5 March 2016

[RASKB] Seoul: Antiquity Meets Modernity

I'll be leading another RASKB tour in a couple months, this one simply retracing some familiar sights around downtown with a few personal stories about the urban renewal process there. We'll basically be walking Pimatgol, Cheonggyecheon, and Sejongno and analysing up close how the city tries to modernise while also holding onto some of its storied past as well. This tour will be a lot more interesting if you like urban planning and infrastructure more than history. There will also be zero overlap with Peter Bartholomew's Joseon Seoul tour or Robert Fouser's upcoming Jongmyo, Seun Sangga, Ikseon-dong tour.

And there's a charge for participating, with the money going to support the world's oldest Korean Studies organisation, which is in increasingly desperate need of funds.

30 January 2016

New Town

My final stop was an abandoned neighbourhood right in the center of Gangnam (not the -gu, but the side of the river). It was also a hillside of razed land, but this one was better than the previous one simply because it had a better view. I've admired this little part of southern Seoul for several years, as it's cut off from the rest of Gangnam by a curved ridge pushing it up against the riverfront. It's a cozy little low-key area with a big university hospital and now a lot of demolition.

30 January 2016

Second Place Lava

On my way to my last destination of the day, I passed by yet another abandoned neighbourhood. This one was far gone, basically a fenced-off razed hillside.

30 January 2016

Find the Cat

A couple weeks ago, my friend Soulkee announced that his neighbourhood was being evicted and he was clearing out as of 15 January, with pictures of the area in a state of abandonment.

I asked him his old address, and he told me "If go up the rooftop, pls do not touch a trap I installed."

Trap?! That doesn't sound very safe, or even legal. What is this, Yongsan 4?

He clarified, "I lost my cat at the day I moved, but I'm sure that my cat still stay at the rooftop, so I just install the trap."

I replied: Let's Go Find the Cat*.

I spent a few hours looking all over the neighbourhood, but finding a lost cat in a Korean neighbourhood, let alone one that's mostly abandoned, is nearly impossible. The trap was of course nothing too dangerous, just a cage with cat food inside that closes if paws press a certain panel.

Soulkee should have realised he's part of a network of people who like visiting abandoned places, and many of them love cats. There have been cases where urban explorers have rescued lost animals from abandoned buildings, and in cases like that, the usual UE ethics go out the window. Smash through drywall to rescue a trapped kitten? No problem. Hell, even the whole "Take only photos, leave only footprints" rule is negated, unless you're cruel enough to re-abandon a stranded animal inside an abandoned building.

It's rare that I encourage anyone to go to any of the places I visit. There are exceptions such as Yongma Land and the entire punk scene, but I'm making this one an exception as well. Obviously nobody should be going there to smash, steal, or spraypaint anything, but the more eyes in the neighbourhood, the higher the chances we have of recovering Soulkee's cat.

So I'm putting a bounty on this cat. Not a big one because nobody should be looking for this cat for financial gain, but you can expect a large number of urban explorers to want to buy you a beer, or if you don't drink, I guess food or air or whatever else non-drinkers like. You will also become a legendary figure, and I could probably twist that into an article for my corporate overlords, along the lines of "Urban explorer rescues cat," right next to the article about UFOs causing volcanic eruptions and Kim Jong-un's sex appeal.

*I saw Grand Buffet sometime in the early 2000s when they came to Edmonton as openers for Wesley Willis and this song was one of the unforgettable moments of the night, aside from meeting Wesley Willis when I was auditioning as a house DJ -- they didn't hire me, despite his endorsement.

30 January 2016


All of this running around gave me several pictures unrelated to the subjects, so I crammed them all into this gallery of pictures taken going from one place to the next, some in Seoul and some in Gangnam. I especially looked at public art on my way around, plus a couple nice vistas of the area just south of the river.

30 January 2016

Secret Playground

I returned to the Secret Playground, which I previously visited at night with people. This time I was on my own in the daylight and more free to run around on my own. It's a medium-sized abandoned neighbourhood, but there are plenty of interesting buildings still standing that are worth a visit or two.

30 January 2016


My journey started off by visiting Yeomni-dong, near where friends (Jeff and Trash, and Jae) live and make tattoos (Badass Bomi), to find a huge crater where a neighbourhood must have been removed over the past couple years, and none of them thought to tip me off.

