These Korean Credit Cards Promise To Give You The World And More
More Than Just Your Grandma’s Card
When the Hyundai Corporation acquired Diners Club (yes that’s still a thing) Korea back in 2001, little knew what was going to come out of it. After all, how sexy can a credit card really be? Luckily, Hyundai was willing to take a bet, and it definitely helped that they understood their existing clientele well - a group of individuals bored with run of the mill privileges in the entertainment and dining.
Flash forward this time to the present day: HyundaiCard is a household name amongst many Koreans, and has taken the country by storm just like what Chase did back in the US. Just like a regular credit card, spending with the various Hyundai Cards allow you to earn M points (with obvious bonuses for online shopping and Hyundai motor purchases). There’s also a cash back card and a cobranded card with Korean Air.
Instead of competing with other banks on offering the highest ‘miles/cash per dollar spent’, HyundaiCard chose to take a unique & creative route. By signing up for any of the cards in the HyundaiCard portfolio, members are able to access a host of hyper-curated libraries based on the themes of Travel, Music, Cooking and Design. These are all doubtlessly aimed at a more affluent crowd - the company has invested large sums of money in establishing these libraries and stocking them with well acclaimed titles.
And just like the palatial libraries of the Joseon Dynasty where special wooden passes were required to entire its halls of knowledge, the HyundaiCard libraries restricts access to members only, though they’re entitled to bring 2 guests along with them.
Curious to find out more? Let’s dive in.
Hyundai Card Design Library - The First Innovator
The library finds its home straddling the laidback district of Hwa-dong, between Gyeongbokgung Palace and the Bukchon Hanok Village, two iconic architectural hotspots. Utilising the most of its location, the library infuses modern materials and adapts Korean design traditions to create a space where members can discuss design ideas freely as inspired by their surroundings - creating a uniquely Korean twist on modern design.
Location within this mixed-style complex, one can find over 15,000 books on design making it one of the foremost authorities in the whole of Korea and indeed, can be considered one of the most comprehensive design libraries in the world. These areb;t just mere claims: the library’s contents were carefully curated Golden Lion winner Justin McGuirk and former MoMa curator Paola Antonelli. Genres that can be found include graphic design, photography, architecture and product/industrial design.
Most of the library’s collection intentionally focuses on the various design trends that have popped up after the iconic Bauhaus movement, but the collection also has out of print titles on traditional Korean design from architectural elements (like the Hanok house) to everyday items like chopsticks. The library also frequently hosts exhibitions in a project space located on the first floor. In a city inundated with information accessible in the palm of your hand, the hyper curated libraries of the Hyundai Card portfolio offer a refreshing way to get inspired.
Hyundai Card Travel Library - Travel, Personalised
Strategically located in the lofty district of Apgujeong (in Gangnam), the travel library seems to cater to a more affluent crowd who already make the trip to the area for their other lifestyle needs. This makes popping in a simple no-brainer.
What confronts visitors is an interesting interior comprising mix materials by the Japanese firm Wonderwall, done intentionally so as to represent an interaction of the various cultures found abroad. The building’s maze of staircases and rooms also makes it feel like one is already taking a journey, mixed in with thoughtfully placed furniture and book titles along the way. The library also intentionally stocks a varied range of chairs that are meant to mimic the different styles and destinations available - we’ll leave it up to you whether you think this is kitschy or not.
In any case, we applaud the libary’s mark of creative ingenuity: a split-flap flight board that is synced with real flights arriving and departing at Seoul’s Incheon International Airport. Keeping in line with the first library specialising in design, the Travel Library also features similar topics - Architecture, Photography and Art; albeit with a travel twist added to the curation of these titles.
At the heart of the library’s comprehensive roster of titles lies a complete collection of the National Geographic magazines, including one off-print titles from the iconic editorial. Travel for the library’s curators also runs deeper than ‘wanderlust’: the collection also hopes to spark intellectualism and curiosity in other cultures in a bid to enrich the lives of visitors and their families.
