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FEBRUARY 2010

FEBRUARY 2010 www.korea.net

COMPUTER
GRAPHIC:
A NEW STAR IN
KOREAN
www.korea.net

MOVIES
ISSN: 2005-2162
G a t e w a y t o K o r e a

Korea’s official multi-language website has:


sCONSTANTUPDATESON+OREASGOVERNMENT ECONOMY TOURISM CULTUREANDLIFESTYLE
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PRELUDE

The Beauty of Korea Located in south-


eastern Seoul, Namhansanseong is a mountain
fortress with about 200 historic sites and buildings.
The fortress was included on UNESCO’s Tentative
Lists in January 2010.
Choi Ji-young
CONTENTSFEBRUARY 2010 VOL. 6 NO. 2

COVER STORY 04 PEN & BRUSH 16 PEOPLE 20


CG is being incorporated more and more fre- Novelist Sung Suk-je’s works are entertain- The classical music cafe “Art for Life,” man-
quently into Korean movies. Haeundae and ing, but also touching. His knack for com- aged by oboist Seong Pil-gwan and his wife
Take Off, movies in which CG played a bining both humor and interesting subject flutist Yong Mi-joong, is an extraordinary
prominent role, were both big hits last year. matter can also be seen in his essays. place in Buam-dong, Seoul. Two concerts
are held at the cafe each week, showcasing
the pair’s philosophy about art and sharing.
TRAVEL 26 SUMMIT DIPLOMACY 36 NOW IN KOREA 44
Inje, which lies on the eastern side of the Korea is to build and operate nuclear power Even the harsh cold weather can’t stop
Korean peninsula, takes its winter celebra- plants in the United Arab Emirates, worth Koreans’ passion for winter sports. From
tions to heart. Here, you will find that winter US$40 billion. It is said that the global snowboarding to ice climbing, there are a
festivals, outstanding local food and nuclear reactor market will double over the myriad of winter activities to enjoy in Korea.
snow-white landscapes are ubiquitous. next two decades.

MY KOREA 32
Certain cultural quirks can seem odd to for-
eigners — but therein also lies the charm.
An Englishman living in Seoul confesses GLOBAL KOREA 40
that singing in a noraebang, Korean karaoke, The Comprehensive Economic Partnership
is indeed strange, but an interesting experi- Agreement (CEPA) between Korea and India
ence nonetheless. took effect January 1. As a country with
tremendous growth potential, India has been
predicted to bring great economic opportuni-
ties to Korea.

PUBLISHER Kim He-beom,


Korean Culture and Information Service

EDITING HEM KOREA Co., Ltd

E-MAIL webmaster@korea.net

PRINTING Samsung Moonwha Printing Co.

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www.korea.net
COVER STORY

COMPUTER
GRAPHIC:
A NEW
STAR
IN KOREAN
MOVIES Topic Photo
When a massive tsunami approached the shores of Busan’s
Haeundae Beach, the excited chatter of vacationers was instantly
transformed into hellish screams. In the summer of 2009, Koreans
packed movie theaters to watch Haeundae, the nation’s first natural
disaster blockbuster. The film, which sold more than 10 million
tickets, owes its success to computer graphics technology.
by Min Yong-jun
CG on the Korean Screens
A film chronicling the rise of a hopeless group of ski jumpers quickly garnered fame in
Korean theaters. Take Off (2009) follows the tale of five young men who train in ski
resorts without any proper ski jumping facilities, in the hopes of someday winning an
Olympic gold medal. The hit film sold more than 8 million tickets and combined with
Haeundae, the two blockbusters sold nearly 20 million tickets domestically — more
than 10 percent of the entire nation’s 156 million movie ticket sales in 2009. Both
films took advantage of Korea’s own virtual effects (VFX) technology, particularly in the
area of computer graphics (CG).
But even before recent box office hits like Haeundae and Take Off, CG played a
prominent role in Korean cinema. Blockbusters such as Tae Guk Gi: Brotherhood of War
(2004), director Kang Je-gyu’s Korean War epic that breathtakingly recreated the mis-
Mofac Studio

ery of the battlefield on the silver screen, and fantasy film The Restless (2006) also
made extensive use of CG. In 2007, Dragon Wars: D-War took the technology’s potential
to a new level, setting the bar higher within the Korean film industry. Director Bong

KOREA
FEBRUARY
06 2010
Joon-ho’s The Host (2006) was also recognized for its use of the technology. In
essence, CG has grown to become a “secret weapon” that can make almost any image
into reality.
However, the use of CG is not some effortless, quick and simple wave of a magic
wand. CG is only a part of VFX, which functions as a means to artificially portray extraor-
dinary scenes normal cameras are unable to capture. The increasing incorporation of CG
in Korean films means VFX supervisors are playing a more important role than ever. As
Jeong Seong-jin of EON Digital Films (the VFX supervisor for Take Off) puts it, “For the
last 30 minutes of Take Off, the whole crew had to make a huge collective effort.
Creating an explosive finale, while at the same time giving viewers a sense of realism,
was important to us. It was also vital that CG supported the dramatic emotions of the
main characters, who were facing the risks of ski jumping in spite of bad weather, while
delivering a sense of real speed.”
Jeong underscores that CG is not simply a device used to buttress movies on a techni-
cal basis; it’s a catalyst that enables more effective drama, but is an addition that
should not interfere with the overall flow of the film.
Jang Seong-ho, president of Mofac Studio (the VFX supervisor for Haeundae), also
said, “We could have achieved a better quality of CG than we did if the production com-
pany had told us to look for ways to create CG with our own technology from the begin-
ning of the project. [Furthermore,] we could have done it for half as much as was spent
in the US (when we outsourced the material). In any event, it’s a relief that we were able
to bring the level of CG up to a point that viewers found acceptable, though I would not
be honest if I said the project was completed with total satisfaction.” In fact, the quality
of the computer-generated data in Haeundae’s water scenes bought from the American
company was originally so bad, in part due to a lack of budget, that Jang completely
reworked the data he was given. Mofac Studio ended up changing the texture and light-
ing of the CG cuts, rendering them over and over, and adding extra details. They spent
roughly two months focusing on the final composition of more than 640 CG cuts.

before

A still from the movie


Haeundae (opposite), CG
works from the TV drama
Legend (left, right above)
and also from the TV
drama Tamra, the Island
(right below).
after

before

after

KOREA
FEBRUARY
2010 07
Still and CG works from the movie The
Forbidden Kingdom (top, below), CG works from

Learning from Experience the movie The Restless (bottom).

The experience of learning to use CG provides another opportunity. Director Yoon


Je-kyoon and JK Film are now in the early stages of putting together an underwater
“monster movie” called Sector 7. Mofac Studio is working on preproduction together
with JK Film for the project. before

The creature in The Host was brought to life by an American VFX company called
The Orphanage. Back then, a movie featuring a huge monster was an unprecedented
challenge in the Korean film industry. For a blockbuster that cost around US$9.1
million to make, the producers had to be careful when making choices to ensure they
didn’t lose money, which is why The Orphanage was chosen over every other Korean after
company. While The Orphanage was known for the CG work it did on a texture called
“hard surface,” through its work for The Host, the company acquired the necessary
technology to create a new kind of monster, which in turn helped raise its own standard
of quality.
Not to be outdone, the making of Haeundae was also an amazing achievement. JK
before
Film stipulated in its conditions that all technology would transfer to Mofac Studio
when it signed a contract with the foreign VFX company. The resulting data from
Haeundae thus became the property of Mofac Studio, which ultimately helped improve
DTI Pictures

Korea’s own VFX technology.


In a similar move, Weta Digital, a New Zealand visual effects company, grew leaps
and bounds with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. More recently, it helped after

KOREA
FEBRUARY
08 2010
work on the science fiction epic Avatar (2009). Keep in mind that although New
Zealand’s movie industry is, relative to Hollywood, underdeveloped, Peter Jackson
helped his own New Zealand-based VFX company become one of the world’s most
respected in its field by bringing it in to help in the making of his hugely successful
before movie project.
It’s not practical to always depend on just one company do all the work. At the same
time, overcoming huge challenges is a prerequisite for positive growth. Previously,
Insight Visual took part in the production of Kang Je-gyu’s Tae Guk Gi: Brotherhood of
War, and is now working on D-Day (working title), Kang’s first overseas project that is
still in the planning stages.
after
“At the time when Tae Guk Gi was being made, Kang didn’t trust our CG team very
much,” says Son Seung-hyeon, Insight Visual’s production director. “But afterwards I
think he learned to trust the role CG plays in movies. I think he’s decided to use CG a
lot more from now on.”
The most important part of D-Day is location, as the movie is based around the
before Normandy invasion. The production department is planning on shooting in China,
Germany, Hungary and Korea, but continues to discuss the necessity of each location.
Additionally, they’re examining different ways to get the effects they need without
spending too much of the budget to film in all those locations.
Although the movie has substantial funding of around US$27 million, shooting will
after be hard to execute because of its sheer scale, which is why CG is bound to play an
Still and CG works from TV drama, Iris (top and important role. It is likely that “matte painting,” a cost-cutting technique used to copy
above, below). and paste people’s movements for a particular shoot in the form of digital data, will be
used in D-Day because of the way it positively impacted Tae Guk Gi.
Next Visual

KOREA
FEBRUARY
2010 19
The Future of Korean VFX
Perhaps the greatest benefit of CG technology is that it allows for more diverse story-
telling. From Haeundae and Take Off, to a recent movie called Woochi (2009), Korean
cinema is attempting to deal with genres and subjects that would have been impossible
in the past. The same applies to TV dramas. The Legend (2008) and Iris (2009) were
both large-scale projects that captured the attention of viewers with their unique use of
CG. As a result of technological developments, Korea’s movie and video game industries
gained new freedoms in sharing their stories.
At the same time, it’s important to think seriously about how efficiently CG will be
used in the future. Yang Seok-il, a manager at DTI Pictures, cautions, “Some producers
just hate CG but others heavily depend on it. For example, when shooting a car chase
scene where a car is flipped over, producers need to think about whether their action
team or CG team can reconstruct it better, and then also consider which one is more
within their budget. I’m not saying you have to use CG and spend more money, but it is
Insight Visual

important to decide which part of a movie definitely needs proper CG.”


