Category Archives: Seoul

Demonstration concerning the removal of poor people from neighborhoods in Seoul


Seoul Cafe BATKONG introduces Batman to Kyung Hee University

The cafe “BATKONG”  devoted to the theme of Batman has opened

recently near Kyung Hee and serves excellent coffee.

Feel free to pick up some coffee beans to take home too.

Bat obviously refers to “Batman” and “Kong” refers not to “King Kong”

as much as the Korean word “k’ong” meaning “bean.” %e9%98%bf%e6%b3%b0%e7%a0%81%e5%a4%b42%e6%8a%8a%e5%ae%83man



Kermit! Say it isn’t so!


“The mayors of Seoul” (July 9, 2016 JoongAng Daily)

JoongAng Daily

“The mayors of Seoul”

July 9, 2016

Emanuel Pastreich



If you visit the old city hall in Seoul (now a public library), a rather stoic Germanic building built during the colonial period, you will find on the third floor a small museum featuring fascinating exhibitions that detail the development of the city over the last century.

On the wall of the museum hangs a mosaic of asymmetrically arranged rectangles that feature the pictures and short biographies of the mayors of Seoul. The first mayor in the series is Kim Hyung-min who served 1946-1948 in the immediate post-war period.

It seems natural to Seoulites that the list of mayors starts from the establishment of an independent Korea—although this first mayor served before the founding of the Republic of Korea. You cannot included the 18 mayors of Seoul who served during the colonial period because they were all Japanese and carried out an exploitative colonial policy.

There was a first Korean mayor after the war, Lee Beomseung, but he worked in the old colonial system before modern city of Seoul was established.

But it struck me immediately that this pantheon of mayors was deeply wrong. After all, the first first “mayor” of Seoul (Commissioner for Hanseong City Government) was Seong Seok-rin who took up the office in 1395. An astonishing 832 people served as mayors of Seoul from the founding of the Joseon Dynasty until the Japanese occupation. Granted that the position did not have the same authority as the modern mayor of Seoul, and only a short term of rule, nevertheless, those public servants all deserve to be listed as mayors of one of the few cities in the world with a literally unbroken administrative history of over six hundred years.

So what is the psychology behind the decision to leave out 551 years of Seoul history from this museum about Seoul?

Clearly there is a profound cultural break in Seoul’s history which makes it hard for current Seoulites to associate themselves with that long history and its culture. Whereas most Parisians can name all of the bridges over the Seine River, few Seoulites can name the bridges over the Cheonggyecheon. The past is all around us in the form of monuments, and occasionally surviving buildings, but we pay little attention to those traces. They could be, by contrast, an inspiration for building a new Seoul.

More often Seoul tries to create a culture that will motivate and inspire its citizens by becoming like London, or Singapore, or Paris. The best example of this obsession with becoming some other city is the project to transform the Seoul Station Overpass into a public park covered with plants and works of arts. This plan is based on the High Line Park on the West side of Manhattan and although the results may be interesting, the plan is entirely based on an imported concept that will be implemented by the Dutch firm MVRDV.

But what Seoul really needs is not “Manhattan-ness” but rather “Seoul-ness.” The challenge for the city is how it reinterprets and makes relevant the sleeping traditions of the past, in order to create a new urban environment that leaves as many older buildings standing as possible, and hints back to the city’s roots, even back to the 14th century.

But the city is moving quickly in the wrong direction. All across Seoul, glass and steel office buildings and apartment buildings are being thrown up that completely ignore the ancient alleys of the city and which do not even hint at the traditions of Seoul’s architecture in their exteriors, or, for that matter, in their interiors.

The destruction of Seoul’s deep structure, whether it is the building of apartment buildings along the edge of the Kyunghee Palace that are alien to the traditional urban environment, or the erection of massive office buildings at Uljiro 2-ga which leave no space for the merchants or the ordinary citizens who have made the neighborhoods of Seoul feel like intimate villages for the last five hundred years.

Such radical changes in the urban environment do not create vitality, but rather break up the very continuity that encourages innovation. To make Seoul into another Singapore is to kill everything that has made Seoul so resilient. If you want to find vital culture in Seoul, seek out the factories around Uljiro 3-ga where artists make their sculptures in the back street factories run by small businesses, or visit Jungang Market where local merchants have joined up with artists have to create a vital culture.

