Tag Archives: Seoul

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Mysterious Sinkholes Could Slow Construction of Korea’s Tallest Skyscraper

by TONY KIM

The emergence of multiple sinkholes throughout Seoul, including ones along the streets where the Lotte World Tower is being built, has raised public concern about the safety and soundness of the construction of Korea’s tallest building-to-be.

Officials from the Lotte Group didn’t seem to have an explanation for the mysterious depressions, one of which measures half a meter wide and 20 centimeters deep, and was found about 500 meters from the construction site, according to AP.

“We are working on an investigation of sinkholes, but it will take some time to figure out what’s going on,” Seulki Lee, a spokesperson for the Lotte Group, told CNN.

Lee said that Lotte engineers believe that the tower’s construction is unrelated to the appearance of the sinkholes, but that’s hardly a comfort to the public.

After pictures of the sinkholes started circulating via social media, and especially in light of the Sewol disaster that raised concern over public safety in Korea, government officials are responding to the problem with caution—a response that threatens to stall the construction project. More than half of the floors of the 123-story, 1,824-feet-high tower have already been constructed. Once finished, in 2016, the Lotte tower–to house a hotel, office space and apartments—will be the sixth tallest building in the world.

But Seoul government officials appear to be prioritizing the safety issue, even over the progress of such a large-scale development. Last month, in an unusual step, the Seoul government formed an advisory committee made up of engineers, scholars, attorneys, architects and environmentalists and asked them to submit their opinions about the Lotte tower project, AP reported. The city even rejected Lotte’s request to open a shopping mall that is part of the development, noting that safety and traffic issues needed to be addressed first.

“After Sewol, the public’s sentiment has taken a turn to stress safety over any other values including economic development,” engineering professor Park Chang-kun, who sits on the tower’s advisory committee, told AP.

Further adding suspicion around the Lotte project is the fact that water levels in a nearby lake fell from 16.5 feet to 14 feet, according to various media reports. Park told AP that, while touring the Lotte construction, he saw water pooling in the sixth basement of the building and said that it could very well be from the lake. He said that “water circulation underground could have accelerated due to the construction.”

There are several possible causes of sinkholes, including water that might be dissolving land covered by limestone or gypsum; surface drainage or erosion; and construction, which can indirectly cause the holes by diverting groundwater pumping.

In the past five years,  133 sinkholes have appeared in Seoul, according to Arirang TV.

Photo via the Korea Times

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Families Demand Sewol Inquiry, Refuse to Leave Protest Encampment During Pope’s Visit

by JULIE HA

The families protesting outside of South Korea’s National Assembly say they only want the truth.

“We want to know how our children died. That’s all,” Park Yong-woo told the Washington Post.

The math teacher’s daughter drowned in the April 16 ferry sinking that took the lives of 304 people, including two-thirds of a high school class that was on a school trip.

For three weeks, Park, other victims’ families and their supporters have been camped out in tents set up on Gwanghwamun Plaza in central Seoul in an effort to pressure lawmakers to pass a bill that would allow for a comprehensive and independent inquiry into the tragedy. Many of the protestors are also participating in a hunger strike; today marks the 24th day into the strike, the Post reported.

The proposed legislation has been stalled in the National Assembly, as the dueling political parties continue to clash over what legal powers the inquiry should have, according to AFP. With heavy public criticism of the government over the ferry accident—for lax safety regulations that reportedly led to a severely overloaded ferry and ineffective rescue operations by the Coast Guard—there is a feeling among the protestors that the truth might never be revealed.

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Above: Sit-in protesters, including relatives of the Sewol ferry disaster, striking workers and disabled people hold a joint press conference urging Pope Francis to pray with them at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul. Photo via AFP.

But the families’ persistent presence in the public square is becoming a growing concern for some lawmakers, as the nation gets ready to welcome Pope Francis, whose visit marks the first papal visit in 25 years. One ruling party member controversially compared the protestors to “homeless people” recently, complaining that it’s “not desirable” to have them camped out outside the National Assembly.

