Myeongdong, one of Seoul’s neighborhoods, is like what if you crossed Canal Street with Magic Kingdom.
It’s like Canal Street in that 99% of the people are Asians every street for an entire square block is layers upon layers of shops, and food carts fill the streets.
But it’s more like Magic Kingdom because there are famous people to pose with, magical music drifting out of every shop, the streets are cobbled with no cars, the shops are legit (no fake stuff here), and the food carts are giant balls of rainbow-tastic cotton candy and caramel corn.
I think that’s the reason I’m so fascinated by this country. So many things are similar, and yet so different at the same time. I think New York City and Seoul are mirror cities, just on opposite sides of the world. If you’re Asian and want to be someone in the entertainment industry, you move to Seoul. Many Korean stars were simply scouted on the streets and a lot of people move there just because it’s so magical.
I’m going to go on a little thought journey that’s been running through my head lately. If you can’t tell by now, I’m kind of into Korean Pop Culture. Many people think that’s weird and I understand that. It’s an uncommon past time, making it weird. I’m okay with people thinking that way because I love it so much, I really couldn’t give a crap.
I think it’s important to learn about countries’ histories to understand current global relationships. You know what they say about people who don’t know their history…
But I think it’s important to know about their popular culture too. After all, how many people really know the entire history of their country? Not many, seeing as we all frequently repeat it. And yet, every person in every country is impacted by their fashion, music, movies, and celebrities. Even if boys didn’t know a thing about Justin Bieber, I’d venture at least 75% of them has had a JB haircut at some point. We can’t help but be influenced by our popular culture.
I want to be a “cultured” person. I want to know about the world, everything and everyone. I want to know why people act the way they do. While history is certainly a large part of how the government makes decisions, popular culture is a large part of how regular people react to those decisions. People with no influence on the government still have opinions about wars and laws. While likely misguided, everyone still has them. Which is why I think it is just as important to learn about other countries’ popular culture as well as their history.
If New York City and LA are the epicenter’s of North America (yes I’m including you Canada). Seoul and Tokyo are the epicenters of Asia. Asia and North America borrow from each other, some more than others (Where is the Love is currently playing in Cafe Ediya where I’m writing this), yet each also has their own music.
I think Latin America probably has it’s own celebrities, movies, and music. I don’t know where that mecca is, and the only star I know is Enrique Iglesias, and I don’t know if he counts. But once again that’s another region of the world that takes adds its special flair (including language) to their popular culture. Perhaps I will tackle theirs next.
And of course there’s Europe. One Direction became so huge in the states I think a lot of people forget that they were actually born from X Factor and are all British/Irish.
The Lizzie McQuire Movie makes me believe that Italy has an active popular culture. And many people forget that ABBA, Basshunter, and Avicii are actually Swedish.
We borrow from each other more than we think, and I think that’s going to change even more. K-Pop is not all Gangnam Style, and CL is going to debut in the States this Spring. Leader of the popular girl group 2Ne1, she’s about as opposite of PSY you can be, while still being considered K-Pop.
The hard part is that popular culture changes so much and so fast. It’s not just a one time thing you can study and understand. You’ve got to stay on top of it. One country’s is hard enough, let alone following everyone else. But even just being open to it, is a huge step to being a more global citizen.
This is an extremely important post everyone. If you were to take 30 minutes today and click on every link, watch every video, (including the ones in the captions) you will finish with a tremendous amount of understanding you didn’t have before and it will help you connect with everything else I write about the next year.
/ends thought journey/
Back to Story:
The only food I actually bought was a spiraled potato swirled around a stick and fried. It was like a continues french fry with some special seasoning on it
There are many more things I am going to try sometime:
-Cotton Candy sticks bigger than my head
-Hotdogs on a stick and fried with hash browns on the outside
-Nutella and banana crepes
Things I may try because Asians really like it:
-Fried squid crispy things
-Grilled octopus on a stick
-Little sausages on sticks
Notice–except for the Mochi which are Japanese, all of the foods that I actually want to try are actually Korean-ized versions of American food (big and colorful). I have yet to see fish cakes make it big in the US, but who knows.
The stores are mostly adorable makeup shops, sponsored by different Korean celebrities. Korea is famous for it’s makeup—there are even tours specifically to makeup hotspots (including Myeongdong).
-Etude House: decorated like Barbie’s Dream house, there’s an Etude House on practically every corner. They focus mostly on face care—face masks and lipsticks and eyelashes. You walk out of there feeling like a princess. I actually didn’t buy anything here because they don’t really have a sponsor right now so everything is rather generic and I have enough makeup let’s be honest. I’ll go back when they get sponsored.
Back when SHINee sponsored them; this commercial is life:
-Nature Republic: Practically next to every Etude House is a Nature Republic. They focus on “natural” makeup—lotions and creams all flower and fruit smelling. Currently sponsored by my second favorite group:
Yes, there are 12 of them. Well, there were /tears/
I may or may not have purchased some hand lotions when I don’t even use lotions. Or at least…I didn’t…but now I will. They actually smell like they claim to and are quite pleasant except for maybe Tao’s which is “Avocado.” Interesting.
-The Saem: an extremely Asian store with a lot of “whitening creams” and anti-puffy eye sticks. This one woman tried to convince me to buy a set of three whitening creams for 50,000 won because I’d get a free Shinee shirt and I was like…no…I’m pale enough thank you.
