Monday, 12 October 2009

A Look At the Hangeul Signs In Insadong

See, I've heard before that Insadong's Starbucks is the only one in the world that has the word Starbucks in a script other than roman. It's Hangul - Korean script. Apparently, though I can't find a reference, some Korean professor heard about the starbucks in insadong, and sent a letter to the editor saying that putting English letters in Insadong would make Korean children stop wanting to read Hangul, and Korean culture would be lost forever.

People have indeed been talking about whether Korea has too much English.
.. now as then.

So, back when the old Starbucks came up, in order to prevent Korea's entire culture from vanishing into a vortex of English letters, Sex and the City brunches and blue jeans, Insadong made a new bylaw that all signs in Insadong had to be in Korean letters. Now, I'm not sure if the wording of the bylaw is "Hangul Only" or "Must contain some Hangul"... but I thought I'd check it out, to see whether the Starbucks rule was applied, or actually just symbolic, and whether the rule applied to Korean companies, or just to the evil American Imperialist Chain Franchise Antichrist.

So here begins my tour: to start, MOST signs sure ARE in Hangul only.

But then... the purple haired lady will guide you through Insadong on a photo tour.

Now let's be clear, to begin with: the overwhelming majority of the signs in Insadong looked pretty much like this. Lots. Of. Hangul. Korea's innocent little children, who, I swear, are on the brink of losing Korean culture while humming Wondergirls songs between bouts of Starcraft and studying for standardized tests...but then, they'd better be careful where they go, even in Insadong.
This is definitely the rule, not the least in Insadong. I'd be interested if any bundang based bloggers would be interested to put up a bunch of photos of how much English appears on the signs in Bundang...or Apkujeong or Kangnam, as well, for that matter.

Nature Republic, a Korean brand (link - warning: Korean cheesecake) which usually puts English on their signs, had to put hangul on their storefront.

Isae doesn't have much Korean. The slogan is also in (pretty bad) English, here.

Roman letters... are they OK if the Roman letters are not-English?
But the evil American Imperial Franchise Antichrist and Enemy to All Things Good and Korean... they have to use Hangul. And not even smaller English letters underneath it. (Can't see from here if the Starbucks Logo uses roman letters intact).

A-Shin-- which sounds like a Korean word -- is inexplicably spelled with English letters.
Arirang, a mathom shop, is allowed to have English, Korean, and... Japanese...? side by side, taking up about equal space.

This gallery didn't need to use Korean.

The street food things don't seem to need to use hangul.

The banner for the art show was allowed to use big... Italian, is it? Without problems.

The hospital had to have prominent Korean.

All English letters on the gallery.

Gallery Yes; Korean No; Problem No. Seems to be the rule, so far.

Chinese characters. No Korean. Korean kids who shop here are definitely losing interest in learning Korean. But no English... so I guess we're OK.

Isae: fashion company... couldn't find info on it, either on google, or online -- the website url didn't connect in firefox.

More English on a gallery sign.

Gallery: All English. No Korean to be seen - at least not prominent.

The bylaw doesn't seem to be enforced on the side-streets of Insadong.

Ssamziegil -- the new style plaza.

Fashion shop "Supremes" - English work, Korean letters.

Gallery: English. Korean and Chinese combined stencils.

Gallery: English Words written in Korean.

Gallery: English. No Korean.

Crown Bakery, which only shows Korean image results when I do a google image search, and which doesn't turn up on google pretty much at all, has to spell it out in Korean, despite having English letters everywhere else in Korea except here.

Around the corner from the top of insa, is Lime Tree (nice avocado sandwiches). English letters prominent. A few throwaway Hanguls on the main sign.

Down the street, next to Anguk Station exit 1 (clearly no longer Insadong proper), another Starbucks with Korean letters. While I don't have the research to say for sure, it seems like most other shops can get away with mostly English... but the Evil American Imperial Franchise Antichrists can't, even if they're NOT in Insadong proper.

In general, my non-scientific observations:
Restaurants use hangul.
Galleries can use English.
Souvenir shops can use English, but have to have hangul on there, too.
Foreign chains seem to have to use Hangul, as do Korean chains with English names. At least there's consistency there.

In conclusion, Korea is a land of contrasts. Thank you for reading my essay.


Brian said...

Excellent work here.

Here's the isae webpage: Doesn't use hangeul either.

조안나 said...

very interesting observations... I want to know if it really is the only place where you can find a starbucks written in the native language!! I've heard it too but I haven't seen it written anwhwere...

Roboseyo said...

Yeah. the claim that the insadong starbucks (and now the other one) is the only one in the world... while it might be true, it also wouldn't surprise me TOO much to find out it was another bit of flag-waving... "fan fiction" - as Dokdo Is Ours called it.

Brian: the isae webpage wouldn't open in firefox.

Chris in South Korea said...

Wait, there's a BYLAW? To use hangeul on signs... Now that's a laugh. It must be like those laws against pirated DVD's and prostitution - on the books, but barely if ever enforced.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to point out that you don't know when the Starbucks was established at that location nor do you know when the other stores were; including all their English names.

It could be that the Starbucks was there first, when there could have been the bylaw, then the language rules might have changed, hence all the other signs. BUT seeing as it has now become a well known tourist thing (ie go to "the only SB with a non-English sign") the company would have no motivation to change it as it has become a lure for customers.

t-HYPE said...

I remember hearing that too so I took a photo of the Starbucks near the great wall when I was in China over Chuseok...Starbucks is in Chinese on the first floor and English on the second much for Korea's "only"s...

Roboseyo said...

but in Chinese, they've translated the word "starbucks" into a unique chinese name -- it's not replicating the sounds of "starbucks" with chinese syllables, the way the Insa Starbucks does.

WevegotSeoul: While I can't say for sure about all of those galleries, I watched several of the ones with English signs be either built or remodeled (including having the sign replaced...with one that didn't feature much/any Korean) while I lived there, AFTER the Insadong starbucks with its hangul sign came into existence.

The Tongin might have been around longer, as well as some of the bigger galleries, but I know some of the others are predated by the Hangul starbucks.

kwandongbrian said...

Sort of on topic: I noticed a few days ago the Baskin Robins in Sokcho changed their sign to hangeul.On Saturday the 10th, I saw the English sign above the window and the Korean sign on the sidewalk, ready to go up.