But protestors have said they will “fight back” if authorities try to remove them from the Seoul plaza, where Francis is scheduled to hold an open-air mass on Aug. 16, expected to draw huge crowds.

AFP reported that the protestors have been in touch with the Catholic Church about their presence in the plaza. Park, the grieving father, also told reporters that he sent a letter to Pope Francis that read, in part: “Holy Father, please cry with us here together. Please pray for us and protect us from being swept off the square in the name of preparing your mass.”

The preparatory committee for Francis’ visit said the Catholic leader is expected to meet with bereaved families and survivors of the ferry disaster.

Top photo: In this July 22 photo, Sewol victims’ families taking part in hunger strike, receive intravenous therapy, upon the advice of a medical team. Photo via The Hankyoreh.

 

 

Pope Francis Holds His Weekly General Audience

Pope Francis to Beatify 124 Martyrs During His First Visit to Korea

by TONY KIM

On December 8, 1791, the royal court beheaded Paul Yun Ji-Chung and his nephew James Kwon for burning their ancestral tablet out of obedience to a Catholic decree by then-Bishop A. Gouvea of Beijing. Ten years later, hundreds more Catholics would be executed and exiled due to their religious faith, which was seen as a threat to the Confucian social hierarchy strictly adhered to in Korea at the time.

When Pope Francis visits Korea this month, he will beatify Paul Yun Ji-Chung, known as Korea’s first martyr, and his 123 martyr companions executed in the 19th century.

Beatification is a formal declaration by the Pope that the recipient is in heaven and followers may pray to him or her. It is the third step in a four-step process of canonization, which results in sainthood of a religious figure.

Despite such early persecution, today there is a sizable Korean Catholic population, which has risen to more than 5 million followers, and observers say this is mainly attributable to the remarkable perseverance of Catholic laypeople. Estimates say that more than 10,000 Korean followers were killed for their faith throughout the 19th century alone. Authorities also tried to prevent the spread of the faith by banning Catholic texts, then available in both Korean and Chinese, according to an article by the Catholic News Agency.

In 1984, then-Pope-now-Saint John Paul II, at a mass canonizing 103 Korean martyrs, said this about them: “This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution … the years 1791, 1801, 1827, 1839, 1846 and 1866 are forever signed with the holy blood of your martyrs and engraved in your hearts.”

During Pope Francis’ stay in Korea, from August 14 to 18, he will also visit President Park Geun-hye at the Blue House, the Shrine of the Martyrs of Seo So Mun and a rehabilitation center for disabled people in Kkottongnae. He will participate in Asian Youth Day, an event expected to bring together more than a thousand young people from 29 countries to “walk together, in the world of today, as witnesses, with Jesus and the martyrs,” according to organizers

Francis’ visit to Korea will be the first papal visit to Asia since 1989, when John Paul II went to Azerbaijan. John Paul II traveled to Korea on two occasions: in the spring of 1984 and the fall of 1989.

Although John Paul II, who survived an assassination attempt, was known for riding in the famous, bulletproof Popemobile, Francis prefers more modest vehicles—and requested a small, Korean-made car while traveling in the country. He’s reportedly getting a Kia Soul.

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Korea For The First Time: Q&A With The Guardian Writer Colin Marshall

by STEVE HAN

A white guy living in L.A. like it’s Seoul. That’s Colin Marshall. Living in the Koreatown district of Los Angeles, a city where people drive to the park to take a walk, his main form of transportation is his two feet.

Marshall recently traveled across South Korea, from Seoul to Changwon to Busan, for six weeks and wrote a five-part series for The Guardian about his observations of the country. It was the Seattle native’s first time visiting Korea, though his depth of knowledge on its culture and current events makes him seem like a frequent visitor there, if not a native.

Marshall, 29, speaks conversational Korean. He has been studying the language ever since he got hooked on Korean films during his youth.

