Saturday, March 31, 2007

This week on the blogs

This week's top story in the 'I can't believe they are doing that' league is the news that our friends at KISCOM are going to ban access to foreign pornographic websites. This measure is to be introduced as a result of two videos of a less-than-family-orientated-nature being posted on two portal sites. How the proposed ban will prevent a repeat of the problem is not explained. I'll bet the number of job applications to the Ministry of Information and Communication has sky-rocketed as men flock to take on the job of hunting down those sites to add to the banned list. So far they've found 180 sites, well done lads, there's plenty more.

This was covered at Gusts of Popular Feeling , Lost Nomad and The Marmot, where one commenter subtly demonstrated how easy it might be to get round this.

Luckily these three blogs have not been banned in spite of: talking about hard-core; showing pictures of synchronised swimmers and having a picture of a very attractive little Korean bird.

Now spring has sprung, it's good to see that Feet Man Seoul has come out of hibernation to bring us some more female fashion photos, while Mike 'I even take my camera to the bathroom' Hurt has been bringing us the men's fashions.

Most bloggers were sad to hear that Jodi at The Asia Pages has stopped blogging and made her blog inaccessible. My English wife says: 'Bye Jodi'.

Mike in Busan and Matt in Balsan have both been photographing construction sites. Matt even videoed his nearest site for the full effect. Perhaps the three of us should form a Korean branch of the Construction Site Appreciation Society?

Just as I managed to get that song 'Maria, Ave Maria' out of my head, thanks to Sam at Seoul Seeking I now can't stop humming it again. But now at least I know why it was so popular: it was featured in the Korean movie 200 Pound Beauty and who did the original: Blondie.

ROK Drop has some very sensible suggestions as to what to do in the event of the North Koreans attacking Seoul and plans for the evacuation. I liked the line 'you may find difficulty acquiring a gas mask'. It reminds me of the British government website, which is so well spoofed at the very similar URL

David is celebrating 2,000 posts, he has got a long way to go to match some of these prolific bloggers but I'm sure Bill would be interested to hear of your achievement Dave.

Several bloggers have been promoting Kevin's recently self published book 'Water from a skull'. I told my father Grumpy Old Bookman, who has a keen interest in self publishing, about Kevin's problems with cafepress, which led him to refer to Kevin on his blog as 'a slightly mad Korean blogger'. To which Kevin immediately responded in his inimitable style.

And finally, as a result of promoting Kevin's book on his site, Stafford has been granted his wish to get his own icon on the Big Hominid's blogroll.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Current Korean countdowns

What are we counting down the days until...

1 Day. The biggest news story of the moment is the Free Trade Agreement with the USA. Negotiations have been going on for ten months, but now it is getting down to the last minute the presidents of both countries have been on the phone to discuss it. The deadline has been created by the need to submit the bill before the US congress 90 days before the "fast track" authority agreement expires on July 1st. This would allow it to be agreed without changes. The major areas of contention are the protection demanded by Korea for it's rice and automobile markets. Farmers are protesting and, such is the level of opposition to the agreement, a politician is on hunger strike due the belief that an influx of cheaper U.S. imports will lead to job losses.

15 days Until the North Koreans have to dismantle their nuclear power facility. The sixty days given to North Korea in the six party talks are up on April 14th. Given the current lack of progress I am not expecting anything to have happened. If they ever do settle the matter of $25 million dollars, I am sure NK will come up with another delaying tactic.

3 months Until the International Olympic Committee decides on the venue for the 2014 winter Olympics. On July 4th PyeongChang will hear if it has beaten Sochi in Russia and Salzburg in Austria to hold the event.

9 months Until the South Korea Presidential elections. December 2007 will see President Moo-Hyun finish his term after four years in the position. Local politicians are very concerned that User Created Content will unduly affect their chances of election and want to ban it.

