Korea Postscript: The Story Behind the Shamanic Shrines

I later learned who was responsible for the candle shrines I described in my previous blog on Wednesday (“Korean Cites Tour: Changwon”).

Both nights I stayed in Busan, there were candles in small sand pits and candle-lanterns placed as shrines in the rocks next to the breaking waves outside my hotel window, on Korea’s rocky Pacific Coast.

The second night, I came across some women who placed the candles there and witnessed their ceremony offering blessings to the gods/ goddesses of the sea (see photo). Now in their fifties, sixties and seventies, these are the last of Korea’s famed shellfish divers preparing for their sunrise dive the next morning.

women shell divers

Using no air tank and risking the elements whenever weather permits, the country has about 5,000 of these brave spirits left, with 3,000 of them on the southern island of Cheju Do, and the other 2,000 on the nation’s mainland. 


Korea Cities Tour: Wrap-up

This is final entry on my Korean cities tour, sponsored by the US Dept. of State and US Embassy in Seoul.

I’m back in the US after five days in Korea, on a hectic, though quite successful visit to cities of Seoul, Changwon and Busan to lecture at universities and meet with Korean officials about the development of green cities.


Seoul Redux

I took a relaxed journey to Seoul on the high-speed Korean National Rail from Busan–I loved the way the conductors ceremoniously bow to the passengers after entering or before leaving each train car, and the Korean folk music that plays before each station announcement. We then went to Seoul National University, where I was to deliver a lecture at the school of Architecture and Urban Design and graduate school of Environmental Studies.

(Seoul National University is the top public educational institute in the nation.)


First we made a courtesy visit to the Dean of  Architecture and Urban Design, Kiho Kim.  Dr. Kim told us he is preparing this summer to open the Asian Sustainability Institute on the campus, the first such institute for all of Asia. I look forward to collaborating with Dr. Kim and other partners on the institute’s positioning and planning.

Seoul National University in conjuncton with the city of Seoul is also hatching a plan to make the university campus a living model of a creative and green neighborhood, celebrating the arts, cultural attractions and the latest in sustainable urban planning, design and technology. Think of a green Dinkytown, the off-campus neighborhood near the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where Dr. Kim previously taught, he told us.

After lunch with Dr. Kim and professors Kyung-Jin Zoh and Jong-Sang Sung, I lectured to about 50 professors and students, including one professor that is working with the Korea Land Corporation on the Korea cities indicators project I mentioned in my second-previous blog entry (see “Halftime Report” blog from March 12).

Our final stop was Seoul City Hall to present to and meet officials from the city’s “Green Seoul” program. Seoul’s sustainability efforts appear to be more siloed than those of leading US cities, with “green” efforts having separate city management from such areas as city public transportation, fleet management and renewable energy.

On the subject of climate change and carbon action planning, however, I was told by Seoul Green deputy director Yoon Jong Choi that Seoul will be sponsoring the C40 Large Cities summit meeting of the world’s most populous 40 cities, sponsored by the William J. Clinton Foundation’s Climate Initiative. I attended the first C40 summit in New York City last spring and hope to be back in Seoul for the next C40 event in 2009.

green tea cappaccino

My final night in Seoul was spent checking out the very cool Myeongdong neighborhood with the US Embassy’s Eun Kyong. We had green tea lattes and cheesecake, made from local organic tea grown in the southwest of Korea. Turns out Koreans are also very concerned about pesticide and pollution food contamination from Chinese imports, especially heavily pesticide sprayed tea.

Huge thanks to Choi Eun Kyong, assistant cultural affairs officer Jeffrey Beller, Jean Vander Woude, John Dyson and my interpreter Kim Chi Young for all their excellent planning, cultural guidance and hard work in putting the trip, lectures and meetings together. It’s extremely heartening to know that the US Embassy has such high-caliber representation overseas!

I’m sure future developments resulting from this tour will be forthcoming. I’ll keep you posted.

Photos: Warren (top two); Flicker: LWY

Korea Cities Tour: Changwon


Part 2

The beachside shamanic candle shrines that have been lit in the night for the sea gods are burning down outside my window. It’s nearing time for the dawn shouting ceremony in the seaside conifer forest that has been preserved next to my hotel.

Maybe I will partake this morning.  


Yesterday we visted Changwon, which wants to make itself the world’s leading “Eco-City.” Based in the south-central of South Korea, Changwon is a planned city of 500,000 modeled after Canberra, Australia. Changwon is home to manufacturing facilities or corporate headquarters of Doosan, Samsung and LG Electronics.

The city held a workshop with about 200 public officials and citizens called “International Strategic Workshop for Creating Environmental Capital Changwon” in which I and three others presented. The others were a Finnish Program Officer from UN Environment Program in Bangkok, the leader of the Learning and Ecological Activities Foundation for Children in Nishinomiya, Japan; and  a “social designer” from The Hope Institute in Seoul.

Public officials, including Mayor Wan Su Park spoke, and decried how they need more citizen involvement to succeed in greening the city. Some goals they have are increased public transit (traffic is quite congested as many commute to the city from Busan and other cities), and bicycle ridership (over a glass of sweet persimmon wine the Mayor told me he rides to his office every day and requires other city workers to ride 3 times a week), as well as more innovative approaches to industrial ecology and water management.

