately, 160,000 visitors shall come daily, including a majority of Chinese tourists and business travelers*.

The KRW 1.9 Tn resort will include hotels, restaurants, convention spaces, and of course Paradise's speciality: foreigner-only casinos. The group already operates one nearby at the Hyatt Regency Incheon, and shouldn't remain the only big player for long in what seems to be the future Korean Las Vegas.

Paradise City
If you remember, a few years ago, IFEZ considered casinos as a potential 'vertical' to boost then ailing Songdo**. If the International Business District has since signed investors more consistent with its initial positioning, the potential remains huge for a gateway that welcomes tens of millions of visitors every year, including a growing number of Chinese citizens, some of whom already own a flat in Songdo. Yeongdongpo already boasts significant tourist infrastructures, and recent visa exemptions for short term stays considerably boosted the market of passengers in transit.

Incheon dreams of becoming the Northeast Asia rival to Macau, and the local casino king Stanley Ho doesn't seem to mind. He even wants to join the party, along with Universal Entertainment (Japan) and Vegas giant Ceasars Entertainment (USA, in a JV with Indonesia's Lippo Group***). But since foreign companies are not allowed to run casinos in Korea, they've been denied agreements so far, giving a head start to the national champion. This might change, and the same players are probably waiting for further regulation evolutions, in particular a "cruise bill" that could allow foreigner-only floating casinos (a life saver for OH Se-hoon's Floating Island?).

The next day, Gangwon-do announced a plan to develop Korea's first nude beach.
Try to top(less) that, KIM Jong-un! In his arms race for olympic gold and tourist silver (brand new water park, Masikryong Ski Resort), the young leader might be tempted to develop new unclad vehicles.

Seoul Village 2013
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*"Paradise Co. to build casino complex near Incheon airport" (Yonhap News 20131022)
** "DMC at full throttle - Songdo from Sim City to Sin City?" (2011/04)
*** Midan City:

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Voices of Heaven (Maija Rhee Devine)

Unfair, absurd, overwhelming, and devastating, the war is about to break out. But for the personal tragedies we're witnessing here, we can only blame unfair, absurd, overwhelming, and devastating traditions.

Eum-chun's family should be the portrait of happiness, and the loving couple she forms with Gui-yong, her complicity with her mother in law, or her pure joy of having a girl like Mi-na, should set positive examples for the rest of a Korean society gangrened by archaic habits and customs... yet gangrene has already set its teeth in this model family.

If Mi-na happens to be an adopted child, she ignores that fact. What she does know - and what the whole neighborhood makes sure she knows - is that she's not a boy, and that her father is supposed to have one. Of course, the monstrous thing is not this absence, but the kind of "solutions" this society comes up with: an unofficial "little mommy" will move in to bear Gui-yong's male heir...

After meeting the author, I knew that reading "The Voices of Heaven" would be an emotional moment, and not in the 'fabricated drama' sense. The immersion is complete; impossible to put the book down as the personal tragedies unfold and the war looms; countless Korean expressions make me slow down to taste them and fully appreciate their freshness or bitterness, but that projects me even better in time; I'm not only feeling through the characters' senses, but also hearing their uncensored thoughts say the unsayable, expose the daily abomination of a choking society, beg for love, laugh at their own brazenness...

Don't get me wrong: it may sound like walking hip-high through pretty heavy and thick stuff, but by the grace of a poet, you're in for an uplifting experience.

Maija Rhee Devine grew up in Seoul during the Korean War, and writing such a delicate and strong, personal and universal first novel that stretches all the way to modern day Korea must have been really draining. Her next project promises to be another emotional Everest - I have no idea how long it will take her to see her "Journals of Comfort Women" through to the end, but I can't wait to read them.

"The Voices of Heaven"
Seoul Selection USA 2013, 316 p

NB: Maija will be presenting her book this Sunday, October 27, at Barry Welsh's 10 Magazine Book Club in Myeong-dong (details on the Facebook event page: And while you're at it, join Barry's new radio program on TBS eFM (on Saturdays and Sundays), "The Bookend":

Seoul Village 2013
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Saturday, October 19, 2013

First World Congress for Hallyu

When SEO Taiji's "Nan Alayo" resonates in the middle of the keynote speech, it dawns on you: this truly is a gathering of Hallyu scholars (NB: I owed this trip back to 1992 Korea to ethnomusicologist Keith Howard - SOAS, University of London).