2 Years Until Subway line 9 opens. Connecting Gimpo with Gangnam this new line will open in 2009.

3 Years Until the AREX railway links Incheon with Seoul Station. Phase 2 of the AREX line will open 2010.

4 Years Until Daegu holds the world track and field games. Plucky little city Daegu has just won the contest to hold the World Championships in Athletics in 2011.

7 Years Until Incheon holds the Asian Games. Assuming Incheon wins the contest, the event will be held in 2014.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

AREX. Taking the airport train

Yesterday the new railway linking Incheon International Airport with Gimpo International Airport opened to the public. Once again I travelled to Gimpo subway station on line 5 to check it out. The passageway leading to the new railway line was now open and led down a gentle incline to the transfer area.

I passed through the normal subway ticket gates and, ignoring the small ticket office, I approached the first of three ticket machines. I was given the option of selecting a future date and time or selecting 'ticket for next train' for Incheon. Choosing the latter, I tried to pay using my UK credit card, but that was rejected. I attempted to pay the 7,900 won fare with one of the old style 10,000 Won notes. At this point the customer assistant, who had been silently observing me, politely took it off me and used the nearby change machine. She came back with ten 1,000 won notes and helped me feed them into the ticket machine. She said 'level B4' a couple of times. She spoke no other English, but I believe that the machine only accepts the new style 10,000 won notes.

Armed with a ticket for the express train at 17:00 I tried to pass through the AREX gates at 16:20 but was denied access, "Please check departure time of train on ticket" I was instructed in a loud American voice from the ticket gate. Caught between the two ticket gatelines in the small transfer area I was marooned with no escape possible. After several more tries, I was finally allowed through into the AREX station at 16:45. I'm sure Centaman Entrance Control gates are much more friendly.

And wow, what a station. It is enormous. I hope yesterdays pictures give an idea of the impressive height and width of the underground station hall. Descending to Basement level 3, I admired the platform edge doors of the commuter train platform and watched one departure.

I descended again to level 4 for the express train platform. Here the other 7 passengers for the 17:00 waited patiently in the new train.

We departed for Incheon exactly on time. The ride was comfortable, but not quite as smooth as I might have expected from brand-new, recently laid track. There are two TV's at each end of the six carriages. They were playing a mixture of news and comedy clips at quite a high volume with the temperature of cities worldwide displayed on the left hand side of the screen.

Inside the express train the line diagrams show the AREX line with the extension into Seoul Station under construction, This is due to open 2010. The subway trains always have the Seoul Subway map with English stations names marked as well, but here it is in Korean only, which seems perverse.

During the trip I perused one of the 'AREX magazines' neatly stored in every seat-back. It contains foreign travel related articles and advertisements only. The only two pages with any English contained several spelling errors and provided no useful information such as timetables, airport layout maps, subway maps or even a diagram of the six stations on the line.

On exiting through the gates, the ticket must be inserted into the card reader slot in contrast to passing it over a panel on entering. The ticket was retained so all I have is the photo as a memento!

The AREX station building at Incheon is also of remarkable size and design. The two long corridors running the length of the building are like botanical garden greenhouses and have been planted with hundreds of specimens.

For the return journey I started from arrivals area E and followed the signs. I arrived at the station in less than 5 minutes and I used my normal U-pass card to pass through the gates this time (T-money also works). There was a commuter train leaving imminently and, less than 10 mins from the arrival gate, I was on my way again.

Note that : the machines for the express train tickets are identical to those issuing commuter train tickets, apart from the small label at the top, so don't get confused.

The commuter trains have longitudinal bench seats, so, if there is no one standing in front of you, the legroom is much better than the express train. The four intermediate stops give the commuter train a slightly longer journey time of 33 minutes compared with 28 minutes on the express train. The major benefit of the express is the seat reservation, but the express trains only run once an hour, so the extra five minutes saved and their low frequency makes it hard to justify the extra 4,800 won.

In summary, the new railway is a very impressive piece of Korean engineering. It provides a welcome additional option for those travelling to and from the two Seoul airports. In my opinion, the enormous added cost of providing the express trains and the separate tracks at Gimpo, will prove impossible to justify in revenue terms. However, I would be delighted to be proved wrong.

