Random Play by Graham Reid

Historic present, present tense and future perfect

Okay, here's what's going to happen -- and we leave aside the ifs, buts and maybes for the moment, of which there are a few. But the future of Seoul will be like this: a modern city which will look like bits of Dubai (with greenery) will rise alongside the Han River and it will be fed by didgital services, incorporate retail and residential, be a business hub for Asia and of course be eco-friendly.

It will, in short, be as perfect a vision of the future as you can imagine -- outside of that old movie The Shape of Things To Come.

Frankly, on paper and in the slideshow presentation I was treated to yesterday, I was hugely impressed. It does of course have a name: Dreamhub -- and doesn't that just make your pulse pound?

It wil tranform Seoul -- the presentation was full of slogans such as "A Clean and Attractive Global City" and "The Hangang Renaissance" -- and the assembled journallists were told it would change Seoul from "a Hard City into a people-oriented Soft City".

In slides which showed Rome and London as the hubs of their empires, Seoul was presented as being prepared to become the centre of the world and Dreamhub will be its heart.

Now I have been to such presentations before and hyperbole and data-show presentations are par for the course: but there is something about the Korean capacity for work (they are the hardest working people on the planet) and their relentless drive for progress that makes me think that at least some of this will happen. (In fact some of it already is.)

They don't have much time however and have set themselves 2020 to get the job done (not to mention the overhaul of various other parts of the city, the creation of satellite cities and so on). But I think they will get on with the job in a way that would have Eden Park redevelopers swooning with envy.

Of course the whole thing is fraught with questions (there was very little question tme and we were all too stunned by the images of landmark towers and so on).

Among the questions will be what happens to the current inhabitants of those areas, how can this be steered through consecutive metropolitan governments over the next decade, what happens if the economic bubble bursts (as it has in the past), and . . .

Okay, here is what Seoul has going in its favour to realise the planners' dream: the average age is 36.7, this is a plugged-in society (an average of 1.4 computers per home, 91.8% internet penetration), digital and design businesses are cornerstones of the country's growth and are having government and private investment poured into them; Korea has the 7th fastest ecomonic growth rate in thw world, and Seoul itself (population 10 million, 24 million in the greater Seoul area) has only one mayor and three vice-mayors.

It has the infrastructure, the will, a streamlined development and planning process -- and it has slogans to inspire: "Centre for the Future, the Centre of the World" and "We Will Realise These Goals".

Of course progress comes at a price and some are rightly concerned that the special nature of this vibrant city -- which I alluded to in the previous post -- will be lost and buildings of character will be torn down (that is happening already).

But you have to admit Zaha Hadid's vision for Dongdaemun Stadium is stunning
And hers is just one development project among dozens.

After that high-powered briefing it was a delight to go to the home of the Zen master Soo Bool Sunim for an hour of typically bewildering discussion and questions ("Can you see your own eyes?")

His home is soot of emblematic of so much of this city and its odd juxtapositions. He lives in a suburban street and across the road is a low-rise of brick apartments. Above the traditional roofline of his home you can see the cross from the Presbyterian church just up the road. Step out from his quiet garden and rooms and you are in the world of hip restaurants, wine shops, art galleries and cafes.

I guess none of that collision of life styles, cultures and attitudes will exist in the new supercity areas of Seoul?

The master spoke in those questions and riddles that tickle th mind, and one thing he said really struck home. I asked if there was such a thing as change, or is everything changeless.

Through the translator there was a convulted answer which was peppered with other questions and I think maybe even a mild rebuke, although his shining and beaming demeanour would deny that.

The translator said, "do not be held captive by words".

The master smiled.

I asked the translator later if he would pass on something to the master from me, that those words in particular struck me as important but also very funny: I am a journalist.

He told the master, and the master's gentle expression of benign good humour didn't change.

It may be the only thing I've seen in Seoul which struck me as permanent.

By the way I briefly met Robert Koehler whose writes the bst blog about contemporary Korea. Check him out here.

And many thanks for the "Seoul" and "Korea" variants as titles for these missives but as you can see I went lateral this time! It sorta seemed to fit.