Saturday, 24 November 2012

"Apaty” 아파트

...Korean architecture seen on the streets varies from luxury villa settings on the hills north from Cheog Wae Dae with tradition inspired walls, through not really typical and difficult to interpret small houses of the 50's, lots of them turned into offices, bars and restaurants by now. More modern buildings which are visibly planned in the space derive from the 1980's. They vary in type and size. Some of them are as low as 4 stories some 10. Most modern apartment complexes are even up to 20 something levels and they really reach the clouds... 

What I love Koreans for...

I never really have written about architecture in Korea before, have I? Maybe about bridge or old palace, but not about normal people housing.

I am amazed with how well Koreans design their modern apartment condominiums. I do not know how it was in the old times after the Korean War, but I will share with you what modern things I have seen.

1 level businesses
Korean architecture seen on the streets varies from luxury villa settings on the hills north from Cheog Wae Dae with tradition inspired walls, through not really typical and difficult to interpret small houses of the 50's, lots of them turned into offices, bars and restaurants by now. More modern buildings which are visibly planned in the space derive from the 1980's. They vary in type and size. Some of them are as low as 4 stories some 10. Most modern apartment complexes are even up to 20 something levels and they really reach the clouds.

It depends on the architect and size and price of land wether space between buildings is kept or not. In Gangnam district where some of most sophisticated apartments are, people can sometimes watch their neighbours through the window. But, usually space is kept. Older buildings are placed in irregular way, fitted wherever there was a spot to build, some place, some tiniest property. In between these little buildings there are car parks constructed of few metal pipes and platforms which can fit up to 10 cars one on top of another with help of the lift.

Normally big streets which take car traffic, subway stations and buses are not inhabited by rich people at all. They are surrounded by mixture of churches, public buildings, hospitals, and houses with restaurants and bars or shops fitted on many levels. Some have student rooms and other poorest private properties.

Away from central big streets hills usually start and narrow streets surrounded with brownish mix of buildings climb up the hill.

Modern setting is regular. Blocks keep 90 degrees toward eachother and sufficient space in between which is additionally helped by common altitude difference. Huge apartment condominiums are built on more flat areas, but with the same rule – there should be enough of light so 90 degrees and several hundred meters of space in between is kept.

I was lucky to live in my own room rented from Polish family living on campus in family dormitory of Seoul National University and this is how I discovered advantages and disadvantages of Korean modern architecture. 
Sadang Condominium

At first Korean apartments have lots of daylight influx via huge windows. Window usually takes the space of the whole wall, and is double. It means that every even poorest apartment has got a balcony.

These balconies are a seperate system. In most modest setting a door to the apartment is situated on one huge balcony which serves as a corridor to the apartments. Then another balcony is attached to the living room and kitchen does not have any own. It is either hugged to the small corridor or assembled as a small dark attachment to the living room. These smallest apartments are usually two room with toilet-shower, corridor-kitchen and a living room. One of these rooms reminded me of marine vessel beds, because two sisters fitted there with just their beds one on top of another and a wardrobe. Ah, there was some 30 cm of space so they could get in.

Bigger standard has a living room part where there is a „clear” balcony attached, and „messy” balcony near the kitchen. „Messy” one is where usually people keep washing machines, driers and whatever mess they can keep. Some housewives do kimchi in big barrels, some other still keep chickens in cages despite municipal ban for several years. Family trash is also kept there often, as well as vegetable storage etc.

Influence from American middle class style is that there is a clear common living area and bedrooms rather small, but not too small, not so tiny as in many European flats. Inner windows are also rather big, they take sometimes as much as the whole wall, some other start at the knee hight and reach the cealing.

By design and architecture life of the whole family focuses in common living room/ kitchen space with bedrooms being used almost only for sleeping. However adolescent students who try to get into college also keep their desks and their own tvs etc. 

50's and 60's no style "somethings" now holding businesses

This division between „messy” and „clear” space took a root in culture. Traditional houses had something called „madang” multipurpose room. This is where families kept all the junk or had small garden, or done kimchi or kept chickens etc. Since late 1950's balconies in the first built big apartment complexes had substituted for „madang”. Due course of time balcony near kitchen by default was used as junk storage and balcony near living room was rather clean and used as cultural display – I have seen a lady having her art exhibition over there.

Another thing which took a root in culture is heating system. It is an expensive way of heating, but taken straight from ancient history.

