In the Hobbiton tradition of giving presents to other people on one's birthday, I'm spending part of today on things for all of you. I renewed my Flickr account after letting it lapse for five months, and I uploaded some new pictures which you will see some of below. And I'm writing this post, and I *hope* that I will be better in the future about posting regularly. (Yeah, don't laugh. It could happen!)
Today's post: Shopping in Seoul
Yesterday I went shopping in Seoul. Here is the first area I went to: Myeongdong. To save on loading speed, this picture is much smaller than the original version, but if you really want to see what it's like, you should head over to Flickr and have a look at the original. (Myeongdong-large)
This is one of the main thoroughfares of the most popular shopping district in Seoul. It continues well beyond where the tree blocks the view. And it's just one of several square blocks of stores and street vendors. I've never seen it when it wasn't packed with people. And yesterday was no exception.
As you can see in the picture, there are not only many tall buildings filled with stores (and/or restaurants, and/or coffee shops) on every floor, but many street vendors selling everything from sunglasses, shoes (in the foreground), to stuffed animals, jewelry and hair accessories (middle ground), to food, clothes, DVDs--undoubtedly pirated, to cell phone accessories of all kinds, which are hugely popular here. (Someday I should really write a post about Korean cell phone accessories.)
Skin care seems to be particularly popular these days. I lost count of how many such stores I saw: Nature Republic (which you can see in the foreground on the left in the picture above), It's Skin, The Face Shop (also in the picture on the middle left), Skin Food, and Innisfree all have multiple storefronts in Myeongdong, and I saw The Body Shop as well. Supposedly Lush has a storefront there now as well, but I didn't manage to find it and had to resort to the one in the "Home Living" section of the Shinsegae department store.
I wandered up and down and around, looking for sandals and hair accessories for me, and gifts for a friend. I failed on the sandals--partly due to not many looking like they'd be comfortable, partly because the ones that did look cute and comfortable weren't available in my size. I *did* find hair accessories, though.
And more importantly, I found the gifts for a friend that I was looking for.
I also wandered into the new H&M, which had cute clothes at reasonable prices (though not as low as they would be in the US). They did not, however, have anything I wanted enough to wait in the LONG line for dressing rooms. There are also a couple of Zara stores that I didn't make it into, but may try next time I'm in Myeongdong.
After giving up on finding the Lush storefront, I headed for Shinsegae. By this time it was almost 3pm and I hadn't had lunch yet, plus my feet were killing me and I was on sensory overload from hordes of people, items crammed into every nook and cranny, and pop music playing in every store. Also, it was warm and humid and I was desperate to spend some time in an air conditioned place.
First I had lunch at the Japanese Udon restaurant near the top of the Shinsegae building (I had tempura udon, about $7). Greatly refreshed, I headed one floor down to the "Home" section and stocked up on products from Lush.
I had come to Myeongdong partly to shop for pants, purses, and sandals, but I didn't do any clothes, purse, or shoe shopping in Shinsegae because Korean department stores are woah! expensive! This came as a great surprise to me the first time. As the average Korean income is only 60% of the average American income, I had assumed that Korean department stores would offer Macy's quality at Mervyn's prices. Boy was I wrong! They're more like Neiman Marcus prices! They sell t-shirts for $60. So I never shop in department stores here.
Instead, I headed to Migliore. Initially, I'd thought that places like Migliore, Doota, and AM/PM (not the US convenience store!) were department stores, but they aren't. They're more akin to shopping malls, with many different vendors sharing one building. The difference is that they're not a collection of separate stores, each with four walls and their own dressing rooms, but more like a lot of large alcoves with all the vendors on one floor sharing dressing rooms. Which means they trust you to walk off with their clothes to a dressing room that may be all the way on the other side of the building. You wouldn't see that in America!
Unfortunately, despite four floors of women's clothing and one floor of shoes, bags, jewelry, etc., I didn't find what I wanted, which was a loose-fitting pair of pants that would be cool and comfortable in hot weather but professional enough to wear to work. The style these days is all for skinny jeans and short skirts, so it isn't easy to find anything loose-fitting. And I was looking for a backpack purse, but all the ones I saw were either too big (true backpack size, though very nice looking) or made of fake leather (which will last all of two months before it looks like crap).
So I gave up and headed for my next destination, Insadong. Insadong is the district in Seoul dedicated to traditional and modern Korean handicrafts, and to selling them to tourists. I went with the goal of buying a mother-of-pearl inlaid lacquer box. I've been envying everyone I've bought one for, because they're beautiful and I don't have one of my own. Until yesterday, that is. This year I decided that my birthday present to myself would be a lacquer box.
Behold my selection:
And because I've bought many boxes from them, they also gave me this:
(If you're not sure, it's a compact mirror.)
Then, exhausted from crowds and shopping and walking and heat and humidity, I headed for the subway to go home. After subway and bus, I didn't get home until nearly 9pm, and after dropping off my purchases, I immediately headed back out--to buy milk and birthday cake! I was good, though, and only bought two pieces of cake, one cheese cake which I ate last night, and a double chocolate for tonight. Happily, these were available at a convenience store and a bakery within a block of my apartment, so this errand only took about 15 minutes, and most of that was waiting in line to pay for milk at the convenience store and then deciding what kind of cake I wanted at the bakery.
And now you know what a shopping trip to Seoul is like! Sort of, anyway.