Gangnam Style Tourist Police Dance Up A Storm In Seoul

South Korea has been riding the wave following the global success of “Gangnam Style,” the catchy song made famous by singer Psy’s quirky music video — and the country has just launched another tribute to the song.

The country’s capital, Seoul, unveiled its new tourist police force this week, inspired by performer Psy’s unique sense of style. The same costume designer who outfitted Psy for his Gangnam Style video designed the uniforms for the law enforcers, decking the men and women out in bold blue jackets and a sleek pair of shades.Given the inspiration, it should come as no surprise that the famous song was also the backdrop to the inauguration ceremony held this week in Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square. The 101-strong police force even performed a number of famous dance moves from the viral Gangnam Style music video, including the good old horse-riding sequence.

Seoul has seen tourist numbers rise in recent times, but this has also been followed by an increase in complaints from visitors about issues such as being overcharged. The new multilingual police force will assist travelers, crack down on taxis that try to gouge visitors and generally maintain law and order in the tourist hotspots.

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]

The Kimchi-ite: An Introduction To Kimchi

The national food of Korea is undoubtedly kimchi. To many, sliced, spicy, fermented cabbage sounds far from a food with mass appeal – and the photo above isn’t exactly inviting. Yet, Koreans eat kimchi with almost every meal, and a typical Korean will eat 60 pounds of it each year. It is in many ways intertwined with everyday Korean life and culture, so much so that when it’s time to take photos, many say “kimchi!” instead of “cheese!”Kimchi is not for everyone, but I absolutely love, love, love it. For being such a simple food, there can be so much variety – different levels of spiciness, crunchiness (dependent on how fresh it is), richness of flavors from other vegetables and seafood used during fermentation, and how well it goes with certain foods. Different regions of the country also have their own variations on the side dish. Additionally, other foods beside cabbage can be kimchi’d, such as radish, scallions and garlic stems (my personal favorite). Like cheese in America, kimchi seems to find its way into almost any food. There’s kimchi fried rice, kimchi soup, kimchi jeon (kind of the Korean version of a pancake), on pizza and in burgers.

This is not some sort of concoction that people buy at a convenience store on their way home from work; two-thirds of all the kimchi consumed in Korea is homemade. The average person devotes a lot of time and energy into making it, with secret recipes handed down from generation to generation. There is even a specific kimchi-making season, called kimjang, in November. Family members get together, typically the women, and make enough kimchi for the entire year to come. You can see the large brown ceramic pots that kimchi ferments in all over the country.

So much of it is made that almost all Korean households will have a specially designed refrigerator to house the stuff. In the perfect collision of Korean culture, Psy (you know, the recent global sensation behind “Gangnam Style”) is even selling kimchi fridges in advertisements using his ridiculous song (you can check that out here).

Interestingly enough, even though kimchi is such a staple of the Korean diet, most of the cabbage sourced for its production comes from China. Which caused a bit of a crisis on the peninsula in 2010 when unfavorable weather where the cabbage is grown near Beijing caused the supply to drastically drop, resulting in prices more than tripling. The government stepped in, reducing tariffs on imported cabbage in hopes to bring prices to a reasonable level.

Kimchi is also insanely healthy, with Health Magazine listing it as one of the world’s healthiest foods. It has tons of vitamins and “healthy bacteria” and it prevents yeast infections and possibly cancer, so there’s no guilt in going on a kimchi binge. The best thing is that at restaurants in Korea, kimchi, along with all other side dishes, are unlimited; so you can eat kimchi as an appetizer, side dish, dessert or even as a main course.

Be sure to check out more about Korean culture from other Kimchi-ite posts here.

[Photo credits: Heungsub Lee and Drab Makyo]

Photo Of The Day: Korean Daejeon Style

Recently the Korean pop music hit video for “Gangnam Style” has hit a world record for the most “likes” on YouTube, beating out even Justin Bieber, and has spawned countless parodies, wannabes, and flash mobs. Today’s Photo of the Day is a slightly more subdued Korea, taken by Flickr user AdamJamesWilson in South Korea‘s Daejeon, about an hour by high-speed train from Seoul (and Gangnam, of course). The photographer notes that the lights are part of an art installation, partly to disguise the entrance of a parking lot. The lights and the couple in silhouette give the photo a romantic and dreamy quality, though you know just after the photo was taken they broke into a pony dance.

Send us your favorite travel moments, especially if they involve cool dance moves. Add them to the Gadling Flickr pool for a future Photo of the Day.