Monday, April 30, 2012

How do you define a good shoes?

Define 'good shoe'

SS Scarpe, premium Goodyear welt shoemaker,
tries to lure the trend-conscious to the world of classic

Source: The Korea Times

Towards the end of a lunch break, honest people in this country are often reduced to a circus-like activity. Huddled up in front of restaurant exits, they frantically search for their shoes on the floor or on the shelves and then battle for the few shoehorns of the house.

A “good pair of shoes” in the minds of Koreans, therefore, are most likely defined by how easily removable/wearable they are as much as how comfortable or beautiful they might be on your feet. So, it should not come as a surprise that the “lunchtime shoe collection” tends to be uninspiring.

This is especially true for men. No wonder they resort to wearing those black loafer slip-ons with loud logos and/or recognizable name-brand designs.

But an audacious 30-something shoe aficionado named Kim Bom-sop believes he — and his SS Scarpe line — can steer Korean men to wear classic leather shoes that combine beauty and longevity with
an excellent price-to-quality ratio.

“If you want solid, durable shoes, they’ve got to be somewhat uncomfortable,” said Kim in an interview Tuesday. “If you want total comfort, you should make them with cheaper leather, make them thinner... make the soles with sponge.

“It’s a lesson people can only learn over time by trying a lot of shoes on.”

And now they can. With just four models out at the moment, SS are sold at 440,000 won (approximately $387) a pair. It may be out of range for many but for shoe specialists, the quality speaks for itself.

“Already with their first collection, SS Scarpe achieved a level of quality in materials, style, and construction that many other imported or local shoes of similar or even higher price levels fail to offer,” said Reto Zimmermann, owner of gentleman’s shoe store Zimmermann & Kim in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul, who decided to carry Kim’s shoes alongside longer established imports like Gaziano Girling, Saint Crispin and Vass. (The store has no ties to the shoe producer.)

SS uses premium calf hide aged six months or less, tanned and dyed in France. Its shoes are made in Indonesian factories whose artisans have already worked on European and American brand-name products for decades.

The designs follow the classic tradition of shoes for men, inspired by brands such as Crockett & Jones and Edward Green, some of the world’s most respected purveyors of quality footwear.

Kim readily admits that these foreign competitors, which can cost more than double or even triple his, have an edge in several aspects, but he asserts that ordinary people can have access to beautiful shoes that can last, like a treasured work of art that has a personal attachment.

To reflect that, he named his company after the words sense and sensibility (scarpe is Italian for shoes), with the wish to combine (subjective) beauty with (objective) quality.

The issue of practicality remains. How does he expect to overcome the daily hurdles that virtually every man in Korea has to jump?

“People don’t have to wear them every day. They can be for weddings and other functions, where they can show them off a little,” he said. “My goal is that one day a pair of my shoes will be on every man’s wish list, something they can save up for.”

He raised his leg up and modeled his own pair, which he said he has been wearing for over two years. The shoes were in pristine condition, undoubtedly cleaned and polished regularly.

He proceeded to explain the benefit of Goodyear welts.

“The outsole is leather, which means it is breathable in simple speak. It will also adapt to the shape of your feet. Over time, these shoes will feel snug, just right.”

The most salient — and confounding — feature of the four shoe styles is the color: none of them are available in black, the predominant color on those restaurant shoe shelves. They are offered in burgundy, burgundy brown, chocolate brown and brown, in subtle nuances that not all shoe laymen may be able to discern.

In this respect Kim was adamant that with black, the evidence of quality is buried in the darkness even more. Picking brown was not a matter of choice.

“High-quality shoes are also characterized by the depths of the color. The color tells the difference between a mid-range and top-quality pair.”

Kim plans to release more models by the end of the year, including in black and even boots.

With this venture, he said he hoped to contribute to feeding the culture of cherishing high-quality products that could even be passed down to a future generation. In like manner he intends to give his favorite watch to his son one day, he added.

“It’s a cultural difference. The shift will be slow, but as more high-quality shoes are on the market, people will look after their shoes like they do their clothes. If you don’t buy good shoes, obviously you wouldn’t be as attached.”

The SS Scarpe models are available in selected outlets in Seoul and Busan. For more information, visit

Home grown Opera fest in Korea

Home-grown opera to highlight fest

A scene from the Korea National Opera’s 2006 “Soulmate,” an adaptation of the Korean novel “Wedding Day.” The work premiered in Frankfurt, Germany. / Courtesy of Korea National Opera

By Do Je-hae

The upcoming Korea Opera Festival will present home-grown works, alongside some of the world's best-loved masterpieces.