This is a good chance to remind everyone that I'm offering 10 000 won subsidies for "Jeff Sucks" tattoos from Badass Bomi. Just e-mail her at badasstattookorea@gmail.com and tell her Jon sent you.

29 January 2016

Abandoned Military Property

But whose military? Some of these buildings look like they date back to Japanese occupation. Jacco wanted me to have a look and tell him what I found prior to his RASKB lecture on Korea under American military occupation (1945-48) on Tuesday, February 2. Leading up to his lecture he's been doing a lot of research and uncovering a lot of very interesting things about the city. We're still unsure what to think of this area though.

29 January 2016

Under the Cop Titan

Along Sinmun-no, this gigantic cop fastened to the side of a building has been a local eyesore for years. It's probably made the situation more tense in the small commercial neighbourhood next door, as they face eviction under the steely eyes of some random anonymous cop titan.

This area is in a pretty prominent location visible to traffic, but doesn't get quite the pedestrians that a place like Yongsan 4 did.

25 January 2016

Gwangjang Market

It's about time for Javin to leave again for another year (though he once again pledges to come back sometime in a warmer month than January) and I wanted to show him a few of the more rustic markets. We went to one near Insadong that is literally a hole in the wall, and then walked over to Gwangjang which has a lot of character and is well loved enough that it's now full of Chinese tourists.

23 January 2016

WestGold Train

To get home, we got to a train station on a big enough line. The next train coming along was listed as "WestGold," and not knowing what that was, we decided it was worth the adventure to stow away on the route back to Seoul. The thing was painted bright yellow and hauled by a yellow locomotive that was far from aerodynamic. We slipped aboard and not too long after my two ethnically Asian friends were caught by a conductor somehow. But nobody really cared, as the train was on its return leg, about five stations away from Seoul, and it was shedding paying passengers at every stop.

Korail offers an increasing number of specialised train routes I'd liken to an inland cruise experience, and I'm interested to check more of them out -- either as a paying passenger or a stowaway.

23 January 2016

Abandoned Neighbourhood

Our cross-country trip took us to an old familiar abandoned neighbourhood out in the country that still hasn't changed over the years. Well, except this time a big fence has been erected around it. But as I frequently remind my Korean urban exploring conspirators, Korea isn't exactly known for its fence-making.

23 January 2016

Utopia Building

After Verv's Natural History Museum tour and its "oughtopia" murals, it was good timing to visit this abandoned research or education building covered in miniature models of proposed utopias, some clearly realised for particular regions and others maybe flights of fancy. This building is behind a fence and protected with an absurd amount of alarm systems, one of which we may or may not have tripped (if we had, it was silent and no one seemed to respond, which contradicts previous experiences with alarms here).

23 January 2016

Yongsan Disaster 7th Anniversary

Seven years have passed since the Yongsan Disaster on 20 January, 2009, when six people died so a bunch of buildings could be torn down. So they did that, and then just left the lot empty.

I wrote an opinion piece for the Korea Times titled "Yongsan's ongoing disaster," in which I underline that the greatest evil of that event was that nothing came of it.

Shortly after writing the article, right before my 13 January visit, some activity started happening on the site. An excavator's moved in and chewed up the ground, and there are some changes to the fences running the perimeter. Visiting again on the 23rd, in time for a rally planned there (thanks, noisemyulchi), it seems something might finally be done with the land.

A couple additional notes on my own personal feelings for the place. Obviously my close proximity to this whole thing unfolding gave me an intense look at how important the issue is and brought my urban exploration hobby up to the lifelong obsession level. First of all, this is good timing to revive anger at Kim Seok-ki, who is running for election in a Gyeongju riding, removed enough from the horror of Yongsan that his constituents might not understand what he's responsible for. On the other hand, I personally sympathise with the evictees, but on a more rational level I wish some things could be done differently. They were victims of circumstance as I outlined in the opinion piece, but what they could do in the here and now is to express their sympathy toward the one police officer who died. Not sure how it works to hold a shrine to someone, but a death is a death and his should be considered equally regrettable to any one of the evictees who died, without surrendering any legal inculpability.

