Gangnam Station Style

by Eli Hodapp

Despite my best efforts to sleep, I still ended up waking up at around 3:00 AM local time which works out to be something like 1:00 or 2:00 PM Chicago time I think. I was pretty out of it when I woke up, but the insane shower fixtures at my hotel perked me right up. The water pressure here is so high stepping into the shower was so intense it was like looking into the Mirror of Galadriel from Lord of the Rings.

By around 7:00 AM I headed down to the breakfast buffet at my hotel which was totally off the chain. It shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did, considering how multi-national the room service menu is, but the variety of food available was just crazy. Name your cuisine, they had it. I ended up scarfing down a massive carb-free feast consisting of grilled chicken and steak, tons of bacon, scrambled eggs, all manners of cheeses, smoked salmon, sausages, and cured hams of all types. Totally satisfying.

Following that, I worked on final tweaks in my presentation and did the whole speaker signup process at KGC. I feel terrible for all the weird communication issues I’ve had with them, even more so when they gave me this super-nice ostrich skin custom gold monogrammed passport cover as a gift along with all the other speakers. So, now I’ve ditched my 25¢ plastic passport cover for something that I’m not sure could be more 1%. It even has pockets for all sorts of different currencies. How avant-garde.

KGC actually seems much smaller than the conventions I’m used to when it comes to actual show floor space as it’s so lecture focused. They have a very small area for exhibitors booths to set up at, and I managed to walk away with some very strange swag that the Koreans here were going absolutely bananas over. So much so that the whole reason I waited in line to see what was up was because everyone seemed so excited. I guess keyboard rests and oversized mouse pads are a big deal here.

I came back up to my room for a while, spaced out for a bit, then met up with my Korean friend Joony for a quick tour of some of the areas of the city. We hopped in a cab (which are unbelievably cheap, I might add) and headed for Sinsa Garosu Street, which according to Joony, is the hottest place in Seoul to hang out right now. We walked up and down, checking out all the weird little high end boutique shops, including one which had what appeared to be all sorts of second-hand Abercrombie stuff for the equivalent of hundreds of dollars more than what things cost back in the USA.

We walked down to the Han River, which separates “old” and “new” Seoul before returning back up Sinsa Garosu only to grab iced tea at a place called Coffeesmith which I’m confident in saying is the hippest place I’ve ever gotten coffee (Well, tea.) at in my entire life. Also, apparently because of its location, rent-wise this is the highest value coffee shop in all of Korea. It makes sense, as this is definitely a place you go if you want to be seen. People just sit there in this massive open air cafe and watch and wait as all sorts of other people wander by.

I learned about the Korean lust for plastic surgery, although I truly still can’t tell the difference or point out obvious surgery patients. Apparently a girl sitting near us had her eyes done, but I couldn’t for the life of me tell the difference between typical Korean eyes and post-surgery eyes. Joony tried to explain, but it was like he was speaking another language.

From there we moved on to Gangnam Station which is another bustling area of Seoul that is absolutely loaded with chain Americana and greasy Asian street food- A totally odd juxtaposition. If there was one thing that made me want to break my no-carb rule on this trip, it’d be this incredible smelling mystery meat (I don’t even know if it was meat!) things on sticks fried in what seemed to be tempura batter. I’m such a sucker for corn dogs, so it’s not much of a surprise that I’d have similar interest in whatever the Korean equivalent is.

We got back to the hotel at 4:00 AM Chicago time (or 6:00 PM Korea time) and I fiddled with email for a bit preparing for the upcoming American business day of Monday before preparing to head off to a reception dinner for KGC speakers. The dinner itself continued the theme of being completely elaborate, and started with the organizers and sponsors thanking everyone for coming, both in English and Korean.

Once everyone was finished thanking everyone else, a massive set of doors opened on the opposite side of the room revealing the craziest buffet I’ve ever been allowed near in my entire life. Aside from everything ranging from sashimi to prime rib, the buffet also featured a giant ice statue.

After the dinner a number of people approached me to explain how excited they were for my talk tomorrow. Apparently I really am going to be in the largest auditorium, and I’m not sure if someone was joking or not but they’re expecting 6,000 people?

I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

…And in other news, I just got invited to do this same thing in Saint Petersburg, Russia in early February.