Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Nation branding

I have already mentioned about Korean Nation Branding efforts and how they impress me. In more developed countries than Korea comprehensive nation advertising and public diplomacy took much longer time or is not that well organized.

Part of it is Korean Wave which currently hits Japan, China and other Asian countries. Korean boysbands and girlsbands, so called K-pop music to which you may find links in the video corner is just an example. Korean dramas with Winter Sonata leading among them, singer BoA and many others.

This entry on the blog will also be featured on Arirang TV soon thanks to which hospitality I can share even more stories about country's and city's promotion enterpreneurship.

This year Seoul was choosen as one of the must-visit cities by UNESCO as a result of long term action of the Metropolitan Government. Maybe it was this little creature, Haechi, which was designed as a Seoul brand based on a fictional good spirit, symbol of the city, which caused it? Who knows...

Whether Haechi himself had blessed the city with good spirits or not, he definately works as a brand developed back in 2008. Metropolitan government uses it as a symbol which helps promoting good businesses for tourists.

I was taken for a dessert to one of the restaurants in a Korean traditional house situated in a White Collar area, next to the COEX Intercontinental, the very site were G20 was held. The restaurant which name is Pulhyanggi serves all sorts of Korean food for very sophisticated set of clients who usually go there for business negotiations and incentives.
 Inside the Pulhyanggi...

Btw. did I mention that my favorite Korean food is a pancake with seafood which is called haemul pajeon and I can even make it myself?

And this is how restaurants are promoted with the city brand sign:
The Haechi drawing is based on the ancient creature I have already mentioned, which looks like this:
And Seoul area is full of them standing in all sorts of places, both very modern and traditional ones.

As a city Seoul tries to catch up with modernity but also save what is the best from it's ancient spirits. For this all sorts of different things are done, one of them is Cheonggye Stream near Gwanhamun Plaza, or Design Street near Toksugung Palace. There we may find interesting things like design chairs or sculptures as below:
All fitted in traditional historic environment.

Haechi is successful in promoting business as well. An idea which had not been followed by other cities so far as I know. As a brand Hi Seoul is shared by all sorts of small companies which are given support by Seoul Metropolitan Government. The partnership is perfect for both sides: the city promotes itself even better and business gets money and stable environment to grow.
Above is one of the example of the shared brand products. We visited the exhibition with the TV crew from Arirang and were given a gift set with very useful and very nice items including a pen with a flashlight which I use a lot right now.

Haechi itself is a legendary animal representing justice and integrity. The mythical creature distinguishes good from evil and was believed to bring fortune and luck and provide safety from disaster. The creature has been believed to serve as a guardian of Seoul for a long time.

At Gwanhamun Plaza the souvenir shop opened and the top sells are Haechi dolls in all sizes. I got myself the small one... maybe it will bring me the luck?

Just as I shared with viewers of Arirang I will repeat here. Despite constant threat from the North Seoul flourishes. Korea flourishes. South Koreans take steps foreward, round the clock, like a circle in a spiral... strive and persist.

Special thanks to Yoon-mi Jung and her crew who assisted me for more than 6 hrs on a freezing Friday in Seoul driving me around the city wherever I wanted. Thank you for your hospitality and patience. I love Korea!

Links to explore:

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Sleeping with the enemy - DMZ

Several recent posts supposed to be about G20 related stuff and the economy. But sometimes more important things pop up and nothing can be done about that.

Today North Korea shot 200 shells at the South Korean Yeongpyeong island  injuring 13 people and killing one and putting several dozens homes on fire.

Apart from sinking the Cheonan fregate that was the most important incident since the Korean War. Rising tensions in the region are caused by current power shift in North Korea where supposedly ill Kim Jong Il is trying to put his youngest son as a heir to the regime.

Last Monday I talked to colonel Ulf Persson who works at the Swedish base at Pammunjom. As we exchanged several diplomatic remarks as on such banquet occasions is normal, the colonel joked: "We are sleeping with the enemy".

Although for an average tourist DMZ is nothing special. The possibility of war apparently was so misty that South Korean business invented DMZ brand. Gadjets with DMZ, DMZ cola, DMZ t-shirts sell out very well among tourists who go for a trip to Panmunjom.

