Gangnam is the Chelsea of Seoul, posh and rich. As a boringly typical fan of contemporary inane pop music, visiting Gangnam was my Priority Number 1 while in Seoul. Obviously it was also a vital source of weird and wonderful Korean culture, so today, let me introduce you to the styles of Gangnam; the good, the bad but certainly not the ugly…
‘When arriving to a new place, I’m always mentally preparing myself ‘I won’t make any friends’. But then it always happens and I just laugh at how easy it was. But still, maybe I’ll be alone in Korea… I just hope there’ll be someone to take a Gangnam Style pic of me.’ – excerpt from my travel journal, ‘bus thoughts’ (from Seoul airport to the center)
Spoiler: My dreams were fulfilled.
My first Seoul afternoon was spent in Gangnam with Bianca. After getting the metro there, we found the Gangnam Tourist Information building, comprising both a regular tourist info (where-to-go and what-to-see) as well as the Gangnam Medical Tour Centre.
The styles of Gangnam are, according to my travel leaflet, all focused around ‘South Korea’s epicentre of culture and arts, fashion, beauty, IT, education, business and finance’ and not forgetting ‘the country’s leading premium health care service providers.’
Let’s first talk about the latter, and we’ll start with clarifying premium health care here.
‘We will take care of all your Health & Beauty forever’, Gangnam Medical Centre promises you. It spooked me out. Like, literally forever. Like, permanent changes aka plastic surgery. I know plastic surgery is less ‘taboo’ nowadays than it was before, but having a country flaunt it so proudly and openly was quite a staggering experience for me.
Gangnam metro station is full of before and after plastic surgery ads. As normal as a mascara or toothpaste ad for us. And essentially, what more is plastic surgery than exaggerated make-up or, indeed, toothpaste, conditioner or hair dye? They’re all there to modify, to improve your appearance.
I’m not going to go into an ethical debate here, but you do feel the pressure in Korea. When I was 12, I felt pressure to get myself a pink lip gloss because that’s what all the cool girls had and I sincerely believed it would enhance both my looks as well as my credibility amongst my friends. (*krhm*) In South Korea, it is more a rule than an exception for wealthy Korean girls to receive double-eyelid surgery for their 16th birthday, to make their eyes bigger and more Western-looking. Is it any different? (I personally still think plastic surgery should not be the answer, but I do… comprehend it a lot better.)
I will forever remember Bianca’s Korean friend M’s comment how, for her, it was strange going abroad and NOT seeing surgery ads everywhere.
While sitting in the Seoul metro, Bianca also enlightened me to other Korean beauty standards – in addition to double eyelids, a small nose and chin are considered beautiful (she happily pointed out to me girls who have ‘clearly’ had their nose done), as well as a ‘puffiness’ underneath eyes, as it apparently symbolises youth. Another new fashion in plastic surgery is to make the sides of your mouth point permanently upwards, aka no RBF here, but a permanent, yet literally fake, smile.
A Korea-fan blogger wrote a lengthy entry on ‘the Gangnam face’ which was also an extremely interesting read.
Gangnam Medical Centre friendlily offered its services where you could sit down with an educated surgery connoisseur, and they would recommend what they think would be the best surgery for you. I quickly tiptoed over to the medical centre area to sneak a leaflet to cut up into my travel journal, but made sure I didn’t spend any extra time there. I felt I was in a danger zone. It was weird. I dread to think the amount of things they would politely propose I, er, get fixed.
But, on to less controversial and less uncomfortable things, because my Gangnam experience included much more than daunting conversations and morbidly fascinated oglings at plastic surgery centres.
Gangnam Tourist Medical Centre is in the same building as Gangnam Tourist Info, and the latter made me feel a lot more happy. Especially when we wandered upstairs to a K-pop exhibition.
K-Pop is one of Korea’s most famous export products (in addition to mobile phones and soju), catchy Korean blippy pop music, sung by young Koreans with scarily good-looking looks, amazingly talented dances and wildly intriguing hairstyles. Bianca loves K-pop, and I have learnt to, well, understand it while I lived in Vietnam – the Vietnamese LOVE their K-idols.
A few of the faves…
K-Pop is a musical phenomenon which most either love or, well, are not too keen on. I enjoy it in small doses.
At Gangnam Tourist Info there was this new exhibition of this new Korean group VIXX, your average K-pop troop but with a slightly darker twist. Their hits include darker-themed songs like Chained Up and Voodoo Doll.
I was excited about all the culture I was soaking in while posing with cardboard cut outs of the boy band members and watching their funky dance moves on a large screen on the wall with enchanted Korean girls.
The best bit, however, was when we ventured into the next room. It had more cardboard cut outs, but in addition to that there were various furnished scenes and settings from famous Korean music videos (Bianca told me), as well as, wait for it, ridiculous, outrageous props, accessories and clothes you could freely use for your very own K-photo shoot!!!
The locals were completely happy watching the music videos on the big screen, so most of the time Bianca and I had the area to ourselves.
We took many crazy pictures in epic clothes, and I even got a music video of Bianca doing a short dance to one of her K-pop songs in this little cavern. Click here if you want to check out Bianca’s epic youtube channel – she’s excellent and I love her dances!
Ah, I loved Seoul. I knew even then that even if the next few days in Seoul went to total bollocks, I would still be completely satisfied with my trip. I got a mirriad pictures of quirky dress ups in front of exciting backgrounds, got a full dosage of culture, both impressive and disputable and, well, I got a picture in Gangnam wearing my Gangnam style top.
And finally, one of my most lasting Korean memories is, very appropriately, PSY’s then-newest song. I GOT IT FROM MY DADDY… which is one absolute stunner of a musical masterpiece. I approve.
There we had the great variety in the styles of Gangnam.