Yesterday I had lunch with a few of my Korean girlfriends*. They were nice enough to meet me right by the closest subway stop to my hostel.
We walked around the Hyewha area for a bit and quickly decided on a Japanese restaurant that served mostly donburi (rice bowls with some sort of protein on top. Ex: raw tuna, tempura prawn, chicken cutlet, etc). I had the ebi (prawn) bowl, naturally, and we ordered some croquettes (fried potato balls) with cheese in them. One of the waiters even brought around some free Coke and Chilsung Cider, the Korean equivalent of Sprite or 7-Up, mentioning cheerfully that it was a “foreigner discount!”.
After that, we headed off to grab some coffee at a café called CofFine Gurunaru. With three stories of hangout space, and 50¢ Iced Americano refills, I was happy the girls had chosen this place. We sat and chatted for a few hours about this and that, then decided to part ways. They asked me if there was anywhere I really wanted to see in Seoul, and I mentioned that there was a sheep café in the Hongdae district that I’d read about (click here for some pictures of it). Jeesoo said she’d been there and that it was nice; Hana and Jen said they’d never been but that they’d like to go with me. So, with the promise of meeting again soon – perhaps even at the sheep café – we went on our ways.
Later that night…
At this point it was nearing dinner time and I didn’t really feel like eating out again, so I decided to drop by a corner store for something quick to grab. Now, I’d read that a lot of corner stores had fresh pre-made meals that you could just take home and microwave, so I decided to give that a try. For $2.50, I feasted upon salmon linguine and even got a free Pepsi with it.
Not willing to admit shopping defeat after only a short while in Seoul, I told myself that this time, I would make some good buys!
After eating, I took a quick nap, then freshened up and made my way to the subway. I went to Myeongdong again, which was not a great idea. I bought some nice jean shorts, a blouse, and an everyday-wear dress for about $40 CAD. However, I wasn’t satisfied. I reminded myself that I hadn’t even been to Dongdaemun yet, which is probably the cheapest shopping district of Seoul. Since it was on my way home, I thought I might as well give it a try.
I got off at the stop, and was immediately disappointed – where were all the people?? This was supposed to be primo shopping time; 10:30pm on a Saturday night. It was dead on the streets outside. I saw a few groups of men sitting together on the sidewalks, shovelling rice into their mouths and laughing boisterously. Aside from that, things were looking pretty un-happening. I assumed these were workers having their feed after a long day of work, but I was soon to be proved wrong…
I walked across the street from the Dongdaemun stop, past the famed Dongdaemun gate, and in the direction of some of the malls. There were a few small crowds of people heading that way, so I thought I would just go with the flow. The more I walked, the more things seemed to come alive. Those men weren’t eating their supper, they were eating their breakfast! The work day had only just begun…
I excitedly looked through the endless rows of stalls selling designer knockoffs, ankle socks, and of course, Korean street food. I had come to the right place. This was more my style. Myeongdong, while indeed offering some good bargains and a flashing lights-filled atmosphere perhaps only comparable to Times Square, featured mostly the usual suspects: H&M, Zara, Lacoste, Ralph Lauren, Adidas, Forever21, and dozens of branches of the familiar Korean cosmetics chains (Holika Holika, Etude House, Missha, It°s Skin, etc). Dongdaemun, however, was a delightful maze of dirt-cheap accessory stalls, street food tents, foot spas, restaurants, and clothing merchants.
I decided to go into the branch of Migliore there (there’s three in Seoul, if I’m correct). Wow. WOW. I wanted to cry. I had died and gone to shopping heaven! This is what I’d come to Korea for. Trendy clothes without the trendy price tag. However, there was one catch: haggling had to be done. This was not for the feint of heart. I’d prepared for this. I knew the things to say and how to say them. I knew that I needed to show little to no interest, and act like the merchant was burdening me (even though I’d come to them) by trying to sell me their wares. This was basic stuff.
Okay, I lied. There was another catch – many clothes were “one size fits all” (aka: “free size” in Konglish – Korean/English) and, you guessed it, NO CHANGE ROOMS! Not even trying stuff over top of clothes. I soon learned that every merchant thought that all their clothes were “stlechy, stlechy!”, and that immediately, everyone thought that I worked as a supermodel. Keep in mind that after a night spent walking around in the humidity, I was looking like a drowned, sweaty rat. Not entirely “supermodel” material! But these women were cunning; they knew how to play the game. Little did they know, this sweaty foreigner knew how to play the game too.
Well, kind of. I just knew how to fake it – or at least I thought I did. I returned back to the hostel with an empty wallet and three dresses. One of which didn’t make it past my knees (so much for “stlechy, stlechy!!”). But hey, I got one of those dresses from $60 to $35, another from $40 to $15, and the other was a good price to start with so I didn’t bargain too much; $29 to $25. Photos to come soon!
We will see how I fare tonight…
* Last July I’d done a month-long Korean culture program at Seoul Women’s University, where about half of the 100 or so participants were Korean (and the other half international students). I shared a dorm room with five other Korean girls from SWU; three of whom actually came back to VIU the following fall semester. The reason I’m in Korea right now is because I did the Bahrom International Program (BIP) last year. It opened me up to Korean culture and how much fun living in Seoul is.