Life in Seoul

Gangnam 강남

Gangnam is the first, probably only, district most people would name when they thought of Seoul, so it only makes sense that I would end up there eventually. Made legendary by Psy’s massive hit, it is home to the wealthiest of Seoul and the trendiest of shops and restaurants.

Claire’s friend was visiting for a few days, so she invited me along on their day trip to the district. Our first stop was Bongeunsa Temple, right across from the massive Coex Mall. This beautiful sight was originally built in the late 700s, but has since been refurbished and moved over time. It has the classic Korean architecture along with hundreds of colorful lanterns, a giant Buddha statue, and lovely grounds (you would hardly guess that a sprawling, modern shopping center was across the street).

I particularly loved these gorgeous paintings on the side of one of the structures, something I haven’t seen at any of the other temples or palaces I’ve visited.

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Next, we improvised a bit and decided that checking out Coex was likely a must-do. Although I doubt we even scratched the surface, we passed a ton of stores, the aquarium, and the heavenly bookstore.

The aquarium seems really nice, but as entry costs 25,000 won, we opted not to spend our precious remaining funds on an activity we could easily do in our home countries. They did have fish swimming in tanks by the entrance, so we could still see some goofy-looking little guys.

We had been walking around since 10 am at this point, so our next stop was lunch. Claire and her friend were gung-ho about eating some “sushis!” and we found a decently affordable restaurant by the food court. The three of us split the “Couple Set,” and I have to say, that’s one famished couple they are catering to. Between the 24-piece sushi set, big bowl of udon soup, pork cutlet, and fried shrimp skewers, we were more than comfortably full by the time we left.

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We found a few really interesting stores, like one full of Disney baseball caps, a bulk candy shop, and a cafe and playhouse dedicated to Legos. They had some impressive Lego structures in there, along with big pits where talented toddlers were constructing Korean palaces (seriously, when I had Legos I could barely put together a simple square house).

And the bookstore, oh, the bookstore! It was the most beautiful thing I have ever laid my eyes on. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, people lining the tables with reading material and coffee, light filtering in through the glass building… not even the library scene in Beauty and the Beast could compare.

Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but just look at this place.

After we left Coex, we headed out to the center of Gangnam via subway and were immediately taken by the towering modern buildings and streets lined with trendy shops. A quick Google search made Sinsa-dong (a lovely shopping street) our destination, but needless to say our lack of preparation forced us to wander for an hour on foot before finally giving in and taking the subway to the proper stop.

It was worth it, though – we stumbled upon Gangnam Square and got to take dorky photos of a “Gangnam Style” monument, even as giggling Korean girls took pictures of us taking pictures. I get it, it’s hilarious that the song is what put Seoul on the global pop culture radar, but come on guys, I wouldn’t take pictures making fun of you getting excited about Niagara Falls or something.

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Finally, we found Sinsa-dong and pretended we were much wealthier than we are as we wandered into various boutiques and unique stores. It’s a beautiful road with decked-out buildings and knit blankets covering every single tree for reasons I am unsure about. It did make me itch for my knitting needles.

After this, I headed back to Sogang so I could rest my aching feet and get started on a final paper I had to write, but Claire and her friend continued on to Hallyu K-Star Road, another famous site in Gangnam and paradise for K-Pop and K-Drama fans. I’m not into either, so I didn’t mind missing out too much, but apparently it’s a really impressive showcase for the biggest stars in Korea.

Gangnam was certainly visually stunning, and it was fun to walk among the rich for a day and witness the ultra-famous district for myself. I would also like the announce that I have written this entire post without lowering myself to make a joke about Gangnam’s style, so there you go. I have some dignity.

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