More practically, HyundaiCard members can also make use of an in-house concierge to help them book flights or hotels. That’s a winning formula right there.
Hyundai Card Music Library - Rare Tracks, Collections, and More
Going beyond the latests hits in KPop, the HyundaiCard Music library in Itaewon features a comprehensive collection of rare vinyl records. It also stocks magazines reporting on music from all major editorials. This includes the entire catalogue of the Rolling Stones magazine - curators went to great lengths to gather inspiration, procure and finally curate the library’s collection to the pleasure of visitors. There’s even an in-house DJ.
The library also has in its underground space, the Understage that doubles as a concert venue where bands can perform to crowds of up to a 500 people. At the libary’s entrance, accessible to all, there is a small cafe equipped with beanbags to enjoy an afternoon latte.
Keeping in line with its international outlook and vibe, the commissioned artworks that adorn the walls of the library (extending from the walls to the ceiling) come from the famed artists JR and Vhils. The grit of such artworks meld well with the library’s posture - to represent music as a vehicle both for enjoyment and also for social and cultural change. Indeed, the architects that conceptualised the design were inspired by the profound social upheaval that came about during the counterculture moments of the 60s and 70s. This holds well with the industrial theme of the space, a sort of street-esque aesthetic that is extremely popular amongst Korean youths today.
It is this mixed-creative approach to the sharing and discovery of music that has put it on the map for many international artists after the company drummed up hype on social media. And yet, it seems as if Itaewon was the perfect candidate for the library as it is Seoul’s ‘International District’ even though Itaewon has seen its popularity wane from its peak a few decades ago to rivals Myeongdong and Hongdae.
For non-card holders, there’s also the adjacent Vinyl & Plastic store next door that’s also operated by HyundaiCard. In this space, anyone can purchase vinyl records or the latest albums (on CD). There’s also a healthy stock of excellent audio gear (for sale) ranging from headphones to turntables.
Hyundai Card Cooking Library - No Mukbang This Ain’t
As the purported last (and latest) library in the series, the five floors of the HyundaiCard Cooking Library celebrates the joys of food from fresh ingredients to the art of plating a meal. In between a freshly poured flat white and a plate of flame grilled flank steak, visitors get to experience the joys of cooking; with ingredients, utensils and crockery are immaculately presented. And included in the building’s footprint are a deli, cafe, library and a full sized industrial kitchen. It’s easily one of the most refined and polished libraries in the series, the modernist, almost Nordic styled interior leaves a cosmopolitan feel to the space.
From a practical perspective, the library isn’t just a showroom for food. In it, collaborative spaces for cooking lessons, book signings and meet the chef sessions are all aimed at introducing the culinary arts to visitors both young and old. Apart from a literal library of books, it is also a literal library of spices.
Designed by London-based firm BlackSheep, the library is meant to mimic the industrial feels of European factories, combining an ultramodern polished feel with the sensory complexities of a kitchen: it’s about appealing to all five senses. That was probably why BlackSheep was chosen in the first place, as it excels in designing kitchen studios amongst other hospitality projects.
And as if you weren’t already in the mood for food already (C’mon you’re in a cooking library), the building was strategically designed to ensure that the scent of freshly prepared food wafts throughout the entire building.
This unique approach the HyundaiCard corporation is taking is a unique yet laudable one. Customers have access to a wealth of materials that will doubtlessly enrich their perspectives on the world. Unlike other fake ‘perks’ of credit card companies elsewhere (read: card designs that serve no functional purpose), the HyundaiCard libraries feel much more like a real privilege and less of a marketing gimmick. That being said, we think that the HyundaiCard is a real beauty with the company making a significant effort to create an exclusive font just for the brand whilst leveraging art to market its offerings.
And yes, we did check whether non-Korean can get their hands on one. Sadly, that answer is no. That being said, we think that these unique cultural experiences really do augment the daily lifestyle of card members and it’s something we’d like to see here in Singapore. Credit card companies ought to start thinking out of the box to offer value to its members, the examples set by HyundaiCard are a great place to start.
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