Other than writing for The Guardian, he hosts and produces travel podcast Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes for Los Angeles Review of Books, Bookforum, Open Culture, Put This On, The Japan Foundation, The Millions3QuarksdailyThe Quarterly Conversation and Maximum Fun.

I met with Marshall, who had just returned from Korea, at a Koreatown cafe, and he shared his thoughts on Korea’s forward-thinking disposition, disregard for red lights and why the East Asian nation is “so close” to being the perfect country.

How was Korea?
That was actually my first time, but it wasn’t really surprising to me. I’ve been living in Koreatown here and studying Korean and all that, so it wasn’t like a shock. I was already familiar with the surroundings. People say that Koreatown here is like Seoul of 20 years ago. I saw a lot of similarities. In a way, some Koreans here are actually more conservative than the ones in Korea. They come to America and keep the level of conservatism they had back home, whereas the country itself has gotten more progressive.

You were born and raised in Seattle. What made you want to move to Koreatown in L.A.?
Language practice and Korean food. It’s also the densest neighborhood in L.A. That affords you a lot of advantages. I can walk everywhere. It’s usually walking, train or biking.

You’ve traveled in and written about London, Copenhagen, Osaka and Mexico City. What’s special about Korea?
Seoul is always forward-thinking and changing. That’s really nice. To an extent, it’s almost bothersome because the past isn’t always bad [laughs]. But to better understand that, you have to realize that to Korea, the past is poverty. It’s unpleasant. So it’s always looking forward. Europe is all about protecting what’s already there. And what’s there is often pretty nice, too. I mean, in London, a couple of those subway lines are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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Pictured above: Colin Marshall

Oh, and I’ve never been in a place where people run as many red lights [laughs]. The attitude towards the law in Korea is a little different from the one you see here. The law in Korea for most of the 20th century was laid out by the military dictatorship and the Japanese, always trying to hold people down. The law there isn’t [perceived] as something liberating like it is in America. In America, we’re almost too scared of the law. In some ways, Koreans are freer. Being able to drink outside! That’s something! Also, you can get into any one of the coffee shops, leave all your stuff there, laptops, iPhones, whatever. And nothing will ever get stolen. Not that there aren’t property crimes there, but it’s pretty minor. Here, your bike seats will get stolen!

Anything you noticed from your interactions with people there?
The young people there, they’re both way more mature and way less mature at the same time than the twentysomethings here. None of them are dicking around in life. They want to start life. But when you talk to some of them about their plans, it’s almost as if you’re talking to a 14-year-old. I’ve never heard this anywhere, but some girls there will say, “I want to get married. I just want to be married.” But they have no idea who they want to get married to. Talking to the twentysomethings there, sometimes they’re way more mature than me, but sometimes it feels like they’re still in middle school. So it evens out in the end [laughs].

Then there’s the nightlife. That’s real, of course. There’s this social thing where if you’re meeting up with somebody at 5 p.m., you’re with that person until the end, until you’re drunk. Nobody there makes plans saying, “I’m meeting up with this person for dinner, and then somebody else at night.” And, of course, there’s so much eating and drinking involved.

Were there things that you preferred not to see while you were there?
The first day I was in Seoul, I was looking for coffee, but I didn’t go into the first four coffee shops I saw because they were inside a plastic surgery clinic. And in the subway, I wished I didn’t understand Korean when I saw all these plastic surgery ads. I think it bothers Koreans too in a way. Obviously, not everyone wants to get plastic surgery, but enough of them are having these moments where it’s like, “I didn’t want to do this, but everybody says I’ll get a better job if I do it, so screw it, I’ll just do it.” It’s that “screw it” thing. I feel like Koreans get bad reputation for being mindlessly conforming when the reality of the problem seems more like people saying, “I don’t want to have this hassle, so I’ll just go along with what everyone else is doing.”