This is how the JoongAng Daily reported it. Here's the Korea Herald's version. Just a few lines from the Korea Times , KBS and Arirang. The story earlier in the week from Chosun Ilbo and Railway Technology has the story. There is one line on Reuters. The Old Man of Seoul has a photo of the opening ceremony. Meanwhile Incheon Airport website has not been updated yet to reflect it.

Update: Two more news links from The Nation. (HT: ROK Drop), and International Railway Journal. Tour2Korea.
Update: Railway Gazette article.

Friday, March 23, 2007

AREX Incheon Gimpo Railway first day

I'd like to be one of the first to bring you some pictures of the new Incheon to Gimport Airport railroad. Here's a shot of the station hall at Incheon:

This is a view of the huge station hall at Gimpo

The set of photos is here.

The full story of my here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Trip to Suwon

We took a day-trip recently to revisit Suwon. We arrived in front of the palace at 11am just in time to catch a memorable performance of Korean martial arts.

I recorded four of their demonstrations: the Jangchang (long spears), Woldo (moon blade sword with long stick), Kyojeon (swords) and Kwonbeob (unarmed combat). It's a 9min video.

Derek has some very impressive photos from a previous visit.

Walking round the palace there are numerous information posts describing scenes from the well known historical drama series Daejanggeum (Jewel in the Palace) that was filmed here. The show was a big hit in Taiwan as well and draws tourists to visit the sites where their favourite show was recorded. Scenes from The King and The Clown movie were filmed here too. I noticed this phenomenon in YongPyong where there were many signs about movie locations from Winter Sonata.

On the hillside above the palace grounds is a temple with an impressive golden Buddha statue.

Walking round the Hwaseong Fortress walls we came upon this scene:

No, they are not knocking it down, but rebuilding it, having rerouted traffic around the other side of the gate.

This is Buksumun, the nothern gate, built over the Suwoncheon (river) that runs through the middle of the fortress. It was completed on Jan 13th 1795 having been constructed in less than a year.

The fortress walls have been completely rebuilt and total over 5.7km. It was the most up to date fortress possible at the time it was built between 1794 and 1796. The king sent the designers all over the world to gather the best ideas for it's construction. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site.

To get there from Seoul, take subway line number 1 to Suwon station. It takes about an hour from downtown. Pick up a map at the tourist information office just outside the station and take a city bus number 11,13,36 or 39 into the centre of the town to Paldalmun, the South Gate. If you have a U-Pass card it works on the local buses, if you have a T-money card you'll have to pay cash.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Incheon Gimpo Airport railway prepares to open

As I mentioned before, the Airport railway (or railroad as it prefers to call itself) linking Incheon to Gimpo is expected to open next week, Friday March 23rd. I went along to Gimpo to see how preparations were progressing.

I took the subway from Yeouido, our nearest station, and 25 minutes later I was at Gimpo airport station. Here at the end of the platform, is the link to the new line.

This implies you will be able to interchange with the new service without having to go through another ticket gate, which is good news; but it will be interesting to find out how ticketing works with the possibility of Express or Standard trains. How will they charge you extra if you took the fast train?

Outside, there was still quite a lot of last minute work going on to finish tidying up the station entrances:

Excavation work continues at three different places for the second phase of construction of the line.

From the underground station at Gimpo the line rises to ground level and heads north to cross the Han river on a new bridge. Matt at Gusts of Popular feeling has some photos of the current state of construction there, and some other photos here.

Once across the river the new line turns east and descends into tunnel at Susaek bridge. The line runs parallel to the existing railway here. There will be a station at Digital Media City for Susaek with connection to Subway line 6 and the mainline railway station. Continuing east, following the route of the previously existing Yongsan railway line, the next station is Hongdae for Hongik University station for connection to Subway line 2.

The new line continues in cut and cover tunnel to Gongdeok for connection with Subway lines 5 and 6. From here the line sweeps north in bored tunnel under the hill to finally emerge on the west side of Seoul Station.

