With the exception of the small portion of the afternoon we spent in Yeouido earlier in the week, we had been spending all of our time in “old Seoul,” which is north of the Han River, while “new Seoul” is south. I can tell you without any uncertainty that old Seoul was where I would gladly spend most of my time if/when I ever get to return, but I had to cross the Han in order to visit some kpop places of interest, the most important being SMTown.
But first, Henry had to look at a map…
I had just been saying that so far, this day was the best we’d had, what with starting our morning off with a hike up to Namsan Tower, and then eating lunch Myeongdong, and pretty much not having any direction snafus! But then…Gangnam.
But wait, let me back up. So, Gangnam is the ritzy neighborhood of Seoul. You might remember back in 2012 when there was a huge kpop hit that crossed over to American radio: Psy’s “Gangnam Style”? I knew a girl at the time who was so offended that this was being played on the radio because she thought he was saying “condom star.” OK…
So, that kind of put Gangnam on the map for the rest of the world. It literally means “South of the river” and is ridiculously upscale. I mean, as soon as we got off the train in Gangnam Station, the underground shopping went from sock vendors to motherfucking designer brands. It was like being in a completely different country. And then once we emerged from the subway station, even the people were different. The fashion was way more sleek, the men all dressed like they were straight out of k-dramas with their perfectly-fitted pants and pastel shirts and it was pretty hard not to stare in awe because everyone was so beautiful and physically curated.
Of course, Henry took us the wrong way right off the bat and we ended up standing in the middle of a sidewalk next to what appeared to be the main and extremely busy multi-laned street in Gangnam, looking like fucking losers for the millionth time of the trip, when an older man on a scooter rolled up to us on the sidewalk, and in broken English asked us where we were trying to go.
Henry looked at me like, “This is all you, YOU tell him!” so I sheepishly said we were looking for SMTown.
“Oh, idols? Idols!” he said, recognizing immediately what I was looking for because everyone in Korea knows kpop idols. This man was so freaking sweet and tried his very best to help us even with the very strong language barrier. He told us we could walk there, and pointed the way, but made a motion with his hand and sound that I think was implying “walk waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down that street.”
So we set off BACK THE WAY WE CAME because traditionally this is what Henry does to us, and before we made it off that block, the man in the scooter came back to us. He must have thought about it after we left and waved off his original directions. He pulled out a notebook and wrote down the names of subway stations in his best romanized attempt (honestly, romanization of the Korean language sucks. I wish I had the foresight to tell him to write it in hangeul) but we we were able to understand his new directions, and god bless that man because we got off at the subway stop he suggested and literally SMTown was RIGHT THERE when we emerged from the exit.
SMTown is this really cool multi-level building owned by SM Entertainment and full of interactive exhibits, a gift shop, a cafe, and displays of costumes worn and awards won by artists on the SM label. It’s also the collective name that the artists on SM go by.
My second favorite kpop group is on SM—-SHINee. There was no way we were going to leave Seoul without a visit to SMTown. I needed to see all of the SHINee displays!
Close-up of the mirrored facade.
I almost fell off the escalator while drooling over these large SHINee portraits on the wall. I’m notoriously terrible with escalators and generally need to devote every ounce of my attention to gripping the rail and keeping a solid stance on the step. I had one really scary escalator incident when I was around 4-years-old in Atlantic City and my SHOELACE GOT CAUGHT.
Don’t worry — my Pappap was there to rescue me.
I watch all of these different Korean music countdown programs whenever my favorite artists are performing so it was really fun to see some of these awards in real life, and for Red Velvet no less! (Chooch and Henry both really love Red Velvet, FYI.)
Super fun fact about Red Velvet: one of the members (Wendy) is actually from Minnesota. During these past Winter Olympics, one of Amanda Kessel’s (Team USA hockey and also sister to Pittsburgh Penguin’s Phil Kessel) college friends posted a picture of their college golf team group picture for Throwback Thursday and someone noticed that Wendy was also on the team! So random.
BUT TAEMIN, THO.
Chooch and I saw NCT127 at KCON last year and when they performed Cherry Bomb, we thought the bass was going to blow the roof right off the Prudential Center. It was fucking intense.
Also, there are various NCT groups (NCT127, NCT Dream, NCT U, and now NCT 2018) and I just can’t keep them all straight. I remember watching an episode of Weekly Idol were NCT127 was trying to explain all of the different units, and Dony and Cony (the hosts) were just like, “No, just stop talking. It’s too much.”
Anyway, one of their members, Johnny, is from Chicago I think. I would say their most popular member is Taeyong but he’s my least favorite because he makes me feel uncomfortable. Don’t ask.
Henry was like, “Just take this fucking picture, fast.”
Taeyeon is my favorite member of Girl’s Generation.
