My Korean Adventure (1) – Oppan Gangnam Style

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.

Courtesy from Sandra Valente

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 :)

Follow the Instructions and Have a Go :)

Vibrant Nightlife in Gangnam

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?”

“Yes, speaking.”

“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.”

“Why?”

“Because I am Chinese and I don’t speak Korean.”

“Why not? You are very close to Korea and you’re neighbours, right?”

Korean Traditional Music & Parade at Inchon Airport

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.

Our Hotel Lobby in Gangnam

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.

John Kirk with Colleague Matt Grimes Did Gangnam Style at the Modern & Efficient Subway


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

   Gangnam Style

More to come next week – stay tuned :)

About Junying Kirk

I came to Britain from China in 1988. I have worked as an academic, administrator, researcher, teacher and cultural consultant. When not travelling to Courts & Police stations as a professional interpreter, I enjoy reading & writing books, travelling the world and blogging about my adventures :). My 'Journey to the West' trilogy - 'The Same Moon', 'Trials of Life' and 'Land of Hope' - have been published on Amazon (both on Kindle and paperbacks), Smashwords and iBook. I live in Birmingham, UK with my husband.
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7 Responses to My Korean Adventure (1) – Oppan Gangnam Style

  1. thess reyes says:

    the Oppas in Korea are a big hit in the Philippines, especially Lee Min Ho :)

  2. Oh, Junying! I’m so glad I popped in for a visit. I absolutely loved this post. It’s amazing how much one can learn from all your travels. Your photos, as always, are fabulous! Of course, seeing the pic I sent you on FB, had me laughing out loud. Love it, thank you! ;)

    As I told you, I don’t understand a thing Psy says except for the, ‘Hey, sexy lady’, but I just love this song. And, to be honest, I love the video and all the crazy moves – it’s so much fun and extremely entertaining. Personally, I think he looks good doing them! What I didn’t know was that he’d attempted the kangaroo and panda. Hilarious. I, too, wonder what that would have looked like.

    My turn to go off track. As you mentioned that people can’t fathom why you don’t speak Korean because of your origins, I remembered something similar. The first time I ever navigated the web, a while back, I met a lady from the US. After a few conversations, she told me she knew someone in South Africa by the name of so and so, and went on to ask me if I knew this person. I was a bit taken aback because well, South Africa may be smaller than Texas, but it’s still a country like any other, lol. How on earth was I to know this person? Also, she was quite shocked to find out that no, we don’t have wild animals living in our backyards, roaming freely and that yes, my loos were actually inside the house. She thought I’d have to trudge through numerous obstacles holding a torch in one hand, a rifle in the other just so I could relieve myself. It was quite funny, but we became very good friends after this. She wasn’t the only one though. It just goes to show how little people knew then and strangely enough, some still don’t.

    Anyway, thank you. I will definitely be looking out for your future posts! You always entertain so wonderfully.:D

  3. Junying says:

    Sandra, you had me laughing out loud there :) Hilarious! Did you say that she is from Texas? That said it all :) I do apologise to my more knowledgeable American friends :)

    Oh yes, one of my former colleagues in a prominent UK University thought that I lived in a mud hut in China so it was OK for him to bully me (Trials of Life has all the details :)

    So glad you enjoyed this post – I just knew that you would, after our exchange about Psy :)

    Always lovely to have you here :) Thanks & have a good evening!

  4. Eri Nelson says:

    Loved the post!!

  5. Pingback: Korean Food (2) – BBQ, Bibimbap, Kimchi, Topokki and More | Junyingkirk

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