Which makes me wonder, what are your thoughts, as a foreigner, about Korea’s reputation with regard to plastic surgery ?
I’ve heard some people tell me that they don’t necessarily want to look better, but they prefer to look more similar to each other. I realized that’s true because Korean people don’t look the same, but Korean celebrities do. And that’s probably through surgery.

It’s a very Korean thing to look for textbook answers to everything. So even in terms of appearances and looks, I’m under the impression that some Koreans feel like there’s a way you should look.
But I can see the security that comes with having answers. It’s something I hear a lot in conversations with foreigners who live there. They tell me, “Here, there’s the right way and the wrong way.” People grew up there thinking that there are certain ways to do things. They study in hagwon until midnight, because if they don’t, they’ll fall behind. I do consider the phenomenons with the hagwon system and plastic surgery as sort of like this same thing. With hagwons, no one really benefits from it. When kids get perfect scores on an English exam in Korea, that doesn’t mean they can speak English. They would have to practice conversations, but they don’t, usually. Because it’s not even about learning English. It’s about getting above the others.

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I think it’s about time we talk about some positives. What were they?
If you look at the progress that Korea has made, it’s really impressive. But they’re burning so much energy on competition with each other. If that energy was directed at something bigger, Korea could be even more impressive. I met some foreigners who lived long-term in Korea. A lot of them say that this is so close to perfect country. That’s the consensus, so close to a perfect country. Korea is very convenient, the proximity to everything and the public transportation there. And Korea is just not expensive, even in the most expensive places there, especially compared to Los Angeles. And people there are generally very nice.

Koreans are known to be very nationalistic. Did you sense that as well when you were engaged in conversations with people there?
It’s hard to interpret for me. Korea has brashness, which isn’t the same thing as confidence. There’s also a bit of an insecurity, like the way they’ve really wanted to get rid of the past, although that’s changing a lot among the younger generation. There’s this sense of pride and shame at the same time. There’s a shared weakness in a way, like, “We’ve been a weak country. We’ve been invaded and colonized. So we have to stick together.” But now, Korea is strong. I’m just not sure if the people know how to act strong yet. When you become strong by correcting your weaknesses, what do you do when you’re finally strong? But kids that are being born there now, they’re already being raised with a perspective that enables them to see what’s already good and what needs fixing in Korea. It’s hard not to be optimistic, really.

Marshall’s series on South Korea for The Guardian:
DAY 1 A glimpse into the future of world cities
DAY 2 From alien spaceship to discount socks
DAY 3 Welcome to Paju Book City, the South Korean town inspired by Hay-on-Wye
DAY 4 From Seoul to Changwon, in search of the world’s best bike-share scheme
DAY 5 Busan, South Korea’s ‘city of tomorrow,’ is most interesting for its past

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Seoul Transforms Urban Eyesores Into Creative, Artistic Spaces

by RUTH KIM

An unused factory, a vacated government building, an abandoned commercial space—all are considered eyesores for a city. But, more and more, such sites in Seoul are being replaced by “creative spaces” that that may be ushering in an artistic renaissance for the city, while also fighting urban blight.

Sindang Creative Arcade, for example, today is home to artists who do work in pottery, textiles, photography and other crafts, and have access to 41 workstations. But before this transformation, the place was described as a “dungeon” located in the underground shopping center of the Joongang Traditional Market in Sindang-dong, which had teemed with small businesses a decade ago but had long been empty.

The Sindang Creative Arcade is one of nine “creative spaces” created by the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture, an arm of the Seoul Metropolitan Government. Each creative space boasts a central theme that inspires the project. The Yeonhui Writer’s Village hosts writers’ rooms and a literary media lab, while the Seongbuk Art Creativity Center, built at an old community health center, focuses on healing-by-art programs.

Artist Ann Hyun-suk led the Folding Zip House project last year at the Seongbuk Center. It was a campaign with both artistic, as well as economic and humanistic value, as participants worked to transform old, donated clothes into sleeping bags for the homeless, according to the Korea Herald. The project promoted healing for everyone involved, from the citizens who donated their clothes for a good cause to the homeless who came “to realize that they are not neglected,” said the article.

