Saturday, August 17, 2013

Gangnam Style!

For those who don't know, Gangnam is an actual, real place in Seoul. It's basically the Beverly Hills of the city. And it's also pretty huge, incorporating numerous sub-areas within its district. While I didn't go to Gangnam proper (i.e. Gangnam Station--the area actually called 'Gangnam'), I went to Samseong, one of the areas within the overall district. And I chose to go there because it's home to COEX Mall, the largest underground shopping mall in the entirety of Asia. (According to Wikipedia, it's about 85,000 square meters.) Within the mall is a huge aquarium, an enormous, 2-story movie theater, a kimchi museum, 2 food courts, a massive bookstore, and a ton of other stores that you'd typically find in a mall. It's also home to convention centers, stages, etc. It's so massive that you can get maps to take with you through the mall because even people who frequent the place tend to get lost while there. While it's not at the top of the lists, it's usually on the lists of one of the things to check out while in Korea.

Unfortunately, it also began massive renovations this year and will be under renovations until early 2014, so I'm assuming the place wasn't as bumpin' as it usually would be. Still, outside of one shop I went into (which I'll get to later), I didn't notice any real effects of the renovations.

The entrance to the mall is connected to the Samseong subway station, so it was pretty easy to find. You just walk through this outdoor area that has a few food places and head in through the main doors on the other side.

I got to the mall around 10:30-ish in the morning to give myself plenty of time to get lost on my way to my first stop--the COEX Aquarium. But really, while the aquarium was on the completely opposite side of the mall from the entrance, there were signs everywhere that pointed you in that direction, so I found it with no problems.

The aquarium itself cost about 20 bucks to get in. It's split up into 4-5 different themed areas. At first I was really worried I'd just wasted 20 bucks, because the first area is pretty dull. It's just regular looking (and some really ugly) fish. The atmosphere of the aquarium itself was nice, but the fish weren't that exciting. However, the further you went into the place, the crazier things got. Fish became bigger and/or more exotic. Then you had things like stingrays and sharks and giant eels and octopus and jellyfish and manatees. And there were even a few areas with non-aquatic creatures like monkeys, penguins, and squirrels. I was in there about an hour, and I thought it was pretty cool and stylized well. I think it was worth almost exactly what I paid for it, though not much more than that. And I'm not sure I could see the point of buying year-round passes for it, unless you like coming during the times they do shark and penguin feeding (which I wasn't there for, sadly). Anyway, here are a handful of pictures; as usual, more will go up on my Facebook than I put here. And I'm also putting up one video that I filmed of some color-changing jellyfish.

(NOTE: You can't really tell in the pictures, but a lot of these fish or other creatures were massive in size.)

After the aquarium, I had a lot of time to kill. I had pre-ordered a movie ticket for later in the afternoon, and I still had about 3 hours or something left until I needed to be at the theater (which was actually right next to the aquarium). So I ended up checking out the massive bookstore. Though heading that way, I noticed a big line forming around some kind of exhibition. It was for the Nintendo 3DS with banners and screens promoting the upcoming Pokemon X and Y games. So I'm not 100%, but I think maybe it was a demo exhibition for the games?

Anyway, I went into the bookstore, which was big enough to get lost in, in and of itself. Sadly, the place would have been better had English books not been relegated to a small chunk off to the side. In a place that had hundreds of aisles and tables and whatnot, the English section was maybe 5 aisles and 2 tables. And it wasn't like the area was devoid of life, either. There were quite a few Koreans who made their way around that section of the store.

So I walked around there for a while until I decided it was lunch time. This is where a lot of walking commenced. I was sad because all the blogs I read about COEX Mall, almost everybody went to this place called Kraze Burger. Sadly, it didn't seem to be there anymore. Instead, after much walking and deliberating, I decided to just go to Mr. Pizza (a popular pizza company here). I got a regular hawaiian pizza, and it was pretty delicious. The pineapple used was in huge chunks and actually had a hawaiian pineapple flavor to it.

I still had a lot of time to kill, but I figured I might as well pick up my movie ticket so they could delegate me a decent seat (since there's assigned seating in all movie theaters in Korea). Again, I nearly got lost within this massive theater just trying to find the ticket counter, but I eventually found it and got my ticket, and then I headed back on out to the mall again. (I was hoping for maybe an arcade or something inside, especially for its size, but no luck.)

I walked around aimlessly again for a while before going into this music shop. This was the one store I mentioned earlier that seemed to be affected by the renovations. All the shelves were nearly bare, even though they did have a good variation between k-pop and English music. They even had a jazz section and a classical music room towards the back. So this didn't really kill much time. I ended up going back to the bookstore to see if there were any other English sections that I might have missed due to its size. No luck there. But I spent the remainder of my time here until I needed to go back to the theater.

I had to wait for a little bit before they let us into the actual auditorium. It was pretty easy to find my seat once I got in, though they had me almost in the far back/top. I thought I'd hate that at first, but it turned out to be a pretty good seat. And I was so happy with this theater in comparison to the one I'm used to going to here. This one not only had an actually good-sized screen, but it had nice stadium seating and good cushioned seats (if a little narrow). This is a theater I'd like to come back to for any major movie I'm really anticipating. (Oh, and I saw Snowpiercer. It was really good, but I don't recommend seeing it when it's released everywhere else because the Weinstein's are planning on cutting out 20 minutes of important sections of the movie because they feel story and character development is too much for American audiences who just need non-stop action.)

When the film finished, I was ready to head on home. I'd seen pretty much everything there was to see at the mall, with the exception of the Kimchi Museum (sorry--don't care much for kimchi). I was tempted to stop by Baskin Robbins for some ice cream, but ultimately decided against it.

On the way out, this 4-girl rock band had set up near the entrance/exit and started playing. I thought they were actually pretty good (I might have even bought a CD had they been selling any), though about half the audience never really stuck around for much. I stayed for a song and a half, mostly because they were right near the outskirts of the mall where the air conditioning wasn't that strong and the humidity was catching up to me. I couldn't find any band name anywhere, unfortunately, but I did get a few pictures of them.

So that was my COEX Mall/Gangnam adventure. I'm sure there are other areas of Gangnam I could eventually check out as well, but this was good enough for now. It wasn't the most exciting outing I've ever had, but it was good enough for a half-day's entertainment.

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