Despite that, chaos in the North is apparent. For many years status quo relied on simple exchange: we don't hurt you and you feed us in reward. North Korea was blackmailing doing something small from time to time and receiving economic aid as part of Sunshine Policy of the South government. So on one hand everyone earns money on anything they can and on the other those who have to be aware are aware and the silent tension of warzone is present in the air.

Now it is no longer that sure whether the game has still the same rules. It seems like there is some chaos in the North related to power shift. It is enough that small thing happens between fighting fractions and the war is ready.

The irony of fate is that DMZ is the only genuine ecosystem habitat in the entire penninsula. If the North and South is ever reunited this area might be one of the biggest National Parks in the world, and one of the only in this particular area, where development had paved everything in concrete across hundreds of kilometers. Typical irony of fate shows that where people can't boost, nature does, taking advantage of human hostilities.

Saturday, 20 November 2010


Changes in life sometimes come in shock and haste and can create some mess in one's brain. Each time I want to purify myself, restructure my internal logic and gain some energy, I hike.

The more challenging hike is, the better. Last year I lived at the bottom of Mount Gwanak which embraces with her northern slope Seoul National University Campus. Her view was tempting me every single day, but when I actually tried I had to quit. First because of lack of proper hiking shoes. Secondly because of not overcome fear of space after I spent 45' hanging over 500m steep in a blizzard in Tatra Mountains some 3 years ago. I still remember the moment I had to back off and how terrified I was. I owe it to a very close French friend of mine who carried me down. As simple as that.

This time I live away from SNU but Gwanak like a queen of Gyeonggi Do still reaches her arms towards me each time I see her from the bus. This time I haven't been waiting for anything, I just went. As I created the event on such a haste, noone joined me and maybe even for better?

Something told me to get off at Nakseongdae to pass by the dorm and campus of SNU. Visiting place I used to live before...
 the kid's playground on which I swinged away my "moodie" times...

the building in the family dorm I used to live in. So many memories accumulated over time. Irritation, boredom, disgust, fear, hope. Overally good time if I compare it to living in any kind of dorm for singles.

I walked all of my usual path down passing the language institute and the crown of the stadium where I saw the subject of my work at SNU, a magpie, pica sericea, asian type of what we know in Europe as a magpie. The bird which used to be a symbol of Korea and still hangs on the walls of all sorts Korean embassies globally. However is no longer a symbol because people started complaining for something about this bird, what, that I did not understand when SangIm, my professor's wife, was explaining me the issues.

Strongly tempted to drop by the institute resisted and went to the SNU gate to start a hike. It was about 10:30 when I stopped being lazy and made it in my dynamic pace just going foreward gradually higher and higher. Based on my instinct decided to get to the main range and turn left which should drag me to the place I had to surrender beforehand. And there it was... Gwanak range in late autumn sun appeared in front of my eyes and I had a rest for a while.

I was hiking at my own tempo stopping once a while to take a photo. What struck me was that all these legendar crowds vanished somewhere again and in the middle of 25mln city area there was just me and silence. The smog in Seoul makes anything practically invisible from the peak so the feeling of being away from civilization was enormous.

At some point I had to gradually overcome my fears because the trail became difficult in various places. I passed by some ajoshi in his mid-50's asking me:
- Odiso ishyossoyo? Where are you from?
- I come from Poland.
- Are you hiking that alone? Where are your friends? - such typical collective question, genuine and soft.
- Well... so it happened. Alone. - replied I taking hair away from my face.
- You are pretty woman. You should have a boyfriend. - ajoshi made my day with a smile.
- What can I do, I don't.
- Be careful, here is dangerous. Man should be for a woman. - and so he helped me to jump over some steepy break in the trail with some 150m of straight down space under my feet.

The sun was slowly caressing southern slopes of the mount. People were going up and down, having lunch, laughing together, exchanging thoughts. Joking about some plenty of issues which I could not understand fully but what I got was sun, light, and joy in their voices. So often they greeted me with their joy: we love you cause you love hiking. I was patiently getting through rocks which seemed to be neverending up and down up and down until the moment when I saw it. I saw the peak. It was approximately 3 pm when I reached the bunch of electric cables near KBS tower on the top of Gwanak. At one point some Koreans stopped me asking in fluent english:
- Hello, you almost made it. Wanna eat? - I was reluctant for a while but would never abuse hospitality. I was fed by a very resourceful wife of my host who prepared seaweed, rice, kimchi, and dried fish. How did it taste at this time!
- Aju mashissoyo, Hanguk aju juoaheyo - spoken I in my broken Korean.
My hosts started asking what is my name and where am I from and other questions. I asked them where they are from too. Apperently it was a Korean professors couple on holidays from USA. Their hospitality was something which brought back my faith in human species as such.
- My name is Aga.
- Aga... - burst with laugh - oh how funny. It is actually a small baby in Korean. Indeed you have a young face.
- I'm not that young anymore. Then I said my age.
- Impossible! - so nice reaction of them made my day with genuine smile.
- But you should not hike alone! It's not healthy! - yeah, tell me about it. What to do when there is no other option?

