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Friday, October 24, 2014

Haunting performances

Sunday Special: here's the video of Miyeon and Jechun's 'Cheong Alive', the opening concert of the 2014 Jeonju International Sori Festival I mentioned the other day (see "Cheong Alive, Jeonju Kicking"). Of course, it only conveys part of this amazing take at the great pansori 'Simcheongga':

0. 프롤로그 (Prologue) ~03;51
1. 아이고마누라 (Oh, My dear wife!) ~07;28
2. 삼배전대외동지어 (Mr. Sim carries a ramie bag on his left shoulder) ~09;04
3. 아버지듣조시오 (Please hear me out, father) ~14;04
4. 시비따라건너간다 (Go over Following the Maid) ~16;58
5. 중올라간다/네가바로심청이냐 (A buddhist monk passing by rescues Mr. Sim) ~22;37
6. 엇모리볼레로 (Dancing with Eotmori Bolero) ~27;25
7. 비나이다 (Cheong prays for Father) ~30;14
8. 우리는 남경장사 선인으로 (We are sailors doing business with the Chinese) ~32;45
9. 아이고 아버지/허허이게 웬일이여 (Father, do not worry about me - What would I see if you sell yourself to open my eyes?) ~37;22
10. 따라간다 (Cheong follows the sailors) ~41;52
11. 범피중류 (Drifting Along in the Sea) ~44;03
12. 한곳을 당도하니 (Cheong reaches Indang Water) ~50;32
13. 북놀음 (Drumming for Cheong) ~56;05
14. 닻감아라 (The Sailors Sigh song) ~57;24
15. 위의도 장헐시구 (The dragon king is delighted to see Cheong) ~01;01;42
16. ALIVE (Cheong ALIVE) ~01;03;50
17. 이 잔치를 배설키는 (Wishing for reunion with father) ~01;06;49
18. 아이고 내 자식아 (Cheong's father sighs) ~01;09;38
19. 예예 소맹인 아뢰리다 (Mr. Sim Opens His Eyes) ~01;14;39
20. 에필로그 (Epilogue) ~01;18;17

I'm still haunted by the music leading Cheong to the sea, and announcing the janggu drummers.

And ever since last spring, I've also been haunted by PARK Jeong-ja's voice and performance in Incheon's Namdong Arts Hall. In this theatrical interpretation of KIM Byeol-ah's "Farewell Forever and Ever, Farewell Forever" ("영영이별 영이별"), she is Princess Jeongsun, the wife of King Danjong, at a turning point in Korean history. About the story of this king that never was and the Korea that never was, see "King Danjong and Korea's Curse".

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Gwanghwamun, Donhwamun, and the Tale of two Royal Roads

Seoul is about to renovate the two streets leading to its main royal gates: Sejong-daero (Gwanghwamun, Gyeongbokgung's gate) and Donhwamun-ro (Donhwamun, Changdeokgung's gate). Needless to say, these are key locations, and authorities have to make sure that they do it right, and that to start with, there is a consistent and sustainable vision for Seoul's future.

In the case of Sejong-daero, the idea is to attach Gwanghwamun Square to the Western side, which somehow means a return to the initial plan of a wider area in front of the Sejong Cultural Center. The main motivation seems to be money: the massive foot traffic on the square would generate much more revenue there. Why not indeed? Let's see what it means when you consider the two most likely scenarii:
  • If the plaza is extended westwards: 6 lanes of traffic will disappear, and I'm perfectly okay with that, but only if all impacts are taken into account, and I'm not sure that's the case. To be consistent, Seoul authorities must have a clear strategy to reduce car traffic downtown - like most major cities. Unfortunately, several projects (e.g. from Jahamun to the Yulgok Tunnel) seem bound to generate more bottlenecks in a near future.
  • If a new plaza is built to the west instead of the central one: we are back to square(!) one and a huge highway in the middle of the city - 12 lanes of traffic! It would destroy not only Seoul's most valuable perspective (Sejongdaero-Gwanghwamun-Gyeongbokgung-Bugaksan-Bukhansan), but also Seoul's most vital pedestrian connector downtown (see links at the end of this post).
(addendum 20141025) Rendering of the project where the Gwanghwamun Plaza is moved westwards, recreating the central highway that used to ruin downtown Seoul (source "광화문광장, 세종문화회관 쪽으로 이전 추진" (Hankyoreh 20140930). A total urban disaster, but maybe the actual aim of the game is to prevent demonstrations, the only case where it would make sense (much easier to close the area with much fewer troops).
I'm against the plan to move Gwanghwamun Plaza next to Sejong Center: makes more money, but destroys royal perspective + cars rule again - 20141011


