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Thursday, July 9, 2020

Mayor Park to ground control

Seoul Mayor PARK Won-soon was found dead right after midnight last night in what appears to be a suicide triggered by accusations of sexual assaults. His body was found with the help of police dogs in a park near Sukjeongmun, in the Seongbuk-gu where he resided. The city of Seoul will hold mayoral funerals, and he shall rest in peace on Monday.

Suicide is always a tragedy, and I feel sorry for PARK, but I feel even more sorry for victims who won't get justice, since his death means all cases are now dropped. So it's up to the medias to investigate, or to the victims to come forward if they find enough courage to do so without the full framework of justice.
As all mayors, PARK leaves a mixed legacy, and as I did with his predecessors / as I will try to do with his successors, I didn't spare him with praise or criticism. If I welcomed PARK's late conversion to urbanism, and focus on urban regeneration, I disliked his doubletalk in favor of wealthy speculators and neighborhoods (not only in Gangnam and Yongsan), or his recent u-turn to reprioritize high-rise approaches. As I pointed out in the past, where Seoul mayors tend to boast 'hardware' realizations (Cheonggyecheon for LEE Myung-bak, Gwanghwamun Square for OH Se-hoon, Seoullo 7017 for PARK Won-soon), their main achievements may be on a more 'software' side: dedicated bus lanes for LEE, rebalancing budgets from wealthy areas to (re)vitalize the deprived ones for OH, and opening the big data flows for PARK (a sharing approach he prolonged during this coronavirus pandemic).

When I heard that Seoul mayor was missing, as the drama unfolded live on TV, as the rumor mill started to grind, I wondered like everyone what was happening. PARK Won-soon flying away for a scandal, that didn't surprise me at all. But PARK Won-soon perpetrating sordid sex abuses, or committing suicide, I would never have expected that.

While guessing which scandal he was trying to escape, I imagined all potential threads including the wildest conspiracy theories, from another Yonsei story (following the scandal surrounding his son, the prime estate sold by the city to the university for a song...) to a brush with Seoul underworld (suspiciously, seedy businesses were twice overly protected during the pandemic). Yet I would never have pictured him as a sexual predator. As for his disappearance, until the end I thought he planned a Houdini escape, his trek to the mountain a red herring cleverly mirroring ROH Moo-hyun's last moments. I truly believed that PARK Won-soon was too imbued with himself to kill himself. I was totally wrong, and that made me think again about what I thought I knew of the man.

The first time I remember meeting him was in 2009, with other members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission when they were digging in directions that - to say the least - didn't always make ultra-conservatives very happy. The voices of victims were rising after decades of silence, and not long afterwards, LEE Myung-bak would torpedo the institution, derailing dynamics badly needed for Korea to start its healing. PARK looked focused and a bit shy, probably because the discussions were in English. Anyway, very different from the flamboyant Mayor I'd meet years later in many occasions (of course I don't think he'd remember well this guy among all the faces he came across).

This populist got a lucky break in politics when OH Se-hoon shot himself in the foot, but he was great at campaining, building support from the youth, and making top down initiatives look as if they popped up from citizens.

I remember a man who obviously could not bear not being likable, not looking young (he eventually fixed those recurring complaints about receding hair). Even his irrepressible presidential ambitions, never tamed by mediocre national polls, could become touching, pathetic.

More accessible than his predecessor (a different kind of narcissist), PARK was a genial host, particularly warm with journalists, media, and bloggers. Obsessed with photo ops to the point he created a mock office in city hall, this PR junkie was regularly mocked at by the way he called camera crews ahead of his 'spontaneous', 'selfless' shows. He could be quite direct about what he expected from you (your vote, your public praise), but didn't retaliate if you didn't play the game. Well this kind of games at least... I may be speculating again, but we know insecure narcissists have dark sides.

For sure, if PARK Won-soon often defended very noble causes, he can't and shouldn't be compared to ROH Moo-hyun.

His fall rather echoes that of AHN Hee-jung, and yesterday I couldn't help but remember the 2017 images of MOON Jae-in, PARK Won-soon, and AHN Hee-jung on that Gwanghwamun podium on victory night.