Yeah... supported with fresh strength I kept on going until the trail for Gwacheon detached. It was time to go down despite the fact that I skipped reaching the observatory point which was still several hundred of meters away. On this side of the mount though every trail was easy and comfortable paved with steps so indeed crowds of hikers headed for the Gwanak Observatory point. I gradually went down...

As I was walking down and people were passing I saw a girl without shoes or say with shoes in her hands. That is not someone who would make it before getting dark. On haste I decided to pack her shoes to my backpack and get her down somehow. I would have carried her down on my back, but Yujin as was her name, was too scared of that. I experienced real gratitude which I must admit tastes nice. Nevertheless I would never leave her behind as my long term hiking experience says that mountains are not a terrain for any kind of competition between people. In a result of this I gained a a new friend and finished the day full of good emotions.

Practical information:
Gwanak is a mount in South of Seoul built of old granites. It's relevant difference in altitude towards the bottom makes her a reasonable goal for an average hiker with good shoes and with no fear of altitude and space. Height: 629m a.s.l. In Korean mountains it's good to have your lunch and drinks with you and also pick up the trush.

Time: if you want to make it leisure and take photos etc from SNU Main Gate through the pass until the summit and down to Sadang or Gwachon - 7hrs.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Currency Issue - G20 aftermath

Summit, summit, and after summit. G20 is over.

I promise this time not to make any typo which irritated so much one of my friend faculties ( sorry about that).

The hottest issue discussed during the summit was the apparent currency war between China and USA. One might actually think that it is some new issue suddenly on the global media agenda.

It is not. Indeed it roots from the very times of  Deng Xiao- Ping as China's head of state. It was him who told to the nation "Socialism does not mean being poor. Get rich by all means you can. It is not important if a cat is black or white, the important part is that he hunts for mice". With more or less these words Deng "encouraged" the nation with centralized carefully planned vision of economic growth. He started from getting hands on Hong Kong area and it's finnacial businesses and opening it's shores to foreign investment in simple-assembly electronic sector.

USA with raising wages in it's blue collar sector was very happy with this solution. Together with another stage of multilateral talks in WTO rounds, that was a strategy which supposed to be both successful for american businesses relocating their factories and for long-term democratization agenda which USA had actually never given up.

As I often say, West plans for 4 years term in office, East, including Korea, Japan, and especially China, plans on tens of years ahead. This is one of the factors totally ignored during any sort of economic actions and negotiations done by the Western powers.

China gradually accumulated and invested capital inflow since the very 80's. Hong Kong street educated financial tycoons advised and still do advise central government on what to do when and how to get richer and to checkmate USA on the global political and economic map.

Weak renminbi means long term exports of goods which conquer 25%-30% of the Western customers pockets with their affordable price. This as such has been a long term basis of Chinese growth. Only recently China invests in own R&D and focuses on own high-tech era in development.

So China secured lots of $ simply buying them off the forex market, investing in US treasury bonds or securing them out of trade. The first crisis encountered in 1998 when USA woke up and started insisting on Beijing to make the Yuan more real in value so the Chinese goods would no longer be that cheap.

The second crisis encountered in 2007 when during subprime mess $ got dramatically weaker and some China critics in Congress started advocating that stronger Yuan will bring blue-collar jobs back to USA and so on.

Third one is happening just now and is related to current $ situation in general.

By common sense economically it's nonsense to say that stronger yuan will change anything. China is no longer cheap labor market. And although manufactured good are decreasing as % of USGDP the high-skill and talent added value ones are still it's comparative advantage.

Current situation is a strong effect of superficially liberal full of mess lacking working transparent regulations American economy. And the American attitude to prosperity - if I can no longer afford Cherokkee 4x4 each year it means there is a crisis.