Ondol heating system was based on direct heat transfer from wood smoke to the underside of a thick masonry floor. It depends on how in which house but even at the sophisticated Confucian scholar home it was burnt in the hole under the rocky floor and via system of underside channels transferred underneath the house. Tradition of sitting on the floor started this way. After snowfall in winter temperature slowly drops reaching in January even 30 below zero. One meter above the floor in light wooden hanok houses it was already cold. Before dawn housewives or servants used to get up and make sure ondol started burning before any of the other family members or rulers were awake. First such site was excavated in North Korea about 1000 B.C.

In modern Korea it means any heating system which is located in the floor. There is a central thermostate which gives heat to water pipes in the floor which via radiators give hot air to the room. When it is on it is usually too hot, when off it gets cold very quickly, especially during cold Korean winter.

I have mentioned influx of daylight. Probably some of you know how dark it gets in winter especially on misty December days. Even in Korea it is a problem. And yet there is enough sunlight to turn on artificial light really late in the day.
Maetan-dong Condominium with visible glass walls

In some older apartments just like in Europe there is no elevator. I have once seen really genial way of moving simmilar to what I have also seen in some Polish blocks with narrow stairs. Instead of using 6 guys stretching their musles with some stubborn couch which doesn't wanna get through they just use an external lift and ...put it via the window.

Downsides... there is one. Most of modern 아파트 have electronic coded doors with automatic alarm. In Poland I know it from corporate buildings, public areas etc but commoners still carry traditional keys to their homes with them. Alarm systems if any are usually inside.

In Korea it's enough to touch one wrong button and police arrives or there is an angry neighbour irritated with a slightly drunk foreigner who again had mistaken herself...or himself or whoever one is at 3 am after nice time in the pub

Sometimes... there is a blackout.

Noone can get in or out...

...for some hours...

…Until somebody puts electricity again.

Electoral candidates: Ahn Cheol-soo steps out

Too soon to predict wether Democratic United Party candidate Moon Jae-in wins or looses against conservative candidate lady Park Geun-hye but there are no other candidates this time. 

Independent researcher and businessman Ahn Cheol-soo stepped out of the presidential race leaving  room for Moon Jae - in

He said at the press conference:  "I once told you I would put everything on the line to produce one final opposition candidate. Becoming president and ushering in a new politics is important to me, but I feel that the most valuable thing of all is for politicians to keep a promise once they have made one to the people."

His message was that keeping his promise as a politician was more important than becoming president. Indeed, he made keeping promises his priority as a politician.
 With this decision, the Democratic United Party's Moon Jae-in is now the sole opposition candidate to the Saenuri ( former Hannara) Party's Park Geun-hye.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Oppa Gangnam Style MTV Awards Best Recording

Yeah, Gangnam Style has just got MTV Music Awards for Best Recording like not any Korean music before.

I will try to be short and sincere with this post: I do congratulate my Korean friends for having their really international dancefloor club hit. This is absolutely awesome!

The clip to the song is showing some of Korean style: guy with slippers, girls in miniskirts with doll-like awesome makeup. The song in words is also sweet Korean - I am a boy you are a girl, warm during the day, hot at night etc. What is very Korean is the coffee theme in it.

I love it.

But I also have to say in style of music this is not very Korean. Not very K-pop. It is not any different in it's rythm from any other popular international dancefloor hits which might be the case that this and not any other Korean song really made it.

There are some I really love dancing to, only noone likes them cause they do not have this electonic international sound. Yes, everyone who's got a keen ear knows what I mean.

This also hits European club charts during recent weeks:

Listen. Listen also to Asaf Avidan to Otto Knows or to Avicii. Answer yourself if this is actually any different from eachother. I don't know what it is but Western dancefloor pieces are very alike, nice, with a rythm, but very alike.

Here is another example of a promising copycat:

Isn't it just Pussycat Dolls rythm and voice? She may as well come up internationally. She appeals to international taste.

And this is what used to be some best of K-pop last year:

Run Devil Run, Girls Generation. I love having my morning gym with it.
 Group of girls, oversweet, overdone, group voice, unified dance, no real leader - this is how it was.

I do not have to love K-pop. But I really love that it has it's own uniqueness. No need to go for "international taste". They don't like it, so be it. Stay yourselves.