But what does "Hallyu" cover, exactly? Answering the question seems to be the most complex task... or maybe I should write "tusk", since I heard at least two references to the old Indian tale of the blind men and the elephant - the one where each man touches a different part of the animal and describes something completely different from all others.

The organization behind this First World Congress for Hallyu, the World Association for Hallyu Studies, leaves definitions up to scholars, who are encouraged to explore all possibilities. WAHS itself is structured around the following sections: Humanities and social sciences, Korean language education and culture, Medical science, Hallyu policy and management, Sports science, Entertainment business, Tourism, Textile fashion and beauty science, and Food. So during the two-day event held on Korea University campus, topics reached far beyond the usual suspects (K-pop and K-drama*). As well as beyond WAHS's 18 regional branches, the 125 panel participants representing 24 nations and all continents (even Antartica was mentioned - by Stephen Epstein in his focus "below the Equator").

The purpose is not to push Hallyu overseas, but "to advance Hallyu Studies as a multidisciplinary body of knowledge and profession serving the public good" (as the mission statement goes), and ultimately peace and mutual understanding, as WAHS President PARK Gil-sung pointed out in his wrap-up remarks. Significantly, the Grand Prize for the Student Essay Contest was awarded to a Palestinian female student (Maysa Sameer), and the First Prize for the Article Contest went to Dredge Byung'chu Käng (USA) for his paper on "transnational transgender personification in Thai K-pop cover dance".

I wish I could have attended more panels in this rich program, but I'm glad I didn't miss the "Policy Makers" roundtable on the sustainability of Hallyu featuring representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute (KCTI - Ministry of Culture), the Korea Foundation (KF), the Korea Creative Contents Agency (KCCA), the Korea Institute for Design Promotion, the Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange, the King Sejong Institute Foundation, and KBS Hallyu Promotion Office. What started like a classic, digestive post-lunch series of presentations turned into a lively debate on the most relevant topic - Hallyu's sustainability - when KIM Tae-hwan (Korea Foundation) frankly shared his doubts regarding the future of what appears to be an overblown, short-lived fad marketed as an entertainment commodity, and his wish to see people work on more sustainable approaches. Participants also had passionate discussions around the roles of public diplomacy and of a government often accused of fanning the flames of international hype.

Day 1, Policy Makers Roundtable

Leveraging a network of 200 overseas missions, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs collects all positive and negative feedback about the wave to produce a "Current Status of the Global Village" in partnership with the KF, which explains rather low-profile rethorics: yes we support the Korean wave, but we refuse the driver's seat; Hallyu should neither be politicized, nor be seen as a one-way phenomenon disrespectful of other cultures... The posture is less "we have the answers" than "we need to ask more questions": do we know Hallyu? do we overestimate it? do we have to broaden its scope?

The KCTI considers Hallyu as a content by itself, sustainability being only a matter of quality; it's neither in the hands of government, nor a question of public diplomacy, and the leadership is expected from the happy few top content providers... even if YG Entertainment, SM Entertainment, or Cube have more short term preoccupations, around their core activities (contents, convergence...). The KCCA's main worry for the future seems to be replicating the model on new markets, and KBS simply accompanies a dekoreanization process where Hallyu is not even seen as a part of Korean culture... 

Obviously, if the ecosystem seems aware of the need to embrace sustainability, definitions and forward-thinking levels differ a lot. Again, I threw in my two-cents on the issue the following day (see "Heralding cultural diversity: a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave (1st Congress - WAHS)").

Note that the second WAHS congress will be held in Argentina next year, and that Israel will host a second Middle East - WAHS Conference in May 2014 ("The Cultural Geography of the Hallyu: Mapping the World through Korean Popular Culture", following "The 'Miracle' Narrative of the Korean Cultural Industries: Perspectives from the Middle East" - May 2013).

ADDENDUM - read my presentation "Heralding Cultural Diversity: a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave": Part I, Part II, Part III.

