| Shopping: Tongdaemun|
Pick up any travel guide book on South Korea, and they'll probably harp about how Korea is a shopper's paradise--goods are both plentiful and cheap. "So...like...uh...what's a girl to do when she is in Seoul? She can go shopping!!!"
Books. And more books. And even more books...this place is huge.
Well first place I went to browse was a rather unorthodox stop...I went to the Kyobo bookstore, which is located in the Kyobo building off Chongak Station. For Seoul, where land prices are astronomical, it is surprising to find that the Kyobo bookstore is approximately 2-3 times larger than a Chapter's back home. Their section on foreign/English title books is about approximately the same size of a W.H.Smith back home. Of course, imported books have been marked up significantly--$12 US for a small paperback? Ouch. That price is almost as bad as our campus bookstore back home!
The area around Tongdaemun Market at night. In the background you can make out Doosan Tower and Migliore to the left of the the pagoda. The pagoda was the actual eastern gate of the city in ancient times...
There are several shopping areas in Seoul, but there are two main open-market areas where street vendors gather to peddle their wares. The biggest is Tongdaemun Market (Great East Gate) while the second is called Namdaemun Market (Great South Gate). In ancient times, both areas were location of gates in the Seoul city wall. The pagoda that is seen in the picture is Tongdaemun, which was originally built in 1397 but was rebuilt in 1869 and then reconstructed again after the Korean war.
I'm not a big shopper, but it is still worth going to the markets just for the experience. Last week, I decided to visit Tongdaemun Market and I can testify that unless you have stronger legs than Mr. Tae-Bao Billie Blanks, realistically it's going to take you at least couple of days to really explore all of Tongdaemun Market as there are also oodles of other shopping plazas that surround the open air market as well. Tongdaemun is accessible by both the Blue or Red line Tongdaemun subway stations.
It's always lively outside Doosan Tower even late on a weeknight. Here, shoppers are relaxing to rockin' tunes of a local Korean acid jazz band which perform on the stage next to Doosan Tower.
Since it was a cold night when I went, I decided to shop at Doosan Tower and Migliore, which are both indoor shopping plazas located within the area of Tongdaemun Market. Each plaza holds approximately 1000 vendors spread over multiple floors, of which about 95% of the vendors are sell clothing. Of these vendors approximately 60% seem to be selling basically the same styles of clothing--usually that Asian one-size-fits-all-stretch-clothing which were obviously made with petite Asians in mind. Most shop keepers won't let you try on the clothing before you buy, nonetheless, you can usually find something that is fair if you keep your eyes open: (shirts from $5 - $8 US, sweaters $8 - 15 US). I was able to find two sweaters that actually fit me and looked ok... You can also find other vendors selling knockoff clothing, knockoff watches, and nice looking shoes (even Imelda Marcos would go nuts). You can try your bargaining skills, although it is getting harder to bargain prices as recently more and more vendors are starting to set one non-negotiable price for their goods.
While walking through the aisles of vendors, you will find that many actually cry out to you as you walk "Older brother/sister (this is the honorific way addressing someone), please look at my clothing...stop and take a look". It's certainly a difference to the "silent treatment" I get when I walk into most stores back home. Addicted shoppers can get their fix late at night as both Doosan Tower and Migliore are open until 5 AM, when they close briefly and reopen at 10 AM. Even at 10 PM on a weeknight, both plazas were fairly packed and it took a while to squeeze past all the shoppers. Just make sure you make it back to the subway before they close (most subway stations shut down at 11 PM, but some close at 10:30 PM). If you don't make it back, you'll have to take a taxi. However, I should probably add that taxis are not a bad alternative, as they are more than half the price of a taxi ride back home. Usually it costs about $10 US for a 30 minute ride (whereas back home it's usually $1 per minute in the car).
Actually, you could also take a bus, but I haven't really figured out how the city bus system works (and how late it runs). Plus I don't know which bus to take to go to a certain place. (Its written in Korean on the bus, and I can't read it fast enough, when the bus is zooming by).
Posted by Dave at May 02, 2000 10:34 PM at