Last but not least. I congratulate you MTV Music Awards. I wish one day world appreciates international music and not just one unified anglosaxon style of rythm.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Moon Jae-in unifies arms with Ahn Cheol-soo

 Left on the move. Park accuses her rival of ignoring security issues of South Koreans and of having false attitude to Northern Line Limit. Meet Moon Jae-in - Park's equivalent of Romney's Obama. 

Moon Jae-in who won primaries in Democratic United Party this year is a long term human rights activist who played a major role in South Korean system transformation. He joined forces with the late president Roo Moo Hyun starting Busan Law Firm as human rights attorney. He had been Roh's best friend and political ally ever since.

Moon Jae-in was born on 24th January 1953 in Geoje and graduated from Kyung Hee University.
In 1988 he founded opposition newspaper The Hankyoreh which supported student protests. He also was human rights attorney at Pusan Bar and was actively involved in developing human rights awareness in South Korea ever since.

Despite being the chief of stuff for president Roh Moon was indifferent to politics ever up till this year when he decided to become a candidate in the presidential elections.

Moon was one of the architects of the Sunshine Policy which led to regular meetings between the leaders and increasing of economic aid for the North. Kim Dae-jung administration, which started it, helped as well to start family meetups between those who have been separated by the DMZ after Korean War in 1953.

During Roh presidency the idea of economic aid shaped itself into creation of the Kyeongsang Industrial Park. Approximately 15 South Korean companies employ there more than 40 000 workers from North Korea with perspective to employ 26 000 as soon as possible. Everything is supported from Seoul, facilities, constructions, energy and transportation system together with money to pay for wages. By 2012 the Complex was said to employ approximately 725 000 North Korean citizens and generate more than $500 million of income for North Korean Economy. However after sinking of Cheonan Lee Myung-bak's administration toughened it's course towards North Korea and decided to be based on the moment and adequate reaction, not on any program or ideology. This led to putting embargo on any trade with North Korea.

Critics of Sunshine Policy say that in this case Seoul will be often simply blackmailed by North Korea whenever it wants more of aid. Moon's main oponent, conservative leader Park Geun-hye accuses Moon of not having clear vision of securing Northern Line Limit. But this maritime border between two countries had never actually been exactly drawn, and had been disputed ever since Korean War.

Moon is also a strong advocate against South Korean regionalism which leads to unequal chances of people coming from different provinces or cities. 

More about Moon Jae-in:
From Arirang News, a short introduction to Moon jae-in.

My recent exploratory study shows that the era of conservatives in Korea has come to an end. But it does not mean that Moon stands chances alone either. He is backed by an independent candidate Ahn Cheol-soo who already once was a kingmaker during mayoral elections in Seoul.

The then Grand National Party (now the Saenuri Party) candidate Na Kyung-won who was supported by Park was beaten by independent Park Won-soon who took advantage of Ahn’s support.

Moon and Ahn decided for unified candidacy this time and it may make a difference.

In the first free elections of 1987, the two leading opposition figures, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung (both of whom later became presidents), were unable to overcome their differences and split the vote allowing ex-regime nominee Roh Tae-woo to win.

Park Kwang-on, a spokesman for the Moon camp, said that they agreed to pick a single candidate before the registration and will hold talks to make it happen. Let's see, who runs for a president and who becomes the Prime Minister.

Soon a story of Ahn Cheol-soo, a rising star of independent politics in South Korea. Also more about political plans of Moon Jae-in. Stay tuned.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Electoral Candidates: Park Geun Hye

"... Park Geun-hye is an example of a woman who successfully applies elements of Confucianism to manipulate her image in the eyes of voters. At present Park Geun-hye is a major candidate in forthcoming 2012 presidential elections...."

          Although in Asian societies appreciation for women's public activities seems to be much lower than in the West, paradoxically women in Asia are capable of getting more power than their Western counterparts. Thanks to “brand” associated with their last name and power of the paternal clans, they are able to run the state or lead the political parties independently in certain circumstances. South Asian cases of Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto or the current kingmaker in the Indian politics, Sonia Gandhi, present the perfect example of such “brand” politics.

           Park Geun-hye is an example of a woman who successfully applies elements of Confucianism to manipulate her image in the eyes of voters. At present Park Geun-hye is a major candidate in forthcoming 2012 presidential elections.

