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Friday, May 27, 2016

"A shared responsibility to look directly in the eye of history", and a shared evasiveness

History will remember the first time a POTUS and a Japanese PM stood together in Hiroshima more than their empty words.

Hiroshima mon amour
As expected, Shinzo Abe delivered one of his trademark, crocodile-tearful, "History is harsh" speeches*, sparing us his usual fake excuses, because this time, he was not required to provide any. Today, Barack Obama chimed in by using similar smoke screens. And of course, without apologizing.

Yes, 'we have a shared responsibility to look directly in the eye of history', but don't count on us for saying that nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki was wrong, or that Imperial Japan committed war crimes that also need to be remembered.

The choice of a G7 host city is a fantastic opportunity to push a political agenda, and Hiroshima was a finalist for Shinzo Abe, who wants everybody to remember Japan as a pure victim, and to forget that it committed atrocities under the fascist regime he has, along with fellow members of Nippon Kaigi, pledged to restore**. Sorry, Mr Abe, but "No, you can't honor A-Bomb victims in Hiroshima AND War Criminals in Yasukuni".

In his wildest dreams, this incurable provocateur would have selected Yasukuni, but the international community would have condemned him vehemently. He settled for another controversial Shinto shrine he loves to visit as frequently as possible: Ise Grand Shrine doesn't honor war criminals, but it is also led by a eminent member of Nippon Kaigi. And a Japanese government is supposed to respect the separation of State and religion...

Don't forget that as far as extremist lobbies go, Abe follows Shinto Seiji Renmei as well as Nippon Kaigi, and that as a fundamentalist, he wants the restoration of State Shinto, and of the Emperor as the supreme religious and political leader. 

A few Japanese voices raised objections regarding the choice of Ise, but who's listening to the dwindling resistance of the local democracy?

Seoul Village 2016 
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* for last year's two masterpieces, see ""History is harsh" and other sick jokes" and "Decoding the Abe Statement: "why apologize for crimes Japan never committed?""
** see "Imperial Japan v. Japan" on blogules, or previous posts on Shinzo Abe, and most recently regarding the US-Japan conondrum: "Tokyo Trials on trial: after Japan, Abe forces the US to chose between Imperial Japan and postwar Japan"

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Feel The BAN

Each time BAN Ki-moon visits Korea, rumors of a presidential bid get louder, and this time has already set the bar even higher.

As we saw recently with that major 'bankimoonization' attempt (in "Descendants of the Sun(glasses)"), the first bullets have already been fired against a man whose popularity make all his rivals nervous.

Yet BAN owes more his popularity, in this utterly politically divided nation, to his no-drama style and prestigious job than to his substance. Actually, just days ago*, The Economist slammed BAN Ki-moon as "painfully ineloquent, addicted to protocol and lacking in spontaneity and depth", adding that he was "viewed as the dullest - and among the worst" U.N. Secretary-Generals. Ouch. Did they spare him a Godwin's Law moment only because one of his predecessors, Kurt Waldheim, already claimed it - and deservedly so?


Again, BAN has a lot to lose in joining the race for a job I wouldn't wish to my worst enemy. Furthermore, his commanding lead in the polls of last February has all but melted**. Should he still decide to run, he probably wouldn't announce it while in the most neutral of all offices, which would leave him almost a year to campaign until the 2017 elections.

Even if BAN has positioned himself above the right-and-left rift, he would need a real political machine to reach power, not just the personal foundation about to be established in his name (see "Speculations circle Ban’s presidential bid"), which will probably serve as a think tank and non-political vehicle.

As it happens, the leaderless Saenuri Party is looking for a uniting figure, particularly following its crushing defeat in recent legislative elections. Not everybody would welcome him there, and even conservative media like Chosun Ilbo mention The Economist's prosecution speech.

And as the ultimate kiss of death, more or less formal invitations to run for Saenuri have been issued by pro-PARK Geun-hye lawmakers, a godsend for rival parties, who can then say that if BAN runs now, that's under that highly unpopular and divisive banner.