PARK's scandal happens at the very moment MOON is lambasted for sending AHN, for the funerals of his mother, flowers paid with taxpayers money; at the very moment the icon who for decades composed the soundtrack of Korea's democratic movements, AHN Chi-hwan, releases 'Irony', a song criticizing harshly self-proclaimed progressives who have turned not only into conservatives for their own power, but into existential threats to the democracy they are supposed to have fought for as activists (thinking of you, CHO Kuk, YOON Mee-hyang, and even you, at the very top).

We all have our greatnesses, weaknesses, and contradictions, but there are lines not to cross, particularly when you hold power. Even if it ends up with yet another suicide, yet more impunity for sexual abuses, may this tragedy help Korean politicians be less tempted to fail as humans.

"Just a few files to sort before Christmas, and we're back to you! (with @wonsoonpark in #Seoul City Hall)
" (20131224 -
"Good!" (20131224 - PWS's answer, from his former Twitter account - @wonsoonpark)

Seoul Village 2020
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Sunday, July 5, 2020

'Jeronimo' and beyond

Frankly, 'Jeronimo' should be screened in every Korean high school. I'm not saying that because the director, Joseph JUHN, happens to be a friend - his documentary deservedly received awards and critical acclaim, and even praise from the President in Cheong Wa Dae. 'Jeronimo' has a rare power to move and to change people, starting with Joseph himself, as he kept discovering new layers of a very rich character, and of the wonderful Korean diaspora in Cuba.

You may not have watched the documentary yet, or even heard of Jeronimo Lim, so I won't give any spoilers. Know that there's everything; between History (slavery, independence, revolution etc), his story, their love story, and so much more.

I saw how 'Jeronimo' moved and impacted diverse audiences in different contexts, not just here, and not just Koreans - be they from this or that side of the DMZ, of multicultural background, or from different parts of the Korean diaspora. Because this is not just about the Korean identity (koreanity? koreanness? koreanhood?), and certainly not about nationalism, to the contrary! Beyond this touching community, beyond the longing and belonging, this is about humanity, inclusive, universal kinship.

Even after five screenings, I'm always moved. And now I almost see Jeronimo Lim, Cheon-taek, Patricia, Nelsonito, and all the others as family.

In Paris, after a screening on Joseph's European tour, in the new Centre Culturel Coreen, we could see people from very different nationalities in the audience feel a personal connection, an echo to their own families.

I believe this documentary should be screened in every Korean high school because it can change in a very positive manner the way Koreans consider not only their own diaspora, but the diasporas they don't even suspect exist in Korea**.

"#Jeronimo's international tour in #Paris - screening at the new #CentreCulturelCoreen. Always a pleasure,  #JosephJuhn!
#헤로니모" (20200220 - @theseoulvillage -
The other day in Insadong, at KOTE***, Joseph JUHN gave a talk about the Korean diasporas of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Diasporas that, in the States, are on the streets to support #BlackLivesMatter, 28 years after the L.A. riots. Doing the right thing 31 years after Spike Lee's movie. Diasporas ready to become agents of positive change, within their communities and beyond. 

So (re)watch 'Jeronimo' on YouTube (, on Vimeo, or on your PPV platform (and check the website:

Seoul Village 2020
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** not to mention the diasporas some of them don't want to start existing - see the sad episode of the Yemeni refugees, when hundreds of thousands petitioned for their expulsion, but also when more than  a few demonstrated to defend their rights.

*** Note that the first 'KOTE Dialog' honored another gifted friend, documentary photographer Harry CHUN. Come to think of it, I first met Joseph and Harry the same year, in 2016. Joseph was about to return to Cuba for his documentary, and Harry was planning a different kind of emotional journey, embarking with refugees on their way to and across Europe. Harry exhibited some of his stunning works at Sejong Cultural Center a few weeks ago (for the World Refugee Day Photograph Exhibition with UNHCR and UPI). Here too, a powerful mirror for everyone because each one of us can become a refugee tomorrow, and a particularly needful one in a nation that doesn't welcome many refugees.

#HarryChun #vernissage @ #SejongCenter. #세계난민사진전 #난민 #refugees
#harrychungphotography'' (20200617 -

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