            Park Geun-hye was born 5th February 1952 in Daegu to South Korean dictator – president Park Chung Hee. In 1974 she majored in electronics and graduated from catholic Sogang University in Seoul. In the same year her mother was shot in an attempted assassination of her father by North Korean agent. This way forced by brutal circumstances she entered the world of politics as the First Lady of Korea until 1979 when her father died in the coup d'etat organized by his own chief of intelligence (KCIA). Until 1998 she stayed out of politics. She worked as a manager at Korean Cultural Foundation and Youngnam University in her native town Daegu. In 1998 she was elected to the parliament from the list of Grand National Party (Hannara). She has been elected in every elections organized since then. In 2007 she lost primaries in Grand National Party to former Mayor of Seoul, Lee Myung-bak. Despite dropping in polls she still remains a serious candidate in forthcoming presidential elections in South Korea.

            Such popularity of a woman politician in a country whose social system is so far dominated by Confucianism was decided probably by more factors than just changes in the legal system that enabled women to participate in the elections.

            Park Geun-hye had no political ambitions until 1998. She was then invited by Grand National Party to participate in the elections. It was a moment when Korean society was still painfully adjusting to the reforms imposed by International Monetary Fund after the economic crisis of 1997. It was then that Koreans remembered about president Park Chung Hee who persecuted political opponents, but on the other hand boosted Korean miraculous economic growth. GNP which emerged from small conservative parties decided to use growing positive legend of Park Chung Hee and put his daughter on stage.

          Despite leading GNP to a successful victory in 2006 Park Geun-hye did not win primaries when she lost to former mayor of Seoul Lee Myeong-bak. This year she managed to get over 86% in primaries and gathered hopes of all conservative Koreans.

            However she has not put any political plans, reforms or ideas up till now. Her official website contains only promises for future and daring visions of not clearly envisaged changes to come if people vote for her. If taken into account that she is already 14 years in politics, this is not big achievement. Using moral capital by appealing to her father's legacy and emphasizing filial piety, combined with personal charm and media image designed to address virtues supported by average voters had been so far enough tools to gain and maintain support.

         Exploratory study which I performed during 2011-2012 shows that conservative values are no longer appealing to the young generation, and due to survey performed on limited number of voters Park Geun-hye is critisized for being dictator's daughter and in this case family does no longer help.
Her father is revered by some for steering South Korea to economic and diplomatic power with North Korea at its doorstep. And he is loathed by the others for what rights groups call a long history of torture, unlawful executions and other abuses of power. He has been dead for more than 30 years, since his intelligence chief shot him down during a 1979 drinking party. But he has proven to be more and more problematic to his daughter's campaign.

 Park Geun-hye still holds chances to win 2012 elections. But I also see some room for the Black Horse: a person with no conservative legacy, with clear economic vision and someone who did not make it via connections, Ahn Cheol-soo. If there is an agreement between opposition candidates and Mr Kim runs against Park with Ahn promised to become Prime Minister, the whole picture will get even more tricky.

         Soon about Ahn Cheol-soo and  Moon Jae-in. Stay tuned.


Too much education...too many work?

One year ago Korean Government have noticed finally that in South Korea there are too many people with higher education. Simply not enough jobs for everyone who masters how the microprocessor is built.

So, they decided that employers who will stop following education fever will get tax exemption as high as 18 000$ monthly if they employ a person who does not have an university degree.

Looks like simmilar situation is in Poland. Everyone gets into the university with stupid hope that this is what will get him quite stable job for just enough that if both people in the couple work, they will hopefully, during their lifetime on this planet, pay credit for 2 room 50m2 flat.

Is a degree indeed what can get one from poverty and give stability?

I am very sorry to admit that one special guy from Germany who only got technical high school education there can do with computer systems, programming devices, and any electronics more than my SNU educated Indian engineers. This is genial intuition which got him where he is now. And portfolio of very satisfied clients.

But, on the contrary is there, really, a way back?

I cannot imagine that I can convince any employer in Poland that I am capable of cleaning the floor if I don't get a degree in "flat surface conservation problematics". Same is in Korea, for a long time from now on any employer will expect an employee to hold a degree from a University. Not necessarily SKY but still.

Last but not least. They say uneducated society is easier to be handled. Apparently true, but education is also: travelling, life experience, books, tv, theater. Not only university.

For now every Korean high school graduate goes into college, then MA then corporate job in chaebol or PhD. There are a lot of unemployed PhD's in Korea.