D54. Oct 24 . United Colors of Taipei

I was supposed to leave the city on Thursday, to explore the seaside, but finally I got lazy, spent the morning drinking cappuccinos at Starbucks, while watching movies. I’ve loved that lazy moment… No obligation, no appointment, no meeting… At two I finally moved my A** and went to a pedestrian district, Ximending. During the day it’s an open-air shopping mall for the hype young generation, and an alternative artistic scene gathered around the Red House.

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At night, it welcomes the GLBT community from allover Asia, as this is the only gay-friendly country of the continent…

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Korea… So Kawaii !

“Kawaii” is a Japanese word meaning (more or less) “cute”. It stands for girly mangas, kiddo merchandising, etc. Hello Kitty, for instance, is the very essence of Kawaii. According to specialists, it blossomed in Japan as a way for Japanese adults to escape their heavy lives, torn apart traditional and modern duties… Then, the kawaii aesthetic became popular in the Western world, before contaminating China, Singapore and Korea as they were emerging.

And indeed, in Korea, kawaii prevails!
The curious thing though, is that everyone embraces kawaii… not only individuals or companies, but also institutions.

Here, two cities. On top, a Seoul metro station, with puppets sitting on a platform bench. Below, Gyeongju’s mascot, used everywhere, from the train station panel to the trees grids.

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One step further: corny cartoon characters are also used for educational, civic purposes:
Stoping at crossroads, calling the fire brigade…
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Another step further, and this is, by for, the most fascinating: featuring the army and the police as funny things.Capture d’écran 2013-10-22 à 07.40.33

On the left, this ridiculous cop is paint on a police bus !!!
On the right, this is how the police is going to respond demonstrations…
And that kaki lion, here? The army sign I’ve discovered on the demilitarized zone area.
A restricted zone, with real dangers, real weapons, real military guys, real hostile country behind the line… A cartoon character still ! Unbelievable !!!

 

Korea in love with France

Many food brands have adopted French names, and French recipes.
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And French luxury food brands are also well settled, from Eric Kayser bred in the coffee shops to Ladurée booths in the very upper-range Shinsegae Department Stores.

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Though, the Korean appetite for France goes far beyond food and fashion.
Many stationary goods, from notebooks to pouches, use French names and graphics.
Many decoration goods as well play with the art de vivre à la française.
I’ve even noticed that quite many Koreans with an Eiffel Tower image as their smartphone wallpaper!

 

 

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Beyond impressions, facts speak for themselves: France is the 7th largest investor in the Republic of Korea. It’s surprising, as wee barely hear about South Korea in France.
There are approximately 7,000 South Koreans living in France (excludes Korean French adoptees), and 2,000 French people living in South Korea – Not much.

A couple of years ago, France returned to South Korea the many old books which had been looted in 1866. Last notable fact: France is one of the few European countries to not have official diplomatic relations with North Korea.

 

 

D50. Oct 20. Extraordinary Paju and Heyri cities

One hour from Seoul, there is a city named Paju, where many Korean Publishing companies have settled their offices. So when going to that small town, almost a village, you find a couple of book shops and coffee shops where books have a central place. Nice. But Paju is not only about books. It is an amazing place…
Ok, books first:
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During our promenade there, we also found an amazing records shops. Two floors, 80′ LPs covering the walls, 80′ vintage items on the tables, paintings and acrylic paints everywhere, music playing, some tables to have a coffee meanwhile… Very cool.
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And then, you find out that museums about everything are everywhere. About toys, about tin boxes, about politics, about whatever. You could spend days visiting small exhibitions full of items gathered by passionate individuals along the years.
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Though, the city isn’t only paradise for musicians, readers, artists. It is also kids friendly.
They can basically play everywhere, and still, the streets remain quiet. It looks like there, they have found a way to dedicate space to everyone.
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A little boy on the playground, a little girl in the air… Even grown ups can have fun. Look at that: A woman meeting her childhood hero, a man sitting at school:
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Meanwhile, other grown ups relax. Either reading a book on a comfortable pooffe, or enjoying flower fields like if they were discovering lilies for the very first time.
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It is difficult to describe that town properly.
You could compare it to an entertainment resort, but it’s not.
You could think about a museums island, but it’s not.
The icing on the cake, for me who like contemporary architecture so much, is that streets seemed to have been drawn in random order, where houses would have grown directly from the imagination of free minds. Mainly concrete, but mixed with nature elements it seems very organic.
Here comes a long image gallery of buildings. I hope you will enjoy it.
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A dream come true !
A place where you can find adults and kids living at the same pace, either playing or contemplating, museums about improbable topics, books about everything, music of all kind, architecture, asian trees, stones, rocks, bamboos… Blue sky, migrating birds, barely cars… When do I move in ?!
Unfortunately we had to go back to Seoul.
On the way back, we were caught by another reality, reminding us than a few kilometers North, other people leave lightyears from bookshops and museums…

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I hope you have enjoyed that post and those pictures.
At that point of my trip, this is really the place, and the day, that has been the most exciting, surprising, moving.
Tonight is my last night in Korea, and I’ll miss it.