In its third year, the month-long event will start on May 6 with a gala performance of popular duets and arias at the opera theater of the Seoul Arts Center.

Participating companies include the state-funded Korea National Opera and four private opera companies _ New Seoul Opera Company, Grand Opera Company, Nuova Opera Company and Seoul Opera Company. They will present well-known works like "Les Contes d'Hoffmann," "La Traviata," "Tosca" and "Le Nozze Di Figaro."

It remains to be seen how well these low-budgeted troupes will deal with the multi-task of presenting a proper opera performance, where the staging, singing and acting are delivered with equal proficiency.

A key aim of the organizers is to increase the popularity of home-grown works, some of which will be presented by the Korea National Opera (KNO) to conclude the festival. The KNO will present 12 pieces it has created in the last 50 years to close the festival on June 7 and 8.

"I hope that not only famous European operas but also local creations will become more important to audiences through the gala shows," KNO Executive Director Kim Eui-joon said during a recent press conference in Seoul.

Since the 1980s, around 500 operas have been created here, but few have had a resounding impact. Most have failed to be staged on a regular basis. The 1980s were the heyday of local opera creations.

Performances of the KNO will include scenes from “Opera Chunhyang,” the first local opera produced in 1950 and “Prince Hodong." Both are inspired by folk stories of young lovers who become obstacles.

The KNO recently feted its 50 years with a production of Puccini’s tragic love story “La Boheme,” in collaboration with Chung Myung-whun’s Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra (SPO) accompanying a cast of established and up and coming vocalists.

Organizers called for more government support for promoting operas, underlining the lack of the policymakers' lack of interest in the genre compared to musicals or ballet.

"We received about 600 million won ($527,000) in state funding for the festival, but that is insufficient," Cho Chang-yeon, head of the festival's organizing committee said.

It has been 63 years since Korea staged its first opera ― Verdi’s tragic “La Traviata” ― in the heart of Myeong-dong. Since then, opera’s increasing popularity has led to the establishment of major opera festivals here in the 2000s. The Daegu Opera Festival was organized in 2003 as Asia’s first international opera festival.

Cho also mentioned special plans for the 2013 Korea Opera Festival.

"We will organize the festival to honor the 200th anniversary of the birth of Verdi," Cho said.

The New Seoul Opera Company will stage Mozart's "Le Nozze Di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)" from May 11 to 13.

This will be followed by the Nuova Opera Company's "Les Contes d' Hoffmann (The Tale of Hoffmann)" by Offenbach from May 18 to 20, followed by Puccini's "Tosca," by the Grand Opera Company from May 25 to 27. The Seoul Opera Company will present Verdi's "La Traviata" from June 1 to 3.

Tickets range from 10,000 to 150,000 won. For more information, visit or call (02) 586-5285.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

American actress cum singer Beyoncé Reigns Supreme as People Magazine's Most Beautiful Woman

 American pop star Beyoncé has been named the most beautiful woman in the world this year by People magazine in its special double issue on Wednesday. The 30-year-old was also featured on the cover page. This is the first time a woman of African-American descent has been awarded the coveted honor since Halle Barry did so in 2003.

In her interview with the magazine, Beyoncé said, "I feel more beautiful than I've ever felt because I've given birth." She married rapper and record producer Jay-Z in 2008 and gave birth to their daughter Blue Ivy in January.

Along with Beyoncé, actresses Angelina Jolly and Megan Fox, singer Adele, the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton and "Mad Men" star Canadian actress Jessica Pare were included in the list. Last year the gong went to U.S. actress Jennifer Lopez.

Balhae of Korea

Balhae dominated Manchuria

Graves of Balhae’s royal family in Jilin Province, northeastern China

This is the fourth of a 10-part series on Korean history from its mythological, ancient beginning until the present day. This project is sponsored by several companies and public agencies including Merck Korea, eBay Korea, Daewoo Securities and Korea Post. ― ED.

By Kim Tae-gyu and Kevin N. Cawley

The smallest and weakest country Silla terminated the Three-Kingdom era by felling bigger rivals Goguryeo and Baekje in the late 7th century with the help of China's Tang Dynasty.

Then, Silla managed to drive away Chinese forces, which showed their ambition of taking the Korean Peninsula and Manchuria under its control.

However, Silla ruled only lands below Pyongyang and the areas above it belonged to no nation for around 30 years before former Goguryeo General Dae Jo-yeong founded a state there in 698.