I am not suggesting that we should try to restore Seoul to what it was in the past. That is not possible. Rather, new buildings should be built to last and built with a profound sense of Seoul’s past. We should see modern buildings as new variations on melodies from the distant past, using elements of traditional hanok, and at times even choosing clay and wood over glass and steel.

At the same time, our vast ignorance of the mayors of Seoul during the Joseon Dynasty means that we know nothing about the policies that were employed in the administration of the city for five hundred years. Few of us, including those working in city hall, know about the policies for the promotion of government officials in the city of Seoul during that time, the environmental preservation and urban farming policies, the management of markets and factories, and the local administration of the districts of Seoul.

We do not have the vaguest idea what wisdom lies in the policies of Seoul from those days, or what parts might be applied to the present, or to the future. The collective wisdom, the institutional knowledge of the city, which is its greatest treasure, has been thoughtlessly tossed aside in our rush to make Seoul into a modern city indistinguishable from other modern cities around the world.

Seoulites feel that to be too closely tied to Seoul’s past will somehow hold them back, tying them to a backwards city of poverty and filth. But although a wealthy city like Copenhagen or Munich may look attractive, it is not Seoul. We will find the keys to this city’s future in its past. We must reinterpret the back streets, the urban policies, and the communities of the past and find in those patterns the past offers hints of what a sustainable future Seoul should look like.

I have no doubt that the hundreds of previous mayors of Seoul have much wisdom to share with us if we will only listen.


“한국의 과거에서 미래를 찾는 문화 개척자, 이진용 ” CIRCLES AND SQUARES


2016년 3월 31일 

seoul aesthetic movement tshirts

한국의 과거에서 미래를 찾는 문화 개척자, 이진용 : 서울문화의 의미


임마누엘 페스트라이쉬



10년 전부터 한류 문화는 아시아를 휩쓸기 시작했고, 이에 발맞춰 서울은 과거 어느 누구도 상상하지 못했던 문화의 중심지가 되었습니다. 하지만 이같은  TV 드라마 ‘대장금’, 싸이의 ‘강남스타일’의 성공에도 불구하고, 한국이라는 나라와 문화 콘텐츠 상용화에 대한 문화적 불확실성이 커지면서 많은 사람들이 기대했던 문화적 독창성은 위태로운 상황이 되었습니다.

이런 상황 속에서, 서울의 젊은 예술가 이진용 씨는 그동안 한국이 가지고 있는 또 다른 잠재력이 무엇인지 알아내고자 적극적으로 활동해왔습니다. 이진용 씨는 한국의 문화적 탈바꿈을 위해 평생을 바치겠다는 자신의 신념에 공감하는 사람들을 찾아 함께 하는 길을 걸어 왔습니다.  이같은 탈바꿈은 한국의 전통으로 쉽게 떠올려지는 ‘급격한 산업화’ 라는 따분한 주제에서 벗어나야 가능할 것입니다.

이진용 씨는 자신을 “Imagineer” (Image + Pioneer) “상상력+개척자” 라고 부르는데, 이는 한국의 문화적 가치에 대해 대부분의 한국인들이 생각하는 제한적인 “브랜드화” 개념을 뛰어넘고자 하는 사람을 의미합니다. 그는 “문화란 아름다움과 철학과 문학에 관한 것이지, 음료수의 브랜드를 만드는 것이 아니다”라고 말합니다. “새로운 상업적 유행을 좇는 것이 아니라 문명의 변화를 만들어내야 하는 것이지요.”


이진용 씨는 한국, 대만, 그리고 미국에서 자랐고, 일러스트레이션 공부를 위해 로드아일랜드 디자인스쿨(Rhode Island School of Design)에 진학했습니다. 한국의 문화 부흥에 대한 그의 생각은 미술사가인 Pascale Rihouet, 그리고 디지털 매체 비평가인 Richard Gann과 함께 연구할 때부터 싹트기 시작했습니다. 그는 “보여주기 식 혁신”이 아닌 진정한 의미의 혁신을 결정하는 요소로서 물질 문화의 본질을 보기 시작했습니다.