The box office success of Haeundae and Take Off is definitely encouraging. Indeed,
the success of big budget movies that make liberal use of CG has led to the planning of

KOREA
FEBRUARY
10 2010
other such movies, with companies able to study and apply the new technology to them.
Korean VFX companies usually work on several projects simultaneously — three to four
at any given time. Although there is an educational benefit for the film crew — they can
gain an intimate understanding of the overall flow of each movie or TV drama they work
on — it is born from a grueling work process.
Today, Korean VFX companies are turning their sights to overseas markets. In an
effort to promote Korea’s VFX industry, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and
the Korea Creative Content Agency jointly sponsored Korea’s seven leading VFX compa-
nies by participating in the American Film Market (AFM) — the largest motion picture
trade show in the world — in 2009.
Before the event, few Korean companies received requests to help make foreign
movies. One notable exception was when DTI Pictures, Macrograph and Footage all took
part in the postproduction of The Forbidden Kingdom (2008). Yang Seok-il of DTI
Pictures explained it this way: “The price difference wasn’t very big. Breaking into
Hollywood doesn’t guarantee success. What you need to do is respond to business
strategically.” Mofac Studio also took part in the production of the soon-to-be released
movie, The Warrior’s Way (2010). While it won’t be easy for Korean VFX companies to
become an inseparable part of extravagant Hollywood films any time soon, they will
need to search for more long-term targets when considering overseas markets.
The expansive achievements of Korea’s CG technology will be rendered useless if not
given the chance to be properly used, but opportunities aren’t created solely through the
efforts of a single individual. So far, there have been the select few who have worked
hard to develop the industry, but now it is time to understand where the country stands,
from an industrial and international perspective. The CG industry’s ambition to re-create
the future of Korean cinema with its technology can only begin to be realized after this
understanding comes about. Looking only at the progress so far, the results are encour-
aging. Based on the diverse range of experiences Korean VFX companies have had so
far, they will one day be able to create such comparable CG works as that of Avatar.

before

CG work from the movie


Hong Gil-dong (oppo-
site), a still from the
movie Tae Guk Gi (left),
CG works from the movie
Modern Boy (right
above) and from the
movie Private Eye (right after
below).

before

after

KOREA
FEBRUARY
2010 11
INTERVIEW

KOREAN ARTISTS
TO LEAD CG BLOCKBUSTERS
Anyone who has been paying close attention to the end credits
of Hollywood blockbusters for the past several years will have
noticed the occasional Korean name scroll by. Today, there are
actually quite a few Korean VFX artists working on some of
Hollywood’s top productions and at some of America’s leading stu-
dios. These talented men and women represent the future of the
Korean VFX industry.
Koreans had a hand in Avatar (2009), James Cameron’s epic 3D
motion picture that has fundamentally altered the movie industry.
The list includes lighting technical director Jung Byung-gun(above),
digital modelers Chang Jung-min and Lo Eung-ho, senior facial
modeler Lee Jin-woo, modeler Lee Sun-jin, visual effects artist Im
Chang-eui, FX ATD Sean Lee, motion editor Kim Ki-hyun and sen-
Jung Byung-gun

ior animator Park Jee-young. A total of nine Korean artists were


involved in the historic cinematic project, two of whom sat down to
talk with KOREA about their lives and the VFX industry.

KOREA
FEBRUARY
12 2010
Q How did you end up working overseas?
A Jung Byung-gun After graduating from Hongik University with a
degree in Department of Art Studies, I enrolled at the Academy of
Art University (AAU) in San Francisco in 1996. I then worked on
three feature films and one short animation at the Walt Disney
Studios before landing a job at Weta Digital. In the past, I’ve also
worked for Paramount Studios and Sony Computer Entertainment,
the maker of the Sony PlayStation. Early on in my career I spent
three or four years in the field of game cinematics, working for
companies like SNK, Activision and Sony.
Park Jee-young In character animation at the California Institute of
the Arts (CalArts), I started work at an indie movie production
company as a 2D key animator. At the time, many 2D animators
were transitioning into 3D, and I was no exception. Three years
ago, I saw an announcement saying James Cameron’s Avatar was
going into preproduction, and, of course, that’s when I applied to
join Weta’s animation team.

Q What exactly did you do on Avatar?


A Jung In November 2008, for the first eight months of produc-
tion, I worked as a texture artist, developing colors and textures for
CG character backgrounds and objects, and then for the last four
months I worked as a lighting technical director, designing the
lighting for scenes to create the final images. This transition
between departments enabled me to experience a wider range of
the movie’s production process.
Park I worked on Avatar as a senior animator. All of these crea-
tures, none of which exist in the real world, were created from more expressive. The use of VFX is only going to increase in Korea
scratch through nothing but animation. in the future. It’s also noteworthy that there are a growing number
of professionals who are well-versed in this field.
Q What did you think was special when you first saw how
Hollywood productions were made and became a part of it? Q What do you think about Korea’s intention to take its VFX
A Park The first things that come to mind are the massive amounts overseas?
of capital investment, the systematic production pipeline in place, A Jung It’s great that Korean VFX companies are collaborating on
and the abundance of trained professionals. A particular focus is overseas projects and making inroads in other markets, and they
placed on preproduction and planning, during which an efficient should definitely keep up with this. It’s difficult to expect the
production plan is drawn up, while developing the necessary soft- Korean VFX industry to grow if companies just target the limited
ware and technologies and creating a coherent storyline at the domestic market with its small number of moviegoers. Producers
same time. Such thorough preparation, combined with an efficient in Hollywood are turning their attention outside the country to cut
work environment, saves a lot of time. During the preproduction of costs. So as long as you have solid qualifications and a good com-
Avatar, which lasted several years, James Cameron and 20th mand of English, there’s a good chance you can sign some kind of
Century Fox developed a new camera technology called the Pace a deal with an overseas company for VFX or animation production.
Fusion 3D camera system. Another strength of the Hollywood VFX We have to figure out what our strengths and weaknesses are, and
industry is that there are so many artists who know how to use all deal with the particular problems we face. Korea has a domestic
these new technologies really well. movie and game market base, and a professional workforce. On the
20th Century Fox Korea

other hand, there is a lack of experts with high-end production


Q How do you think Korea’s VFX technology is coming along? experience and a language barrier in place. You also have to keep
A Park Thanks to Korea’s soaring interest in VFX and how it’s revi- in mind that most of the countries doing VFX and animation work
talizing the entertainment industry, investment in VFX movies is for the US right now are English-speaking ones like Canada, India,
growing every year and movies out there are becoming more and New Zealand, Singapore, India and the UK.

KOREA
FEBRUARY
2010 13
HELPING THE CG INDUSTRY
GAIN GROUND WORLDWIDE

In November 2009, seven Korean VFX companies shared a booth


at the American Film Market (AFM), the largest motion picture
trade show in the world. The companies were involved in a project
aimed at actively promoting the technology of Korean VFX compa-
nies through business meetings with international film profession-
als, an endeavor spearheaded by Korea’s Ministry of Culture,
Sports and Tourism (MCST) and the Korea Creative Content
Agency (KOCCA).
The two government groups backed the companies’ promotional
efforts by arranging business meetings with buyers from
Hollywood, which Jo Ha-sup, an assistant manager at KOCCA’s
Future Convergence Content Group, expounded on when he said,

KM Culture
“It is very difficult for small Korean companies to open booths at
international festivals because of their limited budgets. That’s why
the government provided an opportunity for these small businesses
to share a booth.”
Park Sang-uk, who works at the MCST’s Convergence Content
Team, adds, “The AFM is part of the bigger promotional package
picture. The main part of the program is aimed at supporting
Korean CG companies participating in movie/broadcasting projects
both in Korea and overseas by paying for part of the production
costs. The goal is to help these companies enhance their price
competitiveness and the quality of their product. In this context,
participation in the AFM can be seen as an additional marketing
support tool.”
The industry welcomes the move. “Hollywood tends to keep
going back to companies that have proven themselves time and
again. Initially, we predict we will not achieve exactly what we
want, but I do think that we will be able to improve our relations
on a lasting basis once we successfully complete our first project,”
says Son Seung-hyeon, production director at Insight Visual. In
essence, government support is like fertilizer, supporting the
industry until companies can stand on their own two feet.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism made an official
announcement about the project to promote Korean CG companies
in foreign markets on January 14, 2010, with Minister Yu In-chon
explaining, “The government plans to inject around US$181 mil-
lion into its computer graphics industry by 2013.” The action plan
includes creating a special CG fund of around US$45 million,
offering tax breaks that include refunding the cost of production,
and providing support in the form of equipment to small compa-
nies to enhance their technological competence.
On top of that, the government will help individual companies
which have had difficulty finding investment for their technolo-
gies, with their R&D efforts. The project aims to improve the tech-
nological prowess of all Korean VFX providers and secure new 3D
technologies emerging around the world. The MCST plans to
spearhead participation in overseas projects involving Korean com-
panies and to provide further marketing opportunities by bringing
relevant businesses together in overseas markets, including the
Cannes International Film Festival and the American Film Market.
If all goes according to plan, this will create sales of 100 billion
won and 30,000 new jobs by 2013.
The government’s policy initiative was brought about after
Korean companies would not leave the issue alone. The outcome
of their hard work to coordinate these demands was the establish-
ment of the Korea Computer Graphics Industry Alliance (KCGIA) in
2009. The idea of a council was conceived in 2008 and came to
Zip Cinema

fruition in August 2009 as an advisory committee to the govern-


ment. In a nutshell, the success of this policy depends on how well
Stills from the recently released movie Woochi (above) and last year’s government officials are informed of what is really going on in the
hit movie Take Off (below).
industry. People are paying attention to whether this meaningful
first step can lead to an even bigger leap.
PEN & BRUSH