More photos of construction on flickr.

Based on a time of 33 minutes between Incheon and Gimpo and adding on 25 minutes for the Subway, plus up to 12 minutes connection time gives around 70 minutes at best, for the trip from Yeouido to Incheon for 4,100 Won. Compared with the non stop limousine bus on the same route, which takes 45 minutes, you get a seat, the bags go in the luggage rack or underneath, and there are no steps, I think I will be paying the extra 8,900 Won to take the bus.

I observed test trains running on the line from the bus on a recent journey to the airport, they can reach speeds of up to 110km/h on some sections of the line.

According to an old Korea Times leader the government is already expecting to pick up the bill of tens of billions of won when the privately owned railway operating company runs at a deficit. It seems planners were a bit over-enthusiastic forecasting demand for the airport, which is why taxpayers are already paying 100 billion won per year for the airport expressway, run by a private company.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Shaggy Blog Stories Published

Well done Mike at Troubled Diva. He worked day and night for seven days to publish this book of 100 funny stories from British bloggers for Comic Relief Day.

Go to Shaggy Blog Stories and order yourself a copy now. The cover price is £8.96, of which £3.63 will go to Comic Relief once external manufacturing costs have been deducted. Lulu is donating their share of the profits to Comic Relief too.

Several of my favourite bloggers have contributed including Diamond Geezer , The Girl With a One Track Mind and I Am Livid. The full list is here.

Happy Red Nose Day. For those not familiar with this annual tradition : In England, for the past 11 years, one night of the year on British Television is dedicated to raising money for charity. The charity Comic Relief has raised over £425 million in its mission to help end global poverty and social injustice.

Digg it.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Items on Korea

I've not blogged much since we got back from an excellent short break in Tokyo, so here are a few bits and pieces:

Thanks to a reminder from the Marmot I went to a lecture organised by the RASKB last night.
Tariq Hussain gave a very slick presentation based on a book he's just self-published in English titled 'Diamond Dilemma' or, as his lecture was titled, “Brilliance or Breakdown – The Future of Korea Inc.?” The book was published in Korean last year and got some good reviews apparently.

He sees a number of problems such as : excessive Government regulation, rigid social hierarchy, lack of initiative, serious issues with education, and too strong labour unions as some of the most important issues affecting the current state of the nation. I agree with his prognosis that things will only change for the better with very strong leadership. Economists might draw some parallels with Great Britain in the late 1970's and the leadership of Margaret Thatcher. Who will be Korea's Maggie?

Today was "White day" a marketing stunt, dreamt up by the Japanese orginally, to encourage men to buy chocolates for their beloved. Han has a great photo of one of the many stalls setup to cater for last minute purchases by late night Korean men on their way home.

This is one for Brian, the only London Pigeon with a blog. According to a recent item in the JoongAng Daily
In Korea, the word pigeon is often used as a verb. In fact, “pigeoning” refers to putting fabric softener in the laundry. The term was coined because Pigeon is a well-known fabric softener here.

Sure enough you can get some here I did have a great photo of Brian the pigeon when he came to visit, but I can't find it at the moment.

And finally, inspired by ROK-Drop's Where in Korea, No prizes, but who can tell me what this building is, because I don't know! I've seen it several times on the drive out of Seoul.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Shaggy Blog Stories: a collaborative blog-stunt for Comic Relief.

British blogger Troubled Diva is gathering stories from UK bloggers to publish a book via in aid of the charity Comic Relief in time for Red Nose day on Friday 16th March 2007.

read more | digg story

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Independence Movement Day

Thanks to the Chosun Bimbo and The Daily Kimchi I knew that today was a national holiday celebrating the start of the Korean Independance movement in 1919, which explained why Yeouido was so quiet this morning and why there were so many flags out. So in honour of the day, here's a photo the Korean flag I took recently in Yeouido park.

You can just see the LG Twin towers in the distance.

We are off to Tokyo, so no blogging for a while.