The Kimchi-ite: A Stroll Through The Infamous Gangnam

Possibly the most famous thing to ever come out of Seoul, “Gangnam Style” has become one of the few things most people in the world know about South Korea. Judging by the more than 1.3 billion views Psy’s music video currently has on YouTube, the most viewed video on the site, I can assume that if you haven’t seen it multiple times, you have at least heard of it. I’m only just now, able to walk around my neighborhood without hearing it emanating from some convenience store, restaurant or clothing stand, almost 7 months after its first release.

Seoul itself is trying to capitalize on the song’s quickly receding viral takeover and convert it into tangible tourism money. This can be seen quite obviously with the ridiculous sign that they have installed outside of Gangnam Station with “GANGNAM STYLE” in huge letters for all to see and take pictures with. However, when I was there, more people seemed interested in the big Nike ad immediately next to it.Gangnam is more than just a call to dance as though you are riding a majestic horse. Specifically, it is a place in Seoul. Seoul is divided up into districts, much like New York City is divided into boroughs, and Gangnam is one of its 25 districts. Meaning “south of the river,” Gangnam is roughly 25 square miles in size (40 square kilometers) and is one of the busiest and most economically important regions of the city. The area is known for its newly built skyscrapers, alleys upon alleys of neon-lit international restaurants, shopping malls, language schools and especially its nightlife. But most of all, it is probably best known within Korea as a place of opulence and expense.

A newly installed display near Gangnam Station for people to try their hand at the renowned dance.

Hoards of people outside of Gangnam station on their way home or out shopping.

Before even leaving Gangnam’s Station, you are inundated with ads for plastic surgery, name-brand handbags, watches for yachtsmen and high-rise real estate. After exiting, you are greeted by walls of people and towers of commerce topped with pulsing electronic billboards. What seem to be boring side streets are actually paths that will inevitably lead you to hip fusion restaurants serving up some of the best food you can imagine. In many ways Gangnam is the realization of the Seoul’s cultural aspirations to link the East and the West.

A boutique in Garosugil, a popular destination for international tourists.

Little Red Riding Hood hands out promotional material for an accessory shop in Garosugil.

Fashion is a huge part of Gangnam’s reputation. There are a large number of neighborhoods individually famous within Korea for their density of trendy boutiques as well as big labels, often accompanied by luxurious price tags. In this regard, many compare it to New York’s 5th avenue or Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive.

Skyscrapers are constantly sprouting up in the district as real-estate prices continue to rise.

Plastic surgery ads show the drastic work done to achieve the ideal appearance.

South Korea has become the world’s center for plastic surgery, and the Gangnam neighborhood Apgujeong is its focal point. The streets are lined with plastic surgery clinics advertising drastic before and after photos. I find it hard to believe that a lot of these are even the same people. The streets are always littered with people donning surgical facemasks, hiding their newly modified faces, still bruised from surgery. As an added bonus, numerous luxury car dealerships are sprinkled between the clinics.

Even within Gangnam Station is a maze of shopping choices.

Gangnam is also one of the main nightlife hubs of the country. Primarily a scene for clubs and loud bars, many go out wearing their most expensive outfits for a night of fun and extravagance, or at least pretending. Gangnam has the notorious reputation of being a place where people go exclusively to meet and hopefully hookup with the young and wealthy.

Eccentric, cute and crazy socks are a huge deal in Seoul. No region of the city is complete without their own sock stand.

Before concluding, the pronunciation of Gangnam is worth clarifying. Most people seem to pronounce it “Gayng-nim.” However, it’s more correct to pronounce the As more like when the doctor puts a popsicle stick in your mouth and asks you to go “aaaah.” “Gahngnahm.”

Psy is poised to oversaturate the market with all of his endorsements. Here he is on a Gangnam bus ad for a travel agency.

It’s very easy to see how Gangnam got its high-class reputation. Just walking around serves up constant reminders around each corner. In the rare case that you forget, Psy’s grinning face is likely to pass you on a bus.

Go back into “The Kimchi-ite” archives here for more on Korean food, culture and oddities.

[Photo credit: Jonathan Kramer]

Photo Of The Day: The Shanghai Tower Rises

Today’s Photo Of The Day comes from Lawrence Wang, who captured this astounding image of the Shanghai Tower currently under construction. After its completion, the Shanghai Tower will be the tallest building in China and second tallest building in the world, after the almighty Burj Khalifa. This image perfectly captures the chaotic landscape of Shanghai, dominated by glass, steel and concrete.

Pudong, the district of Shanghai that the tower resides in, is a central financial hub of China and has undergone an extraordinary amount of development in the past two decades. Going from nothing but grass and trees to having some of the tallest buildings in the world. It is nothing short of spectacular and indicative of the economic progress that China has seen in the modern age.

As always, if you have a great photo you’d like to share with us, upload them to our Gadling Flickr Pool and it may be selected as our Photo Of The Day.