Korea is feeling the pain of decreased snowpack runoff, many have told me, with warmer winters limiting the snow season partiallly and even entirely in some mountainous areas. Winter clothing is no longer necessary. Rivers I have seen were close to being dry, and Changwon imports its water from a distant river source.

I’ve been invited to return to work with the ultra-professional city officials (Mayor Park is a PhD in public administration) and its citizens. I look forward to having Common Current bring the city closer to its goal–with a developed landscape that appeared undistiguished from other areas of Korea I have seen, save for a miles long greenspace of “play parks” running along the freeway and main access road into the city, there appears to be unlimited opportunities for innovation.  

Though I rather doubt Changwon will be building the Mongolian yurts for housing that the UN official showed us in her presentation from Ulan Bator.


In Busan, I lectured to students and professors in the urban design and architecture school at Dong-a University, and we then lunched at a traditonal Korean style restaurant on floor pillows. I was shown plans for a park one of the professors, Seung-Hwan Kim, has been pushing for in Busan for more than ten years. The lack of public open space is beginning to become a major issues in cities like Busan, where each citizen only has about 1.5 square meters versus the national standard of 6 square meters per person.

First light on my last full day in Korea: aaaaaiiiieeeeeeee!

Photo credit: ranna


Korea Green Cities Tour: Halftime Recap

seoul nite.jpg

I am in the midst of a whirlwind green cities tour of Korea, lecturing and meeting with people on green city development and metrics. Tour was set up by State Department and US Embassy as part of a cultural exchange.

Day One:


Radio interview for Cafe USA, which also was filmed for Korean portal “Daum” (listen online). Met with Green Transport NGO leader Min Man-gee, first group to focus on transportation in this city of 10 million. They try to ensure safety for pedrestrians, cyclists and improve planning and use of public transit. Green Transport provides funds for families of victims killed in traffic. Amazing. Reported 64% public transit use in Seoul Metro, which they are trying to get increased to 70%. Seoul is already better in terms of ridership than anything in US (NYC 55%). I hope to blog more about this more in detail for Worldchanging.com

Lunch in Seoul old town area with professors from Chungang University, Konkuk Univesity, Kookmin University, Inceon Development Institute and Eco Plan Research Center. Talk of urban forest preservation and restoration. Korean food is a rich secret: fish, sauces, kim chee, cooked roots and radishes, numerous short-rice courses and broths. No barbecue in sight.

Korean Green Foundation. Turns out the foundation’s energetic Executive Director Yul Choi is a former recipent of Goldman Prize in 1995, where my wife worked as program executive for 14 years. She recommended I look him up, but he was already on my schedule thanks to Embassy/State Department schedulers and we met and had dinner together after my presentation. I agreed to be on the advisory board of this, Korea’s largest Environmental NGO along with Jane Goodall, Helena Norberg Hodge and Lester Brown. Did interview for national MBN TV to air Wednesday.

Day Two

Gyeonggi Province

This morning I presented to Korean Land Development Corporation, the government agency responsible for nation’s planning and land development. I lectured to and was grilled by about 50 staff members in urban planning, “new town” development and clean transportation division. In the end I was invited to collaborate on ranking Korea’s cities on green factors by director of that extensive effort, Duck Bok Lee. Lunch of more yummy, mostly unidentified stuff.

Photos by Warren: KLDC banquet, lunch fare


busan bullet.jpgBusan

I write from Korea’s second largest city, Busan (they don’t call it Pusan anymore), which has about 3.5 million people, a giant port town in Southeast, where I took a bullet train with program people from State Dept./ Embassy. The ocean pounds outside my window. Had dinner and discussion with “Environmentally Friendly Busan” citizen group, including doctors (one from Green Doctors), a news anchor, dentist, YMCA and YWCA presidents, newspaper editor and city council member. We had good discussion about their goal of getting more open space for the city, as Korea is developing on a China-like scale from what I can see on my short tour of duty. The Green Doctors rep invited me to help in work he is doing with North Korea, which he says is environmentally devastated, in addition to floods, famine, etc. 

Time to sleep and do it again tomorrrow: Changwon University, Panel with UN and Japan in Changwon, “The Environmental Hub of Asia,” etc.

Photo credits: fukagawa, jsteph, tylerdurden

Korea Green Cities Tour

Sunday, I leave on a tour of Korea sponsored by the US Department of State’s Economics, Trade and Global Issues office, to lead discussions and presentations on measuring and developing Green Cities.

It will be my first trip to Korea, and my packed schedule includes meeting and lecturing with officials from the United Nations, national government, including the Environmental Minister, mayors and other officials in four cities (Seoul, Busan, Seungnam and Changwon, “The Environmental Hub of Asia”), the Korean Land Corporation, The Korea Energy Research Institute, and professors and researchers from numerous Korean universities, including the pre-eminent Seoul National Unviersity.

Non-profits and non-governmental groups I’ll have discussions with include the Korea Green Foundation, the Green Women Federation, Green Transport and the Eco Plan Research Center.

Looks like there’s much interest in greening new development and greening existing cities in Korea. We’ll see next week how much of that interest translates into tangible progress.

I also am meeting with Cisco officials on their “Connected Urban Development” initiative, which provides PDAs with transport information in Seoul, as well as communications tools for plit projects in Amsterdam and San Francisco.

More to come while in Korea, or upon my return next Saturday.