Dae destroyed the Tang forces, which used its subordinate Khitan people, to set up Jin. Dae established the country, which was later called Balhae, as a successor to Goguryeo to occupy southern Manchuria, the northern part of the Korean Peninsula and the areas around today’s Vladivostok.

Balhae controlled this wide-ranging territory for more than two centuries before collapsing in 926 due to an attack of the Khitans, a nomadic Mongolic people.

It is ironic that Balhae was founded after defeating the Khitans but eventually fell to them. After then, any state governed by ethnic Koreans failed to regain Manchuria, northeast of China.

Korean rulers

The ruling class of Balhae was by and large composed of ethnic Koreans, mostly descendents of Goguryeo, while the Mohe comprised most of the state’s population.

The Mohe, otherwise called Malgal, were people in ancient Manchuria who failed to build a strong nation-state and were attacked or annexed by countries in China and the Korean Peninsula.

Although a vast majority of Balhae population was Mohe, the Korean ruling class successfully built and maintained a national identity and competed with surrounding kingdoms including the Tang Dynasty in the west and Unified Silla in the south.

Feeling isolated and threatened due to the checks from the two neighbors as well as warlike tribes in the east, the second King Mu attacked the Shandong Peninsula of Tang with his navy in 732 to record early victories.

The Shandong Peninsula was the base camp where Tang sent its navies twice to Korea when it struck Goguryeo and Baekje.

However, Balhae maintained good relations with Tang after the death of the second King Mu and the former reached its peak in the early 9th century to regain most of the former Goguryeo lands.

Back then, it gained its nickname the ``flourishing country of the east’’ from China.

When Balhae attacked Tang under the reins of King Mu, Silla invaded Balhae’s southern borders at the request of Tang. The standoffs prompted Silla to build a northern wall in the early 8th century. But later on, the northern and southern countries had good relations with each other.

Balhae also had lots of exchanges with Japan, thus delivering its advanced culture to the island country.

In Balhae, a small group of Goguryeo remnants ruled much bigger groups of Tungusic people, mostly the Mohe. In many aspects, the country adopted the culture of the former.

Balhae’s cities including its capital Sanggyeong were considered to be culturally advanced as well as similar to those of Goguryeo based on research of its archaeological remains, mostly in northeast China today.

Unfortunately, all the written records from Balhae have been lost so that historians have no choice but to depend on records of other countries or from archaeological discoveries to uncover the real face of the nation.

Because not so much research has been done on Balhae due to a lack of data, the country still remains as a somewhat mystic entity.

Farewell to Manchuria

In the early 10th century, Balhae’s fortune waned for some reason and the Khitans, the very tribe Balhae destroyed 200-plus years ago in order to found itself, took advantage of the situation to take down Balhae.

Up until now, the consensus has been that the clash between the ruling class Koreans and the underclass Mohe caused the weakening, but new hypotheses have risen of late.

Of note is the theory that the eruption of Mt. Baekdu led to the decline of Balhae as its volcanic ash greatly damaged its agricultural infrastructure, which was the basis for its survival.

No matter what the reason was, the Khitans founded a country in 926 after beating Balhae, which was annexed by the Liao Empire 10 years later.

A few self-proclaimed heroes managed to create countries in the region, which described themselves as the successor to Balhae, to chase the Khitans, but they were swept away by Liao.

Some Chinese historians insist that Balhae was not a Korean kingdom but one made up of its own ethnic groups or the Mohe. Korean historians refute that claim as the distinctive Balhae culture had its origins in Goguryeo, including the ondol house-heating system.

Significantly, its people saw themselves as distinct from the Chinese as can be seen from the fighting and conflict with Tang of China.

In addition, when Balhae sent envoys to Japan, the state also described itself as Goguryeo. The second Emperor Mu said in a letter to Japan that Balhae succeeded Goguryeo, while calling himself a Goguryeo king.

The last royal family of Balhae also revolted against the Khitans fleeing southward where they were welcomed and received protection from the new Goryeo Dynasty.

Historically, there were some attempts to regain Manchuria as part of the national territory but none of them produced tangible results.

There after, Manchuria was no longer included as part of Korean history after the fall of Balhae.

But neither Unified Silla nor the later Goryeo Dynasty wrote an official history of Balhae, which has offered some grounds for those who claim that it does not belong to Korea. However, an increasing number of modern historians are now researching the country’s history.