22 January 2016


Buster remains in high spirits and doesn't mind getting stabbed by me twice a day. He's regained the ability to get onto the food table and I caught him in his rocking chair once, though he hasn't been able to get into bed which is about the same height as the chair but doesn't rock. After a half-day stay at the veterinary hospital, I've been told to double his insulin dose.

17 January 2016

Buster Goes to (Pizza) Heaven

For the past few months, Buster hasn't been doing well. After the first vet told me he was probably too fat and suffers back pain, his condition continued to worse and I was referred to a bigger animal hospital, where they diagnosed him with diabetes mellitus. They kept him for two days to run tests to find the right treatment, which gave me two awkward days alone with Millie. She loves being around me alone without Buster in view, but she hates being left home alone without her brother/uncle there.

When Buster came home, they gave me a week's worth of insulin plus needles for giving him injections. I've struggled greatly in the past to get him to take any kind of medicine, so I figured needles would be even worse. It turns out, he really doesn't mind and doesn't know to dread my ritual of getting the drugs out of the fridge and filling up a needle.

He's in high spirits despite the decreased mobility, and is extremely happy for all the time he has left. Which could be many years still. Many expensive years of expensive medicated cat food.

16 January 2016

Secret Playground

On the weekend, we hit a couple abandoned neighbourhoods, a former military installation, and an active subway tunnel. So, a typical January when Javin visits.

At one such location, we noticed a police car out by the road making noises, but it clearly wasn't there for us. During our walk, a mannequin torso was discovered, as was an abandoned suitcase. So anyway, it turned out that same night, a murderer dumped his ex-girlfriend's body in a suitcase in the area. I don't know exactly where or at what time, but he certainly wouldn't have come over to where we were skulking around -- at the very least, if he had, the body would not have been found quite so quickly. Though, reading the article, I can't help but wonder why he would have, upon being questioned by the police in Pyeongtaek, driven up to Seoul and dumped the body here.

14 January 2016

Times Roof

Javin stopped by to visit me at work one night when I was doing the second edition shift. It was a good chance to go up to the roof and take some night pictures from there, before the weather got cold.

13 January 2016


January 20 this year marks the seventh anniversary of the Yongsan Disaster. Long story short, evictees were pushed to the precipice by hired goons and the police were there to drag them off. Six people -- five evictees and one police officer -- died so that the area could be redeveloped. Seven years later, we have a wonderful new brownfield zone, with a parking lot directly where the rooftop clash took place.

I'll have more to share next week; pick up a weekend edition of the Korea Times if you can't wait.

9 January 2016

RASKB tour of Kyung Hee University Natural History Museum

For the second year in a row, Verv was our guide through KHU's Natural History Museum, where he shared all sorts of interesting facts and trivia about plants and animals throughout history. Then we ended up at Chicken Toilet.

Yes, this is a natural history museum which has exhibits including angels and apocalyptic robots. The university founder seems like a bit of a nutbag who didn't ascribe to any one religion, but took them all as a sort of pantheist truth. He thought the way to combat utopian ideologies bent on world domination was through respelling it as "oughtopian" and hoping things worked out better this time.

I also decided after two years it was time to retire the old banner for the page, which after two years had a good run. That image came from stained glass in the then-abandoned Dongdaemun Church, now gone. It was located across the road north of Heunginjimun, where there is now a park for the city wall. It suited the site well, but I think I now have the world's record for number of humans pictured being killed by a genocidal robot in a blog banner.

Also, as of the retirement of Marmot's Hole, this may now be Korea's oldest foreign-language blog. I hate the word blog but that's what it is. Although I don't offer much in the way of archives prior to 2011, this site was first started in December 2003. The pictures all still exist, though I've taken down the pages used to display them.

7 January 2016

Ukrainian Christmas

When I was young, we celebrated Christmas and then after New Year's, when you were finally done with the holidays, we went to my Ukrainian grandmother's house for Ukrainian Christmas. That's when Orthodox Christians celebrate, so it stands to reason the Russian district in Dongdaemun would be a fun place. We went on Christmas Day rather than Christmas Eve, so it wasn't so busy but was open.

Also note that the 2015 archives are up so you can more freely view all of that now.

3 January 2016

Abandoned Neighbourhood

So the guy I explore with doesn't like his face being posted online. Fortunately, the latest issue of Broke in Korea offered a convenient solution, as we printed a big yangban mask on the back for anyone to make their own DiY mask for protests, acts of terrorism, etc.

