The first couple of days after I arrived in Seoul, I kept humming Gangnam Style and just could not get it out of my head. It haunted me, my jetlagged brain too tired to fight its catchy and upbeat tune. Those of you who have heard and loved this YouTube phenomenon would not be surprised at my reaction, and those of you who have yet to come cross it, I strongly recommend that you check it out at the end of this post, then you’d appreciate why.
Interestingly, since I no longer keep track of what’s on the Top of the Pops, I did not hear of the said song nor its creator Psy when his YouTube upload went viral back in July 2012. My introduction to this K-Pop, creating an unprecedented Korean Wave came later when I watched its silly, cheesier, even a bit lewd Chinese copy (Not the Ai WeiWei version, which I quite liked) shared by a Facebook friend. Like my friend, I was rather appalled by what I saw.
Then shortly after, to my utter delight, I received confirmation that I was going to travel to Seoul at the end of October, tagging along to John’s business trip to this East Asian country. Better still, our accommodation would be in the Art Noveau Hotel right in the middle of Gangnam District, which literally means the South of the River (Hangang). That’s when I first watched the Korean original Gangnam Style, which by then had already massed a massive 580 million downloads, making it the most popular YouTube video ever!
Impressed? Oh yeah, you bet I was. Well, not only by the sheer number of people who have watched it, although that was pretty awesome, but more so by the guy whose crazy dancing routines mimicking horse-riding, and his fancy outfits. Mind you, horses are one of my favourite animals so Psy could not have picked a better one – apparently he tried panda and kangaroo before settling down to the horse it does make me wonder what he could have made with the other cute creatures
As for the lyrics, apart from Oppa Gangnam Style and sexy lady, the bits he sang in English, I was completely at a loss as to what he was singing about, even though according to some people, I am supposed to be able to speak Korean because of my origin – here I have to go off track and share with you a little anecdote.
A few years ago, I got a call from a South Asian woman who was an interpreter and ran an agency. Our short conversation went like this:
“Is that Dr Kirk?”
“I know that you are the Mandarin interpreter I met a few days ago. Can you translate some Korean documents for me?”
“No, I don’t think so. Sorry.”
“Because I am Chinese and I don’t speak Korean.”
“Why not? You are very close to Korea and you’re neighbours, right?”
It took me some time to explain that Korea was a different country and people there spoke a different language. In fact there were Korean people living in the Northeastern part of China, one of the 56 ethnic minorities in my Motherland, not to mention all the different dialects across this most populous country. At the end of it, I wasn’t sure that the woman understood what I was trying to say, sounding still puzzled, even appalled by my lack of linguistic skills, that I could not help her, as it was ‘just a simple letter’ in her words.
Back to Gangnam Style and South Korea. The song, despite its unintelligible Korean to many foreign ears, it went all the rage across the world and reached No 1 in the charts in many countries – take a look at Gangnam Style for full details.
Gangnam District is a trendy, modern and pulsating place, which has seen fast development in the last thirty years. It is a business hub which is dynamic, affluent and ridiculously young – I looked around and only saw people who appeared not a day over the age of 25! My companions and I really did seem ancient in comparison. No wonder Psy had to twist away the way he did, doing movements quite demanding for his age
My one and only visit to Seoul has ended, and it has been a wonderful learning experience – to be honest, despite her being my ‘neighbour’, my knowledge of this country, her culture and people remained limited. However, that is about to change. Today’s post is only a short introduction to this fascinating country, once labelled one of the four ‘small dragons’ of Asia.
My quest to learn about Koreans and their culture will continue, and please come back for a mini series of posts devoted to this fascinating country in the coming weeks, when John and I will share what we have seen and experienced during this short yet fruitful visit. Now without further ado, watch Gangnam Style and start moving your hands and those stiff legs. You can even learn the lyrics and sing along if you feel so inclined
PSY – GANGNAM STYLE (강남스타일) M/V
More to come next week – stay tuned