Finally in terms of politics Washington realized that it cannot insist on Beijing about anything, whether this be freedom press, transparency, human rights, etc., simply because it's time to be afraid of what actually China can do with $ and it can do a lot.

As in 2007 one of the Chinese scholars had put it very clear:" If Yuan gets appreciated dramatically we will be forced to sell our $ assets into the market. As long as the exchange rate is stable it's ok."

In both countries politics plays a major role and now it's the middle of struggle for dominance in the world between an emerging Asian dragon and mature, slow, but neverthelessly still strong American grizzly.

Maybe after all Deutsche Welle journalist was right on Friday when he said: "regarding currency issue, is it an advance in process if they talk?"

From my point of view, maybe it is. But the conversation can be pictured as above on the illustration.


Have a nice day or night, wherever you are.
Even if you are worried about the economy or politics or future of the world as such, don't forget to show love, appreciate your friends and folks. After all that is what makes it all fuzz worth living.

Illustration comes from safeheaven.com

Friday, 12 November 2010

G20 aftermath

This is the first in a series of posts related to G20. I hope to provoke some discussion here, so if you read this and feel heated by my comments, use email to blow your arguments on me, it's a genuine offer.

Today my crazy Polish friend Martyna went with her Turkish equivalent to Seoul to protest against G20. As we had some issues to discuss I called her and caught her on the spot in action screaming Stop G20 and so on. I just remember that I told her to have some mercy, cause after all, these guys do also care for the world. Martyna replied "Funny said".

Hmmm, good question, asked I myself, do they?
Here in Korea everyone is so crazy about it because it helps Korean nation branding and advertises the city globally. Just like tourism increased after the FIFA WC 2002 it will boost now cause everyone would like to see COEX.

Nevertheless leaders had come to Seoul for 2 days, or say 24hrs to discuss some hot issues. Prior to this event Korea held two semi successful conference events: G20 Development Conference and Bridge20 held in recent weeks.

As part of Nation Branding Korea is trying to build it's public diplomacy by sharing her development path as the growth model for other nations. But also Korea had taken a role of advocacy of African nations and therefore their representatives had been present.

So they talked about currencies, trade inequalities, and other stuff. So they agreed on the issues about trade inequalities between developing and developed countries. As to the heated currency issue one of the journalists on Deutsche Welle had put it: "They actually talk about it, do you think it's already some advance in the process?"

As part of the Seoul statement they want to put more responsibilities on China for the global banking system, that is their solution.

Several months ago I volunteered to do the coverage for the 1st Polish Radio Channel on the event. My boss replied: "No need, they will talk a bit, smile to the camera and so it will be". Apparently he was right. Actually I feel pity for all these protesters because it's November and rather freezing outside. It all seems like barking at the wrong tree.

There are things which are not even talked on G20 meetings, and these are speculations and short term forex games which tend to do a lot of mess in the global finance world.

I messed up the 3rd session of G20 Development Conference with a very inconvenient question. Suddenly during a very sleepy panel on food crisis and sustainable development I got suddenly very awake when I heard that wheat price rise and rice price rise in 2007 - 2008 had been due to oil price rise. Well to my best knowledge no it had not. It was a result of sudden fund allocation by Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers when they got to conclusion that they actually miss some hard cash in their safe boxes which they won't get from ill-managed housing loans so why not take it from food commodities?

I have smiled nicely and asked "We may face one underestimated issue here... - here I went on explaining the issue of speculation and continued - how possibly can G20 restore transparency on food commodity market, what can be done about food commodity bonds?" There was a moment of awkward silence and the speaker said " Well there is no evidence that the food commodity price rise had been a result of speculation"... in that moment I had seen movement in the ballroom, that is when everyone got really awake looking at me with this expression "Are they nuts?"

I smiled to the very end, nicely thanked the panelists for their answers and headed to the lobby for a cup of coffee. On the way Mr Cozendey from Foreign Office of Brasil, their economic expert said to me "Well, are you happy with their answers?" I denied. He replied stating as follows " And you are right, there are quantities of $ flying on food commodity speculation and it's exchange rate is linked to it in bigger extent than with anything else".

Some people may ask me why don't I come with solutions instead of critisism?
Oh I do, here they are: let ill-managed banks go bankrupt, don't bail them out. The blank space left by one business is almost immediately taken by the other one. The one which may offer something better to the market and it applies to banks just as much as to anything else. I can understand a bailout for some coal mine employing 80% of population of some area, but a bank??? Give me a break!