We revisited an abandoned neighbourhood and took the time to do our own tribute to Yangbantal.

New Year's Eve 2015

New Year's Eve

Not much happened for New Year's Eve. I met up with Verv and Zeinab and a bunch of her classmates. We all parted ways around 9:30 and I went home. Before midnight I went out and met friends on the peak of Naksan, but no pictures were taken. Really didn't have the energy to be excited about the new year.

Boxing Day 2015

A Very Merry Host Christmas

It wouldn't be Christmas without bokbunja, fireworks, and the largest (we hope) tunnel under Seoul.

This year I had to hold it on Boxing Day, as the Korea Times decided it needed a weekend edition that would be put together on Christmas Day. This might've bothered me more, if there weren't a hardcore show at Yongsan Jeonja Salon on Saturday anyway. Probably the surrealist thing you can expect to see after walking 1.5 kilometers underground is a Christfuck show with the lead singer naked and swinging a Christmas tree. Those pictures have been buried in a link at the bottom of the main gallery, so you are warned if you accidentally stumble upon them.

Christmas Morning 2015

Millie and Buster Meet Santa

And you thought your portraits with Santa were bad? Millie and Buster are fine with coexisting in the same apartment, but try to get them to share a lap and all hell breaks loose. Doesn't matter if it's Santa's or not.

Christmas Eve 2015

Christmas Eve at Take-Out Drawing

For Christmas I had to work the day shift on Christmas Eve and then the night shift on Christmas Day. That left me a decent enough window for this show in Itaewon at Take-Out Drawing, a venue under dispute that is apparently owned by PSY. It was a pretty fun show.

21 December 2015


Buster continues to suffer, having basically given up on jumping up on things including the bed and his favourite chair. He's otherwise still as strong as ever in spirit and appetite, reminding me of one of those guys in a wheelchair who builds upper-body strength. But he's taken to hiding, now preferring under the food table where he can watch me and Millie or somewhere nearer the litterbox. I don't think he's in pain and the vet hasn't identified a more serious problem than back troubles, so I'm going to be patient and hope he gets back to his normal self. He's certainly lost a lot of weight already due to a stricter diet of dry food.

20 December 2015

Santa 2015

For the third year, Santa Claus returns to Seoul's rooftops, scouting out the optimal route for Christmas present delivery. And once again, he finds a bunch of buildings no longer lived in.

There will be more adventures with Santa this weekend, so keep hitting that F5 button. Or just contact me if you want to join in.

18 December 2015

Seoul Foreign Residents Council

I found out that that foreign government body that the government was recruiting for a couple months ago has been formed and was having an opening ceremony on Friday, my day off. I just missed the mayor by minutes, but got to sit through a bunch of boring speeches delivered in varying proficiencies of Korean.

17 December 2015

There has been an awakening...Have yousa felt it?

I went to see the new Star Wars movie at an event hosted by Seoul Rotary Club at Yongsan, with proceeds going toward Medecins Sans Frontieres. I donated 40 000 won for two tickets, which I thought was generous until I found out that's roughly what my dad is paying back in Canada for two tickets.

Anyway, I was going to share a fake spoiler that it turns out Jar Jar is the evil man behind the curtain known as Snoke, but that turned out to be true, so I need something else.

15 December 2015

RASKB Makgeolli Lecture

The last lecture of the year was by Julia and Becca about makgeolli, and it ended with a free-for-all of free samples. Then the real drinking began.

Next year the RASKB will be in a financially unstable situation, so it could use all the support it can receive. For starters, Verv will offer his second tour of the Kyung Hee University Natural History Museum. Here are my pictures from the first tour, which was insanely fun. More signups are welcomed.

12 December 2015

Broke in Korea 22 Release

I released the latest Broke at Second Saturdays again, the night of Stephen Epstein's documentary. It tied in well, as I had an interview with Epstein as well as Max Reynolds in this one. Downloadable here.

On my way home, I stopped by Channel1969 to use the washroom. I placed my camera on a ledge, and as I was leaving someone was angrily pounding on the door to be let in, so I forgot the camera.

About half an hour I noticed my camera wasn't with me. Hurrying back, it was gone. I told JP and Yoo Youngsam, and looked around hopelessly, already thinking about buying a replacement and lamenting the loss of tonight's pictures.