That's exactly what PARK Jie-won did. An assembly leader representing the People's Party of AHN Cheol-soo, who also claims the 'uniter reaching across the aisle' sweet spot, PARK said: "BAN has considerable political ambitions, and if the pro-PARK Geun-hye faction in the ruling Saenuri Party rallies around him, he could run for president"***. In other words: if BAN runs, that's because he's not the one he says he is. 

PARK Jie-won's declaration was a bit more subtle than that of Seoul mayor PARK Won-soon, who all but advocated a 'BAN BAN' (as in 'ban BAN', not as in 'fifty-fifty' in Korean - 반반) by saying that BAN should respect the tradition of U.N. Secretary-Generals staying away from national governments after their mandates****.

Unlike AHN Cheol-soo, PARK Won-soon turned his critic in a negative way, and he delivered it himself instead of sending a lieutenant. Make it personal, or stay above the debate?

At least, to feed the buzz in Korea, you don't have to play it Trump-style.

Seoul Village 2016
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* see "Master, mistress or mouse?" (The Economist - 20160521)
** Yonhap-KBS (Feb 2016): BAN Ki-moon 28.3%, MOON Jae-in 17.9%. Realmeter (Apr 2016, right after the elections): MOON 42.8%, BAN 42.3% ("Moon, Ban in neck-and-neck race in poll")
*** "UN chief Ban could run for president under right conditions: opposition whip" (Yonhap News - 20160524)
**** "Seoul mayor says Ban should respect U.N. recommendation on political activities" (Yonhap News - 20160525)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Take a walk on the Seoul side

More good news for pedestrians in Seoul: 10 streets will undergo a "road diet" this year, and twice more shall follow every year.

By "road diet", the metropolitan government means slimmer, curvier, healthier streets, like in this example where one traffic lane is turned into sidewalks:

Now if you look at the first 10 streets, some have already great assets as neighborhood connectors, short yet scenic and / or gastronomic walkways, often already lined with trees. But many have little to tell, like the 'apateu' blocks surrounding them. 

Here's the list, starting with my favorite:

  • Saemunan-ro-5-gil (Jongno-gu): between Gwanghwamun and Gyeongbokgung stations, the first parallel to the left of Sejong-daero, backstage for the governmental buildings or the Sejong Cultural Center, but centerstage for such great eateries as my beloved Gwanghwamun-jip (yummy gimchi jjigae below). Redefined by the Four Seasons Seoul, it also signals the beginning of the Baekundongcheon diagonal (see "Baekundongcheon / Gwanghwamun-gil - A River Runs Through It"), and I wouldn't be surprised if that diagonal became car-free in the future...

  • Noksapyeong-daero-26-gil, Yongsan-gu: known for its antique shops, this elbow connects Noksapyeong-daero and Bogwang-ro.
  • Seongsuil-ro-10-gil, Seongdong-gu: a treeless diagonal between Seongsuil-ro and Achasan-ro, and one of the old royal hunting trails - you can tell them because they radiate from where the old stone bridge used to cross Cheonggyecheon / Jungnangcheon.
  • Dongil-ro, Gwangjin-gu: further to the West, Northeast Seoul's backbone follows Jungnangcheon from Yeongdong Bridge. Seoul starts with the Southern section, more interesting around Jayang-dong, but very challenging because of that ugly bridge landing.
  • Gwanak-ro-30-gil, Gwanak-gu: a stretch lined with trees between Gwanak-ro and Kkachisan Park
  • Opaesan-ro-3-gil, Seongbuk-gu: not much to see either between Naebu Expressway and Wolgye-ro, but you already have sidewalks and trees.
  • Nowon-ro-1ga-gil, Nowon-gu: a lower section of Gongneung-dong around the school
  • Guil-ro-10-gil, Guro-gu: between Anyangcheon and the pack of railways south of Guro Station (Line 1), in Guro-dong.
  • Yeouidaebang-ro-44-gil, Dongjak-gu: a scenic walk around Daebang-dong Community Center, and along Noryangjin Neighborhood Park
  • Nonhyeon-ro, Gangnam-gu: maybe the city wants to improve the shopping experience of Gangnamites along the vertical axis between Maebong, Yeoksam, Eonju, Hak-dong, and Apgujeong stations. Or to remind them that they have feet, and that they could, for a change, spare the driver and spoil the Jimmy Choos.
This announcement followed series of updates by the city of its urban plans for 2025 issued last Autumn, including this list of zones preserved from demolition and reconstruction within Sadaemun / the fortress walls (Ikseon-dong also included):

