Things We Learnt in Seoul

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Jongno, Seoul, 2000
Jongno, Seoul, 2000Photography by Lim Young Kyun

After Chanel's latest Cruise collection was shown in Seoul, AnOther provides a three point guide to South Korea's exhilarating capital, accompanied by Korean photographer Lim Young Kyun's iconic shots of the city

What to know…
Beauty practices are unusual in South Korea – ‘snail slime’ facemasks are popular and tiny faces are considered more attractive, so facial massages work by pummeling the face to make it smaller. In the Gangnam area of Seoul, plastic surgeries jostle for high street space with clothes and electronics stores, and, according to the New Yorker, it has been estimated that between one third and one fifth of women in the city have had something done, often at the instigation of their fathers to help them get a good husband. Surgeries include shaving down the jawline to achieve an idealised ‘v’ shape, raising noses and creating a double crease in the eyelids to make them look bigger. 

Where to go…
The Korean obsession with youth and beauty goes back centuries. Changdeokgung Palace, built in 1405, has a beautiful gate of everlasting youth where the arch is made out of a single stone. More recently, one of Seoul's most famous modern buildings and what was the former office of pioneering Korean architect Kim Swoo-geun began its new life as the Arario Museum in Space, opening its first show Really? in late 2014, featuring work by Christian Marclay, Keith Haring, Dongwook-Lee and Sophie Calle. Fish Alley in Namdaemun market is extraordinary, a sprawling wholesale market of tat, but for visitors looking for a more familiar experience, the Itaewon area is a tourist favourite. It’s home to both the largest US army base in the city and the notorious “Homo Hill”, which is filled with bars, ladyboy clubs and restaurants – including Club Trance, the site of the unofficial Chanel afterparty.

What to Eat…
The restaurants in Fish Alley serve a delicious dish of fish stew – fried fish, radish, cabbage, bean sprout, rice and a kind of scrambled eggs and egg soufflé hybrid. So Son Jae serves a traditional Korean family lunch – boiled pork (half meat half fat, a very delicate but aromatic flavour) made into a mini 'sandwich' where a green leaf is the stand in for the bread, piled high with kimchi and other pickled vegetables, designed to be eaten in one go with chopsticks. A popular street food is the South Korean take on a churro – a long, curly, puffed corn tube reminiscent of a snorkel, served either piped full of ice cream or dipped in lots of multi-coloured and marvellously sweet things.