Sung Suk-je
ng’s taste for fun and interesting subject matter can also be seen in his
essays. ‘I easily laugh. During my years in uni
DEEP INTO THE
WORLD OF
EVERYDAY
LIFE
Sung Suk-je’s novels are entertaining,
even touching. His stories are like a
cheerful folk dance. Spectators unknow-
ingly follow the beat and start dancing.
However, as one excitedly follows his sto-
ries, one suddenly flinches into an abrupt
silence. Excitement is suddenly trans-
formed into tears, enlightening the reader
with a sudden intuition that the source of
laughter and grief is one and the same.
Drawing pathos from everyday life, this is
why we believe in his writing.
by Lee Se-mi | photographs by Kim Hong-jin

For 24 years, Sung Suk-je has brought his readers laughter and my stories. I’ve written about whatever my mind shows, like a
tears with a writing style that encompasses both his strong per- patchwork quilt, and that is what I believe my literary world to
sonality and quick plot pacing. Although he has built a strong be. Literature is communication between author and readers.
resume based on his novels, he first appeared on the literary Literature is conveying stories I’ve heard and made. Literature is
scene as a poet. an inanimate object that springs to life with human interaction.
In 1986, Sung entered the field with his poem Window Unless awoken by human touch, a literary work will just be an
Washing Person, which won a prize at Munhaksasang. He went ordinary marker left at a specific location.”
on to write his first novel, The Last 4.5 Seconds of My Life, in Though Sung is happy with the self-reflection poetry induces,
1994. Since then, his works have continued to win numerous he also enjoys the interaction that novels bring. Happiness can
awards, including the Oh Yeong-soo Literary Award in 2005. be a personal, one-sided emotion but, comparably, when some-
Sung has procured a steady reader base with his prolific pub- thing is entertaining it must be shared and is hardpressed to be
lished writings of two collections of poetry, 10 short novels, kept secret. The writer also found new ways of interacting with
essay collections and four novels. the audience with his essays, which, like his novels and poems,
Sung’s literary works are easily accessible for most readers. He portray his personal side.
does not seek to affirm his own innocence nor does he bask in “Writing sentences means the domain of fiction has started,
novelty. He also does not tease readers with ostentatiously com- and essays are also kind of a fabrication of fiction. But essays are
plex questions. In his youth, Sung admired colorful patchwork usually written with some sort of fact or phenomenon. You can-
quilts, and his literary career is often compared to the eclectic not write an essay without them. With these in hand, I have to
works that were once so impressed upon him. magnify and characterize a specific portion to get my point
“I like mixing it up. I’d rather have people than one person in across clearly. Essays have a different fun to them.”

KOREA
FEBRUARY
2010 17
A TRUE STORYTELLER Though there is no one to scold him if the writer’s personality and his works. If you strike up a conver-
he slacks off, Sung always wakes before dawn to care for his rice sation with him, you will be instantly reminded of a sincere and
paddies. He is a farmer’s son and heads straight for the fields, well-informed scholar. His novels also demonstrate his sense of
whether there is work to do or not. His first experience with humor: comical but with a hidden sincerity.
literature started before entering elementary school. Without Sung’s particular brand of subtle humor has pushed him to
any other forms of entertainment available, his only hobby was the forefront of contemporary writing. Often referred to as this
reading. Before entering elementary school, the young Sung generation’s representative storyteller, he prefers classics aside
tried to read everything he could get his hands on — including from his own literary tastes.
Hamlet more than a hundred times, thousands of martial arts Many will agree that what makes his novels most outstanding
novels, such as Hyeolmumun, and his aunt and uncle’s Korean is their subject matter. As he has an affinity for all people, he is
textbooks. constantly enveloped by a barrage of individuals that he con-
After graduating from high school, he moved to Seoul and nects with. Every acquaintance becomes potential material for
entered Yonsei University, majoring in law. After graduating, he his writing later, simply stored in his mind until they resurface
got a job at a company as an ordinary office worker, but somewhere in a novel. Sometimes, even old friends are recycled
resigned and became a full-time writer. However, he didn’t quit and recast in his writing.
his job with the intention of becoming a writer. To Sung, a His characters range from motorcycle gang members to gam-
proper job was safe and secure, but could in no way be fun. At blers, sexual assailants to passionless commoners. Though the
the time, he also never thought that, of all things, writing novels protagonists may vary, their lives are always expressed in a man-
could be entertaining. ner which most emphasizes the juxtaposition of humor and
Sung was fascinated with German poets and writers Rainer tragedy of their circumstances. The paradoxical profundity of
Maria Rilke, Bertolt Brecht, and Paul Celan, but regarded litera- the emotions felt by the reader typically conclude with a reevalu-
ture as ontological and only pursued his hobby in order to be ation of one’s existence.
well-read. His goal in life was to become a cultivated man who But it would be foolish to try and discover the hidden moral
could live his life with passion, like writer, philosopher, scientist in Sung’s stories; the best closure is to revel in the silent reminis-
and prime minister Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. cence that remains after the last page has been read and closed.
Understanding this ambition helps connect the ties between Though he can take you far past the point of emotional clarity

KOREA
FEBRUARY
18 2010
into obscurity again, the point is the journey itself.
And Sung is, indeed, a fun person. “If it is not fun for me, it SUNG SUK-JE’S SHORT STORIES
cannot make others laugh. I cannot tolerate boredom. The Last 4.5 Seconds of My Life (Die letzten viereinhalb
Sekunden meines Lebens)
Literature fundamentally has no meaning if it’s not read, and a
> Language German
powerful force that makes people read is when the content is > Publisher Peperkorn (Germany)
fun. Whatever the result, there must be something that makes > Published year 2009
me excited and curious. However, even if I think the material is
fun, and if my readers do not agree, then ultimately there is no
Sung Suk-je’s collection of short stories, The Last
fun in the material for me either.” 4.5 Seconds of My Life (Die letzten viereinhalb
Sung’s taste for entertainment saturates his writing. “I laugh Sekunden meines Lebens), includes nine of his
major works, including the title work The Last 4.5
easily. During my years in university, I was once scolded for
Seconds of My Life, First Love, Early Spring, Jo
laughing out loud by my professor who said ‘Why do you laugh Dong-gwan Yakjeon, Wandering, Novel Writing
at something so simple?’ So I walked out of the classroom and Person, Under the Shadows of the Oleander,
laughed all I wanted before returning.” His love for jocosity is Hwang Man-geun Said, and Cheonaeyullak.
The characters in The Last 4.5 Seconds of My Life
one reason he believes novels should be read carefreely, without are people on the boundaries of society. Sung
the obligation that something must be learnt from the material. expresses the characters’ cleverness and simplicity
Sung’s novels are much closer to realism than any ideological through a lovable combination, using comfortable
and witty writing that only he can. Examining a few
philosophies on the origins of our human nature. The weight of works in his collection of short stories, the title work
life and its layers of intricate truths can be very easily simplified The Last 4.5 Seconds of My Life is a piece that uses
with a gallant and bold bout of laughter. satirical allegory to express the transformation of a
man moving from a period dominated by physical
In earlier works, his novels often began with bizarre charac-
strength, to a period of ideologies. The writer depict-
ters whose idiosyncracies are expressed playfully, at odds with ed the last 4.5 seconds of a gangster’s life, like a
their environment. By the mid-2000s, his novels, among them slow video motion film, as he falls off a bridge to his
death in his car. Without any frivolous excess or
Mother’s Song and A Really Good Day, began to develop a heav-
humor, Sung’s mixture of mythology makes the
ier feel to them, progressing into new territories of, perhaps, novel multi-emotional in dimension.
maturity. More recently, in his new novel Currently Happy, Hwang Man-geun Said is a short story of a farmer
Sung has returned to his previously playful characters that are who is below average in all aspects of life. Hwang
Man-geun works diligently and helps his neighbors,
completely introverted into their own lives, but have reconciled while never avoiding humiliation from others until
themselves with their surroundings. The characters reflect the his sudden accidental death. He comes back to life
perspectives of the author as his view of the world becomes in this short story as an outsider who sees his true
worth. What would have Hwang Man-geun said?
more tolerant. However, one aspect of his novels has never He never did leave any special message, but his
changed, which Sung calls “showing the extreme.” duty-fulfilled life urges the reader to reflect on their
“My interest in the extreme has not changed. Today I focus own, which are littered with desires and
selfishness.
less on a being’s extreme characteristics, and try to focus on Jo Dong-gwan Yakjeon is a
expanding that extremity. It is less evident as it is covered up. piece that shows the true
People can change any way they like, whether tragically or essence of Sung’s writing.
The writer exquisitely express-
comically or coincidentally. I always keep that in mind.”
es the short life of a gangster
His characters are pushed to their limits through gambling, named Jo Dong-gwan and his
drinking, dancing, or acts implicitly demonstrating that the act roughneck life, and how he
gained fame as a gangster.
of losing oneself is a form of liberation. His extremes are not
Jo leaves to catch his runaway
metaphysical, but a form of experiential immersion. wife but fails to to get her. On
In writing, Sung is interested in hedonistic paradigms of the his way back home, he breaks
world, such as crime and money. But in person, he enjoys activi- all the windows of a police
station. He is arrested, con-
ties such as hiking, listening to music or riding his bicycle when victed, and ultimately sent to
faced with writer’s block. a “juvenile facility.” With the
He is currently writing about strangers who connect to form death of Jo, the indescribable
effects of his death on the
a family. Until then, his readers will have to lie in wait for the villagers are used to expose
next laugh, intermingled with sobs. As one of his poems cau- the hypocrisy and authority of
tions, “don’t expect this world to be this warm.” Sung Suk-je, older generations.

the storyteller, is a true player.

