Hyundai Mall is one of the fanciest places to shop in South Korea. It’s located in the swanky Gangnam district (of “Gangnam style” fame) and it sells some of the most expensive brands in the world- Cartier, Dior, Tiffany’s, Marc Jacobs, you name it.
It was also the hunting ground for the infamous Chijon family, a South Korean gang from the 1990s- they kidnapped, ransomed, murdered and purportedly cannibalized the children whose wealthy parents shopped there. The family had a vendetta against the newly rich, and reportedly they showed no remorse at trial. They only regretted that they were caught before they had more time to eliminate more rich kids. (Thank you to my good friend who sent me that Wikipedia page to freak me out. You know who you are.)
There are plenty of high end malls where I’m from, so I’ll be honest- I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Was it really so overwhelmingly decadent that it could drive people to murder?
The answer is no. Being from a wealthy area of America probably tarnishes my opinion of what is opulent, but it seemed like just another very nice, very expensive place to shop. It isn’t that much different than a hundred other nice malls in Seoul.
The economic climate in South Korea in 1994 was waaaay different than it is now. Samsung was not yet a technology power house, and the country was not considered to be a “wealthy” nation like it is today. I could go on and talk about the history and economics, but I a) don’t feel qualified and b) don’t want to bore people.
So I’ll just end with this: looking at the Hyundai Mall through the lens of the Chijon family murders has served as a reminder that I am in a completely foreign place. A place with a far different history, economic policy and culture than I am used to. Sometimes things here feel so familiar- there are coffee shops, McDonalds’, malls, bars, pizza. There are university students getting tanked at the bar across the street, there is a BMW parked outside my school, there are little kids wearing Jcrew jackets inside it. Until people start talking, sometimes I forget where I am.