Sunday, May 26, 2013

‘Gangnam style’ through foreigners’ eyes

By Rachel Lee, Ryu Chang-gi, Jun Ji-hye “Gangnam Style” catapulted Psy to overnight global stardom. He is now on top of the world with the unprecedented popularity of his latest single that became the most-liked video in YouTube history. In the three months since the hit song was released it has attracted more than 260 million YouTube views. With the tremendous popularity of the track around the world, the district of Gangnam, which literally means “south of the River,” has also become a place that arouses the curiosity of foreigners. Psy was born and raised in Gangnam but his chubby appearance doesn’t fit the generally-known image of luxury or snobbishness of the area ― a discrepancy that makes the cheesy horse-riding dance performed by the tuxedo-wearing Psy so funny and ironical. What is Gangnam style? Is there such a thing? The simple lyrics of Psy’s song give some hints about the Gangnam lifestyle. He raps about “Gangnam man and woman” who are smart and quiet during the day but turn sexy and fun-seeking at night. The “sexy lady” in the rap “can play when she plays and knows how to let her hair down when the right time comes.” The video was shot in various Gangnam neighborhoods ― from tourist buses and parks along the Han River to subway platforms and public saunas. The Gangnam district is obviously benefiting from the popularity of the song, drawing international attention ― a CNN crew visited the district to give its viewers a closer look at the district and ABC gave its audience an opportunity to learn how to pronounce Gangnam. Gangnam projects an image of rich, trendy, fashionable, sophisticated people enjoying a luxurious lifestyle, but the residents of the area also have a negative image such as being appearance-oriented, haughty, obsessed with expense and snobbish. In affluent Apgujeong-dong in Gangnam ― often called the Beverly Hills of Seoul ― there are shopping streets selling high-end, exotic goods, top-rated private and public educational institutes, luxurious boutiques, plastic surgery clinics, hot nightclubs and slick office buildings. It’s a smorgasbord of capitalistic desires. Many foreigners work, live or just hang out in Gangnam and have formed their ovn ideas about the area. Big fans of Gangnam “Everyone in Gangnam looks so busy but I am sure that Gangnam Style fits very well with the slogan of Dynamic Korea. The area is so active,” said Christina Confalonieri, a representative of Yeoksam Global Village Centre in Gangnam-gu. “Even if prices in Gangnam are relatively expensive, I think Gangnam is an international place which is good for foreigners, for example, we can go to a wide range of restaurants such as Chinese and Japanese.” Confalonieri who has lived in Seoul since Dec. 2006 and is married to a Korean man said, “I like the touristic atmosphere in Gangnam, when I talk with friends at a coffee shop near Rodeo Street in Apgujeong-dong. People in Gangnam are willing to give directions to strangers. They never say I don’t speak English.” The 31-year old Italian, who has also appeared on the popular Korean TV program “A Chat with Beauties”, said that although Gangnam has the reputation of being expensive, it is not too different to other parts of Korea. Christine Kapuku, 23, a Congolese student who is studying civil engineering at Seoul National University, is another fan of Gangnam ― especially night entertainment with his Korean friends. He says he usually enjoys the weekend in Gangnam. “Gangnam’s sleepless atmosphere is my favorite in Seoul. When I hang out with foreign friends, I normally visit Itaewon but if I want to enjoy the night with Koreans, I definitely go to Gangnam,” he said. Kapuku thinks the COEX Mall is the hottest place in Gangnam. “We can move to every enjoyable place in COEX such as internet cafes and the aquarium. It was great to see the integrated mega mall,” he said. City of swagger Alex Finch, a 26-year-old from the United Kingdom, decided to move to a foreign country shortly after graduating university, moving outside of his “comfort zone on a large scale.” And he chose Korea because he had already familiarized himself with the country’s language by learning “Hangeul,” the Korean script. Finch has been living in Korea for five years and currently lives and works in Yeoksam-dong in Gangnam. He said the concept of Gangnam was a topic of discussion among his Korean friends even before Psy’s song was released. The British man describes people in the southern part of Seoul as those who are self-conscious and satisfied with the fact that they live in such an affluent and fashionable area of the city. “It is looking after yourself physically, making sure you look the part and having a swagger that says ‘I’ve worked hard to get where I am and I’m proud of it,’” he said. “Those who live in Gangnam have an air about them that could be mistaken for arrogance if you were not aware of the area yourself. This obviously is not exclusive to Gangnam. There are neighborhoods in all major cities that are more sought after and this breeds a certain kind of attitude.” Amael Borzee, a 24-year-old Frenchman working at Korea Marine Environment Management Corp., echoes this view and defines Gangnam with the two words: “expensive” and “appearances.” This suggests that not only is it a costly place to live and hang out in but that people there are fixated about how they are judged them by the way they look. Korean-Canadian Tony Park is an honorary ambassador for Gangnam who promotes the area. He makes postings on his SNS accounts such as Twitter and Facebook after being taken to various sightseeing spots in Gangnam. Park also has a particular view of the area: “Being a Gangnam man or woman means you are a little bit rich and you can buy whatever you want, I personally think.” Asked whether the interviewees regard themselves as “Gangnam men and women,” Borzee and Park said they are not within these categories. They feel they do not fit the extravagant image of Gangnam and have rather moderate spending habits. “(I am) not really (a Gangnam man) because I am not a guy who spends a lot of money,” said Park. Unlike these two people, Finch almost sees himself as a Gangnam man because he thinks he has certain characteristics of the type. “I like to look good and I'm working on improving myself in Korean, as well as physically. I may not yet have the swagger (despite what my friends may say), but I'd like to think that it will come in time.” What Gangnam wants Whether they like Gangnam or not, these people share similar views of the district: it is expensive. Some share the idea that it is an appearance-oriented place. “I somewhat expected those responses,” Kim Kwang-soo, head of the Marketing Team for the Gangnam-gu Office, said in an interview with The Korea Times. However, he said, buying luxurious goods is just a small part of Gangnam. “A luxurious shopping district is in Cheongdam-dong. Teheran-ro is a business district in which there are many skyscrapers. The area around Gangnam Station is where members of the younger generations like to hang out and Dosandaero is well-known as a popular filming location.” “There are many royal tombs of the Joseon Dynasty as well. It is a mixed city where modernity and tradition coexist. It has various aspects.” he added. But he said he is also aware of its reputation as an expensive place and understands that this could be a burden for people who come to the city. “I wish Gangnam to earn its reputation from its cultural and lifestyle content, rather than from its high cost. To achieve that, we are attempting to promote the city by conducting an honorary ambassador program or opening a Korean speech contest targeting foreigners,” he said. More importantly, not all foreign interviewees used positive words to describe Gangnam. Some often used somewhat negative words, such as “arrogance” or “extravagant.” It gives residents of Gangnam the task of promoting a good image for the region because they have received a lot of attention thanks to the popularity of Psy’s “Gangnam Style. “
source:http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2012/09/399_120952.html

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