KOREA
FEBRUARY
2010 19
PEOPLE

KOREA
FEBRUARY
20 2010
THE ART OF
SHARING
A cafe can serve as an atmospheric environment to sip a
well-brewed coffee, a gathering place for artists and writers, a casu-
al restaurant to catch a light meal, or a simple getaway to enjoy
stimulating conversation. Combine the romantic ambiance of Cafe
de la Rotonde in Paris, where Jean Cocteau and Amedeo
Modigliani discussed the arts, with the Korean people’s affinity for
community, and you get “Art for Life,” a prime example of Seoul’s
unique blend of cafe culture. Situated at the foot of Buam-dong’s
tranquil mountains, this charismatic space of traditional architec-
ture radiates with a progressive philanthropy.
by Jeong Se-young | photographs by Kim Nam-heon

KOREA
FEBRUARY
2010 21
Novelist Oh Jung-hee once wrote: “In the evening as I wash rice,
I look up through the window greeted by the sunset hiding behind
the horizon of mountains and woods as a white bird flies by leaving
a trace of mystery, and my heart is filled with a vague sadness
towards my life.” The scenery of this passage matches that of
Buam-dong, which boasts the idyllic figures of Mounts Bukhansan
and Inwangsan in its landscape. The best vantage point can be
found just past the Whanki Museum — a landmark in Buam-dong
— and up the slope; spectators are rewarded with a picturesque
scene unlike the world that was left behind the bend. Taking a
deep breath as you look around, it’s easy to forget this quaint cafe
village is actually in the center of Seoul. Mountain ridges glow in
the sunset, smoke rises from traditional houses as families prepare
dinner, a stray cat follows the scent of rice, and a thick snow blan-
kets the rooftops.
Buam-dong is located in Jongno-gu, Seoul, at the eastern foot of
Mount Inwangsan, and bordered by Samcheong-dong to the east
and Pyeongchang-dong to the north. The neighborhood was named
after Buchim, a mythical boulder borne of traditional folklore. It
was believed that “if you rub a rock on the boulder the number of
times equal to one’s age, it will stick to the stone and that person
will be given a son.” Recently, Buam-dong started to gain fame as
it became the prominent stage for hit Korean dramas. Young
artists ranging from designers, photographers, musicians, film pro-
fessionals and chefs began to show a great deal of interest in
Buam-dong. Its winding alleyways elude to a simpler lifestyle sur-
rounded by nature, far away from the city bustle.
Buam-dong has become the popular “it” place to open an
artist’s studio, joining the prestigious ranks of Hongdae and
Garosu-gil, Samcheong-dong and Seorae Maeul, Gahoe-dong and
Hyoja-dong. Though the area has countless charming cafes, the
oldest and most sought-after is the classical music cafe “Art for
Life,” managed by former Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra oboist
Seong Pil-gwan and his wife, flutist Yong Mi-joong. The couple
acquired the mountaintop home seven years ago.
By the age of 38, Seong had studied culture, philosophy, poli-
tics and economics in both the Netherlands and France. During
his studies in Paris, where he first experienced authentic cafe cul-
ture, he dreamt of achieving the same level of connectivity in
Korea that he found abroad: the phenomenon of people freely
experiencing salon concerts in a setting of synergy. The first thing
he did upon returning to Korea was sell his 23-year-old apartment
building to construct a house in the mountains within Seoul’s city
limits. Seong hired four contractors to create his dream structure,
a “house of arts and sharing.” The final design included a main
building, large enough to house three generations, a small theater
for weekly concerts, an outdoor terrace for exhibitions, and a cafe
where one can order warm food and tea. Though many an obstacle
was faced in completing the building, Seong and his wife’s kept
their spirits up, and 18 months later their dreams were realized.

KOREA
FEBRUARY
22 2010
As soon as “Art for Life” opened, musicians, photographers,
poets, entrepreneurs, professors, doctors and passersby in love
with classical music flocked to their establishment. Many cus-
tomers were introduced to the establishment based on word of
mouth recommendations. But guests of “Art for Life” always
return and now, seven years later, they have become the cafe’s
family. Regulars gather each week on a volunteer basis to perform
and recite poems, partake in delectable cuisine and drink. Then,
at the end of the day, profits are sent to help those in need.

A FESTIVE LIFE At the entrance of the cafe are the words “A


Festive Life.” The phrase, which would seem to echo the prema-
ture epitaph of a musician’s life well-lived, is meant to inspire visi-
tors to define what happiness means to them. Though it may seem
at odds with those the couple wishes to help (those suffering from
misfortune), the catchphrase became the couple’s life slogan after
they found religion. Seong graduated from Hanyang University’s
College of Music, majoring in the oboe, and became a member of
the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of 21. He lectured at
Hanyang University, Sookmyung Women’s University and
Chung-Ang University and was on the short path to success.

Seong Pil-gwan, 55, is an oboist and the owner of the cafe “Art for Life” (opposite). The
cafe’s entrance is seen covered in snow (top) and a monochromatic sign indicates the
restaurant concert hall (above).
KOREA
FEBRUARY
2010 23
That is until when, in 1992, he left everything behind to study
abroad in Europe. Seong confesses that he was full of conceit,
having achieved so much at an early age. “Music was all I knew;
it was my life ... But one day, I met God. Everything changed after
that.” During his studies in Paris, the young musician learned of
an organization named Emmaüs, led by a priest named Abbe
Pierre. Through the charitable work of the group, Seong came to
realize that art was not only fun, but that it could be used to create
happiness in others as well. He learned that to spread joy, one
must share and live among those in society who are in need. He
came to regret the years spent enjoying his talents selfishly, and
instead wanted to give to others. Seong’s own “festive life” started
when he decided to share and use his talents for his neighbors.
The cafe now holds two concerts every Tuesday and Saturday;
a busy schedule that has the calendar booked through 2012.
January through March of this year will showcase jazz, March to
June will present classical music, July will return to jazz, and
August will present 15th and 16th century music. Though this year
is filled with Western music, the upcoming year will have tradition-
al Korean performances featuring instruments such as the
gayageum byeongchang, geomungo and haegeum accompanied by
dances. Film festivals and a myriad of events are also scheduled.
Performance profits are donated to the impoverished and others
in need. The philanthropic couple has helped foreign women living
in Korea who have no way to maintain their livelihood obtain
Korean citizenship, and has sponsored five orphaned minors
every year for the last three years, by giving them 1 million won
each month. ship of exchange and growth. “Children draw very well. After lis-
“Art for Life” does not stop at helping others materially. The tening to music, we ask the children to draw their impressions and
pair also help children learn and gain a better understanding of the we get such unique paintings filled with their infinite imagination.
arts. Seong buys the paintings the children make at 5,000 won These paintings are worth more than any piece of art in the profes-
(around US$4.50) per piece and hangs them in the cafe. He sional world.” The paintings Seong has collected over the years
hopes to teach children that art is not free, but that it is a relation- from children are enough to cover all the walls of his cafe.
Another method to expand a sense of community is to give visi-
tors a chance to write poems. Providing people with the opportuni-
ty to recite verse about subjects which they never had a chance to
express serves as a moving catharsis. Through this process Seong
has grown close to his patrons, and once received a letter he will
never forget. One woman, after arguing with her husband, wrote
him a letter after deciding to take her own life. By the time Seong
received the letter the woman had already passed away, but in her
final moments she knew she could reach out to someone, and was
not alone. Seong once again realized, upon reading the letter, the
importance of connecting emotionally to others.
After this incident, “Art for Life” started couples’ art therapy
classes. The class “Ieum (connection)” helps estranged married
couples re-establish a close bond. The intimate and raw emotions
of the meetings have melted even the coldest of hearts, from
Art for Life

wealthy business people to busy celebrities who are often


detached from the lives of others.

KOREA
FEBRUARY
24 2010
COOKING CULTURE One of the main reasons Seong has an easy
smile and optimistic lifestyle is his other half: Yong Mi-joong. The
couple first met in an audition for the Seoul Philharmonic
Orchestra (as an auditioning student and judges panel member),
and later married. Though Yong is seven years younger than her
husband, the couple work smoothly as a team, with Yong often-
times taking charge with organizing and preparations. When Seong
invites a large group of people without considering the circum-
stances, it is Yong who gets busy. The disciplined flutist prepares
all the food, while also performing and conducting other duties.
Yong says that she is happy to share her music and cooking
with others. Throughout the interview with KOREA, the musician
never once left the kitchen until discussions about food began.
Lately, she says, she has been enamored with enzymes. The mod-
est Yong says that she is still learning, but her exquisite cuisine
belies her humble words. Enzymes, created by fermentation, can
be called an ingredient that grows life. In the chef’s words, “food
that embraces everyone” is closer to people’s hearts than any par-
ticular food trends. She began to study food philosophy and
learned that cuisine that is healthy and natural caters to all
palettes. Yong says her dishes are inspired by the Eastern philoso-
phy of the Taoism, and that tastes and culture are reflected in
one’s writing, music and cooking. She has started to read more
about the unseen forces of connectivity and philosophy, and began
to learn about meditation.
Art for Life

Yong first developed a passion for food from a desire to cook for
patients in hospices. As spicy and salty foods can be hazardous for
the sick, she began to research and learn more about well-being.
Quality ingredients and minimal seasoning are best — Italian cui-
sine is a case in point, as it is one of the world’s best-known health
foods, she says. After Yong completed a professional course in
Italian cuisine, she moved on to study French cooking. Next, she
dreams of learning to prepare a variety of Korean cuisine from
across the country, taking to heart recipes handed down from gen-
eration to generation. These gastronomic historians, people who
have perfected their dishes after years of preparation and practice,
are the true philosophers of food. These recipes contain not only
ingredients, but the souls of people, and they incite inspiration,
calm, anger and give strength to the weak — this is the level the
dedicated chef strives for.
When Yong cooks for visitors who have recently argued, she uses
dried ingredients instead of fresh vegetables or fruits. “Raw dishes
have a tendency to be rough. For people who have fought, these
dishes will only add to their anger and not suppress it. In contrast,
dried ingredients have a good taste and energy, giving the dish a
gentle and soft feel.” A verse from The Book of Unholy Mischief by
Elle Newmark describes the chef that she dreams of becoming.
“Luciano, food has power. Each dish works its own magic, a kind of
alchemy that changes our body and minds, but is easily consum-
able with no need to chew. So it helps ease a person’s mind.”