Such projects represent an effort “rooted in a ‘culturenomics’ goal,” according to a statement from the Seoul foundation. The strategy is to recycle “underutilized urban facilities and resources,” while also supporting artists and benefiting Seoul citizens at large. The overarching goal: to transform Seoul into a “creative cultural city.”

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Before and after photos of the underground section of the Joongang Traditional Market (via Korea Herald).

Artists can access these creative spaces by submitting an application and paying a minimal fee, while also committing to certain obligations, such as helping set up public programs, according to the Korea Herald article.

“Artists are foremost in need of a space where they can engage in artistic endeavors,” Ahn Kyung-hee, one of the artists in residence at the Sindang Creative Arcade, told the Korea Herald. And once these artists can realize their artistic aspirations in these spaces, they can foster a creative relationship with the public.

 

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As part of the Folding Zip House Project, led by the Seongbuk Art Creativity Center, donated clothes were made into sleeping bags

for the homeless. The sleeping bags were displayed at the center’s gallery prior to their distribution. (Via Korea Herald)

Top photo via HansHostel.net

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Miss Korea 2014: ‘The Crown Feels Very Heavy’

by TONY KIM

Today Ewha University student Kim Seo-yeon beat out 49 other contestants to be crowned this year’s Miss Korea at the Olympic Hall in Seoul, according to the Korea Herald. The 22-year-old will go on to represent Korea at the London Miss Universe contest, where contestants from 50 different nations will vie against each other in the highly competitive beauty pageant.

According to the official Miss Korea website, Kim’s goal is to become a news anchor, and she is currently majoring in business administration at Ewha, a prestigious private women’s university in Seoul. Her hobbies include playing the piano and violin.

“The crown feels very heavy,” said Kim, after 2013′s Miss Korea, Yoo Ye-bin, passed on the crown to Kim. “I was not able to make it here through my efforts alone. Thank you to the organizing committee for its efforts. Thank you also to my supportive family and friends. I will carry the responsibility as a representative and work hard.”

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Kim Seo-yeon, during the pageant’s competitions. Photos: left via Korea Herald, right via AP.

Shin Soo-min (Kyungbuk) and Lee Suh-bin (Gyeonggi) won second place honors, and Ryu So-ra (Gyeongnam), Paek Ji-hyeon (Daegu), Lee Sa-ra (America) and Kim Myung-son (Jeonbuk) were named third place finishers. Park Ga-ram (Kangwon) won the Friendship Award, Lee Sa-ra (America) won the Best Manners Award, Joo Ka-il (Gyeongnam) won the Photogenic Award, Ko Eun-bi (Gwangju) won the Entertainment Award, and Huh Jin (America) won the Popularity Award.

Girls’ Generation’s Sooyoung and TV personality Oh Sang Jin co-hosted the pageant.

Check out the crowning in the video below.

Photo via mydaily. 

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Korean American’s Facebook Appeal Damages Father’s Political Campaign

by STEVE HAN

No one saw it coming. South Korean attorney and TV personality Koh Seung-duk was entering the June 4 local elections as the heavy favorite for Seoul’s superintendent of education, well ahead of his two rivals in polls. That’s until his 27-year-old daughter Candy Koh, who lives in New York, posted a dramatic appeal on her Facebook page to the citizens of Seoul—urging them not to vote for her father.

In her Facebook post on May 31, Candy described her father as a man who never “acknowledged his children’s experience [let alone] supporting their pursuit of education.” The superintendent of education is deemed a powerful post in South Korea, a nation that’s obsessed with education, and Koh’s daughter explained that a father who disregards his own family should not be given the power to be in charge of overseeing the education of children in the South Korean capital.