Seoul Village 2013
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* or "Koreanovelas", as they are known in the Philippines (where they were initially aired in the local language, with Filipino names and soundracks).

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Breaking news: a new missile launcher for Kim Jong-un

On this exclusive document, KIM Jong-un and his Dream Team are testing the red's latest Air weapon, called the Shooting Guard (Dennis Rodman is suspected to have masterminded the technology transfer):

"Zen master" KIM Jong-un's Dream Team in front of their new launcher
Always bullying...

Sorry. Just toying with Slate's "fake your own Kim Jong-un photo" suggestion to mock DPRK's outrageous propaganda (try it on "Let's Crowdsource the Next North Korean Photoshop Fail"!).

Seoul Village 2013
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Yeonnam-dong, a new Human Town or a new Old Town, but mercifully not that old New Town

I found rather comical recent articles presenting Yeonnam-dong's rehabilitation as a success for PARK Won-soon vision*: Yeonnam was the pilot neighborhood at the core of the Human Town vision, a voter-friendly project ignited by PARK's predecessor ahead of the 2010 mayoral elections (actually, the first sentence in my post "OH Se-hoon launches the "Seoul Human Town" concept" was "the campaign for Seoul City Hall is definitely on"). This following the LRT episode where PARK, already running for a second term next year, revived OH's subway projects years after criticizing them as pork barrel**... Of course, PARK didn't write these articles, but I had to smile.

Anyway, whether you call it "Human Town" or "Old Town" (as the metropolitan government rebranded it last year to mark a disruption with the "New Town" model - see "Seoul Old Towns or New Human Towns? New City Hall or Tsunamheat Wave?"***), the concept had to be given a chance. In case you skipped the Human Town beat, here are a few bits from my 3-year-old post:
"(...) an alternative to Seoul's tragic base case scenario : instead of letting a whole neighborhood grow old and derelict until it's ripe for redevelopment, then destroy everything, and finally plant a big "apateu" block, the idea is to improve a neighborhood, make it a better place for everyone, with a special care for young couples and silver heads... core targets in OH's 2010 campaign. (...)
"Seoul Human Town" intends to combine the best of both worlds :
- from apartment blocks : joint management, economies of scale, maintenance, security, parking space, (some) green areas, a playground, consistence and sustainability
- from your friendly neighborhood : low-rise architecture, the human touch, the sense of belonging, the memory, the soul, the identity of Seoul villages.
- bonus : community services, senior and daycare centers. Ultimately, many parts of the city shall enjoy facilities more adapted to their population densities, but previously unaffordable (...).
Don't imagine a complete renovation, more a rehabilitation of the environment : the idea is to let the area breathe, to get rid of one building here and there, to convert another one into a community center, to make room for pavements and plants, to add lights and CCTVs, to bury those cable / electricity snake nests hanging up between buildings (...)".
Again, the before/after rendering
Low-rise, low-key, but still high electoral stakes
I put a marker at the center of Yeonnam-dong Human Town on Seoul Village map - that's at the Gyeongui Line fork (at the beginning of the "Gyeongui Line Forest Trail - An Urban Lifeline"), north of Donggyo-ro:

View Seoul Village in a larger map

Now the most important: is it working?

I often ride my bike in the neighborhood on my way between Yeonhui and Hongdae, and the urban change is not very spectacular at the macro level - except of course for the new forest trail, which also contribute to the village atmosphere, and to drawing shop and cafe customers from the outside. Still, you can tell that this neighborhood has evolved into a much more open life space and community thanks to the small scale changes at the street level (e.g. fewer walls, more walkways and green areas, fewer visible electric lines...) as well as well as thanks to the new community services (which also translate in more open or shared spaces).

Residents are feeling optimistic for the future, and not only regarding the value of their properties (the usual barometer in Seoul-upon-Han, I'm afraid). Rents are up, and maybe the fact that Hongdae's spike in retail rents pushed many small entrepreneurs further from the commercial center doesn't explain everything.

Yeonnam-dong does look and feel more like a village...

... and anyway, so much better than this "old New Town" project!