이진용 씨는 한국의 문화 부흥 실현을 위한 첫 번째 단계로, 기존의 문화를 재해석을 언급했고, 이를 신기술의 잠재력과 결합해 누구나 수용할 수 있는 패러다임으로 변화시켰습니다.


그는 한국이 자동차 강국이기 때문에, 또는 대중음악을 주도하고 있기 때문에 새로운 문명의 중심이 될 수 있는 것이 아니라 전통적인 윤리적 가치와 아름다움을 확인함으로써 그 중심이 될 수 있다고 주장합니다. 우리가 서로를 낯설게 하는 것이 아니라 공동의 노력과 문화적 다양성을 창출하는 세계화를 이루고자 하는 바람을 가지고 있다면, “널리 인간을 사랑하는 정신 (홍익인간 정신)”과 “인품을 갖춘 학자의 정신(선비 정신)”과 같은 한국의 전통이야말로 세계인들이 절실하게 보고 싶어하는 것이라는 점을 그는 강조했습니다.

이진용 씨는 이렇게 설명합니다. “한국적 생각이란 것이 구시대적으로 보일 수 있기 때문에 한국 사람들이 이것을 간과하는 경우가 많습니다. 한국인들은 국제적 기준에 맞춰야 한다는 생각에 전통 문화를 가볍게 보는 경향이 있습니다. 그렇다고 우리가 정체성을 잃은 것은 아니지만, 한국 문화가 어디에서나 통할 수 있다는 자신감을 잃어버린 것이지요.”


이진용 씨는 한국 문화를 되살리겠다는 원대한 계획을 아시아 인스티튜트와 함께 세우게 되었습니다.

필자가 소장으로 있는 아시아 인스티튜는 서울의 문화를 홍보하고 시민들이 살고 있는 인접 지역의 역사와 문화에 대한 자긍심을 갖도록 하기 위한 프로젝트를 이진용 씨와 함께 시작했습니다. 일전에 저술한  ‘Seoul I’이라는 역사에 대한 책에서 필자는 사람들이 살고 있는 이웃의 중요성을 강조했으며, 고유 생태계에 기반한 대전시의 로고가 있는 티셔츠와 머그컵을 디자인 한 바 있습니다.

최근에 아시시인스티튜트에  연구원으로 활동하고 있는 이진용 씨는  문화적 역사적 주제를 담아 시민들이 살고 있는 서울의 인접 지역과 한국 내 여러 도시들의 로고를 만들었습니다.

또한 근래에는 일반인들이 사용할 수 있는 티셔츠 3개를 출시했고, 조만간 5개 정도의 티셔츠를 이어 선보일 예정입니다.

어떤 티셔츠에는 세련된 한글 서체와 로마 서체로 “Seoul”이라는 글씨가 적혀 있습니다. 또 다른 이태원 홍보 티셔츠에는 삼족오(三足烏)가 그려져 있습니다. 삼족오란 균형과 영생을 상징하는 3각(脚)의 소용돌이 무늬가 있는 다리가 3개인 영조(靈鳥)입니다. 또한 서울 시내를 흐르는 청계천을 한국의 전통 색깔로 표현해 소개하는 티셔츠도 있습니다. 이진용 씨는 이처럼 서울 인접 지역의 문화적 정체성을 새롭게 부각시킴으로써 새삼 한국인으로서의 자긍심을 갖고 또한 한국의 문화적 다양성에 대해서도 관심을 보이게 된다고 말합니다. 한국 문화는 김치와 불고기로만 대변되는 경우가 많습니다. 아시아 인스티튜는 우리가 살고 있는 마을과 이웃에도 고유의 멋이 있다는 것을 알리려 합니다. 유럽에서는 이러한 추세가 이미 자리 잡고 있지만, 한국에서는 아직 생소하기 때문 입니다. 새로운 티셔츠 3종류는 이미 서울 상징에서 판매 중에 있고, 다른 티셔츠들 역시 조만간 선보일 예정 입니다.

아시아 인스티튜트가 여러분의 이웃을 위해 특별한 로고가 인쇄되어 있는 티셔츠를 제작했습니다. 구입을 원하시는 분은 아시아 인스티튜트에  연락해주시면 구매가능합니다.