Seong plays the oboe in the restaurant concert hall (opposite below). The name of the cafe
is painted on a colorful wall (opposite top). Chidren’s paintings hung in the cafe (opposite
above). Yong Mi-joong, 49, plays the flute (above).
KOREA
FEBRUARY
2010 25
TRAVEL

A TRANSPARENT
Winter Song
Inje lies on the eastern edge of the Korean peninsula, an area where the mountains are
higher and the valleys deeper. Each year, Inje takes its winter celebrations to heart. Once
the fine crystal structures of snowflakes start to appear, they continue to fall endlessly from
the sky, in all their ephemeral beauty. Similar to the local specialty, hwangtae (dried pol-
lack), which deepens in flavor by melting and refreezing with the cold, visitors to the region
must allow their hearts to open to new experiences, despite the sub-zero temperatures.
by Cheon So-hyeon | photographs by Park Jung-ro
The Road to Baekdamsa temple
In December, when the temperature drops below production of 17 million hwangtaes — or 70 per-
minus 10C, the residents of Hwangtae Village in cent of the total hwangtae consumption in Korea.
Inje begin to stir in an excited frenzy. On the
same ground where the villagers raised corn and A PASSIONATE LIFE In Nam-myeon, Inje, where
peppers just months before until autumn’s end, the arms of the Soyanggang river slow with the
deok wooden frames are set up on which millions cold, a large-scale bingjang, or ice plaza, is cre-
of myeongtae (a wall-eye pollack) are hung. The ated every winter. Many people wait for the cold
myeongtaes, which have been frozen and thawed season to visit the area, so that they can fish for
every night and day for the past three to four bingeo, or smelt. The annual Inje Icefish
months, become hwangtae once the lengthy Festival, now in its 14th run, has become a
cycle is completed. The process is similar to that regional event. The key to enticing friends to
of ice wine, in which grapes are repeatedly frozen come out to the site is the thrill of ice fishing, an
and thawed. The rings on the skin of the hwang- activity which can’t be done just anywhere in
tae reflect the mercury dips of winter. Korea. Once a person masters the gentle motion
When we arrived at Choi Yong-sik’s hwangtae of the catch, strings of bingeo no bigger than
deokjang (drying facility) for a visit, he was hav- your index finger can be pulled from the small
ing a meal with his employees on their last day of holes in the ice in no time.
hanging the local grub. This winter Choi dried The skin of bingeo is translucent, showing the
2.7 million of the fish. Yongdae-ri village, popu- entirety of their inner structures. The small fish
lation of 550, has 30 deokjang, and an annual are typically eaten with gochujang, red pepper

Hwangtae deokjang (drying pollack facilities) in Inje (above). Inje’s


mountains and valleys are seen from Misiryeong pass (oppposite).

KOREA
FEBRUARY
28 2010
KOREA
FEBRUARY
18 2010
paste, right after they are caught. If the raw meal
seems too bold, bingeo can also be prepared
cooked and seasoned. You don’t have to look too
far for restaurants — there is a line of snack bars
shielded from the chilly winds by tents pitched
around the festival venue on Soyangho lake.
Though the 2010 Icefish Festival was held from
January 28 to 31, die-hard bingeo afficionados
start visiting the frozen rivers from mid-January
to early February, when the river starts to freeze.
Mount Seoraksan was the fifth mountain to be
designated a national park in Korea. When peo-
ple hear the name, they might think of its main
gateway city, Sokcho, but the inland region of
this mountain is actually located in Inje. Mount
Seoraksan is divided into Naeseorak (Inner
Seorak), Waeseorak (Outer Seorak), and
Namseorak (South Seorak). Naeseorak is located
in Inje, Waeseorak in Goseong and Sokcho, and
Namseorak in Yangyang and Inje. The mountain
peaks and ridges have become the natural bor-
ders dividing the regions, creating different tradi-
tions and lifestyles for each. There are 96 moun-
tains in Inje and some 91 percent of its total becomes defined and clear. On the snow, the
area consists of peaks and rivers, creating the footprints of a rabbit skipping to look for spring HOW TO GO
> By Bus Take a bus at Dong (East)
depth of its valleys. water are imprinted like a winter shadow. Only
Seoul Bus Terminal ([02] 446-8000) or
Though the fiery-hue of autumnal foliage is after crossing two bridges and climbing three Sangbong Bus Terminal ([02] 323-
typically the first image to grace people’s minds hills — causing sweat to caress my forehead — 5885). The ride takes around two
hours and 20 minutes to Inje.
when they hear Mount Seoraksan mentioned, the does the Iljumun gate appear. I cross the last
> By Car Take Gyeongchun
landscape is actually pure white and snowy for bridge, the Susingyo, and finally I arrive at the Expressway from Seoul through Dong-
most of the year. The mountain’s snow cover Baekdamsa temple. hongcheon to Inje (an hour and 30
minutes), or Youngdong Expressway
remains for so long, in fact, that is said that One of the founding temples of the Jogye
through Wonju and Hongcheon to Inje
snow from Chuseok (the Korean harvest holiday Order of Korean Buddhism, only 40 people a (two hours and 30 minutes). You must
in September) doesn’t melt until Dano (the fifth year undertake the challenge of pursuing the take National Road No 44 from
day of the fifth lunar month, around mid-June of temple’s strict teaching — the first step to Hongcheon. For more information, call
the Inje Tourism Information Center on
the solar calendar). This is how it earned its becoming a monk. To catch a glimpse into a 1588-6226, [033] 460-2170 or visit
name, which in Korean means a snowy mountain monk’s life without the six months of training, www.inje.go.kr.
that is difficult to climb. visitors can easily participate in a temple stay.
HWANGTAE FESTIVAL, YONGDAE-RI
The short program offers lessons on meditation, > Date Feb. 26-Mar. 1, 2010
A SPIRITUAL WINTER On a recent winter’s day, the 108 bows, dado (tea ceremony), > Address Yongdae 3-ri, Inje.
heavy snowfall froze all roads and stopped all balwu-gongyang (eating practices) and yoga. For For more information, call [033] 462-
4808 or visit www.yongdaeri.com.
shuttle buses. Visitors to the area were told that those who can’t stay long, relax for a warm cup of
they would have to walk 14km to reach green tea and add a stone on the pagoda at the BAEKDAMSA TEMPLE
Baekdamsa temple. The suddenly-limited traffic temple’s entrance, which symbolizes leaving > Address 690 Yongdae-ri, Buk-
myeon, Inje. For more information, call
saw Baekdamsa return to its past, when it was behind one’s worries.
[033] 462-6969, Temple Secretariat
once a secluded temple with few visitors. After My footsteps climbing down the mountain are [033] 462-5565 or www.baekdamsa.org.
walking along the solitary valley for two hours, it lighter, the weather warmer. It’s a delight to see > Temple Stay Fee Rest for one day
(30,000 Korean won [US$27.27]), two
feels as if the world had widened and broadened. the animals, invisible from a car’s vantage point,
days & one night (70,000 won
There are few people willing to take on the while walking the silent wintry road. Winter in [US$63.63]), three days & two nights
mountains, and the chirping of the birds Inje — this is spiritual training. (100,000 won [US$90.90]), etc.

The water of Soyanggang river lies frozen (above). The bell of


Baekdamsa temple (opposite top). A woman is enjoying ice fishing
on bingjang, ice plaza in Inje (opposite bottom).
KOREA
FEBRUARY
2010 31
MY KOREA

Singin’
in the
ROOM
----------
Noraebang
Nights
Just how can
Koreans derive such
joy from
gathering in a dimly
lit room, blasting a
synth-cheese
version of their
favorite pop song,
and then singing
and dancing with
face-twisting
abandon?
by Niels Footman
photograph by
Kim Nam-heon
illustrations by
Jo Seung-yeon

KOREA
FEBRUARY
32 2010
Ask a Korean the biggest cultural oddities facing a Westerner in his country, and
you will likely hear a commentary on terrifyingly spicy food, unfailing reverence
for the elderly or the perils of trying to master chopsticks. Ask a Westerner, how-
ever, and the list transforms. What the heck is with these devil-may-care drivers?
They will demand. Why do older people barge through me as if I didn’t exist?
And how can Koreans gather in a small room, and sing and dance with face-
twisting abandon? True enough, karaoke, or noraebang (literally “song room”)
as it is known here, is one of those oddities, but it is far from unique to Korea.
My earliest brush with it actually took place in Hong Kong, where I lived and
worked for three years in the mid-’90s.
My first time, as such things tend to be, was unforgettable. Though a lifelong
lover of rock and pop music, and a passionate bathroom and mirror-front singer,
I had never for a second countenanced going out with friends to a karaoke, much

KOREA
FEBRUARY
2010 33
less singing at one. After much prompting, and emboldened by generous amounts of
beer, I finally summoned the courage to unleash my debut song — Abba’s “Dancing
Queen,” if memory serves — on an expectant public. Gradually shedding my stiff
British reserve, my voice grew from a timid crackle to a triumphal bellow, drawing
whoops of approval from my companions. It was nothing short of liberating. Having
been thus blooded in karaoke, I was at something of an advantage when the norae-
bang call inevitably came in Korea. In my earliest visits there, I could see much of
what I recalled from my previous karaoke experiences: the disco lights, cavern-esque
rooms and tinny musical accompaniments were all present and correct.
Yet things were a bit different here, too. For one thing, the song lists, while con-
taining the usual English-language standards, also had strikingly outré inclusions
(who could resist a singalong to metal titans Helloween or Pantera?). For another, in
a country not known for its abstemiousness, most noraebang were, and still are,
completely dry (although, thankfully for my own singing career, some places do sell
booze). And crucially, thanks to the relative ease of learning the Korean alphabet,