JP asked the owner of Channel1969, who had just had a camera turned in by someone who found it in the washroom. So it was safe.

I took it home, uploaded the pictures, and just now editing them I discovered the people who found it took a few pictures with it before returning it. They weren't identified to me at the time, but I thank them all, and Channel1969, for the safe return of my camera.

12 December 2015

Western Seoul

I took my time getting to Hongdae, stopping off at the former site of the Geumhwa apartments and an abandoned neighbourhood, before spending a couple hours wandering aimlessly around Hongdae. I got a new pair of glasses for the high price of 120 000 KRW, and it took them ten minutes to make them. The zines took longer.

11 December 2015

Working on Broke 22

Who would have thought I'd finish up the latest Broke in Korea in the office of the Times?

Friday night I stayed after the second edition deadline, after everyone else went home. It turns out, the lights in the office automatically go off at midnight, and shortly after that the hall lights do too. I stayed there working in the dark, wondering if the whole building was in lockdown. Turns out there was still a security guard in the lobby, so I had nothing to worry about. How many times for me has a security guard being there been a relief and not the opposite?

10 December 2015

Jogyesa Arrest

On my way to work, I passed by Jogyesa, where the head of the KFTU had been holed up for 24 days since the November 14 protest. The police put out an arrest warrant for him so he took sanctuary in the temple, where they won't come in and get him. The monks ween't that happy, and have asked him to leave. He apparently said he'd come out if the December 5 protest passed peacefully, and when it did, he moved the goalposts saying he'd come out when the labour reforms are rejected. I think he may have been misquoted in the press because he did seem to be mentioning the bills prior to the peaceful protests. Anyway, he gave himself up willingly on Thursday, about an hour after these two pictures were taken.

I managed to get a rant published in the Times about how the police reaction to these sorts of situations isn't making things any better.

6 December 2015

Iman's League in Hongdae

Jeff had been talking up this Singaporean skatepunk band, and though they didn't quite fit the Seoul Magazine and Broke schedules, it turned out I easily got an article published in the Korea Times.

Luckily for Jeff, they turned out to be a lot of fun, and the smallish audience presence was thrilled to have them there.

5 December 2015

Mask Ball/Protest

I went back to this protest fearing the worst, but the police played a subdued role and the protesters consequently had a pretty good time, marching from point A to point B to point C and going home peacefully. Maybe the police should be so casual all the time?

5 December 2015

Cat Yawns

Buster still isn't quite doing well, with the ability to use his hind legs diminished. But his front half is still pretty strong, like a guy in a wheelchair who buffs up his upper-body strength.

4 December 2015

Day Off

Every two weeks I get a Friday off. Usually I spend it having a business lunch, causing chaos around downtown, and winding up at the RASKB office. No pictures available for viewing from the first two yet.

3 December 2015


It's easy to take pictures like this when you live on a rooftop in Bukchon. Facebook Memories reminds me I took almost the exact same pictures the same day last year.

In Edmonton, I always accounted for the first snowfall of the year which would melt away quickly, as did this one. It was always the second snow that would stick around until thawing in the spring. This one may have been in December rather than September or October, and the next one certainly will melt as quickly as well. Gotta love the warm, humid Seoul winters.

2 December 2015

Brother Anthony's MBE

Before Brother Anthony received his official recognition from Queen Elizabeth, I asked him if I could write an article about the ceremony, which he vigorously said he didn't want. At the ceremony itself, I decided humility be damned, but by that time Robert Neff had already stepped up to write the article. I provided the picture, though they spelled my name wrong.

28 November 2015

Active Neighbourhood

The last time I was in this part of town was around 2007. My ex-wife and I were looking for a place to live, and we found one nice apartment where we would've had the top two floors. Then the landlady abruptly pulled the deal away from us, saying that international marriages never last. It took us a few more years before we admitted that yes, she was right.

27 November 2015

American Thanksgiving

For the second year, I went to the Moses' apartment to celebrate American Thanksgiving. This year though, I had to work until the second edition was done, so I didn't get there until around 11. There were plenty of people there, but by the time I brought out my camera there weren't many left.

22 November 2015

Abandoned Neighbourhood

Another weekend, another couple of abandoned neighbourhoods. I went back to the previous one, confirming that that interesting tree has been removed. Hopefully it's been relocated, because it seems a waste of effort to so carefully bring down buildings around it and then just destroy it too.