[Photo credit: Lawrence Wang]

It’s time travel writers stopped stereotyping Africa

Africa, africaPop quiz: where was this photo taken?

OK, the title of this post kind of gives it away, but if I hadn’t written Africa, would you have guessed? It was taken in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. This isn’t the view of Africa you generally get from the news or travel publications–a modern city with high rises and new cars. A city that could be pretty much anywhere. That image doesn’t sell.

And that’s the problem.

An editorial by Munir Daya for the Tanzanian newspaper The Citizen recently criticized Western media coverage of Africa, saying it only concentrated on wars, AIDS, corruption, and poverty. Daya forgot to mention white people getting their land stolen. If black people get their land stolen, you won’t hear a peep from the New York Times or the Guardian. If rich white ranchers get their land stolen, well, that’s international news. And look how many more articles there are about the war in Somalia than the peace in Somaliland.

Daya was objecting to an in-flight magazine article about Dar es Salaam that gave only superficial coverage of what the city has to offer and was peppered with statements such as, “Dar es Salaam’s busy streets are bustling with goats, chickens, dust-shrouded safari cars, suit-clad office workers and traders in colourful traditional dress.”

Daya actually lives in the city and says you won’t find many goats and chickens on the streets. But that wouldn’t make good copy, would it?

Travel writing has an inherent bias in favor of the unfamiliar, the dangerous. Some travel writers emphasize the hazards of their journey in order to make themselves look cool, or focus on the traditional and leave out the modern. Lonely Planet Magazine last year did a feature on Mali and talked about the city of Bamako, saying, “Though it is the fastest-growing city in Africa, Bamako seems a sleepy sort of place, lost in a time warp.” On the opposite page was a photo of a street clogged with motorcycle traffic. If Bamako is in a sleepy time warp, where did the motorcycles come from?

I’m not just picking on Lonely Planet; this is a persistant and widespread problem in travel writing and journalism. Writers, and readers, are more interested in guns than concerts, slums rather than classrooms, and huts rather than skyscrapers. In most travel writing, the coverage is simply incomplete. In its worst extremes, it’s a form of racism. Africa’s problems need to be covered, but not to the exclusion of its successes.

As Daya says, “there is more to Africa than famine and genocide.” There are universities, scientific institutes, music, fine cuisine, economic development, and, yes, skyscrapers.

And if you think Dar es Salaam is the exception rather than the rule, check out Skyscrapercity.com’s gallery of African skyscrapers.

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Skyscraper as theme park: Architect re-imagines thrill rides on a vertical scale

Can you imagine a theme park in the middle of Manhattan? Finding the capital to acquire the land and raise the buildings on it to create the necessary open space would be nearly impossible.

But what if that theme park could be built vertically, as a theme park skyscraper?

Skyscraper theme parkThat’s the idea behind architect Ju-Hyun Kim’s vertical theme park prototypes. Kim says in order to be eco-friendly and save the world from more sprawl, the theme parks of tomorrow need to be built in the middle of cities:

Instead of sprawling parks with giant footprints, stack the park into a skyscraper. The altitude will only add to the speed and excitement of rides, and the view of the surrounding dense urban environment will be incredible. There’ll be so much more to see from the top of the carousel and roller coaster on the perimeter. Best of all, it will be easily reached by public transportation, and the environmental impact will be minimal. Now is the time to build the joyful destination for families’ perfect day out at the center of cities.

Kim’s vertical theme park would be broken into five sections:

  • Vertigo World, which would include a carousel and observation deck at the top of the theme park skyscraper
  • Fast Land, including a flume ride and a rollercoaster
  • 360 World, with a Ferris Wheel and sky promenade
  • Abyss City, a bungee jumping platform
  • Elsewhere Universe, a geodesic dome with a gravity-free zone

Though very different from Kim’s vision, theme-park pioneer Walt Disney also considered building a vertical theme park in a city’s downtown. Fifty years ago, Disney was planning a River Front Square on the banks of the Mississippi in St. Louis. The five-story indoor attraction’s plans are said to have included a walk-through pirate ship, audio-animatronic exhibits and a haunted house.

But the St. Louis plans for a metropolitan Disney theme park were scrapped, and the second Disney theme park — the Magic Kingdom — was built outdoors, horizontally, on part of a sprawling 40-square-mile swampy area now known as Walt Disney World.

You can see all the prototypes from Kim’s vertical theme park proposal at ArchDaily.

Your daily Burj Dubai update

That’s tall, isn’t it? Though Dubai might not be high up on your vacation list, as we’ve frequently posted about various unfortunate mishaps travelers have gotten themselves in over there (mostly at the airport and involving poppy-seeded bagels), I think it might be worth it to jet over there once the Burj Dubai opens.

It’ll be hands-down the world’s tallest skyscraper. Here’s a multimedia introduction to the place. First, a cool video with unique footage from the top.

Now, some unbelievable photos here, here, and here. My favorite is this one that seems almost CGI.

[Image courtesy Burj Dubai Skyscaper]