In the case of Donhwamun-ro, the idea is to boost tourism in a major but under-exploited historic neighborhood. A couple of years ago, I applauded the planned destruction of the two gas stations that faced the gate, but also shared concerns about the impacts of the Yulgok Tunnel on area. In this case, I'm at the same time glad that, at long last, the Changdeokgung-Jongmyo axis is considered as a key asset, and very much worried about how the whole project could backfire if handled carelessly: this is typically one of these time capsules you want to deal with carefully. How to revive the area without 'bukchonizing' it, without creating an artificial touristic hotspot and worse, a short-lived speculation heaven?

This area has already significantly evolved over the past decade. Here are the neighborhoods directly concerned:
  • At the center, covering Donhwamun-ro itself: Waryong-dong and Myo-dong (the former also includes large sections of the palace, and even a part of Jongmyo - otherwise mostly in the Hunjeong-dong sphere). 
  • To the north: Wonseo-dong and the Palace
  • To the west, towards Unhyeongung and Insa-dong: Unni-dong, Nagwon-dong, Donui-dong, and the already endangered Ikseon-dong.
  • To the east, towards Jongmyo: Gwonnon-dong, Bongik-dong
  • To the south: Jongno-3-ga and Cheonggyecheon
Let's see this new project* in details:
  • Where the gas stations used to be, an exhibition hall for traditional culture and a Gugak Arts Center will be constructed, creating a hanokish triangle with the gate. How to feed these cultural venues without depriving existing structures remains to be seen, but it's clearly a much more UNESCO-friendly scenery than the love motels behind.
  • The 600 m stretch between Donhwamun and Cheonggyecheon will be "reconstructed", and I'm afraid this street could lose its vintage charm. This is a perfectly proportioned street lined with old trees, so please don't try to 'reconstruct' it. You wouldn't want to ruin everything the Jogyesa-way (its streetside now a sanitized disneyland), or even the Jeongdong-gil-way (see the "Jeongdong-kill" asphalt mess). On the positive side, Donhwamun-ro could become pedestrian, like Yonsei-ro**. 

Seoul should remember that it put the restoration of its fortress on hold because the UNESCO didn't think that it hadn't been done properly until then... the priority here is to secure the area from speculative alterations.

Joseon Seoul: in today's KJD, more on the restoraion of Donhwamun Royal Road - 20141023
Bonus: it would be nice to avoid the usual touristic fakes. I'm shivering just thinking about yet another embarrassing costumed reenactment. You know, after the changing of the guards at Deoksugung or Gyeongbokgung, something like 'watch the King perform his royal walk along the royal road'?

That's okay if you want to entertain duty-free shoppers on Incheon Airport's Airstar Avenue, but don't you think Changdeokgung and Jongmyo deserve something better?


See also:

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* "Royal road in Seoul will be restored" (Korea JoongAng Daily 2014/10/23)
** see "Yonsei-ro the first street in Seoul to ban cars in its transportation mix"

---UPDATE 20141025---
I added an illustration of the future Gwanghwamun Plaza, which clearly shows the return to a central highway.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cheong Alive, Jeonju Kicking

Last week, we had a fantastic time in a Jeonju blessed with a perfect weather... 

Autumn in Jeonju, Jeollabuk-do - 20141010
... and a perfect alibi for returning to that lovely city: the 2014 Jeonju International Sori Festival (see links below).

Official poster of the 2014 JISF (Oct. 8-12) -
I was specially looking forward to watching 'Cheong Alive', the opening concert:

Cheong Alive (淸 ALIVE), the inaugural concert
I knew that PARK Jechun and Miyeon would give their best, not only for Jeonju and Korea, but also for the country's younger generations and for the future, particularly in the wake of the Sewol tragedy. They delivered such an incredibly powerful creation that we came back the following night to watch it again, this time with 600 Korean kids in the audience.