KOREA
FEBRUARY
34 2010
hangeul, I was able from a very early stage to sing a song or two in Korean,
which, for an audience unaccustomed to hearing a foreigner speak Korean, never
mind sing it, was often met with something approaching hysteria.
Subsequent noraebang visits with local friends yielded glimpses of Korea that
no guidebook, and certainly no visit to the usual tourist sights, could ever pro-
vide. For me, this was especially the case after I took up a job in a big publishing
firm, where all the other staff were Korean. Every few weeks our department or,
on bigger occasions, the entire office would troop off for the infamous hoesik, or
after-work food and drinks, gorge on barbecued pork and soju (the local grog)
and then, with thudding certainty, make our way to the nearest noraebang.
The change in these people I worked with was often extraordinary. On coming
into contact with a mic, a squelchy soundtrack and a backing video depicting
unfeasibly happy people bounding through a Swiss hamlet, the sternest of clients
and middle-aged office managers would transform into louche rockers or heart-
felt crooners. The daintiest, most introverted young women would open their
mouths to reveal lungs of fire. And while the famous Korean office hierarchy per-
sisted even in these unceremonious surroundings — the most junior staff would
sing first, drinking etiquette was scrupulously maintained and no one left until
the boss did — there was, at least through the mist of several shots of whiskey too
many, an undeniable sense of camaraderie, a feeling that tonight, at least, every-
one was as one in the crucible of behaving very foolishly indeed.
On the times I subsequently went in groups including newly arrived foreign
friends, though, I was newly reminded of just how alien karaoke was to many of
them. Some would refuse outright to sing, while others would flick endlessly
through the pages of the song catalog, never quite finding the right one. Still
others would choose a song, raise the mic to their mouths, then freeze and shrink
back into their chairs. Having never experienced the joys of karaoke at home,
these greenhorns were consumed with the kind of deep-rooted dread that only
singing in front of their peers could inspire: A fear that their voice would be so
bad, it would make a gaggle of alley cats sound like a barbershop quartet.
As I had once done, though, the karaoke refuseniks were rather missing the
point. As I’ve discovered through my many visits, there can be few places any-
where where notions of making a fool of yourself are not so much disregarded as
simply irrelevant. While a few of my Korean noraebang companions have been
accomplished singers who clearly put in a bit of practice, the overwhelming
majority were unashamedly poor, murdering everything from K-pop songs to
old, maudlin Korean ballads to Gloria Gaynor with the same relentless vigor and
PROFILE
effort. But just by taking to the floor, and warbling along as best they could, they
In his eight years in invariably prompted claps, cheers and equally woeful dancing among the onlook-
Korea, UK native Niels
Footman has taught ing crowd. In just this way, I have had some of my most hilarious nights out in
English, taken a Korea (the best ones, admittedly, helped along with a drink or six).
Master’s degree, edited
at a local newspaper I’ve done P-Diddy in my native Scottish accent. I’ve sung late-night Scorpions
and magazine, and is duets with old friends. I’ve pogoed to A-ha’s “Take On Me.” And, most stirring-
now working in public
relations. When he’s ly of all, I’ve stolen the show with stuttering renditions of Korean pop songs. Just
not hard at work for as my friends back home would find moments of genuine poignancy by getting
his company, he loves
writing, reading, getting sloshed on beer, putting their arms around each other’s shoulders and howling
outdoors and, of along to the jukebox, Koreans, it has always seemed to me, find a real sense of
course, the occasional
visit to the noraebang. togetherness in their song-room serenades. And as mystifying as karaokes may be
for the uninitiated, the friendships formed over drunken, cacophonous norae-
bang nights may just be the ones that stay with you the longest.

KOREA
FEBRUARY
2010 35
SUMMIT DIPLOMACY

KOREA TO BUILD NUCLEAR


POWER PLANTS IN THE UAE
Led by the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) consortium,
Korea won the right to build and operate four nuclear power plants in
the United Arab Emirates worth US$40 billion. It’s the largest deal of its
kind for Korea, nearly six times bigger than the deal to build a second
phase of the Libyan waterway in the 1980s. by Kwon Kyeong-hui

KOREA
FEBRUARY
36 2010
The UAE nuclear power plant deal is
being hailed as a gold mine that will
raise the country’s national profile. After
setting its first nuclear power plant in
motion in Gori in 1978, with the aid of
US technology, Korea will now get to
export its indigenous nuclear power
plant (APR 1400) for the first time, ush-
ering in a renaissance of nuclear power.
Korean President Lee Myung-bak says
China plans to build 100 nuclear power
plants, with 400 additional plants by
2030 worldwide and about 1,000 more
in the long term. “Korea has joined the
likes of the United States, Japan, France
and Russia as exporters of nuclear power

Multibits Image
plants,” Lee said.
“President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed
Al Nahyan and I discussed building com-
prehensive and strategic partnerships in
nuclear power as well as in education,
the latest technology and security,” Lee
added. “Our relations with the UAE sented and that’s why we selected it.”
should bring us the second Middle East Hammadi, who will oversee the coun-
boom. Unlike in the past, we should try’s first nuclear power plant project,
make headways in high value-added added that the deal will be an important
industries, centered on plants.” starting point for the UAE nuclear power
The UAE deal includes the construc- industry, which will continue to develop
tion of the first 1,400-megawatt reactor into the future.
by 2017 and a total of four reactors, in “In the bidding, we regarded safety as
Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., Ltd

the capital Abu Dhabi and Sila, 330km the most important factor,” Al Hammadi
to its west, by the year 2020. Over the explained. “The KEPCO consortium
next 10 years, the construction contract received higher marks in safety than its
will amount to US$20 billion, which competitors. Whether the leading con-
would equal the amount generated by sortium company could be held account-
exporting 1 million units of mid-sized able for participation of its partners and
sedans or exporting 180 units of major whether the companies could honor the
oil tankers weighing 300,000 tons. deadline were other important criteria,”
Another US$20 billion will be earned the CEO added. “The consortium con-
during the 60-year lifespan of the reac- vinced us that it could deliver the know-
Nuclear power plants in Yeonggwang, South Jeolla
tors as Korea would oversee operations how for 30 years of successfully operat-
Province, Korea (above). Construction of nuclear and replace equipment as necessary. ing nuclear power plants.”
power plant in Gori, Korea (right). “The UAE order will generate Al Hammadi then added that ENEC
110,000 jobs over 10 years,” a Blue and KEPCO will form a joint venture to
House official said. “Considering other operate the UAE nuclear power plants,
effects related to construction, equip- adding, “The two companies will be able
ment manufacturing, architecture, to create other joint ventures in areas
nuclear technology development and such as fuel supply. We’re also consider-
financing, the deal will have an impact ing sending our personnel to Korean uni-
on the nation’s economy as a whole.” versities or institutes to develop our
President Khalifa expressed hopes for nuclear technology. The UAE is trying to
cooperation with Korea in various fields. reduce carbon emissions and use
Mohamed Al Hammadi, CEO of the nuclear energy for peaceful purposes for
Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation, sustainable growth,” Al Hammadi con-
said, “We were impressed by the world- tinued, “We expect the two countries to
class safety the KEPCO consortium pre- maintain a long-term relationship.”

KOREA
FEBRUARY
2010 37
NEW REACTOR TECHNOLOGY The APR 1000, APR 1400 has the most competi-
1400, the nuclear reactor to be built in tive overnight cost per kilowatt at
the UAE, is the fruit of long-term nuclear US$2,300. In comparison, the figures
power development in Korea. It’s a for the French reactor (EPR) measured
third-generation light-water reactor at US$2,900, while those for the
based on the design, construction and Japanese (ABWR) and the US (AP 1000)
operation of the OPR 1000, the Korean models were US$2,900 and US$3,582,
standard for nuclear power plants. respectively.
To produce the APR 1400, the It’s also convenient to operate and
Korean government launched a project maintain. There is twice as much time —
to develop next-generation nuclear reac- up to eight hours from four hours — to
tor technology in 1992. By 1999, the respond to the halting of operations,
basic blueprint was completed and the while the amount of time workers are
name APR 1400 came to be. In 2002, it exposed to radiation has been reduced.
won national design certification, and A system to make maintenance and

Yonhapnews Agency
five years later, the standard was applied inspections more convenient has also
to nuclear reactors in Korea. been bolstered. Currently, APR 1400
The 1.4-million kW unit has an opera- construction works are under way for the
tional lifespan of 60 years and can be New Gori Nos 3 and 4, the first commer-
built in 54 months. This reactor is said cial reactors, and for New Uljin Nos 1
to suffer less than one core damage per and 2. A new model of APR 1400 for
1 million years. It has 10 times the safe- the European market is in development, A brand-new nuclear power plant built in Gori,
ty and economical benefits of OPR and Korea is also trying to win US design Korea, on February 28, 2009 is shown (above).
Korean President Lee Myung-bak and the UAE’s
1000. In terms of economics, among the certification in order to enter the President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced
third-generation reactors based on OPR American market. the results of the Korea-UAE Nuclear Power Deal
at Abu Dhabi on December 27, 2009 (below).

