In late May 2014 the K-pop (Korean pop) rap single “Gangnam Style” hit the two billion mark on YouTube. Did you know the name Gangnam is actually an upscale district in Seoul, South Korea? This infectious song, all in the Korean language, pokes fun at the ultra-materialistic lifestyle of its wealthy residents and wannabe tourists. Think of it as Beverly Hills meets a super high-tech futuristic city.
The word Gangnam means “south of the river,” Han River to be more specific. Before the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, this area was nothing more than rice fields and the site of Bongeun-sa Temple, one of 14 main temples in Korea. Northern Seoul has the old money, royal palaces, and fortress walls. Southern Seoul has Gangnam-gu, which means Gangnam district, the home of the nouveau riche, flashy, and uber-status conscious.
It’s also where the South Korean rich and famous reside in expensive apartments and villas such as politicians, actors, pop singers, and business executives. A number of major corporate headquarters as well as the banking and financial industries make its mark.
For instance the Trade Tower, at 748-feet tall, is one of the tallest buildings in South Korea. Along with the Trade Tower, ASEM Tower, and the COEX InterContinental Seoul comprise of the World Trade Center Seoul, also known simply as COEX (Convention and Exhibition Center).
COEX Mall is the largest underground shopping mall in Asia. This is a city unto itself. You can find just about every conceivable clothing store, shops, restaurants, cafes, and Korea’s largest movie theater chain, Megabox Cineplex, housing 17 screens including the latest U.S. film releases.
The COEX Aquarium features various exhibits including Amazonian World, The Inca Empire, Ocean Kingdom and the Seven Seas. Its tunnel-like structure allows you to see the more than 40,000 fish and 600 species on display. If that’s not enough, there is the Kimchi Museum. What pizza is to Italians, sushi to Japanese, Kimchi is the centerpiece of Korean cuisine. Here you’ll learn everything there is to know about fermented cabbage or cucumbers.
Across the street from COEX is Bongeun-sa Temple. As mentioned earlier it’s one of the main Buddhist temples located on the slope of Sudo Mountain. If you want to get away from all the madness in Gangnam, just for a little while, you can take advantage of their Temple Stay Program for a few restful hours.
Earlier it was stated Gangnam district is home to some major corporations. One of them is Samsung, the multi-national IT and electronics company. Their enormous office park is sometimes referred to as Samsung Town. Hyundai, the automobile manufacturer, has its headquarters there too.
Apgujeong and Cheongdam-dong (neighborhood) are Gangnam’s exclusive shopping enclaves. Think of them as Seoul’s version of Paris’ Champs-Élysées, New York City’s Fifth Avenue, and Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive. This is a hotbed for young shoppers to be seen. Now you have a better idea of what “Gangnam Style” is all about the next time you hear this song in a club, wedding, or on the radio.