Gangnam Style

It was never my plan to write an entry about Kpop (Korean Pop), but I don’t think any of us saw Psy coming. Aside from the fact that the song is as catchy as the video is weird, he’s the first Kpop artist to crossover onto the Western charts. How much of that has to do with people’s fascination with the odd video and his quirky style or truly loving the song, I have no idea. But since so many of my friends and family members are now aware of “Gangnam Style,” I thought I’d drop some knowledge on y’all about the song and it’s eccentric artist. Let’s start off with what having “Gangnam style” actually means. Gangnam is a trendy, well-to-do suburb of Seoul often referred to as the Beverly Hills of Korea. So saying you’ve got Gangnam style is essentially like saying you’ve got swag. Mom: If you don’t know what swag means, go to the website Urban Dictionary and search for it. Actually, scratch that. Mom: NEVER go to Urban Dictionary. In the chorus, Psy repeats, “Oppan Gangnam style.” Oppan or Oppa means brother, and Korean women often use the term to refer to an older male friend. So now we have what basically means “big brother’s got swag.” While this probably sounds pretty lame to you or I, we’re not the target demographic. Korean women love it. For more on the translation of the lyrics, check out this site. It has not only the English translation of the lyrics, but also the Romanization of the Korean lyrics in case you want to learn how to sing along. It’s so prevalent here that my kindergarteners are not only calling each other sexy, but calling me sexy, as well. Awkward with a capital A. I also had to teach one of my older classes how to properly say “sexy lady” because I could no longer take them singing, “Hey, sheckshee ray-ray!” I am currently substituting in another kindergarten class in addition to my own. They were mad because they wanted to sing the “Gangnam song” but I told them we were playing Simon Says instead. In an effort to boost their spirits, I said, “Simon says Gangnam style.” Everyone one of them busted out in the exact same move from the video. Then I said, “Simon says ‘Hey, sexy lady!'” And they all shouted, “Oppan Gangnam style!” It was hilarious. I nearly died.

Now here’s some information about Psy. While he may become a one hit wonder in the Western world, he’s actually been a major player in the Korean Kpop scene for years. His first album came out in 2001, and “Gangnam Style” is his 6th studio album. The Kpop world is similar to the Western world of pop only, from what I hear, more extreme. Groups here will train for years before they’re allowed to release their first single. They practice not only singing and dancing, but they often must learn English as well. Kpop songs frequently feature an English line or two, often in the chorus, and they sometimes even make sense. The groups almost never do any of their own song writing or choreography. So Psy is somewhat of an anomaly in that respect. He not only wrote “Gangnam Style,” but he choreographed the video and produced both the song and the video. He doesn’t fit the physical mold of the typical Kpop star, either. If that wasn’t enough, if you pay close attention to both the video and the song lyrics, you’ll find that there’s actually a mildly subversive message therein. That may not sound like much to you, but Koreans are hugely proud of both their culture and their way of life. It’s almost impossible to make it in this country while criticizing it’s people. Almost. Psy managed to hide his message in a seemingly vapid pop song where most folks are none the wiser. Here’s a really great article all about what Psy is really saying. It also has the video in case you’re the only person on the planet that hasn’t seen it yet.

So, that’s “Gangnam Style” in a nutshell. Here’s video of Psy teaching Britney Spears how to do the Gangnam dance, in case you’re looking for a laugh or haven’t yet mastered the choreography. This is my favorite “Gangnam Style” parody. This is a parody actually filmed in the town in which I live. And, in case you haven’t had your daily dose of cute, this is all of the kindergarteners at my school doing the “Gangnam Style” dance in their hanboks (traditional Korean outfits) at the Chuseok party.

