Korea Chic: a cosy, western, “How to Spend it” view of Korea

by Philip Gowman on 9 December, 2009

in Book Reviews, Travel Books

We review a diabolical book with no identifiable readership

Korea ChicRaymond Bartlett and Brandon Lee: Korea Chic
Editions Didier Millet Pty Ltd, 2009
SterneSterneSterneSterneSterne

When Korea is seeking to increase its visibility as a tourist destination, any guidebook must be welcome. This recently published book, however, is not a guidebook. In fact, it is not quite sure what it is. It has the feeling of one of those travel features you find in the Sunday supplements: pretty pictures, heavy on style, but lacking in much substance.

The target readership is definitely affluent (or one which aspires to be so): the hotels featured are only the most expensive international-standard properties. It is also unadventurous: the few restaurants or bars to be featured are western in style.

The target demographic is a bit difficult to identify: golf hotels and country clubs are featured, together with a glitzy slot machine venue (presumably targeting the affluent middle-aged businessman), while pages on spas and shopping are presumably targeted at the businessman’s long-suffering partner.1 But there are also pages featuring night clubs: do golfers hit the dance floor after a day on the links?

The authors, one of whom has a degree in fiction while the other writes poetry and advertising copy, do not have much chance to exercise their literary talents. Of the 160 pages, over 25% seem to be lifted direct from the marketing brochures of the 15 hotels and resorts which are featured. It seems irresponsible in such a slender book to devote nearly 4% of the volume (6 pages) to just one hotel (as it happens, one in which the LKL editor survived only two nights before checking out to go somewhere more convenient and congenial), but another 6 pages are taken up by some copy on fashion designer Lie Sang Bong. One gets the feeling that any 5 star attraction was invited to send in their press releases and these were printed verbatim, regardless of length.

Hardly up-to-date

Hardly up-to-date

It is difficult to know how much independent thought or research has gone into this book. One of the authors has written for Lonely Planet, but if he had any input into the Korean one it was from a desk nowhere near Seoul. The Grand Hyatt is described as being near Insadong and Itaewon (hardly a 5 minute stroll to either place), while one of the photographs shows a group of excited schoolchildren outside the old government-general building, demolished over 10 years ago, referring to it as the National Museum of Korea, which since 2005 has been in an impressive new building in Yongsan. Researchers adding the addresses of the various attractions highlighted the above glitch, but unfortunately no-one with a knowledge of Seoul’s geography did a final read-through afterwards: a stroll round the Samcheong-dong area starts thus:

From the Anguk subway station, turn left towards the Gwanghwamun entrance of the National Museum of Korea (135 Seobinggo-ro, Yongsan-gu). At Seoul Selection Bookshop, turn right…

On the plus side, there are plenty of appealing photographs (many of them culled from Getty Images), and a few recommendations as to things to do when not on the golf course (Jeju-do comes off better in this regard than the other provinces). And to be fair, the publication’s implied aims, stated on the cover, are modest: “Hotels, resorts, golf, restaurants, shops”. But this book is aimed at those who want dependability and familiarity in their holiday destination rather than those who want to experience anything new. And if they set foot outside their hotels they are advised to invest in a proper guidebook.

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  1. The publicity photo for the slot machine venue is particularly cringe-making: two thirty-something western couples, the women bedecked in pretty cocktail frocks sit playing the one-arm bandits while their men-friends stand behind them cheering them on. But since when has wearing a green woolly cardigan been seen as chic? []

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jiseon Lee December 10, 2009 at 3:35 am

Just a minor thing, but the National Museum of Korea re-opened in Yongsan in 2005. 🙂

Philip Gowman December 10, 2009 at 11:28 pm

Thanks for the correction. I’m sure I checked the date before I wrote the article, but now all the sources I read tell me it’s 2005 rather than 2007. So I’ve now corrected the above text. Thanks again.

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