Finding things in a foreign land

One of the things people back in North America will take for granted will be retail stores.  By that I mean specific-use retail stores, like Home Depot/hardware stores and electronic component stores.  Places where you can go and buy an individual part of something and but not the whole thing.  Oh they have Walmart-like stores here like E-Mart alright.

What you won’t find are hardware stores or electronic stores. The reason is that the Koreans don’t do their own work. They pay other people to so it for them, its so cheap both in terms of service as well as just replacing an item versus fixing it. It is easy enough to get computer parts but if I wanted to make my own electronic bolt door lock, forget it.

To sorta balance this out, online shopping it stupidly easy to find common things but because my Korean is still very limited, I am probably missing out on a bunch of things that I am really trying to do.

Now, to clarify hardware stores. You can find them but they are typically smaller than most people’s apartments (unless you are an English teach with the typical bachelor style). They really are geared towards more businesses-to-businesses and get both amused and confused that some random public consumer, let alone a foreigner, walk in and wants to buy something in broken Korean and with the aid of pictures.

One of the things I will be doing is getting back into my tie businesses. A bunch of years ago I created a Tie made from Chinese brocade silk that had an embroidered Dragon pattern on it. I feel that they are still a unique item and really show a high quality tie aura. To that end, and (oh please pardon the really bad pun about to show up) tie into the first part of this post, I went hunting for the material in Dongdaemun. This is THE area to shop if you like such things. It is also the biggest textiles area that I have ever seen. Allow me to paint a picture of just how big it is.

Picture your typical big chain grocery store. Now, double its size, the make it two floors. We have such a grocery store not far from our place. Simply massive but that’s not how big the textile area is. Make that 5 floors THEN you are close.

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This picture simply does not do it justice. You really have to see such a place to understand the scale of just how many vendors there are in this building. Hundreds of them. Insane.

Now, I just pick a direction and start looking. It would be fairly easy to spot the material I am looking for because of its brightness.

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And yet after an hour I was getting nowhere. I knew enough Korean to ask “Do you have this?” and easily understood “No, we don’t have that.” I then started asking “Do you know where I might find it?” and mostly got “No.” Not surprising because with that many vendors, I doubt any one vendor knows more than those in their immediate area. When I mentioned “silk” I then got directed to the second floor. Later still I got directed to “d section” and even later still I found the silk vendors. There was a whopping 7 stalls.(yes that was sarcasm). None of them had the material and by this time my legs were killing me. This now left me with nothing else but ebay.

On the plus side, I also found the area of sewers and should I get up to selling in volume, I know where to go now, at least I think I can find that area again…

Shopping Dongdaemun

There is certainly no lack of places to shop in Seoul and Dongdaemun is where you want to be if you are into fashion, especially if you are female.  My wife wanted to buy a skirt that was good enough for both winter and a wedding.

The area is very pretty and right now they got a large light pyramid in front of a major shopping building.

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Light Pyramid with dancing men.

As well as a tasteful theme continuation on the building itself.

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Dancing Lights

In this area it is nearly impossible to figure out where anything is. So just pick a place and wander around.  If you live here, and come often enough then you will get to know where all the good deals are.  I am still working on this.  Haggling is a skill that you should develop ideally, unless you don’t mind paying the inflated and outrageous prices.  Many items have no tags on them and it is quite common for foreigners to pay significantly more.  If you know the language, you’ll more than likely get a discount but certainly less than a local.  I remember once when I wanted to buy a new carrying case/bag for my books, netbook and my Galaxy Tab.  We were in Namdaemun, another shopping area, and one of the first places we checked had bags but they were asking nearly $70.  I had only brought $40 with me and decided to shop around.  Most places hovered around the $50 range but still nothing I really liked.  We had decided to give up and we decided to leave and check somewhere else another day.  We had to walk buy the first store and the same sales guy was there.  He saw I obviously didn’t buy a bag and was urging me to come back inside.  I told him the prices were to high.  He asked what I was looking to spend and I told him I only had $40 on me.  He asked me to point out the one I wanted and sold it to me for that price.  In case you missed it, that is a $30 discount on the originally quoted price!  Sometimes haggling is just ready to walk away and tell them what you are only willing to spend.  Still, I bet a Korean would have gotten it cheaper.  It’s just par for the course being in a foreign country.

We went to the Doota World to see what was there.  It is always a busy place and does have a floor dedicated to mens fashion.  This pic is an example of a typical section of women’s fashion.

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Doota World

Now because it is Korea, you will always see clothes with English on it, most times it makes zero sense. Sometimes you can understand what it says but still you scratch your head wondering who would wear something like this?  And this one is logical, kinda, in its use.

Weed Smokin Burnout Rehab
Weed Smokin Burnout Rehab

We then ended the day out at a TGI Fridays. A place known for ribs but were sold of then, as well add beef burritos. For a place with a fairly limited menu, this is annoying. Wait they DO have burritos. New guy waiter was confused.

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Always an adventure here.  Always.

Knife Sharpening demo on Subway

In Korea, the Line 1 Subway has a nickname, the ‘shopping line’.  This is because you get all kinds of people selling things from carts.  Stuff from band-aids to steamed corn.  You could literally ride the subway all day and probably get all your shopping done for the week.  On the hypocrisy side, the LCD displays that run commercials, run one for people saying ‘no’ to sellers and includes a reporting phone number.  Yet they continually sell stuff all the time.  I suspect it’s one of those ‘it’s only illegal when there is a problem, then we get to fine you.’.