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Chuseok is a 3-day holiday in Korea, often likened to America’s Thanksgiving. It is a rotating holiday, they make a lot of food and it coincides with the fall harvest. But that’s where the similarities end. Typical Chuseok festivities include: wearing a hanbok (traditional Korean clothing), bowing to their ancestors graves, bowing to their grandparents, getting money and making songpyeon (rice cake balls with a sweet filling). We had a party for the kinders the Friday before the holiday, and all of the little ones came to school dressed in their hanboks. So. Freaking. Cute. Seriously, people, look at the pictures. LOOK. They played traditional Korean games, made hanboks out of origami, made songpyeon and did a traditional Korean song and dance. And then we sang “Gangnam Style.” I feel like it added a whole new level of authenticity to the celebration. Or something. Ok, not really. But it was really cute watching them do the Gangnam dance. I was in the songpyeon making room, where my Korean coteacher informed me that the more beautiful your songpyeon, the more beautiful your daughters will be. Let’s just say I now hope to have sons. The kids’ songpyeon turned out pretty interesting, as you’ll see in the photos. Here’s a picture of what it’s actually supposed to look like.

Since we had a long weekend, Joe and I decided to head up to Suwon Friday night to visit Xander, a friend of mine from college. Suwon is about 30-45 minutes outside of Seoul and where I’m looking to go for my second year. After work, we booked it to the train station and made it to Suwon just in time to meet Xander and crew for a few drinks. The next day we got up and made our way to Hwaseong Fortress, which is basically an old, giant, cool-looking wall in Suwon. We wandered around the base for a bit, then followed the signs for the temple on the top of the hill. Which lead up to an iron fence where we were able to see the path to the top, but not actually access it. So back down we headed. Did I forget to mention that I’d been lugging around my carry-on this entire time? Cuz I had been. We finally figured out where we needed to go, but it seemed like too arduous of a trek for one encumbered with luggage. Also, we were really hungry and a little hungover. I decided to put it on my list for next year, and Joe decided he was willing to live the rest of his life without experiencing it because he’s not cool enough to be coming back next year. After lunch at a restaurant with a very menacing pig statue  in front, we reunited with Xander and crew to hang out at a pub for a bit and then we collectively made our way to Seoul. After Joe and I checked in to our hostel, we grabbed a bite to eat and then met some of Xander’s friends to celebrate a birthday. It was decided that we should try and hit as many clubs before 11 as possible because apparently there’s no cover charge before 11 and once you get the stamp you can get in all night.

I should preface this by saying that I am NOT a club kinda gal. I just feel like the music being so loud you can feel it on your insides canNOT be a good thing. Oh, no! Does that mean I’m old?! Am I a crotchety old lady complaining about kids these days listening to their music too loud? Oh, god. At least I have my cats… Ok, pity party over. Back to the matter at hand. The first club we went to wasn’t too bad. God knows it’d been a long time since I’d heard anything resembling hip hop outside of my own apartment. The second club we went to didn’t want to let me in because I was wearing sandals without a heel strap and they were concerned about me cutting my feet on broken glass. But the girl behind me with a tiny bit of leather going around her heel but otherwise just as much foot exposed as me was totally cool. Seems legit. Also, I would be way more concerned about the girls walking around in stripper heels. That’s just an accident waiting to happen. Eventually Xander came out and said that if I couldn’t come in, our entire group was leaving, so they caved. Apparently they weren’t that concerned about my feet, after all. As it turns out, this place was the reason the term “meat market” was invented. I felt dirty just being there. Fortunately we didn’t stay long, because diseases were definitely being spread that night and I didn’t want to stick around long enough to catch one. The next place we went didn’t let foreigners on the first floor where the party was at, but rather sent us to a basement type area where there were only a handful of other people. The rest of the night progressed in a similar fashion, going from club to club and going back and forth between feeling supremely underwhelmed and like I needed a tetanus shot.

