Tag Archives: Seoul

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Gangnam Aims To Attract 10 Million Visitors By 2018 With Its Annual Festival

by STEVE HAN

South Korean capital Seoul’s Gangnam District, which was popularized globally by K-pop megastar Psy’s viral hit “Gangnam Style” in 2012, is developing strategic plans to lure 10 million foreign tourists by 2018, according to the head of the district.

In 2012, prior to Psy’s release of “Gangnam Style,” more than 850,000 foreigners believed to have visited Seoul’s affluent southern district. In the following year, that number soared to 5.11 million. Shin Yeon-hee, the head of the Gangnam District, said she and her team will set the groundwork to attract even more tourists by hosting global events, including festivals and concerts.

“The target is to attract 20 million foreign travelers by 2017,” Shin told the Korea Times. “If that goal is attained, bringing 10 million to Gangnam will also be possible. We already have good facilities for tourism … What we need to develop further is cultural content.”

A big part of the district’s effort to make itself more tourist-friendly is the annual Gangnam Festival, a four-day event which began today on Yeongdong Street near the COEX building, an area considered as Seoul’s equivalent of New York’s Times Square. Although smaller-scale festivals have existed for years in Gangnam, the district combined them in 2007 to leverage its brand.

The festival is said to include a fashion festival, a marathon, a global food festival, and a two-hour K-pop concert by JYJ.

“The festival has huge economic effect, with the visitors spending 6.1 billion won last year in Gangnam,” said Shin. “We also hope the festival will have other positive effects, such as revitalizing Korea’s fashion industry and boosting international awareness of Gangnam.”

Aside from festival activities, the district also has plans to remodel the World Taekwondo Headquarters building into a taekwondo-related cultural park by 2016.

Featured photo courtesy of Daum

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Seoul Mayor Takes Cues From Los Angeles’ Emergency Preparedness

by REERA YOO

This past weekend, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon visited Los Angeles to tap the city’s expertise on emergency preparedness, reported The Los Angeles Times.

Park, a potential presidential candidate who began his second term as mayor of Seoul in July, visited Los Angeles’ emergency operations center, the Los Angeles Fire Department, Dodger Stadium and the site of Korean Air’s future downtown skyscraper to learn more about the city’s disaster plans.

Recalling the Sewol ferry disaster, which killed more than 300 passengers in April, Park stated that he was looking to Los Angeles’ expertise on handling crises to ensure Seoul is better prepared to respond to emergencies.

“Many mistakes and systematic problems were involved in that accident,” Park told the L.A. Times. “As manager of this big metropolitan city, I’m really in charge. I feel a strong sense of responsibility.”

He added that Los Angeles would serve as a valuable guide for Seoul due to its predisposition to natural disasters such as earthquakes and fires.

In addition to surveying disaster plans, Park also spoke with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti about increasing trade and tourism between the two cities. The two mayors will discuss more initiatives when Garcetti visits Seoul in November.

According to The Korea Herald, Park also met with Hollywood producers and directors during his trip to promote Seoul as a film site for future movies, particularly for the third installment of Star Trek, which is slated to be released in 2016.

Photo courtesy of Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times

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Seoul Plans to Build Its Own High Line Park

by REERA YOO

Downtown Seoul will have its own grassy elevated park similar to New York’s High Line Park by the end of next year, said Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon.

A 17-meter-high motorway near Seoul’s main train station will be closed to motor traffic and converted into a park for pedestrians. The road has connected Seoul’s central business district with the city’s west since the 1970s, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Seoul said it drew its inspiration from New York’s High Line Park, one of the world’s most famous urban-renewal projects. The city expects to spend about $37.5 million on the project.

“The roadway is a historic heritage from the industrialization era, which means it is much more than a road,” Park told the Korea Times. “Once completed, it will be a tourist attraction. It will also help the regional economy around Namdaemun Market.”

Since 2000, Seoul has torn down more than a dozen elevated roads, stating that they are no longer useful in traffic management. At the suggestion of Mayor Park and a non-profit group, the demolition of the roadway in question was turned down in favor of preserving it as a public park.

“It is better to rejuvenate the city instead of destroying its cultural heritages for building something new,” Park said.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government is currently collecting ideas for the renovation and plans to hold a contest around October, according to the Korea Times.

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[TRAILER] Uncovering SKorea’s Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in ‘Save My Seoul’

by JAMES S. KIM

It’s hidden, but once you know what to look for, you’ll realize it’s everywhere.

Underneath the glamour of Seoul is a booming prostitution and sex trafficking industry. The capital of South Korea is referred to as a “paradise” for the sex industry that men can easily access.

That’s what Jason and Eddie Lee, brothers and co-founders of Jubilee Project, discovered during their trip to Korea last year. Save My Seoul, a feature-length documentary set to release in Spring 2015, aims to raise awareness about the issue and spark action to end trafficking in South Korea.

“When my brother, Eddie, and I went to Seoul, we thought that it’d just be another visit, but this time, we came across something we had never seen in Korea before,” says Jason Lee, the director and co-producer, in the trailer.

Equipped with hidden cameras, the brothers traverse Seoul’s underworld to find that the issue goes “far deeper than lost girls and lustful men. Instead, it’s a consequence of the broken Korean culture that turns a blind eye to and condones one of the biggest human injustices of our generation.”

You can watch the trailer below:

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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