Of course, you first notice the spots that WILL be redeveloped, like the Sajikistan I mentioned recently ("The Yongsan itch and the Sajik balm"). And the extension of semi-protected zones around Seun Sangga (Jugyo-dong, Ojang-dong, and Chungmuro 5-ga prolonging the direct neighborhoods listed in the regeneration project), or along Jong-ro near Jongmyo (e.g. Inui-dong)...

... not to mention the irony of seeing the DDP in an area 'preserved from large-scale redevelopment'.

Seoul Village 2016
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Monday, May 2, 2016

Yeongdong-daero Underground City, Korea (YUCK?)

Last March, KEPCO surpassed Hyundai Motor in market capitalization (KRW 37 tn vs 34). Ironically, since Hyundai's financial trouble have something to do with their purchase from KEPCO, in September 2014, of prime land along Yeongdong-daero, for a whopping USD 10 bn.

As you know (e.g. Yeongdongwon focus in last year's "Diagonal crossings, High Lines, and Business Verticals (how pedestrians and businesses remodel Seoul... and vice-versa)"), that site will host the group's future HQ - Hyundai Motor Global Business Center - at the core of a redesigned COEX-Jamsil business district that will stretch over both sides of Tancheon stream (Samseong-dong and Daechi-dong in Gangnam-gu, Jamsil-dong in Songpa-gu), and grow what is already a significant transportation hub into a gigantic one.

Yesterday, Seoul Metropolitan Government released more details about that part of the puzzle, an 'underground city' to be delivered by 2021:
  • A big whale: 160,000 square meters under Yeongdong-daero (6 underground floors, 630 m long, 70 wide, 51 deep). Cost: KRW 1.169 tn
  • A multimodal hub: subway (Samseong Station on Line 2, Bongeunsa on Line 9), bus (including the City Air Terminal), express railways (GTX-A Samseong-Dongtan, GTX-C Uijeongbu-Samseong-Gunpo, KTX Northeast extension), LRT (Wirye-Sinsa Line - see "Seoul LRT Projects Update (Part 2/2)"). Expected gains in commuting times to Dongtan and City Hall: from respectively 41 and 29 mn by car, to 20 and 5 mn by rail

Views presented last year

The hub will also include various culture and service facilities, and a shopping area complementing the COEX Mall. Pedestrians shall have a better time navigating a space until now devoted to Car Almighty.

With its countless traffic lanes, Yeondong-daero looks like a pre-Gwanghwamun-plaza Sejongno on steroids, and this project seems to consider a similar, tree-less, tip-of-the-iceberg central walkway. But it's not as if masses will roam the surface like downtown: distances are even greater, and most of the fun will remain indoor. As nice as Bongeunsa is, it doesn't rival with Jongno landmarks and Bugaksan.

Still, this transport hub certainly looks less nightmarish than Banpo's Express Bus Terminal, because the Yeongdong-daero / Teheran-ro intersection is far less messy, and because you don't have 'apateu' blocks the scale of say a Banpo Xi. One can also hope that the user experience will be better thought through, more seamless.

How much this will cannibalize business from COEX Mall or Lotte World remains to be seen. But it's already adding trouble to the old business center of Gangnamistan: vacancy rates are expected to keep growing in Gangnam Business District (around Gangnamdae-ro and Teheran-ro at Gangnam Station), even if Hyundai Motor is moving in the time to build its new extravaganza.
Common sense, demographic and economic trends tend to make us think that a success story here would mean a failure somewhere else. And this zero-sum game leaves us every year with more infrastructures to fill.

Let's hope that this 'underground city', which unlike many pharaonic projects does have a purpose, won't be the vast magma chamber of a supervolcano bubble, but at least a successful transport hub.

Seoul Village 2016
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