“I am not a citizen of your city, but I write you today out of urgency and dire concern for the future of your city’s education system,” the Facebook post read. “When his candidacy came to my attention recently, I could not, in good conscience, stay silent as his child. Seoul’s citizens deserve to know the truth about the person they may be choosing.

“I have next to no memories of his being present to teach me or my brother anything, even when I was old enough to have such memories. When my mother brought me and my brother to the U.S. to send us to a school in New York, Koh [Seung-duk] stayed in Korea and also decided to stop contacting us altogether.”

With only a few days to go before the election, the post went viral in South Korea and sparked scathing criticism of Koh Seung-duk. In response, the candidate, who divorced Candy’s mother in 2002, held a press conference soon after and accused one of his opponents, fellow conservative Moon Yong-rin, of using his daughter as a political tool to hurt his campaign. He also suggested that he was a humble man who had suffered “consequences” from being the son-in-law to Candy’s powerful maternal grandfather, Park Tae-joon, a founder of Korean steel giant POSCO, according to the Korea Joongang Daily. 

“I am having suspicions that my daughter’s post was made out of collusion between the late Park Tae-joon’s son and Moon’s campaign team,” said Koh, during the press conference.

He rejected his daughter’s accusation that he never contacted his family, saying he would meet his children during their visits to Korea and talked on the phone or by text messages. “It may be possible that she didn’t feel it was quite enough [from me as a father],” he said.

When criticism from the Korean public didn’t stop, Koh offered a dramatic public apology. During a speech on the busy streets of Seoul, he screamed a high-pitched “I’m sorry!” and raised his hand. The image of his apology quickly became a meme, as his photo was Photoshopped to depict him as a rockstar and comic book superheroes.

“It had come down to the last few hours of campaigning for him to say an apology to me, but it’s just really bad acting,” Candy Koh told Al Jazeera.

In the end, the victory went to progressive candidate, Cho Hee-yeon, a little known sociology professor who beat both Koh, who had been popular even among liberals prior to the Facebook controversy, and Moon.

Notably, Cho was one of 14 liberal candidates—out of a total of 17 candidates—who won their races for local education chief seats this week, marking a major shift politically from the 2010 election, when liberal won only six posts, according to the Wall Street Journal. The newspaper reported that some are attributing the shift to voters’ desire for a change from the status quo, and particularly, greater concern for children’s safety and overall welfare in the wake of the Sewol ferry tragedy. President Park Geun-hye is from the nation’s conservative party.

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Despite Disapproval From Officials, South Korea’s Gay Pride Parade Will Go On

Organizers in South Korea have announced they will host the nation’s annual gay pride parade in June despite disapproval from city officials, the Wall Street Journal reports.

A Seoul district office initially approved the 2014 Korea Queer Festival, which is entering its 15th year, but then revoked the permission, fearing the parade might stir further controversy amid the aftermath of last month’s ferry tragedy, which has drawn heavy public criticism of the South Korean government.

The organizers of the parade say officials are being pressured by Christian groups that oppose offering civil rights for sexual minorities, though the district-office spokesman insist that the protests had no impact on the cancellation. A number of sporting, government and promotional events in South Korea have been canceled in South Korea recently as its citizens are still mourning the Sewol ferry’s sinking on April 16, which took more than 300 lives.

Nevertheless, even though website of the district office is filled with complaints by opponents of the gay rights movement, the event will go on, the organizing committee has assured. It will be happening in the Sinchon district of Seoul, a hipster-filled region where several of the country’s top universities are located.

Many South Koreans are averse to accepting homosexuality, according to last year’s poll conducted by the Pew Research Center. Only 39 percent of those surveyed said homosexuality should be accepted while 59 percent still opposed the idea. Some Christian groups even protested the 2012 concert by pop star Lady Gaga, saying that the artist is in Korea to spread pro-gay propaganda.

However, the percentage of South Koreans who believe society should accept homosexuality more than doubled from 2007. The level of awareness has risen rapidly with the mainstream media’s coverage of the LGBT culture and public figures who have come out as gay.