Old new town project for Yeonnam - not exactly a Seoul village
Phew! This "well being" apocalypse was canceled

Seoul Village 2013
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* e.g. "박원순式 재개발 1호 ‘마포 연남동’… 주거정비 마무리" (Asia Economy - 20130925), "'박원순표 재개발' 저층주거지 정비 마친 연남동 일대" (Financial News - 20131004)
** see "If you ain't broke, fix it: Seoul, Welfare and Railways Deficits" (20130801)
*** again, have also a peek at my essay "Inhuman, all too human Seoul" - "Seoul: inhumaine, trop humaine" (2011-2012), and its final section: "De la New Town à l’Human Town, le retour en grâce des villages" ("From New Towns to Human Towns, villages are back in good favors")

Friday, October 11, 2013

Heralding cultural diversity: a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave (1st Congress - WAHS)

On Saturday 19, I'm participating to a panel on Hallyu and Ethics at Korea University for the First Congress of the World Association for Hallyu Studies. My paper is titled "Heralding cultural diversity - a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave", and you can peek at the summary and menu below (bonus: you get an image because you're so kind!).


Of course I barely scratched the surface of the vast and diverse ocean of Korean culture* but that was the point: Hallyu won't go far if it defines itself as a wave; waves are only means, elements of proof that this ocean is vast, diverse, and alive. And culture is not just about cultural contents but also about how people live, use time and space, not just about cultural sectors but about society at large. 

So yes, good or bad urbanism or business practices also impact the way Korean culture is perceived: typically, Korea cannot herald creativity and diversity overseas if its urbanism negates them at home, and cases of abusive contracts and working conditions in K-pop industry exposed by Western journalists who came to investigate the phenomenon in Korea hurt much more than the classic criticisms denouncing a 'culture industry'. This year's agreement on a standard labor contract across the movie industry to end a long tradition of film crew exploitation marks an excellent trend, and my piece is optimistic because going ethic is not only the only option, but good business.

Learning from nature and wave dynamics: waves are a bit like the tip of the iceberg, except everything is moving (moving as in 'movement' and 'emotions', with an infinite variety of facets and paces). Note the vocabulary similarities with marketing campaigns, which also often come in waves.

Heralding cultural diversity - a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave:

"Korea can fulfill its potential as a cultural leader, become a positive role model, and ensure durable success beyond short-lived fads. And because true leaders cannot be respected if they are not respectful, this cannot happen without understanding how wave dynamics work in nature, without a resolute ethical and sustainable approach of the ecosystem at home and abroad, and without embracing cultural diversity. Making more room for smaller players and indie creations, developing fairer revenue sharing models will not only ensure sustainability and benefit all players, but also help raise the nation’s image overseas."
    • Defining waves: always bear in mind that waves are disturbances
    • Defining Hallyu: a simple wave, a current, or a vast ocean?
    • Revealing a vast ocean in movement? Easier than carving every day the perfect wave
    • This is not a competition, this is not a “Clash of Cultures”
    • Think nurturing beyond preserving: don’t build seawalls, grow mangroves!
    • Diversity is the key to sustainability, ‘consistent’ doesn’t mean ‘constant’
    • Free creative forces across the nation and beyond, liberate time and space
    • Economic leaders must act as true cultural leaders, open up and embrace change
    • Most exposed at the crest of the wave, ‘cultural sectors’ must lead as role models
The spirit of Hallyu

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* and only a few issues raised in this excuse for a blog about it - e.g. for content verticals in"Saving Korean cinema... and even Chaebolplex", "Korean culture or Hallyu, Cultural contents or discontents", "DMC aims at Tinseltown - welcome to Hallyuwood !", ""...

Monday, October 7, 2013

Four Seasons Seoul

Just to wrap up my January 2012 post on Mirae Asset's luxury hotel project in Gwanghwamun ("A 6 Star Hotel in Gwanghwamun?"), which as expected went to Four Seasons, and will open on May 2015:

See also "Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts enters Korea" (Four Seasons PR 20130904)

For the prestigious hotel group, Seoul fills a gap in an increasingly strategic region. Mirae Asset confirm their ambitions in hospitality businesses: they bought the Four Seasons Sydney a few days before the deal was announced (from Eureka Funds Management, see "Four Seasons sold for $340 million" - The Sydney Morning Herald 20130821), and also pilot the Courtyard by Marriott in Pangyo.

