Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Where in the world is the Blue House?

I had a strange realization earlier this year: I had no idea where the Blue House was. I'd seen countless maps of Seoul, but the Blue House had never been on one. I assumed it was on Yeouido by the National Assembly for some reason, but in reality it's in the centre of the city behind the old royal palace. A picture to be used by potential spies is here.

However, Korean maps don't show it. Google shows the White House plainly on its maps, and unsurprisingly there are nice shots of Canada's Parliament as well. By comparison, Naver, Daum and Google maps show the Blue House as a white space on their maps and as a blurry mass of black on their satellites.

More amusing was a picture I saw of Gyeongbokgung, the palace right in front of the Blue House, used by the Seoul government to promote tourism in the area. This picture was in Gyeongbokgung subway station and had a shot of the palace, which should have had the Blue House in the background. However, in this picture, all we saw were a mass of trees. They'd airbrushed it out. Considering that anyone standing about a mile away can see the Blue House if they know that it's blue, this was a bit too much.

South Korea has its reasons, namely the 1968 raid on the Blue House that justifies all sorts of security apparatus in the mountains north of Seoul, though with virtually every man around 20 or 21 years of age in the army to fight a dormant enemy, you have to send them somewhere.

This is also, however, the country with an official YouTube channel that until recently considered YouTube illegal for not complying with its idiotic Internet censorship law. Their solution to the laughable status was to exempt foreign websites from the law. Of course, Korea still remains what I call an Internet leech, freely using websites like Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and the like while demanding non-citizens to provide ID to use their own sites.

At any rate, the Blue House paranoia would all seem justified if the website was similarly tight-lipped. It is, in English. Visitors might be mystified to learn that although you can tour the Blue House, it is virtually impossible to figure out where it is. The closest we come is an admission that the Blue House is somewhere near the "East Parking Lot adjacent the Gyeongbokgung palace", which is where tour start. I'm sure if they could, they would start tours blindfolded at Incheon airport.

But wait! There's more! If you go to the Korean website, you can hold your mouse over 'Blue House information' (청와대안내), then go to 'directions' (청와대 오시는 길) to find this detailed map of how to get there, complete with driving directions and public transit information.

So, apparently, South Korea has a lot to fear from foreigners knowing where the Blue House is. And it's true. Except that the foreigners to fear also speak Korean. Who was behind the 1968 raid on the Blue House? North Koreans. Who has tried to assassinate the president three times, a fact mentioned by the current president yesterday? North Korea. Who is the only country to have ever attacked South Korea? North Korea.

What language do they speak in North Korea? Korean. Naturally, providing a nice Korean-language map of the presidential palace is a fantastic option. Similarly, security in the mountains north of the city is also somewhat comical, considering that anyone with a South Korean ID is waved right through. To get a South Korean ID, it's not hard for North Korean spies to pretend to be North Korean defectors and show up via China. That's even how two assassins got through.

So, the options are clear for South Korea: restrict sensitive information to the English language to guard against North Korean spies and remote surveillance, or simply get over it and put the presidential residence on the map. Or at least stop giving free tours on the second Saturday of every month.

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