Chooch was annoyed because there were some girls there giggling at him, lol.
Seriously, Henry – why don’t we have full-blown murals of kpop stars in our house?!
He was so over it, hahaha. (OR WAS HE. He loves kpop, don’t let his terrorized gaze fool you. He sends me kpop news articles all the time!)
You guys, Taemin’s hands are slightly smaller than mine and I have pretty small hands! Chooch’s hands looked like ham hocks next to all of the idol hand molds.
Chooch got this picture from one of the photobooths after two girls hogged it forever:
Yes, it’s already framed and hung on the Wall of Chooch.
We almost missed the 4th floor because there was a weird stairwell but thank god we saw it because that’s not only where all of the gorgeous fan art lives (the collection blew my mind), but also the Jonghyun memorial was there as well. I posted about that separately, because it was important and special to me and, well, I just felt that it deserved its own post. So if you feel like it, you can read about that here.
After absorbing all of the SM-goodness, we went to the cafe where Chooch and I each got a plastic collectors bottle of our favorite groups (SHINee for me, and Red Velvet for him). Henry bitched about it because they’re pretty small and once we added our respective beverage selection, they were $9 a piece. God, Henry, just pay the guy!
Random view of Gangnam.
After we left SMTown, Henry took us on a cross-country trudge to the JYP building. Oh my good god, our feet felt crushed and I sincerely thought that I had fractured something just from literally pounding the pavement with shoes that were OK comfort-wise, but not the best for walking 25 miles a day. We just kept walking and walking and getting more and more slap-happy, to the point where Henry quit talking to us altogether, especially since everytime he said something we would repeat it back to him in an Eeyore voice.
We’re such angels!
Every time we would ask him where we were going, he would fly on the defensive about how “ALL THE DIRECTIONS I FIND TO THESE PLACES ARE SHITTY, OK!? I’M DOING THE BEST THAT I CAN!!”
We did eventually make it to JYP, after feeling like Henry was leading us off the face of the earth. And we knew that we had made it because we rounded a corner and saw a bunch of girls sitting on a curb across the street from it.
Honestly, I just wanted to do a quick walk-by and snap some pics of the building, but Chooch got super comfortable on the curb with the other fangirls, hoping for a chance to see someone from Got7 leap from the front door and disappear into a tinted-windowed car.
Henry was not OK with this, but I bet the Dunkin Donuts across the street is super on board with it, considering their shop was packed full of sasaeng (crazy) fans staking out at their tables with coffee and donuts.
It was Jackson’s birthday so there was a birthday sign up for him. Sadly, he was in Hawaii at the time (I believe) so there was no chance of getting a glimpse of him.
I would have been happy seeing TWICE!! That’s who I was holding out for.
Chooch kept saying, “Just three more minutes.”
“Just six more minutes.”
“We’ll leave at 5:45.”
“Make that 5:50.”
We eventually left at 6:00, after staking out for a half hour. I’m too old for that! (OK, maybe if there was a chance of seeing G-Dragon or Taemin, that would be making a bed under a bush somewhere, but G-Dragon is in the military now and Taemin was actually in LA the week we were in Seoul, because fuck my luck.)
This next part is almost too painful to relive by blogging, but we promised Chooch that we would go to Kakao Friends in Gangnam and Henry took us some convoluted way back to a random subway station and then we got off at what he assured us was the “correct” stop but we still somehow ended up walking over an hour through the now-dark streets of Gangnam, which was getting more and more crowded because people love to freaking shop, and Chooch and I were getting more and more angry and our feet hurt and Henry was trying to win back our hearts by making jokes and we were like, “NOT ON THIS DAY, HANK.”
Long and incredibly miserable story short, we did eventually make it to Kakao Friends and Chooch was so happy, so I guess it was worth it.
We split a strawberry cake at the Ryan Cafe (Ryan is the main Kakao character) and wouldn’t let Henry have any, hahaha. But at least we were all laughing at this point. We kept the cardboard coffee sleeve for our scrapbook about Henry getting us lost. We haven’t started it yet though, because I’m not a scrapbooker by any stretch and when I went to the craft store to get a scrapbook, I felt so overwhelmed and stressed out and then I just got mad because none of those kits are my style. Everything was all jesus-y and corny. Doesn’t anyone make scrapbook shit for Godless people!?
And since we hadn’t eaten a legit dinner, we gorged on street food in a side-street near Kakao Friends, because twigum (fried food) is life.
Here’s a quick compilation of street action from that day in Myeongdong & Gangnam:
I kept telling myself, even though Henry’s screwy directions had us walking figure eights all around Korea, at least we were IN KOREA. We were happy by the time we got back to the hotel, and that’s all that matters.
Next post: TRAIN TO BUSAN!