Now I realize that I never shared any image of a project I often pass by. Well the working site is not that spectacular...

March 14, 2013 (much more advanced today!)
... and the architecture not very original either:

The future 317-room hotel near Sejongno Sageori
As far as office spaces are concerned, Gwanghwamun area has been dotted with many new towers over the past years, and in order to fill them, operators had to suck tenants out of older and lower tier buildings. If many hotels will open across Seoul in the months and years to come, this shouldn't be the case for a hospitality franchise targeting elites.

Still, competition will be fierce. Particularly since all major players have completed renovation, most recently their main rival, The Shilla Seoul, which at last decided to act as a leader by opening a high end Korean restaurant: even if they don't make a fortune with 'La Yeon', that's a higher calling (see "Korean Cuisine Aiming At World's Top Five. China is watching"). I would be disappointed if Four Seasons Seoul failed to propose fine Korean dining.

Seoul Village 2013
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Seobu Line confirmed as Seoul's LRT top priority

Among the 10+ Light Railway Transit lines considered by Seoul Metropolitan Government last summer, I singled out the Seobu Line / Seobuseon as the logical priority to fill the biggest gap in Seoul subway system (see "Seoul LRT Projects Update (Part 1/2)" - following "If you ain't broke, fix it: Seoul, Welfare and Railways Deficits", and preceding "Seoul LRT Projects Update (Part 2/2)"). It seems that the final recommendations for "Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Master Plan", to be disclosed on October 24*, will confirm this priority.

Reminder: Seoul's LRT plans
Here's a more detailed map zooming on the Seobu Line, including the extention to Seoul National University Station (see my focus for all details regarding the expected stations and scenarii):

Note that:
  • After all, Seobu Line could be connected with Subway Line 5 on Yeouido. Maybe my shout out helped...
  • Nothing about a potential connection between the future Yonsei U Station and the Sinchon train station. Works have started on Yonsei-ro, Seongsan-ro, and in front of Yonsei University (reminder: "Yonsei-ro the first street in Seoul to ban cars in its transportation mix"):
    • Until the end of this year, Maeul Bus Line 3 doesn't pass by Yonsei-ro, but draws a larger loop, near Ehwa University.
    • The green island created a couple of years ago on Seongsan-ro in front of Severance has been removed, probably to make room for the new major crossroads: since Yonsei-ro is to become car-free, more traffic will come not only to but from Sinchonyeok-ro (and via Yeonhui I.C., further to the West). I really wonder how they'll deal with bottlenecks when a big fish passes away in Severance Hospital.
    • Yonsei University seems to be opening a new gate between its soccer and baseball fields, which will relieve foot traffic at the main gate and towards the future LRT station... Bonus: I'll be spared a sweat when I come play soccer on week-ends (right now I have to carry my bike on a small staircase).  
  • Mayor PARK Won-soon plans to visit Gwanak-gu this week-end to show his support for a project that happens to be the most profitable both economically and politically... Again, upcoming elections have a lot to do with the revival of a program he lambasted his predecessor for.

Seoul Village 2013
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* see among other sources "경전철 서부선 연장" 17일 발표... 민자유치 필요" and "서울 철도 중심시대]서부선 '새절역-서울대입구역'" (Money Today 20131017)

Friday, October 4, 2013

Working on it

Sorry if I haven't posted much lately. I've been working on my paper about Hallyu (I'm on a panel later this month at Korea University).

And since my focus is on wave dynamics and on respecting the whole ecosystem, I had to go all the way to this remote spot in Langkawi, Malaysia:

Rare photo of the elusive Andaman Sea Monkey, here stretching its toes to mark a territory shared with - among other rare species - flying squirrels, flying lemurs, flying lizards, flying frogs, and flying snakes (NB: I didn't see any flying snakes during my stay, and the only flying frog I met was yours truly, in the A380 back home)

But even on these distant shores, I could feel the impact of the Great PSY Tsunami of 2012:

Even in , is following me. 

Seoul Village 2013
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