Story by: Ara Cho, Photos by: Dylan Goldby
With Korea set to host the Asian Games in 2014, the Korean Formula One Grand Prix in 2016 and the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018, an unprecedented number of visitors is expected to descend upon the country in the coming years. To accommodate the influx of guests and thus bolster the tourism industry, a dizzying array of new buildings, stadiums, roads and rail lines are already scheduled for construction, with more projects on the way.
For infrastructure enthusiasts like Andy Tebay, these are exciting times.
Tebay is a 26-year-old MBA student in Seoul whose website, Kojects, has won over a dedicated following both here and abroad for providing information on transportation and construction projects around the nation.
A New Zealander with a background in linguistics, Tebay developed a connection to Korea in college while living with a group of Korean students from Gyeongsang Province who sparked his interest in the country and left him with the same strong regional dialect that still colors his speech.
His passion for construction and transportation projects sprouted when he first arrived in Seoul in 2007. He couldn’t help but notice the vast difference between the public transportation and construction projects in his home country and those in his new home: Auckland still had diesel-powered trains and the construction projects there took considerably longer to complete than the skyscrapers and bridges in Seoul that went up in what seemed to him like a week.
Last autumn, after his observations had become something of an obsession, he started blogging in response to what he felt was a dearth of information about such a fast-growing field. “There are all these major projects going on but in actual fact not many people know about them. And when they do know, their information is often wrong,” he said. “Also, there are hardly any places which provide an accurate summary of information. That’s where I come in and that’s what I’d like to provide.” Although Tebay, a good-humored bloke, initially laughed along with friends who jokingly teased him about his child-like enthusiasm for trains, he was surprised to discover through his site a legion of people both here and abroad who share his passion.
“People are genuinely interested in finding out what shape the infrastructure will take and technical details involved in the construction,” he said.
He says he is also lucky to have made many good friends through the site who are quite knowledgeable and “actually have experience in the industry rather than just those who take interest as a hobby.”
Tebay himself has since become something of an authority on Korean infrastructure projects and Kojects is frequently cited as a reference. Some such examples include Wikipedia, Advanced Technology & Design Korea (a government-sponsored website aimed at promoting Korean products and brands), Travel Wire Asia (a travel and culture website affiliated with news website Asian Correspondent) and Kotaku (a popular tech blog).
He has also had the opportunity to visit places such as the National Railroad Control Center, which is a highly restricted area, and the Korea Transport Institute, thanks to connections he’s made on his blog.
He says it is the role that public infrastructure plays in people’s everyday lives that fascinates him most.
“While I definitely love the nostalgia and character of very old buildings, I also enjoy seeing creation and development, and I try to focus on buildings or infrastructure that will be used by the general public and not just a new building down the road,” he said.
“As for transport projects, it’s all about how people can connect to places faster. It’s exciting to think that soon there will be a brand new line that will travel all the way across Gangwondo to Donghae, for example.”
One project that has held his interest since construction began in 2010 is the urban maglev train at Incheon International Airport. When it begins operating in late 2013, the system will be the country’s first commercial line to use magnetic levitation technology, which according Kojects propels vehicles using the basic principles of magnets instead of wheels and engines, reducing both noise and vibration.
“Despite its prominent location, the project seems to be relatively unknown and lots of people are interested in checking out the technology, which still isn’t so common globally,” Tebay said. “The reason this project was so interesting for (me), personally, is that during my research I found out about the huge number of projects going on in the Incheon area, especially near the airport.”
He writes in a related post on the site about some of those projects, including a second terminal at the airport slated to open in 2018 — just in time for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
A more recent post details the re-opening of several stations on the Gyeongwon Line connecting Dongducheon to the country’s northernmost rail terminus at Sintan-ri, hinting at a possible extension to reconnect the line with North Korea’s rail system.
Although he started the site as a hobby, Tebay is serious about making sure that the information he is providing is legitimate, accurate and interesting.
“Accuracy is quite important to me and I like to show from where the information comes and also provide ways that readers can find out more about a certain project or company,” he said.
He draws upon a diversity of sources, including the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, news articles, the websites of construction companies, other blogs and direct interviews with industry insiders. Where possible, he tries to provide information not yet available in English.
“I hope I can act as somewhat of a database for the various projects so people can know, for example, when the Wolmido Monorail will finally be open or when they can watch a game of baseball at the new Baseball Dome in Guro,” he said.
Before he started Kojects, Tebay was already active online as an editor of Nanoomi.net, an aggregator of Korean blogs, and VentureSquare.net, which features Korean tech startups and information on new ventures.
While he admits to the challenges of dividing his time between editing, his MBA program and Kojects, Tebay says the rewards have made it worthwhile for him.
“The most rewarding aspect for me has been meeting new people. As I said earlier, I have made some good friends with similar interests who have introduced me to people in the industry. I have also gotten to know the great community of K-bloggers in Korea, which includes some very talented and smart people,” he said.