Category Archives: airport

displaced/fabricated nature

plants growing in tokyo metro station

plants growing in tokyo metro station

Living close to the nature is a privilege in many parts of the world. It is more so as cities become increasingly densely populated and expand. I grew up in a very human-constructed environment of South Korea’s former industrial hub, Busan, South Korea. Naturally, facing or getting too intimate with the real nature has always been a special, rare occasion to me. On the other hand I am very much familiar with the idea of miniaturized, sanitized, fake nature in the industrialized, completely made-up environment, simulating and sampling the idea of nature rather than providing the real experience of it [think a fake snow field in a department store window decoration rather than the deceivingly real artificial beach in Odaiba, Tokyo, Japan]. In doing so, we often mimic parts of the nature that takes minimal effort to maintain and is pleasing to our senses without unpleasant consequences.

a cafe in an underground passage in tokyo, japan

a cafe in an underground passage in tokyo, japan

In Seoul’s smaller city airport, Gimpo, there’s a airy lounge area that looks like a garden. Perhaps it is the obvious contradiction that makes it more charming, or acceptable, depending on where you are coming from. As a city child I didn’t even notice the ubiquity of mimicked nature until I came back to Korea after living in other countries. They are sometimes cute, but more often than not, can be repulsive, cheap, and horrifying. Like most animal cages in the zoo are simply sad to look at.

lounge area in gimpo airport, seoul, south korea

lounge area in gimpo airport, seoul, south korea


gimpo airport lounge, seoul, south korea

lounge area in gimpo airport, seoul, south korea

As depicted by numerous well-known science fictions, we will soon see the day when it is no longer interior decorator’s musings to create the artificial parts of the nature, as they may be required for the purpose of making people familiarized with the concept.

As a side story – in a Japanese manga series called ‘Five Star Stories’, the humanoid girls ‘Fatima’ who are specifically created for controlling the war robots are described. Their skin can only accommodate clothes made of real cotton, which in itself is an extreme luxury at the time. I was reminded of the story when I was shopping in India looking for a traditional cotton lungi in a local neighborhood: I tried almost 10 shops, and none of them had a single lungi made of pure cotton as it was too expensive.

gradual dissemination: the usefulness of touch

going through some of my old photos, i noticed how SUICA system, initially rolled out as a public transportation card replacing paper tickets using nfc (near field communication) technology has been gradually introduced in japan.

the copy on the ad above is translated something in the line of “fun transformation of your mobile phone” (photo taken in april 2008).

around march 2006 when this picture was taken, i saw lots of advertisements and posters featuring this penguin character representing suica. all focused on the concept of how suica can be used to pay for the tickets, make small payments at shops instead of cash, and touch interface. for instance, this little penguin character would appear in the tv commercials accompanying a lady traveling alone passing through ticket gates with her, and drinking beer with her at a bar. it was going everywhere with the owner. the penguin also enjoyed the stardom through lots of character goods produced around it – flush toys, key chains, hats, whatever you can imagine.

suica is one of the brand names in japan that does more or less the same thing or using the same technology (like UK’s Oyster card)- which is essentially a cash top-up card. with japan rail behind it, suica had the power to educate the mass about the new interaction method as the benefits were quite clear: no need for queuing to get tickets, less hassle in passing through the crowded ticket gates, fewer reasons to carry coins. the clear benefit primarily as transportation tickets supported the mass adoption as well – though we are still talking about several years. the maturity of adoption brought a few variants as well: registration is now possible so that you can get your money back even though the card is lost; you can link it to your credit card so that it can be automatically charged once the balance goes below a certain point; commuter-pass registration is possible, as most japanese employers reimburse the commuting transportation cost based on the price of the monthly pass.

of course suica and its sister systems have become available on mobile phone for some time (under the name ‘mobile suica’). it seems about 60% of mobile phones in the market supports the function already. my tokyo colleague, Fumiko Ichikawa has a brief report on the current state of adoption in her blog. what is pleasing to observe is the gradual expansion of its use for other purposes than micro cash payments.

ana (all nippon airways) supports several methods for check-in. obviously mobile phone enabled with nfc like mobile suica is one of them.

suipo (suica poster) is launched last summer – it is an advertising platform using mobile suica as interface. people can touch the indicated spot on the advertisement to get the ad on the mobile. or you can use the normal suica card to get the 2-d bar code displayed, a technology that has been around longer in the market. if the boss canned coffee ad does not tempt you as a smart usage of nfc, you can also read about navita, the public maps using the same information distribution system as suipo. as with 2-d bar code, i am not sure how widely this is used at the moment.

from penguins to mobile micro payment to touch-based information distribution: it is a nice example of how a new technology is disseminated in incremental steps, which was a long journey.

i had a chance to probe how chinese people think about touch or near-touch interface a couple of weeks ago. while the metro ticket system in shanghai is same as oyster or suica, most people could not think of any other use of a similar system beyond that. on the other hand, their understanding of bluetooth wireless technology seemed to confuse many people about possibilities and benefits of near field interaction. a remote indication to think about the adoption curve and mass-market education of new technology – with or without a cute penguin’s involvement.

airport mess, humanity, digital divide

circling around

i was one of the unlucky who was heading to heathrow airport on wednesday, feb 20th, 2008. the natural disaster was the fog. my flight from helsinki landed as my flight to back home to tokyo was taking off somewhere in the nearby runway.

to make the day more memorable, my gigantic suitcase came out with no wheels. the ticket sales booth had such a long queue that the customer service desk didn’t want any more people to go there. but instead, i was given a phone number to call the next day and a polite and vague request to find a hotel room on my own in london, with a tip that all airport hotels were already fully booked.

the work

to make my time more useful i took the trouble to report the damage on my luggage, while searching for a vacant hotel room on my laptop. by the time i reached the agent past the thorough open-bag-search security screening, i had already called about 15 hotels in london which were all full that night.

the nice lady

i couldnt help but sharing my frustration with the lady at the counter that there’s no vacancy in any of the hotels and that BA wouldn’t/cannot do anything about it. she paused for a perceivably long moment. when she started to speak, her face brightened: “you can stay with me tonight. i finish my work at around 10pm, if you can wait for me.”

i was lost for words for a longer while. i never expected anyone working in that bloody bleak airport in a particularly spectacular chaos could possibly be so kind. she gave me her mobile phone number to show how serious she was. touched by her kindness and my embarrassment of not believing in the good of humanity for a while, i thanked her and left the place, doing more eager search for the vacant hotel room late on wednesday night with my 23kg of broken luggage.

this is my second experience of missing a connection here. if you dont have a laptop with wifi access and a mobile phone and do not have home in the nearby area, beware: the internet terminals in the departure area block all access to hotel/airline booking websites. the one and only hotel reservation center at the airport charges you not only the booking fee but offer rooms at the seemingly over-the-rack rate. mobile internet connectivity was a bliss for me to eventually find a room at 300 quids/night, but i felt the strange guilt leaving the airport full of people still queuing for their turn to find some hope to get out of there, as if i lived a very brief scene of digital divide.

had i had any tool for finding out – would i have saved another person or two with me from the temporary misery that night? would we have started to collaborate in that space and context to find a sharable solution instead of standing passively in that queue? it is appalling how our actual life contexts are still so absent from the potentially useful tools that we all are using for playing around. but that night, the real question for me was: would i ever have the guts to accept her kindness, and what will it take for a city girl to trust a total stranger?