20 November 2015

Zeinab's Birthday

Verv called me up late Friday afternoon asking if I wanted to go to Zeinab's birthday party in a couple hours. It was put together pretty quickly, just us and a whole bunch of Iranians, but I guess she's never celebrated her birthday in Korea so it was a big deal to her. We went to a barbecue restaurant that had beef and had a pretty good time. Verv invited people back to his place but I escaped, already aware what kind of hangover he'd get the next day.

20 November 2015


My work schedule gives me alternating six- and four-day work weeks, wherein sometimes I skip Fridays and sometimes I work Sundays. This day I had a three-day weekend which I spent wandering around Jongno. An errand to the bank led me to another way into Anguk Building past security and I was easily able to get up to the roof. It's about what I could've hoped, overlooking Insadong, the Empty Embassy Compound, and my neighbourhood. I wasn't able to spot any fugitive labour activists, though.

14 November 2015

Second Saturdays Mr Headbutt Reunion

The Second Saturdays show had two bands I hadn't seen before, JP's one-man band Octopoulpe and the new skinhead band The Brigade. Plus, Mr Headbutt, who I haven't seen in a long, long time. I also wrote about them in the Seoul Magazine article alongside Things We Say, so I was also planning not to let them down as well. Photographing Clayton was hard because the lighting was especially strong on him, creating high contrasts that don't work well for my style.

Also, I managed to get this article published in The Hard Times with an Easter egg for Clayton.

14 November 2015

Things We Say Last Show

Victor from Things We Say announced that the band is breaking up, mainly due to the busyness involved in having three daughters and living at least an hour south of Seoul. I did an interview with him for Seoul Magazine and I've placed an order for buttons from his Button King business, so I wasn't going to skip the show. However, I also needed to get to the show in Hongdae to see the first act, so I left a little early.

14 November 2015

Large Protest

Said to be the largest protest in Korea since the 2008 mad cow protests, this one was a conglomeration of protest groups with various causes, ranging from the state-written history textbooks and labour reforms that would increase the number of unsecured temp jobs, to the lowering value of rice and youth unemployment, to Sewol and apparently the plan to construct a cable car on Seorak, among numerous others. I took a quick run by and hit a roof, then moved on with my life.

12 November 2015

KT Roof

Penta Security didn't have a roof. KOCIS didn't have a roof. This is not something I use to gauge a job's value, but if I did, the KT would rank very high. In this direction you can see two overpasses, the latter which is Seoul Station Overpass. There's Seoul Station, and I can also see the row of buildings mainly specialised for cobblers.

11 November 2015


American Thanksgiving is a little over two weeks away, which is just the right amount of time to make ewhaju. Maybe it'll make a good replacement for applesauce? Or rice pudding if that's ever eaten. Anyway, I invented a fun new kind of tteok out of the experience.

So far it's been fermenting enthusiastically. The first few days I had to shake out all the bubbles forming, which hadn't happened with my original batch which just kind of sat there for two weeks. It turned out alright but the texture to this one looks like it'll be a lot smoother.

10 November 2015

Unjustifiable by Heezy Yang

Heezy was looking for a Korea Times writer to cover his street performance, and I thought to oblige before we discovered that he'd already been reported on earlier this year.

Basically he sets up various boxes for donations of animals and toys, with one big one, and writes reasons for their owners abandoning them. Of course he didn't use real animals, which would have been kind of funny. He seemed to get a pretty good reaction from passersby, with the ones noticing him seeming appreciative. He was cold after an hour, so I got here just at the end.

7 November 2015

Abandoned Neighbourhood

We went to a familiar abandoned neighbourhood, where demolition was proceeding at an expected rate. Just like last time, we got chased away from one section that seems to be vigilantly guarded by the locals. I can't imagine why at this point. I mean I get why evictees feel sensitive, but why just this one spot?

2 November 2015


Buster hasn't been feeling well lately. I first noticed he was having trouble jumping onto the bed and his rocking chair. Not so sure what it meant, I took him to the vet, who figured out that he has back pain that's making it hard for him to use his back legs. This is probably brought on by his weight, which has been increasing in the last year. Fattie.

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    Copyright Daehanmindecline 2014