Dr. Kevin N. Cawley is currently the Director of the Irish Institute of Korean Studies at University College Cork (UCC), Ireland _ the only institute in Ireland dedicated to promoting Korean studies _ funded by the Academy of Korean Studies, South Korea. He was previously a Gyujanggak Fellow at Seoul National University.

In Detail

Balhae (AD698-926):
A Manchurian kingdom set up after the collapse of Goguryeo

Unified Silla (AD668-935):
Korea’s first unified country after the Three Kingdom era

Goguryeo (BC37-AD668):
An ancient Korean kingdom in the northern Korean Peninsula and Manchuria

Baekje (BC18-AD660):
An ancient kingdom in southwest Korea

Silla (BC57-AD935):
An ancient kingdom in southeast Korea

Dae Jo-yeong (reign: 699-719:)
Founder of Balhae

King Mu (reign: 719-737):
Second monarch of Balhae, who attacked the Tang Dynasty

Shandong Peninsula:
A peninsula in the Shandong Province of northeastern China

Currently the capital of North Korea, which is located at the heart of the country

Tang Dynasty (AD618-907):
An imperial dynasty of China, which flourished in terms of cultural capacity and military power

Liao Empire (907-1125):
A Khitan empire in East Asia, which ruled over such regions as Manchuria, Mongolia and parts of northern China

Korea’s unique heating system based on heat transference from the underside of a thick brick floor

Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392):
A Korean kingdom that succeeded the Southern-and-Northern States period 

Source: The Korea Times

The three Kingdom Era of Korea

Three-Kingdom Era: Koreans bring culture to Japan

Dokdo is composed of two volcanic islets and several rocks situated some 90 kilometers east of Ulleung Island. It is under the control of Korea but Japan also claims sovereignty, calling it Takeshima. / Korea Times
Korean Peninsula, Manchuria brace for three-way competition for 700 years

By Kim Tae-gyu and Kevin N. Cawley

This is the second of a 10-part series on Korean history from its mythological, ancient beginning until the present day. This project is sponsored by several companies and public agencies including Merck Korea, eBay Korea, Daewoo Securities and Korea Post. ― ED.

After Korea’s earliest state Gojoseon fell in BC 108, three major powers rose up in Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula over the next 100 years to rule the region for much of the first millennium.

Goguryeo took charge of the northern part, while the southern part of the country was divided between Baekje in the west and Silla in the east. This period of three states has become known as the Three-Kingdom Era and marks a period that was rich both spiritually and culturally.

Although the three kingdoms were ruled by different kings in different ways, all of them were composed of ethnic Koreans and they had languages, religions and culture in common.

In particular, all three eventually accepted Buddhism, starting with Gorguryeo, then Baekje, and finally Silla. In addition, Confucianism was also introduced during this era. This also means that Chinese characters were used.

Throughout some 700 years, their rivalry was as dramatic as anything we could expect to find in a movie ― it involved long-term partnerships via marriages, brutal warfare, and betrayals.

For example, the smallest state, Silla, expanded its territory and defeated its two bigger rivals during the 7th century by making an alliance with the Chinese Tang dynasty forces. Silla later drove away its Chinese ally, who thought it would then take Korea over for itself, and instead, Silla established a unified dynasty on the Korean Peninsula.

Goguryeo ― northern defense line

Throughout the Three-Kingdom Era, Goguryeo maintained by far the biggest lands covering much of Manchuria, as well as the northern part of Korea. Initially, it was the most powerful among the three states.

The country’s fortune reached its peak in the 5th century under the rule of one of only two Korean kings who has the title “Great” in his official name: King Gwanggaeto the Great.

King Gwanggaeto expanded his nation northward so as to occupy the Liaodong Plains in Manchuria. There is a big stone stele in northeastern China, which praises his performances, erected by his son.

For the next century Goguryeo was a dominant force, and with its strong military power it set up the northern defense line of Korea under which its southern brothers and sisters could be protected from an invasion by Chinese forces.

During the 7th century the country withstood full-scale attacks from Chinese forces, the most powerful in the world back then. It eventually fell in 668 when Tang forces were united with those of Silla in the South.

From a cultural point of view, Goguryeo had great respect for the teachings of Confucianism and even had its own Confucian academy to train the sons of aristocrats.

Baekje ― mentor of Japan

Baekje was built around the Han River, now modern-day Seoul, by two sons of Goguryeo’s founder. They are recorded as having fled a succession clash and after fleeing south, conquered nearby chiefdoms to take over southwestern Korea including the Han River area.