'Cheong' is the SIM Cheong of Simcheongga, a great pansori classic that had already been adapted and updated in countless ways (some of which quite stimulating, like in "Bitter, Sweet Seoul"). In the story, the daughter of SIM sacrificed herself for her father, but comes back from the depths of the sea to become an Empress.

It took guts to cast only young pansori singers for the opening ceremony of such a prestigious festival, but the young talents were up to the task, and 'Cheong Alive' follows on from a long tradition, without forgetting to honoring pansori greats. Master KIM Cheong-man, the janggu player in that amazing 'Yeourak' Super Session (see "In the zone with Miyeon and Park Je chun"), even chaperons the younger generation during a multisensorial experience that's much more than a concert, an opera, and a musical wrapped in one. Bridging generations and lifting pansori to new territories, Miyeon's music claims you from the first to the last second, and keeps haunting you long afterwards.

'Cheong Alive', an amazing pansori musical for the Sori Festival opening ceremony in Jeonju. Bravo Park Jechun and Miyeon!
20141008 -
Mind you, I also crave for more traditional pansori, and loved KIM Yeon's take at another one of the five surviving great stories of pansori, Heungbuga, where humor plays a much larger role.


But the Sori Festival is not just Korea's best festival for traditional music, and if Songlines lists it among the 25 best in the world, that's also because it is truly international, and proposes very high quality music that don't often reach Korean shores (that's all about heralding cultural diversity, remember?*). I'm sure Jechun loved the incredible percussionists in these Iranian and Armenian groups:

From Iran, Sialk Ensemble - 20141010

Duduk music from Armenia - 20141010

The beauty of having festival venues, cultural assets, and great eateries scattered across the hanok village is that you can always find quiet or busy spots, depending on your mood:
Visitors and characters from all horizons roaming Jeonju hanok village. Sori Festival full throttle - 20101009
Aaah Jeonju... special mention for the doenjang (with the zucchini leaves, bottom left) - #koreanfood - 20141010

Of course, beyond the festival and the hanok maeul, there's a lot to see in Jeonju. 

The Nambu market deserves a triple visit for its outdoor street along Jeonjucheon, its covered section, and its trendier upper floor.

Jeonju Nambu Market - 20141010
On the other side of the river, Dongseohak-dong is evolving into a arty neighborhood full of new cultural hotspots, but like in many other parts of the city, original vintage shop signs are preserved, and sometimes old trades, such as this time-capsulesque cushion puffing place:
One of Korea's few surviving cushion puffing services, in Jeonju - 20141011
We went on to an amazing trip across Southern Korea, but more about that later.

I'm very glad I could enjoy Jeonju with old and new friends, and wish Chip were there as well, to taste the makgeolli we prepared together last July for the festival inauguration:

Preparing makgeolli with friends last July (see "Soriju seems to be the sweetest word")


See all posts related to Jeonju and to the Sori Festival, including:

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* talking about waves and shores, see "Heralding cultural diversity - a stronger and more sustainable Korean wave (Part I)", Part II, Part III

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Happy Seoul

Back to Seoul! Let's celebrate with a new Happy video following Pharrell Williams' footsteps. This one features more walks of life (from monks to expats), more sites (from Bukchon to Mecenatpolis or the Floating Island), and far fewer product placements than a PSY video (no, the tribute to Gangnam Style doesn't count)!

YouTube-wise, this version is quickly catching up with the previous leading version, with 37,000 views since September 30, compared to 56,000 since March 14 for the 'Happy' featuring Hong Seok-cheon:

At that level too, we're not in PSY territory, but it's really great to see Seoul clap along!

#HappySeoul on Facebook:

Because I'm happy to see so many faces and places represented.

I'll add a final clap to a yet older video. Also made in Seoul, also based on music. Not from the megastar Pharrell Williams, but from the Icelandic group Sigur Rós. The title, "VARÚÐ", means "caution", and the video (by Nils Clauss with Namui Park) will move you in different ways. I want you to follow this homeless living in the park behind Yongsan Station until the very end of the credits, because that's also about feeling "like a room without a roof", feeling "like happiness is the truth", knowing "what happiness is to you", feeling "that's what you wanna do":

SIGUR RÓS | VARÚÐ. music video from Nils Clauss on Vimeo.

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