Glow-in-the-Dark Cars Lighting Up the Streets

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Glow-in-the-Dark Cars Lighting Up the Streets

Midnight was approaching at the vacant lot near Ddukseom by the Han River, when a group of cars began arriving. For the drivers, all in their early- and mid-20s, hiding out in empty lots late at night is unconventional enough as it is, but more extraordinary were their cars: They glowed.

According to Ahn Hyun-mo, a 21-year-old who refused to say what he did for a living, the gathering was a "ceremonial get-together at night to show our dedication to cars."

That dedication has led these young men to decorate their cars with the latest ornaments, no matter how costly the cars are. The most recent decorations of choice are colorful neon strips, mounted on almost every possible place on the cars - bumpers, windows, license plates and even below the doors ("to make the car look like a spaceship," as Mr. Ahn puts it).

At 11:40 p.m., Mr. Ahn along with his girlfriend pulled in to the lot with his black Leganza sedan. The car was so dark and nearly invisible in the night, that the casual observer might see nothing but the psychedelic ornaments. After midnight, Mr. Ahn started circling the empty lot, trailed by his friends in their flashy cars.

These kinds of rituals are not limited to only the area alongside the Han River. In fact, it's a scene that can be found all over Seoul. You can easily encounter drivers obsessed with the need to make their cars look more and more showy, especially at night in the southern part of Seoul.

"It's quite a fad among the young people especially among those who bought cars recently," said Choi Don-ha, a mechanic at the Hyundai Car Center located in Apgujeong-dong, one of the most fashionable districts in Seoul.

The enthusiasm for neon strips on cars started three years ago, following on the bumper of a decal fad, and is now reaching its peak. Mr. Choi said that his customers range from their 20s to 40s. The popularity has been spurred by the reasonable prices of most neon attachments - 20,000 won ($16) to 30,000 won each. "The neon piece is made of rubber and you can get any kind of shape and color," Mr. Choi said.

The most popular color at the moment is blue, followed by green and pink, and the most popular part of the car to embellish is the license plate. But Mr. Choi urges those who are interested to think twice, since it is not legal in Korea to attach excess equipment or designs to a car, although the police often ignore the law.

"The neon trend seems like it might be ending soon," Mr. Choi said. The next car trend, he said, most likely will be focused not on a car's exterior, but its interior, its engine in particular. Remodeling engines like racing cars has also gained popularity. Of course, people have long enjoyed big, loud and powerful engines, but a recent change in the law has helped the trend. "All you have to do is fill out a written application and submit it to the government," Mr. Choi said.

But the government's flexibility comes for a reason - unlike the neon signs, rebuilding an engine does not come cheap. Even the most basic overhaul requires at least 5 million won. For more ambitious modifications, that figure could easily double or triple. "Sometimes, the improvements cost a lot more than the car itself," said Mr. Choi.

If you have a car you like, money doesn't seem to matter.

by Chun Su-jin

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