Yonhapnews Agency

KOREA
FEBRUARY
38 2010
GLOBAL NUCLEAR PLANT BUILDING PROSPECTS attempt to raise its competitiveness in
(Unit: MW, number of plants in parentheses) an increasingly fierce market, the
Korean government plans to invest
ENGLAND
6,000MW(4) around US$350 million through 2017
POLAND RUSSIA to turn nuclear plant construction into
10,000MW(5) 36,680MW(37) a new export industry.
CHINA Using the UAE deal as the stepping
ITALY
US 79,000MW(90) stone, Korea wants to develop this niche
17,000MW(10)
25,000MW(19)
UKRAINA
industry and place it on par with semi-
27,000MW(20) INDIA VIETNAM conductors, shipbuilding and automo-
20,000MW(15) 8,000MW(8)
biles — the leading export industries.
The government aims to export 10 reac-
UAE tors by 2012, and 80 by 2030, assum-
15,500MW(11) ing 20 percent of the global nuclear
power plant construction market.
CURRENT GLOBAL USE OF NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS AND PROSPECTS The additional 80 reactors would be
(Unit: number of plants)
worth US$400 billion. That’s more than
RUNNING UNDER CONST. FINALIZED PLANNED
the entire Korean export level last year of
ASIA 109 35 94 148
US$363 billion. Building these plants
EUROPE 197 13 20 93 would create 75,000 jobs annually for a
N. AMERICA 122 3 15 22 total of 1.56 million new jobs. Revenue
OTHER 8 1 6 32 Source: World Nuclear Association for small and medium enterprises relat-
ed to nuclear power plant equipment
could reach more than US$24 billion. If
DAWN OF THE NUCLEAR AGE The glob- contamination through radiation, and Korea can achieve all these goals, it
al nuclear reactor market is expected to problems with disposing of nuclear would become one of three leading
double over the next two decades. waste, there is hardly any doubt that exporters of nuclear power plants.
Today, 31 nations are running 436 reac- nuclear power — with no carbon emis- Today, France, the US and Japan
tors. By 2030, an additional 430 reac- sions — will replace oil and coal as the make up the top three. Westinghouse
tors are expected to be built. The United major source of energy. Nuclear reactor and GE account for 28 and 20 percent
States will resume building reactors after technology has reached a point where of the market, while Areva of France,
a 30-year hiatus. Italy, which stopped dangers can be controled and “carbon which has pursued deals in the past sev-
building new reactors after a 1980 refer- neutrality” has emerged as the new eral years, has a 24 percent share. Japan
endum, will join the party in 2013. value for all nations. entered the fray when Toshiba took over
France, one of the leading nuclear Many countries are in stiff competi- Westinghouse in 2006.
states, will rely on nuclear power for 78 tion for contracts to build reactors. To To develop this into an export indus-
percent of all its electricity. Japan is also construct reactors in Vietnam, Japan has try, the Korean government will concen-
trying to expand its scope. been lobbying the government and civil- trate on the following areas: customizing
China, the world’s largest emitter of ians for 20 years. To make up for its loss exports and aggressively reaching out to
greenhouse gases, is ahead of everyone over the UAE deal, France will be in hot nuclear power plant operation and main-
else in nuclear power plant construction. pursuit of the Vietnam order. France has tenance markets; making technology
It plans to increase its nuclear energy also reportedly told Kenya that it would independent and promoting global com-
generation to 40 gigawatts by 2020 so like to join the African country’s first petitiveness; nurturing technical experts;
that up to 6 percent of all its electricity reactor construction in five years. securing fuel for power plants; bolstering
will come from nuclear power. Russia is known to have signed deals export capabilities of core materials and
The world is turning its eyes toward or to be in negotiations for deals with the equipment; and strengthening export
the resource because alternative renew- likes of Vietnam, Egypt, Morocco, industrialization.
able energies have been secured, and no Malaysia, China, Brazil and Algeria over “By forming strategies to turn nuclear
other form of fuel can effectively reduce nuclear reactor construction or uranium power plant construction into an export
greenhouse gases. Though nuclear power exports. Canada and India have recently industry, we’ve laid the ground work for
accounts for only about 15 percent of completed negotiations with Trinidad what will feed us over the next 50
electricity production, it can only and Tobago over nuclear power coopera- years,” said Minister of Knowledge
increase from here as countries continue tion and are finalizing a deal. Economy Choi Kyung-hwan. “We will
to expand their industries. The nuclear reactor market is compet- concentrate our efforts on constant tech-
Even considering the massive con- itive and the national strategies and sup- nological innovation and the nurturing of
struction costs, risks of casualties and port will be the key determinant. In an new talent.”

KOREA
FEBRUARY
2010 39
GLOBAL KOREA

INDIA’S MAMMOTH MARKET


OPENS UP TO KOREA
James P. Blair / National Geographic Image Collection

The Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA)


between Korea and India took effect January 1. It is Korea’s first
free trade agreement with a member of the BRIC group of nations.
CEPA covers a wide range of exchanges, including goods, services,
investments and economic cooperation, and has the same effects as
an FTA. by Kwon Kyeong-hui
With the CEPA in effect, the tariffs on has maintained around a 9 percent
automobile parts will drop from 12.5 annual growth rate. From April 2008 to
percent to 1-5 percent within eight March 2009, during the global econom-
years. And over the next decade, tariffs ic downturn, India averaged a 6.7-per-
on 85 percent of the goods will fall, thus cent growth per month. Last year, the
opening up the export market for Korean Indian economy is estimated to have
companies. With a 1.15 billion popula- grown 6.5 percent and is expected to
tion, India represents the world’s second grow 8 percent this year.
largest market for Korea. The nation’s Its per capita income soared from
“economic map” has grown larger. around US$400 in 2000 to US$1,000
This agreement, called a virtual FTA, last year. Its middle class is expanding,
or Free Trade Agreement, will accelerate making it an even more attractive emerg-
the pace with which Korean companies ing power with a potentially major con-
have already been entering India. India sumer market. The middle class consist-
is the next giant of the global economy, ed of 50 million (5 percent of the total
hotly pursued by Japan and the population) this year and could rise more
European Union. As of 2008, India had than tenfold to about 583 million (43
the world’s second biggest population, percent) by 2025.
and the 12th-largest gross domestic prod- India’s economy is driven more by
uct at US$1.2 trillion. It’s the domestic consumption than by export,
fourth-largest consumer market behind which makes it less sensitive to global
only the United States, China and Japan. economic shifts. The Indian government
“India is a country with tremendous focuses on stimulus measures through
growth potential, so much so that it tax breaks and supplying liquidity.
managed a positive growth despite the The growing middle class is a huge
global economic recession,” said a strength for India, since consumption
researcher at the Korea Institute for has also increased. Compared with
International Economic Policy. “Reach- China, it has just gotten on track for
ing the CEPA with India is significant economic development. With sustain-
for Korea in that it has given our able growth, foreign investments that
exporters the opportunity to secure the left India previously are returning. The
huge emerging market with nearly 1.2 BSE Sensex index, which nosedived to
billion people.” 8,000 in 2008 because of the exodus
Yonhapnews Agency

India has reached free trade deals of foreign capital, has climbed back up
with only Singapore, Sri Lanka and to 20,000, the pre-economic downturn
Thailand, among others. Most are small level.
countries and major economic powers “The biggest appeal about India is
aren’t among them. India is negotiating that its economy is growing rapidly,”
with Japan and the EU, but Korea is the said an official at the Korea Institute for
first nation with economic sway to have a Industrial Economics and Trade. “The India is a country with great potential; it is the
fourth largest market in the world, and also
free trade deal with the country. economy is about US$1 trillion today attracts lots of foreign tourists for its beautiful
From this perspective, the signing of but it should surpass US$2 trillion by landscapes and cultural heritage, as shown by
the Korea-India CEPA has laid the foun- 2020, when India will become the above and opposite images of Taj Mahal.
dation for Korean exporters to beat oth- sixth-largest economy in the world.”
ers to the massively growing market. Other experts say India is growing so
“Korea has signed the CEPA ahead of fast that in 20 years, it could trail only
other competing powers such as China the United States, China and Japan.
and Japan,” said Lee Seong-han, head We have to keep in mind that the
of the FTA Promotion and Policy CEPA with India has given Korean com-
Adjustment Authority under the Ministry panies an upper hand in the Indian mar-
of Strategy and Finance. “Exports are ket. Prices are so important in India that
expected to grow by four times the companies there will choose cheaper
amount of imports.” options over its partners for 10 or 20
The main reason why India is called a years. As tariffs on most goods are elimi-
land of opportunity is its seemingly infi- nated thanks to the CEPA, our products
nite growth potential. Since 2005, India will have that much of an edge.

KOREA
FEBRUARY
2010 41
LEADING TO MORE COMPETITION The Korea Institute for International
Likely thanks to this prospect, Korean Economic Policy estimated that the
companies are flocking to India. There trade volume would rise by US$3.9 bil-
are an estimated 400 Korean companies lion and the GDP by 0.18 percent
there — 200 in New Delhi, 150 in (US$7.78 trillion), while about 50,000
Chennai and 50 in Mumbai. Among jobs would be created. The two institutes
them, about 150 went to India within picked automobiles, machinery, chem-
the last three years. And with the CEPA istry, electricity and electronics as
in effect, the number of Korean firms in industries that would benefit from the
India is expected to skyrocket. CEPA. Also, though they aren’t currently
Under the CEPA, 85 percent of exporting, diesel engines, locomotive
Korea’s leading export goods will either trains and elevators are thought to be
be free of tariffs or have them reduced. new industries that will thrive under the
Of 5,227 goods, 202 had their tariffs CEPA.
scrapped immediately, 180 will see their The CEPA’s impact doesn’t stop at
tariffs abolished over the next five years, increased sales and investments. The
and another 3,358 goods over the next deal also tears down the invisible barrier
eight years. between the two economies. The con-
The automobile industry is the biggest struction of POSCO’s Indian steel mill,
beneficiary. The 12.5 percent tariff will set to produce 12 million tons per year,
be cut to 1 to 5 percent within eight has been delayed for years due to prob-
years. Hyundai Motor, which is No 2 in lems in compensating the local residents
the Indian market, should eat into the and with the local authorities’ lukewarm
lead currently held by Suzuki of Japan. responses.
“The Indian market is structured so After three and a half years of stale-
that you secure your networks, it’s diffi- mate, POSCO finally began the work on
Yonhapnews Agency

cult for latecomers to break into them,” the US$12 billion mega integrated steel
said an auto parts industry figure. “The plant in Orissa province last October.
CEPA will give us an upper hand over our POSCO explained that the central Indian
existing competition and over companies government’s insistence that invest-
from countries that try to reach a deal ments by a Korean company must be put
with India later.” through under the CEPA-helped con-
The two sides agreed to open the serv- struction get started.
KOREA-INDIA BILATERAL TRADE ice sector to a higher degree than would Korean companies are thriving in
(Unit: US$) be done according to the Doha India already. Samsung Electronics and
15.56 billion Development Agenda currently under LG Electronics are battling for top spot
11.22 billion
9.17 billion negotiation. In other words, Korea would in the Indian consumer electronics mar-
6.71 billion have an expanded opportunity to enter ket. Hyundai Motor is the second largest
5.48 billion
medical, communication, energy retail- player in the auto sector.
ing, shipping, construction, distribution According to figures from January to
2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
(excluding retailing), advertising and September last year, Korea has zipped
Source : Korea International Trade Association
entertainment markets. past Britain, Russia and Canada in
The financial market has also opened terms of exports to reach No 9 in the
Mahabodhi Temple is a famous symbol of architec-
up so that Korean banks can add up to world, climbing three spots from 2008.
ture in India (above). Hyundai Motor is the second 10 Indian local branches within the first It ranked 85th in 1950, 26th in 1980 and
largest company in India’s auto sector (opposite). four years of the CEPA. then hovered around 11th and 12th from
The economic effect following the the 1990s.
CEPA agreement is significant. The Since the 1950s, only Japan and
Korea Institute for Industrial Economics China were new entries in the top 10 in
and Trade forecast that the manufactur- terms of exports. And solid export figures
ing export would grow by an average of compared to its competition helped
US$177 million (3.9 percent) over the make Korea bounce back quickest from
next 10 years, while the import by the economic crisis among OECD mem-
US$37 million (1.6 percent) and the ber nations. The trade surplus of US$42
trade surplus by US$140 million over billion last year was a record high, bigger
the same span. than that of Japan.