Shopping around Myeongdong revealed something interesting. It really is no wonder many Korean males have some feminine qualities (use a lot of lotions and face care). When it’s what the celebrities are doing, the public do it too. Now, I don’t exactly know why the celebrities do it, but they do have nice skin which I guess is good for everyone.
Another interesting thing is that not a single store was sponsored by a Western celebrity. Korea has its own popstars who display their own standard of beauty, which is very different from the West. For instance, they consider white skin beautiful. Some people may construe this as because they “want to look like white people”, but I’m not sure that’s true. If they wanted to look Western, wouldn’t they have Western celebrities and want tan skin?
I think they consider white skin pretty the same reasons 18th century Europe did; it symbolizes office jobs and a comfy lifestyle. While modern day Seoul may be influenced by New York City and Hollywood, I think it’s morphing into its own animal. It’s called divergent evolution–when one species becomes two because of separation by land. This is science people.
Now I’m not Korean, and this is not coming from the mouth of any Koreans, but it’s just a suspicion that I have. It was on my list of Big Questions when moving to Korea, and something I hope to gain a better understanding of as the months pass. Hopefully I’ll be able to learn enough Korean to actually ask someone, which would be the most accurate. #koreagoals
-Jewelry shops: on every corner there was a pink abyss of earrings, necklaces, bows, tights, wallets, and purses. And all of it was so dang cute.
-Foreign Imports: Forever 21, H&M, and expensive European stores I don’t know
-K-Pop stores: surprisingly few. We found two—one on the second floor of some building and another in the basement next to a Momo’s chicken. Both were about the size of a master bathroom and were the times I felt most underground. Except for it wasn’t illegal. And we did find one CD shop next to a pharmacy that was about the size of a full bathroom—literally it couldn’t hold more than 4 people and the walls were stacked with just a couple of each of the famous artists.
-however, all sorts of K-Pop stuff was being sold on the street carts. Keychains and stickers and calendars and the like. It wasn’t very high quality though IMO. You could print a picture on a pillow case by yourself for a lot cheaper. That was a little Canal Street-esque.
-Smart Phone cases. Everywhere.
-Socks: literally entire carts dedicated to selling dozens of socks for 1000 won (about 99 cents) each. This seems strange until you realize that in Korea you often remove your shoes in nice restaurants and therefore socks are not a secret, but a fashion statement.
Fried Chicken: Yes, now I understand why Onew’s one true love is chicken, why they always order buckets of chicken, why everyone seems to talk about it all time time. Based off of American fried chicken, Korean fried chicken is actually fried in mostly cornstarch, making it more crunch than squishy, while still keeping the fried taste. And the actual meat is more tender because the batter is thinner. I’m celiac, and I tried it anyway. 24 hours later, and I haven’t had a reaction (usually I feel it in 30 minutes) . Either I’m cured, or the particular restaurant I went to had so little flour, I didn’t react. Another example of divergent evolution. I should write a thesis about this.
We also went to Apgujeong, which is in Gangnam. Yes, Gangnam Style Gangnam. We stepped off the subway at Gangnam station to take this picture and then got right back on.
Gangnam is like Beverly Hills, and the song/video is actually a comedy about the ridiculously rich people who inhabit the area.
If Gangnam is BH, Apugejong is Hollywood—it’s where all the music companies are located. Normal people can skip this next part if they want but I thought I should include this for anyone wanting to visit them.
Also to increase my SEO.
How to Get to the SM Artium: We got off at a station on the yellow line recommended on another blog, which I won’t name. Do not do this. We ended up walking for three miles. I’m not exaggerating—my legs hurt really bad. Instead, take the green line to Saemseoung Station, which pops right up into Coex Mall. Depending on your exit, you may be across the street. But the mall is impossible to miss. If you don’t see it just keep turning and walk a little bit down the street until you do. If you’re really having trouble just ask anyone “Coex” and they’ll probably point in the direction and laugh because you are literally there. That’s what happened to us anyway. SM Town is the first store on street level. If you do not see it you need your eyes checked.
Anyway, here’s some stuff they sell. Everything is brand name, so it’s like buying a Mickey Mouse stuffed animal at the shop on Main Street vs. buying one at Walmart. But in the end, it’s about the experience right?
Travel system: I took the bus from my lovely motel to Suwon Station (about 10 minutes). The yellow line begins at Suwon Station and ends at Seoul Station (or vice versa depending on how you look at it). It’s about 40 minutes. But it was nice as far as subways go. 1000x better than NYC subways—nice and clean and shiny.
Note: if you exit at Seoul Station, as we did, there isn’t a whole lot to do. We stepped off and got some fried chicken and then went back. We did see the old gate, and if you want to touch it you can, but that’s about it. But Seoul Station is like Grand Central (although GC is a lot cooler). You can take just about any line from Seoul Station.
Tip: BYOmap. I guess city planners just assume everyone has interwebz all the time and therefore don’t need a) free paper maps or b) maps on the walls. They were there, but few and far between. Download a map or you will spend a lot of time going up the wrong exits, walking miles in the wrong direction, asking people how to get somewhere, etc etc. I think there’s a free Seoul subway app that I’m going to download before I go next time.
Literally the best day ever
Since I don’t have internet in my motel, I spent 2 1/2 hours in a coffee shop writing this post. That is not an exaggerating. it is now 6:07 and I started at 4:30. So more than 2 1/2 hours. The least you could do is watch these videos. You won’t regret it.