It was not Goguryeo but Baekje that has stood out first on the peninsula as it was stronger in the 4th century. Back then, the country dominated most of the western part of the peninsula.

However, its fortune waned in the following century with the rise of Goguryeo, and Baekje was forced to move its capital from the Han River area to more southern cities twice. It collapsed in 660 due to the allied attack of Silla and Tang forces.

The nation was famous for having the most advanced religious and artistic culture among the three kingdoms, and it was Koreans from Baekje who were responsible for transmitting Chinese characters, Buddhism, and Confucianism to Japan.

Ajikgi and Wang In are the two Koreans recorded in the earliest Japanese historical records for having brought their superior culture and Chinese writing to the Japanese. Meanwhile, Buddhist missionaries from Baekje brought their religion, as well as their advanced knowledge of art and architecture.

Silla ­ the winner takes all

In the southeast of the peninsula, Silla absorbed nearby city states to become the strongest power there. It was initially the smallest and weakest in the three-way rivalry, and formed an alliance with Baekje in 433 in the face of the threat of Goguryeo.

Strengthened by marriages between royal families of the two countries, the cooperation lasted for 120 years through the mid 6th century.

However, Silla broke the time-honored partnership in 553 by attacking Baekje to take the area surrounding the Han River, which prompted Baekje to join hands with Goguryeo.

In answer, Silla formed an important relationship with the Tang Dynasty to destroy its two rivals in the 660s, and it ousted its Chinese allies out of the peninsula to assume the lands south of Pyongyang.

During the 7th century Korea saw two of its greatest Buddhist philosophers, Wonhyo and Uisang, whose ideas were influential in China. Both emphasized harmony and equality.

In addition, the great Bulguksa Temple (which means ‘the country of Buddha’) was constructed as well as the famous Seokguram Grotto. Both Bulguksa and Seokguram Grotto have been added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo

History books say that Silla conquered Usan-guk in 512, which was based on Ulleungdo in the East Sea. Korean scholars believe that the event made Dokdo belong to the country.

Dokdo is a set of volcanic islets situated in about 90 kilometers east of Ulleung Island where people can see Dokdo with naked eyes when the weather is clear. In contrast, the closest Japanese land is up to 160 kilometers away where Dokdo cannot be observed with human eyes even when the weather is super clear.

It has been under the control of Korea with armed policemen stationed there but Japan claims sovereignty on Dokdo, which the country calls Takeshima, by coming up with various logics.

Dokdo, also dubbed the Liancourt Rocks, has emerged as bone of contentions between the two countries through various events.

Dr. Kevin N. Cawley is currently the Director of the Irish Institute of Korean Studies at University College Cork (UCC), Ireland - the only institute in Ireland dedicated to promoting Korean studies ― funded by the Academy of Korean Studies, South Korea. He was previously a Gyujanggak Fellow at Seoul National University.

In detail

Goguryeo (BC37 ­ AD668):
An ancient Korean kingdom in the northern Korean Peninsula and Manchuria

Baekje (BC18 ­ AD660):
A kingdom in southwest Korea

Silla (BC57 ­ AD935):
A kingdom in southeast Korea

Liaodong Plains:
Plains located in the northeast of China

Currently the capital of North Korea. It is located at the heart of the country.

Tang Dynasty (AD618-907):
An imperial dynasty of China, which flourished in terms of cultural capacity and military power.

Han River:
A major river in South Korea flowing through its capital Seoul.

King Gwanggaeto the Great:
The ninth monarch of Goguryeo. Over his reign between 391 and 413, he has expanded territory greatly to make Goguryeo become a super power of East Asia. He died in 413 at the age of 39.

Ajikgi and Wang In:
Scholars of Baekje. They taught the Japanese people the Chinese letters and the Confucianism.

Wonhyo and Uisang:
Buddhist monks and great philosophers of Silla. They were close friends.

Bulguksa Temple:
A big temple built by Silla in its capital. It is enlisted at the UNESCO World Heritage.

Seokguram Grotto:
A hermitage as part of the Bulguksa temple complex. It is added to the UNESCO World Heritage.

The country based on Ulleungdo and the nearby islands during the Three-Kingdom Era. Silla occupied it in 512.

Korea’s easternmost volcanic outcrops. Both Korea and Japan claims Dokdo but Korea has strong grip on it, which is located about 90 kilometers southeast of Korea’s Ulleungdo. 

Source: The Korea Times