And I have my argument to back this up. Goldman Sachs received first bailout, and what did it do? It played on currencies in Middle and Eastern Europe almost directly causing financial and political trouble in Ukraine, Hungary, and Baltic States. They also tried to play on Zloty and our Fed made the intervention movement.

Is this what you are supposed to do with money taken straight from pockets of hardworking American commoners? Spread the financial crisis globally, spread the turmoil and smile to the photo afterwards?

These are my thoughts regarding G20.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


Good luck Seoul. Good luck to all the people who spent sleepless nights on all the preparations for the summit.
I will write about the event later on.
Have patience.

Monday, 8 November 2010


A refuge.

We made it to the park early evening on Saturday. Louisa and me. We saw mountains. Dah, kind of usual sight in Korea, one may think.

Seoroksan is not an usual sight. It's sharp white peaks arising straight from the sea level leaving just a minor space for Sokcho city to hug in between leave a newcomer with a sight curved into the head forever.

The National Park is said to be a very center of Korean hiking tourism, is also said to have crowds of people on every trail. Apparently we were lucky.

As we went uphill along a V shaped rocky valley with a creek in it's bed we gradually avoided human beings. Those who we met were of it's special kind, the kind which makes it to the mountains for a prayer, for a reunion with Creator, reunion with Mother Nature. Buddist monks with their bells and catholic nuns with their rosaries, and middle aged Korean hikers, families, friends in groups by 2, 3 or 4.

The sky was blue and the air seemed chilly and sharp with it's touch of mountain freshness. Wind blew steadily and leaves were falling down the trees in all sorts of autumn colors. Despite the wind there was also this silence, this point on the way which forces naughty human being to stop, to slow down, to reflect.

A range itself is an amazing example of precambrian - paleozoic geological structure. Rocks forming the penninsula are very old of all sorts: ingenous and sedimentary as well marbles and other methamorphic ones. Grey paleozoic limestone has been eroded away by water giving space to steepy walls of more resistant gneisses which especially in Seoroksan have their stripe structure visible everywhere. Apart from gneisses, also porphyry and ryolites, limestones and slates are everywhere.

Huge stones in river beds may surprise a visitor. Does water really have that much power? It has, during sudden downpours it can move huge rocks on it's way.

A hiker goes and cherishes his eyes with these wonders of nature, so old and majestic. The average altitude is not bigger than 1700 m above sea level but the bottom of the mountains is at sea level so it gives altogether 1700 m of relative altitude difference.

People bewitched with it's beauty will become calm and friendly. Silently help eachother or show their enthusiasm by wholeheartedly greeting a stranger. Just as we did with Darren and Jo. Sudden hiker you meet on the way and start talking and spend nice time with connected by common challenges and spirits is the best part of mountain hiking.

The only thing which may spoil the taste of nature is unfriendliness of hut managers. Korean extreme capitalism had reached even here. Everything is traded for high price everywhere. Maybe their unfriendliness is also a part of the social spirit and structure? As mountain rescue officers they are the bosses and they are on top of the hierarchy which may excuse their unapprochable attitude. It is seen in front of the hut when Korean hikers are using their own gas to boil the water instead of having it done by the rescue man if he is around in his hut. He eventually gave us a bit of hot water to our thermal bottle - but - as a result of huge quarrel which really spoiled our moods for a while. We have experience with hot water given for free everywhere in every mountain shelter. Because it is just hot water and because it may save your life.

But this small bitter taste did not spoil our overall impression, which we still have. We still see the stones, hear the mountain creek and feel the silence of nature.

Good morning or good evening wherever you are

Practical information:
To Seoroksan: Take a bus to Sokcho City and decide which park gate you wanna take later
There are two bus terminals, one directly on the way to the main gate another one more away from it.
Bus ride from Seoul is 25000 KRW approximately.
Motel stay is 50000KRW for a room approximately.
To the gates of the park there are buses leaving from the other terminal close to the Fish Market.
Important: get some reasonable maps from somewhere else than the information center. All what you get there is oversimplified idiot's version. The times given are for really sportive hikers who just run. If you want leisure time, reasonable pleasure with views and some photoshooting multiply the times by 1.5 at least. If you want to have a hot dinner, better take field cooking device with you. Ok, that's all of my preeching for this time lol :)