We headed home much too late and, in turn, got up much too late the next day. Fortunately, being in Seoul, our options for food were greatly increased and I was able not only to indulge in one of my favorite hangover foods, but introduce it to Joe, as well – Taco Bell. It had been a year since I’d partaken of the sheer joy wrapped in a tortilla known as a crunchwrap supreme. The nacho-cheesiness touched my lips and I knew that all was right in the world. Joe was not as enthusiastic about his meal. It’s not his fault. He’s British. We spent the rest rest of the afternoon exploring the Hongdae area. We were amused by a person in a cat costume (the kind that team mascots wear, not the Halloween kind) laying on the sidewalk, occasionally handing out flyers. Further investigation revealed that they were handing out adverts for a nearby cat cafe. We were sold. Gimmick: 1 Innocent Passersby: 0. I was so excited at the prospect of holding a cat, I almost couldn’t contain myself. As it turns out, you’re only allowed to pet the cats, not hold them. And only if they are not sleeping (which most of them were). And they only wanted to come up to you if you had food for them. They were kind of assholes. I should have expected as much from a roomful of cats, but my prolonged absence from my own kitties has made me forgetful. The only friendly cat was one of those gross hairless cats, and I suspect that’s only because he’s so ugly nobody wants to pet him, making him the only cat there starved for attention. After the cat cafe, we again joined Xander et al. at a baseball game. It was my first Korean baseball game, and Joe’s first baseball game full stop. It was mostly just like any other baseball game. Except for the cheerleaders. Holding ramen. I can safely say I’ve never seen that at a ball game before. It was a pretty exciting game for a first game. A guy fouled the ball back into his own face and had to be taken away in an ambulance and the game went into extra innings. Joe wanted the real “American experience,” so he went to order us hot dogs. When he came back with only one, I looked at him, affronted, and asked. “Where’s mine.” He replied, “She only let me have one.” We shared the hot dog, but were still hungry. We decided that I should try this time. I walked to the counter and tried my luck ordering two hot dogs, and was happily handed  precisely that. When I returned, Joe looked at me agape and demanded, “Why did you get two?!” I decided that the lady looked at him and thought, “No American (He’s not American, but they assume all white people are American.), two is how you get fat.” Then she saw me coming and thought, “Please, take these hot dogs, just don’t eat our children!” Afterwards, we again headed out for dinner and drinks, and shuffled from place to place as every bar/restaurant seemed to be closed or about to close. There was one amazing moment, however, where Joe got locked in a bank. Yes, you read that correctly. The bank was closed, but the ATM area inside was open. Joe went in to take out some cash, but it wouldn’t let him. He attempted to come back outside, but the door was locked. Never have I ever seen anything so funny as the “oh shit” look on his face when he realized he couldn’t get out. He tried to use the phone inside to call for help, to no avail. Eventually, Xander decided to give the door a good shove, and I think it must have been scared of his brute strength because it opened right up. Once we all recovered from a bout of hysterical laughter, Xander and his  friends decided they wanted to try and find a bar playing the Niners game, which is no easy feat in South Korea at 1 a.m. on the Sunday of a holiday weekend. But we made it happen. So Joe also got to see his first football game that night. Or half of one. We bailed at halftime. It was ridiculously late (or early, depending on how you want to look at it), and neither one of us actually likes football.

Again, we stayed up much too late but did not have the luxury of being able to sleep in this time. We had to check out and get our day rolling. We had lots to do before heading home. We started by going to the largest market in Seoul to look for some souvenirs. Unfortunately, all the lockers in the subway station were full so I was stuck hauling my luggage again. Then, the specific places I wanted to pick up souvenirs at were closed for Chuseok. After an hour or so, I admitted defeat and we headed to Gangnam Station to take some “Gangnam Style” pics. Ever since I shared the idea with Joe, his eyes lit up at the mention of Gangnam. I, on the other hand, was torn between my desperate want to do this and the ensuing embarrassment of taking such a photo.  In the end, it was only mildly embarrassing and Joe can now die happy. Next, we made our way to the main shopping district to get Joe some clothes. Initially we had wanted to wander around for a bit, but we were so tired and bogged down with bags and baggage that we decided to call it a day and head home. We had a great time, even if the trip was not as fruitful as we had hoped. Looks like we’ll be making another stop in Seoul on our way out.

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