KOREA
FEBRUARY
42 2010
Seoul Economy Daily

SEARCHING FOR THE BLUE OCEAN In particular, high-end, customized prod- Chile, Singapore, the European Free
India, Samsung mobile phones are ucts appeared to have captured con- Trade Association and ASEAN.
known as a symbol of wealth. They sell sumers’ hearts.” According to the Ministry of Knowledge
like hot cakes. When rivals such as Aside from mobile phones, Samsung Economy, Korea’s trades with these
Motorola lowered their prices, Samsung is the Indian market leader for color nations jumped by as little as 20.5 per-
targeted the middle class with television, LCD TVs and PDP TVs. LG cent and by as much as 31.6 percent
higher-end products and successfully Electronics is the No 1 seller. after the FTAs took effect.
carved its own niche. Thanks to this Samsung maintains the lead in sales In addition, Korea’s FTAs with the
success, Samsung is right on the heels revenues, which goes to prove how luxu- United States and the EU are poised to
of the market leader Motorola. rious of a brand Samsung is in India. take effect. Korea would be the only
Based on thorough market research “To attack the Indian market and its nation to have free trade deals with the
to separate itself from the competition, unlimited potentials, we will continue two major pillars of the world economy.
Samsung accurately predicted that the to maintain premium strategies in When these two deals take effect,
rising middle class would lead to the production and in marketing,” said an Korea’s FTA partners would account for
expansion of a consumers market, and official of Samsung’s Indian branch. 34 percent of all Korean trade, com-
introducing customized products was “At the same time, we will pursue pared to 11 to 12 percent today.
right on the money. localized strategies to satisfy Indian Also, Korea is preparing to reach
“The painstaking field research, cover- consumers to bolster our standing as FTAs with China, Japan, Gulf
ing from top to bottom helped us nail the the No 1 in the market.” Cooperation Council and other 15
potential consumer group, and that Korea, which has become a strong economies. Korea stands to become the
played an important role in entering the trade nation, is considered a passionate nation who trades with most major
market,” said a Samsung official. “In champion of free trade. It has FTAs with economies virtually free.

KOREA
FEBRUARY
2010 43
NOW IN KOREA
Wild With
WINTER
SPORTS
Not even the harsh cold weather can freeze
Koreans’ love of winter sports. The year 2010
began with a blanket of white snow covering the
entirety of Seoul, accompanied by temperatures
below minus 10C, resulting in one of the coldest
winters in recent memory. Despite the unbearably
cold weather of late, the season is filled with activi-
ties nobody wants to miss. From amateurs to pros,
many are braving the elements to enjoy winter
sports. by Oh Kyong-yon | photographs by Kim Nam-heon

A snowboarder jumps off a slope at Phoenix Park ski resort.


AP Photo / The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese / Yonhapnews Agency
On December 11, 2009, an unusual scene was observed in the
heart of Seoul, the capital city of the Republic of Korea. In
Gwanghwamun Square, a 34m-high and 100m-long jump ramp
was built and covered with snow, and top the world’s top snow-
boarders came to show off their skills. The 2009 Seoul Snow Jam,
co-hosted by Seoul City government and the Korea Ski Instructors
Association, is a snowboard competition that caught the attention
of about 200 media channels in 100 countries around the world.
The following night, Kim Deok-kyeong, who came from out of
town to watch the competition, commented, “The place is so
crowded with spectators it’s a little hard to enjoy.” But he gave it
the thumbs up because “it’s a unique opportunity to see snow-
boarders live, jumping from up in the skyscrapers.” For those keen
to get involved rather than just watch, there are plenty of winter
sports to enjoy in Seoul. Ice skating at Gwanghwamun Square,
World Cup Park and Olympic Park is both fun and affordable —
about US$0.90 per 60 to 90 minutes.
Lee Se-na, who has been skiing since she was five years old, is
well-known as a ski fanatic among her friends. She can’t stand the
cold but every year she waits for winter. “Until I was in college, I
always bought a season pass and went skiing every weekend. But
now that I have a job, I can’t come so often,” Lee said. When
asked what attracted her to the sport, she said, “the fresh feeling

The landscapes of Phoenix Park ski resort (top left). World figure skating champion Kim Yu-
na carried the Olympic flame in Hamilton, Canada, on last December (top right). Summer
Goh from Singapore, in the middle, says that she likes having ski lessons in Korea (above).
KOREA
FEBRUARY
46 2010
when I slide down the slope. I try out new techniques every time I Phoenix Park are more than enough to attract winter sports enthu-
descend. Carving is a popular technique now and once I master siasts, from beginners to professionals.
that, I can’t say enough how accomplished I will feel.” Hyundai Sungwoo Resort, located in Hoengseong, near
There are more than 20 ski resorts throughout the country, Pyeongchang, is a popular destination for families because of its
many in the snowy, mountainous region of Gangwon Province. Ski various attractions, particularly, “Snow Adventure” featuring the
resorts are not just for skiers and snowboarders but are also the longest bobsleigh slope in Korea, a dogsled park, carriage rides
perfect place for families and workshop attendees, because they and much more. It is a well-known hotspot for anyone looking to
are designed as entertainment complexes that offer accommoda- experience a diverse range of unique outdoor events.
tions. According to statistics, an estimated 6.7 million people will Ski resorts in Gangwon Province also attract international visi-
visit ski resorts in Korea this winter. tors. In Asian countries like Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and
A haven for skiers, Gangwon Province has many destination Malaysia, Korea is a popular destination for winter getaways.
cities such as Pyeongchang, Hongcheon, Jeongseon and Wonju. Whether it’s an individual trip or a group tour package, internation-
KOREA headed to Pyeongchang, a county with a well-developed al visitors come to Korea for ski vacations, to try local Korean cui-
infrastructure that is currently making its third bid to host the sine and to relax. We ran into a group of international skiers at the
Winter Olympics. Phoenix Park ski resort in Pyeongchang, a place top of a slope. Summer Goh, from Singapore, told us that it was
that’s loved by younger generations and often called “Phi-park,” is her first visit to a ski resort and that she was having a great time.
crowded with skiers and snowboarders on every slope — even on “It’s my first time getting a ski lesson but I haven’t fallen and I am
weekdays. The resort has eight lifts and gondolas, all of them busy really enjoying it,” she said, adding that she would melt away the
transporting skiers and snowboarders to the top. Panorama Slope fatigue by relaxing at a spa in the hot springs later that night.
and the beginners’ course have a total length of 3,350m. The Winter sports, though set on snowy slopes with biting winds,
region also boasts the famous “Extreme Park,” Korea’s very first also make for a perfect opportunity for families to get together. We
snowboard park designed by the country’s top world-class snow- saw a father who had taken his boys out for a few days on the
boarder Park Hyun-sang. The various courses and slopes at slopes while his wife was still at work. The father, Choi Jong-seok,
Yonhapnews Agency

A beautiful night scene from the International Ski Federation’s Snowboard Big Air World
Cup held at Gwanghwamun Square, in Seoul, on December 13, 2009 (above).

KOREA
FEBRUARY
2010 47
while holding hands with his sons Chung-rak and Seong-rak, said,
“[I am] usually so busy at work and have no time to play with my
kids. But [my kids] have been skiing ever since they were little,
so I try my best to come out with them every year for a family
vacation.”

CROWDS OF EXCITED ENERGY Pyeongchang’s Alpensia Resort


was the setting for last year’s hit movie Take Off, also known as
National Athlete. On our way back from a look from the dizzying
heights of the ski jump, we met a group of skiers ascending a
fierce slope. Some of them wore uniforms bearing a taegeukgi
(Korean national flag), and, just as we expected, they were
cross-country skiers training for the 2010 Vancouver Winter
Olympics. The athletes were in their final weeks of rigorous
training before they will travel to Canada to compete at the
Games. Coach Ahn Jin-soo said, “Unlike slope descents where
you just slide down from top to bottom, cross-country skiing has
ups and downs. It requires as much energy and strength as
marathon running.”
Even for mountaineers, winter is a heart-racing season. When
winter arrives and waterfalls freeze, mountain climber Lee
Hyeong-mo always ventures out, geared up with his climbing irons,
picks and ropes to climb the frozen faces. Though the concept of
ice climbing was not popular among Koreans until a few years ago,
Yonhapnews Agency

the sport has already grown in popularity. In regions all over Korea,
artificial ice climbing walls are created by pouring water over rocks
and waiting for it to freeze. Towangseong Falls of Mount Seorak is
the most famous for its natural ice wall: it’s about 300m high and
boasts three different levels, which has made it well-known to
mountaineers from across Asia. Eoreumgol Valley Ice Wall in
Cheongsong County and the artificial ice wall in Wonju are similar-
ly popular. For beginners, artificial ice walls are recommended
because of they are wider and more easily accessible.
Lee’s love for ice climbing isn’t just based on the adrenaline
rush. The avid climber says the activity has health benefits and
that the exercise outside in the cold weather is invigorating. “Time
is of the essence, you can only ice climb from December to
mid-February when the falls are frozen. Imagine, it’s a struggle
against gravity! I never forget the thrill that I feel when I reach the
top. That is why I look forward to winter every year.”
The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics start this month, an event
that stirs excitement in both the athletes in competition, as well as
the spectators who cheer them on. The world’s attention will be on
the best winter sports athletes from across the globe, including
Kim Yu-na, who many are predicting will win the gold medal in
women’s figure skating. Who will win at the Games will be on
everyone’s minds, but, win or lose, we should applaud all the ath-
letes who have endured the rigors of training in extreme conditions
to prepare themselves for the Games. As they do every year, sports
will heat us up this winter.

Climbers brave Gugok Fall’s ice wall in Chuncheon (top).


Cross-country skiers glide at Alpensia Resort (above).

KOREA
FEBRUARY
48 2010