The real Gangnam Style: Beauty Belt, wedding town, 24-hour culture

The real Gangnam Style: Beauty Belt, wedding town, 24-hour culture

Five quirky trademarks of the "Beverly Hills of Korea"
Get this, PSY: the view in front of Gangnam station when you're drunk and running.

Thanks to a certain chubby, horse-dancing singer who has become a national hero for his globalization of K-Pop -- yes, the one and only PSY -- “Gangnam” has been thrust into the global lexicon.

Anyone who’s Googled it now knows that it literally means “south of the river” and is the ritziest part of Seoul -- also thereby representative of the increasing disparity of wealth in Korea.

The most recent reports in the local media highlight the disparities in banking in Gangnam versus areas in Gangbuk (north of the river).

The employee-to-customer ratio in banks in Gangnam is twice that of Gangbuk, as banks compete to target the “super rich” who live in the area (Gangnam accounts for seven percent of Korea’s GDP).

From The New Yorker talking about “the Gangnam phenomenon” and asking questions like “Should we expect a Chinese Gangnam soon?” to Business Insider saying ridiculous things like, “Drinking expensive coffee is a major way that Gangnam dwellers display their wealth,” we thought it was time to introduce some of the quirky characteristics of Gangnam and its hi-so residents.

Here’s what real “Gangnam Style” entails:

1. Getting a personal assistant service to do everything for you

In a sense, these errand runners do everything escorts don't. And vice versa: perfect symbiosis, really.

It all started with “Hajuseyo” (literally meaning “please do this for me” in Korean), a fleet of personal assistants on bright pink scooters. The original customer base was reputedly the hundreds of high-earning escort girls living by themselves in "officetels" (studio apartments) in the Gangnam area, but it has since expanded due to word of mouth.

All it takes is a single phone call, and these personal assistants will go anywhere and do pretty much anything you need them to do, from picking up your favorite dish from a restaurant that doesn’t deliver to looking for a lost phone to moving heavy furniture. Rates vary according to the task.

Proof that it’s a Gangnam thing: they charge more if you ask them to go to Gangbuk, north of the river.

Hajuseyo, 652 Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (서울시 강남구 역삼동 652); +82 1544 5478

More on CNN: 50 reasons why Seoul is the world's greatest city 

2. Paying a lot for beauty

Man & Nature is a male-only plastic surgery clinic on the Apgujeong Beauty Belt in Gangnam.

Behold the Apgujeong “Beauty Belt” -- several blocks of clinics specializing in plastic surgery of every type that you can think of, and a whole slew more that you never knew existed.

“Many of my friends are getting their eyes re-done in Gangnam after getting it done for cheap the first time around somewhere else,” says Anna Kim, 21, a college student from Daejeon, referring to a double eyelid surgery popular in Korea.

“It actually costs a lot more to have it redone, but it’s worth it to make it look more natural. You should just have it done in Apgujeong the first time around.”

Even apart from the ear-pinning, calves-slimming plastic surgery clinics, the Cheongdam area of Gangnam is known for its high-end hair and makeup salons, where a single haircut can cost ₩250,000 (US$225) and the cost of few hours of pampering (the daily routine of many ladies who live in the area) is usually in the range of ₩1000,000 (US$900).

Korean makeup artists with their own lines open flagships in this area, to tempt the high-spenders with their latest miracle serums.

More on CNN: Welcome to the plastic surgery capital of the world 

3. Playing hard, all night

As PSY put it, Gangnam is full of guys “whose heart bursts at night” and women “who let down their hair and know how to party.”

To accommodate these hot-blooded ladies and gentlemen who congregate south of the Han river, the area is full of restaurants, bars, clubs, cafés and even hair salons, nail salons and pharmacies that stay open all night.

The clubs may shut down in the morning (around 8 a.m.) but many other businesses stay open 24-hours.

More on CNN: 24 venues open 24 hours in Seoul

4. Taxis hating you

Gangnam style A government employee cracking down on a snobby cabby? Or a cabby telling the employee, "No ride, unless you're going to Bundang?"

We’re not sure if it’s an ongoing passive-aggressive protest against the wealthiest tier, but taxis like to tease passengers who are trying to hail cabs in Gangnam -- especially in the Gangnam Station area where it sometimes takes up to an hour to hail a cab at prime nightlife hours.

Cabbies slow down, roll down their windows and shake their heads once you yell your destination, saying that they’re going to Bundang, Suwon, Incheon or anywhere else that isn’t where you want to go.

The Seoul city government has been trying to combat this phenomenon for years, posting volunteer workers around Gangnam Station to take down the license plate number of unaccommodating cabbies, but to no avail.

More on CNN: The complete guide to Seoul taxis

5. Taking fabulous, over-the-top wedding photos

gangnam style Because no Gangnam wedding is complete without a slideshow of images implying that the bride and groom have serious conversations under large fake trees. While the Cheongdam and Nonhyeon districts in the Gangnam area used to be all cafés and bars, it is increasingly turning into, and becoming known as, “Wedding Town.”

On any day of the week, brides are holding on desperately to their grooms’ hand as they teeter in heels in cobblestone alleyways or are perched on trees in Dosan Park.

Three or four photographers will be hovering and yelling encouraging things like “This is all going to be Photoshopped anyway so just look in his general direction!”

The wedding photo boom really took off in the last three years, thanks largely to the local reality television show “We Got Married,” which sees Korean celebrities paired randomly and pretend to be married for a season.

In the show, one of the big scenes for each couple is when they go to Cheongdam-dong and shoot wedding photos. The fake groom's jaw drops with awe and delight as his "bride" first appears in a wedding dress.

At Wedding Town, the bride and groom go through two or three days of shooting in as many outfits (including various wedding dresses) as desired. Many are often rented for the occasion. Friends and family also come along for some of the cuts, and then the photos are processed showcased at the actual wedding, usually in digital form on a big screen during the ceremony.

“I saw this article in China which talked about wedding photo trips to Seoul, and I am a K-Pop fan so when I saw the wedding photos on ‘We got married’ I knew I wanted to come here and shoot mine here,” says Beijing native Li Xiaoying, 29, who flew to Seoul for a week with her husband-to-be to shoot her photos here.

She says she knows a number of couples who have done the same before their weddings.

“We’re going sightseeing as well afterwards. It’s all very romantic.”

Try it at: SOUL MUSEUM, 246-1 Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul (서울시 강남구< 논현동 246-1); +82 1688 0624; prices range from ₩1,500,000 (approximately US$1,350) to ₩10,000,000 (approximately US$9,000)

More on CNN: Interview: PSY on 'Gangnam Style,' posers and that hysterical little boy

Frances Cha is a Digital Producer at CNN Travel. 


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