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: 10 Differences Between South Korea And The Rest Of The World

There are countless differences between South Korea and the rest of the world. Even the casual traveler bouncing around Asia will notice how everyday culture differs. In many ways Korean culture is somewhere in between that of Japan and China, but in so many more ways it is unique to itself. Here are some of the more interesting and unique differences I have noticed.

Babies that are born in Korea today enter the world as 1 year old, as opposed to much of the rest of the world, where they would be 1 day old. Additionally, that baby will gain a year to its age on the lunar new year (usually in late January or early February), instead of their birthday. So, a baby born in December would actually be 2 years old within just a few months. Somewhat confusing, I know, but a general rule of thumb is to just add a year to your own age, and that is your Korean Age.

When you go to virtually any restaurant in Korea, your meal will be accompanied by at least one banchan, or side dish (seen above alongside traditional porridge); most likely, there will be many. They will invariably include kimchi or some sort of pickled vegetable. Best of all, they are unlimited and will be refilled without you having to ask.

When you are at a restaurant and you’d like some service, you don’t sit and awkwardly wait for some eye contact with the wait staff, you simply call out “yeogiyo!” which translates to “here, please!” Better still, more and more restaurants are installing call buttons on their tables.

When you sneeze, people say nothing, no equivalent of “Bless you,” nothing. You did an involuntary bodily function, no big deal.

South Korea has the fastest Internet in the WORLD. Downloads can go as fast as 5 megabytes per second. It’s truly awesome.

Porn is outlawed in Korea.

Job applications, especially for large corporations, are incredibly different and include a lot of information that most people in the Western world would find outrageous. Notably, your parents’ education and their current occupation is a part of your résumé. This is somewhat indicative of how Koreans see family ties. Many of the big corporations in Korea are family run and newly elected president Park Geun-hye’s father’s past as the former dictator of the country was a very big topic during the election.

South Korea has the world’s highest rate of plastic surgery, 35% more than number two, Brazil. It has become somewhat common for parents to give their children plastic surgery as high school or college graduation presents. There are ads all over Seoul like the one above, seen in Gangnam, for plastic surgery clinics with before and after pictures of what actually looks like two completely different people.

Not a big deal.

It is pretty risqué for a woman to show some cleavage. But never will you see such a display of legs than in South Korea. Everyday of the year and everywhere, short shorts are being worn. In the dead of winter accompanied by thick stockings, or mountain climbing accompanied by high heels, it’s simply the norm.

Everywhere in the world is different, even different cities within the same state can be drastically different. What are some eccentricities of where you live or places that you have been?

Be sure to check out more on Korean culture from the other Kimchi-ite posts here!

[Photo Credit: Jonathan Kramer]

Woman dies in Philadelphia hotel after cosmetic buttocks injection

A 20-year old British woman died in a Hampton Inn near the Philadelphia airport on Tuesday, after silicone injections in her posterior didn’t go as planned. AOL News reports that Claudia Adusei and three friends arrived from London on Saturday, and were staying at the hotel. Adusei and one of the friends had visited Philadelphia last November to have their buttocks’ enhanced with silicone (are you noticing the absence of a medical professional or facility in this story?). The duo returned so Adusei could have additional buttocks injections, while her friend had hip augmentation (are you also noticing the irony of women actually paying money to make their butt and hips larger?).

Although silicone is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for cosmetic use, the injection of liquid silicone for cosmetic purposes is prohibited. Silicone implants are medically approved for buttock augmentation, as is fat transfer.

Adusei received injections at noon on Monday, after two women showed up at the hotel to perform the procedures. Only one woman is believed to have performed the injections, and Adusei began complaining of chest pains approximately 12 hours after the procedure, according to police. The suspects vanished shortly thereafter.

Paramedics rushed Adusei to Mercy-Fitzgerald Hospital in Delaware County; court documents state she died around 1:30 a.m. A preliminary medical exam indicates that Adusei may have died from silicone entering her vascular system, which would have stopped her heart, says the Delaware County medical examiner. An autopsy must still be completed, and toxicology reports won’t be released for at least six weeks.

[Photo credit: Flickr user [lauren nelson]]”In order to make the buttocks big with liquid silicone, you have to inject a lot of it, and use a large-gauge needle because silicone is really thick–and this could easily get into the blood stream,” explains Dr. Steven Victor, a cosmetic dermatologist in New York City who was consulted by FoxNews. “When this happens, there could be several outcomes. You could have a stroke because it could go to the brain. It could also travel to other vital organs like the lungs, the heart, the kidneys, and liver. This could be extremely detrimental, including death…We need to regulate this kind of activity better and educate the public.”

Tip: Before contemplating any type of cosmetic procedure or plastic surgery, contact the American Society of Plastic Surgeons to check credentials. Then do your homework. If something sounds too good–or cheap–to be true, it probably is.

As for the women who performed the procedures? Police are searching for them, after being tipped off that the procedures were arranged over the Internet. Lt. John Walker of the Philadelphia Police southwest detectives division says that it’s unknown at this time whether the “person performing that procedure is licensed or unlicensed.” The FDA as well as British embassy officials are also investigating Adusei’s death.

Cosmetic surgery tour group stopped at the border

A group of 23 Chinese women became stranded at the border of their own country when they tried to return home from a “cosmetic surgery vacation”.

The women had been visiting a Korean institute to get some work done on their eyes, nose and chin.

Obviously, they had not realized that this kind of work would make them look significantly different than their passport photo, and the entire group was stopped by immigration officials.

Eventually, document specialists were called in to examine their passport photos, and compare them with parts of their faces that had not had any work done. Of course, the healing wounds and stitches probably didn’t make things any easier. After several hours, the group was cleared to enter their own country.

Apparently, cosmetic surgery is becoming increasingly popular with Chinese women, who pay upwards of $3000 to have their faces altered to look more “western”.

Sun, sea, surf — and a boob job?

Some people travel to see the sights and sounds of a foreign country, others travel to enjoy the beach.

Then there are those that pack their bags and head abroad to get some work done on their nose, face or other body part.

Medical tourism is big business – so big in fact that Asia expects a whopping 1.3 million people heading their way for medial procedures in 2009. The 2 most popular clinics in Thailand receive 650,000 foreigners a year.

The foremost reason for heading abroad to get some work done is of course the cost – many Europeans go to Turkey for LASIK, and do so for just $2200, which includes airfare. Compared to the $6000 a local procedure will cost, shows how big the savings can be.

The newest development in overseas surgery is in package deals – you get some work done on yourself, then you spend some well deserved time on the beach recovering, which is a hell of a lot more comfortable than in your own bed in bad weather back home.

There are of course some risks involved, and the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery has compiled a handy checklist which may help make the right choice, and select a safe location for your procedure. The society has members in over 80 countries, and many of them are located in clinics mainly used by medical tourists so it is not too hard to find a reliable clinic.