Homeless in Seoul

I discovered this home created by a homeless man under and overpass in downtown Seoul. The plight of the homeless in Seoul is constantly on my mind as it becomes an increasingly serious issue.


homeless in seoul

Seoul T-Shirts from Asia Institute

Three new Seoul T-shirts from Asia Institute.

Three new Seoul T-shirts from Asia Institute.

The Itaewon T-shirt features Sam Jok-o, the three legged phoenix accompanied by the triskelion that is a universal symbol for balance and eternity.

The Itaewon T-shirt features Sam Jok-o, the three legged phoenix accompanied by the triskelion that is a universal symbol for balance and eternity.

The Cheongyecheon T-shirt uses traditional Korean colors in a representation of the ecological elements of the river which defined the city of Seoul since the 14th century.

The Cheongyecheon T-shirt uses traditional Korean colors in a representation of the ecological elements of the river which defined the city of Seoul since the 14th century.


The Seoul T-shirt features "Seoul" in both Roman and Hangul scripts in a strikingly modern manner.

The Seoul T-shirt features “Seoul” in both Roman and Hangul scripts in a strikingly modern manner.



The first run of Asia Institute T-shirts will be available in high quality cotton at a price of 25,000 Won. Contact us for more information.




Chinese section at Kyobo Books

There are many aspects of Kyobo Bookstore in Gwanghwamun that bother me. First and foremost is the decision to stop being a book store and turn into a department store that sells speakers, socks, candles, stationary supplies, bags and snacks. In addition the number of books lying on their sides (as opposed to on shelves) has increased, but the total number of books, and variety of books, has declined precipitously over the last eight years I have been coming here.

But by far the saddest part of the Kyobo Bookstore is the Chinese book section. As opposed to the English language section which includes a good stock, and a few worth reading, or the Japanese section, which is more limited, but still sufficient, the Chinese section is just four shelves in an extremely obscure corner. You would never find it if you did not ask.

The books are translations of Western (and some Japanese) mainstream works. Not a single book by a significant book by a Chinese writer is to be found.

Not sure I know why Kyobo has invested so little in the Chinese section, but it looks like a mistake granted just how important to Korea China has become.

The Chinese book section at Kyobo Books is only about four shelves and contains not a single significant Chinese book.

The Chinese book section at Kyobo Books is only about four shelves and contains not a single significant Chinese book.

The Chinese books are translations of Western and Japanese books or bland how-to books by unknown authors.

The Chinese books are translations of Western and Japanese books or bland how-to books by unknown authors.

Don’t have a camel? Try a giraffe

Here is a poster that I saw today (June 13, 2015) at City Hall, Seoul.





It reads:

“Instead of a Camel, Ride a Giraffe”

1) the shape is similar

2) the feel of the ride is similar

3) the fuel they for both is similar

4) you will not get MERS.

We have prepared fuel efficient giraffes for you. Please email us at


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“What It Will Take to Make Korea the Center for Think Tanks” (Huffington Post May 22, 2015)

Huffington Post

“What It Will Take to Make Korea the Center for Think Tanks”

May 22, 2015

Emanuel Pastreich


Governance is perhaps the greatest crisis we face today. Governments are run by bureaucracies and corporate clients which are not accountable to the citizens and they are most influenced by media corporations that serve to distract and entertain, rather than to inform and to challenge. There is literally no space for the citizen to engage in the debate on policy and many have simply given up.

The think tank today is a double-edged sword. There are think tanks that honestly offer an opportunity for citizens to participate in a discussion on policy. Such organizations as the Korea Federation of Environmental Movements and People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy are representative of this movement. Nevertheless, even the most progressive of those think tanks are often dominated by an inside circle of influential figures and are not so welcoming to outsiders. Equally important, they tend not to be as international in their outreach. Progressive think tanks do have their partners around the world, but they rarely hold seminars in English, or produce reports in English, let alone Chinese or Japanese.

On the other hand, there are massive spaces for the discussion of policy like the Asan Institute for Policy Studies that bring together leading figures for seminars and publish numerous policy papers aimed at policy makers. And yet such think tanks as the Asan Institute are not meant as places to debate policy, but rather for experts, often from the far right, to kindly explain an agenda that has already been decided. These think tanks feature many events that are invitation only and they take pride in their exclusivity, limiting meetings with important public officials to VIP guest lists. Read more of this post