Yesterday I made the trip down to Gangnam area of Seoul. I don’t often visit Gangnam due to a few reasons. For one: it’s far, about 40-45 minutes by subway. Secondly, I consider myself more of a “north-of-the-river” kind of guy. The han river (hangang) divides Seoul into halves. The north side is known for history, being the location of the old city center. Most of Seoul’s rich history lies north of the river, whereas the south side of the river is more representative of modern Korea. Gangnam area, particularly, screams modernity. Compared to some of the grit and old time feel of Jongno or Seodaemun area, Gangnam is sleek, clean and flashy. This is where people go for fashion, international food, clubs, top notch english private schools and plastic surgery. It’s also home to many of Seoul’s large company headquarters. Gangnam’s where the money is.
As I’m more often found hiking a mountain or exploring a temple, it’s unlikely to find me shopping for clothes in Garosugil or hitting the clubs in Apgujeong. Despite this, I’m not simply an outdoors guy. If I was, I’d probably avoid living in Seoul. I admire the sense of fashion people have here, albeit obsessive at times (and not without related problems, another post), and I appreciate the slick, modern side of Korea. So my trip to Garusogil, in Gangnam area, was refreshing.
Garusogil’s an area of gangnam well known for shopping and cafes. It can be a romantic spot to stroll with your girlfriend, or a place to reinvent your wardrobe. Fashion and “class” are it’s major assets. While walking around, I saw a younger man, ghostly in appearance posing for a photo shoot. His face was whitened to the point that (in my opinion) looked deathly. Yet, this is the media-encouraged appearance standard in Korea. The whiter the skin the prettier, so girls will actually make efforts to make up their skin to appear particularly white. I continued walking and turned another corner to see another photo shoot, and along the way I passed 2 plastic surgery clinics, one with a long line inside leading up to the desk. So, this is Garosugil. You come here to expand your wardrobe, share a coffee with a friend, eat some international food or baked goods at a bakery or maybe even get a nose job at the nearby plastic surgery clinic. The area is a slight nod to Europe, as a number of the cafes architecture shows French/British inspiration, yet there’s also something awkward and unpredictable to the style. I was talking later that evening with my friend Mao, and he mentioned they don’t have regulations in Korea to prevent areas from looking like a jumbled mess of random styles. So, that’s a bit what you get.
(Courtyard, outdoor seating in the rain)
After strolling around I chose to sit down and get some coffee as a way to kill some time before meeting my friend. I found a small cafe/restaurant in the area and ordered an Americano. The cafe overlooked the street, so I spent two hours studying over coffee, watching passerbys outside the window. The coffee was very good and the establishment itself had an comfortable environment, wood panel and stone walls, with pictures of famous korean and international people illustrated in cartoon style. To get to the cafe I had to go up a flight of stairs on the side of the building, which leads up to a large open window overlooking the courtyard below. White christmas lights were strewn about as well as a somewhat awkward lit up reindeer. I took a few shots on my way out, but I still have a lot to learn about night time photography, so they came out a bit dark and with an overcast orange glow. The cafe, however, was a great find and a piece of quiet in the Garosugil streets. The name is Cafe Monreve (까페 몽레브).
Cafe Monreve/까페 몽레브
강남구 신사동 546-8번지 2층
546-8 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul Korea