강남구 Chasing Rainbows

Today I tell a tale of woe, of great expectations and crushing disappointment. The tale of spontaneous planning gone slightly awry while on holiday. No, it was not a catastrophic accident, the loss of a passport or some other holiday extinguishing event, it was merely a frustrating evening.  Nonetheless, it was both disappointing and a good lesson in planning.

We shall begin our tale with Gangnam. You must have heard of Gangnam by now unless you are allergic to all forms of video and have very few friends, or are simply old and wise enough to have escaped it. The phenomenon that swept the world in 2012, gaining a completely insane 2,260,370,459 views on you-tube, Gangnam style introduced the world to K-pop and the district of Gangnam in Seoul. Though many of you will have heard of the video, you may not know that Gangnam is one of the richer areas of Seoul, known for expensive apartments and shops; an apartment in Gangnam will set you back around $10,000 per square metre. In Gangnam style, PSY is making fun of the affluent lifestyle of those living in Gangnam. Here is a version of the music video with subtitles for your enjoyment:

As the only things I knew about Korea outside my course on Korean history were kimchi and Gangnam style, a visit was in order. Disappointment one of the day came when we realised that Gangnam, being a rich area, was mostly banks and tall rather uninteresting buildings. I don’t know if we were expecting some kind of continuous celebrity pageant or to be welcomed by PSY himself, but somehow we found it lacking.

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Moving on from our disappointment, we turned in search of crispy chicken, as we had been told that Gangnam was the place to find this delicacy. To cut a long story short we ended up in a pub which had no Korean chicken and didn’t particularly feel Korean at all, rather giving off a sense of international dislocation which is so comforting to ex-pats but not to those in search of actual Korean food.

At this point the phones came out, as our plan to spend lots of time in Gangnam was cut short by Gangnam being rather lacklustre. A google of ‘what to do near Gangnam’ later, we stumbled upon the holy grail of tourism – a bridge that lights up like a rainbow and sprays water. It looked like the rainbow road in MarioKart. It was just a short train journey from Gangnam, so we went boldly forth to complete our quest for the rainbow bridge, also known as Banpo Bridge.

Arriving at the train station we successfully went the complete wrong way round the block, adding at least half an hour onto our journey. We then found ourselves near a fairly dystopian housing estate with identical numbered blocks all along  the river. Bravely, we traversed this Orwellian nightmare to reach the park that borders the river and provides views of the fabled bridge.

Emerging into the park we saw beautiful views of the river at night with the lights of the city all around us. All these lights were orange or white, distinctly lacking in other colours. Where was the rainbow bridge that google had promised? A quick check confirmed we were looking at the right bridge, it was just de-rainbowed. We had spent 2 hours hunting for a bridge that was not currently running its interesting mode, instead masquerading as an ordinary bridge, mocking us.

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We walked to the other side of the bridge. I don’t know if we were expecting it to magically be rainbow on the other side, but I assure you, it wasn’t. We did find some more colours there, however, as we found the ‘wishing bridge’ (walkway on the water) to a few brightly lit up buildings which appeared to be a hangover from Christmas and New Year; there were wishing hearts tied to the bridge with new years wishes inscribed and the whole thing seemed slightly temporary. The Wishing Bridge lacking an S somehow perfectly encapsulated our slight frustration with the way the evening was turning out. Wishing for a rainbow bridge proved unsuccessful.

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The evening took a slightly creepy turn when I noticed some skyscrapers across the river, which, aside from a red light to warn planes, had no lights on whatsoever. The internet knows nothing about them either. I can only conclude that they are monoliths descended from space to observe us.

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Our quest ended with a defeated turn for home. We got lost in the overly-ordered housing development, increasingly getting the sense that we had stumbled into a horror movie, we only had to agree to split up to trigger it. Thankfully we found the way out to the train station, passing a house that had a slide out of the window into the garden, clearly some kid is living the dream.

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Thus ends my tale. Though nothing terrible happened, I can’t help but feel that we missed out. Below are photos of what the bridge looks like if you actually catch it in action. Turns out it only runs on the hour around three times a day.

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