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The dark side of ‘Gangnam Style’


Seoul, May 23 :

Two years after the song Gangnam Style went viral across the globe, vendors in Seoul, to which the song is dedicated, still suffer harassment as authorities clean the streets of everything non-glamorous.

“Illegal vendors are a problem, so it’s imperative to eradicate them,” Kim Kwang-soo, director of Gangnam’s tourist office said.

gangnam-style“We ask them thrice to leave and if they don’t, we are forced to use physical methods to clean the street,” he said.

Choi, 48, who sells home-made sweet buns in the up scale suburb of the South Korean capital told EFE: “My shoulders and legs still hurt from the last bashing”.

His ramshackle mobile kitchen has become an eyesore since Psy’s catchy video turned the world’s attention to Gangnam, that mocks the superficial lifestyle of the wealthy elite of this posh district.

“Encouraged by the surge in tourism, especially foreigners with high purchasing power, Mayor Shin Yeon-hee has decided to convert Gangnam into a luxury locale,” an official told EFE.

By physical methods, Kim refers to a hired company that sends thugs to intimidate hawkers by assaulting and destroying their posts, which is evident in many videos circulating on the internet.

This modus operandi is legal in South Korea, where many associations over the years have complained against the use of such violent methods to expel something from the public space that has supposedly become a “nuisance”.

However, most street vendors return the next morning.

Yun, 78, who sells hats and accessories, recalling recent episodes when the gangsters had threatened and insulted her and destroyed her stall near the posh Gangnam-daero avenue told EFE: “I am old, I live alone, my family does not help me and this is all I can do to survive”.

Yun, like other vendors, revealed to EFE only their surnames fearing reprisals.

“The Gangnam district ranks first in Seoul’s list of prevention of illegal activities,” the director of the tourism office told EFE, after complaining that the street vendors do not declare their income.

However, the biggest demand of the vendors is to let them run their small activities legally by paying taxes.

“Although we do not pay taxes, the constant police fines are more expensive,” said Yim Tae-wan, chief of the Gangnam association that represents street vendors throughout the country.

“Before the current mayor took office, a project was initiated to regularise the group of workers, which was left halfway and now the current authorities refuse to negotiate it,” said Yim.

The South Korean Tourism Organisation (KTO), in fact, promotes its street food as a tourist attraction on its official web site.

The state agency recommends foreigners to try the “tteokbokki” (rice with red pepper sauce), “twigim” (fried snacks) or “dak-kkochi” (chicken skewers) in those same mobile kitchens that the “legal gangsters” in Gangnam destroy with impunity at the administration’s behest.