Vacation to Seoul South Korea – Day 7 – Looking for Louis

Chris has plans for the rest of the week, so this was our last morning to spend time with him. We had brought along some supplies from the USA that he was unable to obtain at a reasonable price in South Korea–Size 13 sandals, AXE deodorant and body wash, XXL hoodie, Red Wings stocking cap. A nice couple from Malaysia junked a travel suitcase because they were unable to raise the handle. Chris used the power of Dup to overcome the kink in the sleeve that prevented the handle from rising. Voila! A nice container to haul his stuff back home to Paju!

We rode the train to Chris’ transfer station, said our goodbyes, and continued on to downtown Seoul. Chris had treated us to breakfast earlier and we were hungry for some lunch. We had our choice between McDonald’s and Lotteria. We know the former so chose the latter–it is a foreign version of Mickey D’s with similar items at reduced cost–and they sit side by side and share the same building. Both were packed to capacity with 5 lines 6 deep. There was no English translation of any of their sandwich items on the billboard menu, so I took a picture of what I wanted, showed my camera screen to the cashier, and got exactly what I wanted–it was a combo meal with what looked like a Whopper for me and a “Lady Burger” for Lori, plus cheese sticks, French fries, 2 Cokes, and corn salad. It was all quite good. Both sandwiches had a brown onion sauce in addition to typical US deluxe burgers. Our combo meal also got us a Van Gogh cosmetic case for about $13. There were even 2 attendants near the exit to take our trays and dispose of the garbage for us.

Lori wanted coffee, but the combo meal offered no substitutions. We had to continue on to a coffee shop where Lori was able to obtain a caffeine fix. The place was so busy that she paid and was given a beeper that would signal her when her drink was prepared. A few minutes went by and we had her special coffee. The Koreans have some sort of obsession with coffee as it is available just about everywhere. Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts are typical along with local chains, individual coffee shops, and vending machines on virtually every block. 

This day was about 20 degrees warmer than yesterday, so we decided to go back to Namdaemun Market in search of a Louis Vuitton (LV) handbag for Lori. The market claims to have over 10,000 stores. This is quite accurate because most of the “stores” are about 8 feet wide, are set up outside, and are packed with stuff. The vast majority of goods outside are clothing while inside venders sell and make jewelry, carpeting, knick knacks,etc. At night, many of the “stores” are covered with a tarp, cinched with a strap, and left outside, while some are packed up and hauled away to a remote location.

The market was designed before automobiles were prevalent, so the streets are narrow and inaccessible by cars and trucks. Deliveries are made by motorcycle or hand truck. Motorcycle delivery is common everywhere in Seoul. We have seen drivers hauling everything from a few small crates, to a stack of crates, to a pile of carpet rolls. Delivery trucks would just add to the congestion of his busy city, so motor bikes are very efficient–even in the winter time. Many of the handlebars are equipped with heated gloves, gps units, and scanning equipment. The drivers inch their way through the crowds without sounding their horns. There is nowhere to park at the market. Shoppers get here via subway, bus, or on foot. They claim to greet half a million shoppers a day. This would not surprise me as there were people everywhere with over 10,000 of them being salesmen.

Lori did not have good luck finding an LV bag yesterday, so she approached the owner of the first handbag store she found to find out where the LV bags were. He brought her inside, gave her a seat and showed her a catalog of handbags. She picked the one she liked and the guy had her wait while he disappeared to get the bag. He was gone about 15 minutes when he returned with exactly what Lori wanted. They agreed on a price and Lori left, a very happy woman.

As we strolled the market, we found more stores selling LV bags, but none were quite as nice as the one she bought. We saw LV scarves, socks, and belts–but no hats. A red LV hat would have completed her ensemble, but that will have to wait for another day.

For the first time since we’ve been here, snow began to fall. All of the venders extended their awnings to protect their goods from moisture. Flurries fell for about an hour with no real accumulation, just enough to make the stone streets slippery. We made our way indoors and were amazed at the jewelry stores. Men and women occupied their own 8′ space that was jam-packed with earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and other sparkly things. As they waited for customers to sell stuff to, they made more jewelry utilizing glue guns, needle nose pliers, and magnifying glasses. I watched one girl fill individual clear plastic bags with necklaces, count 12 lots, then place them in a larger plastic bag–apparently to sell at a remote location or overseas. The atmosphere was bright and crowded, yet friendly–it was not a sweat shop. I was amazed by the quality and quantity of hand-made costume jewelry in one location. 

Upon leaving Namdaemun Market, we headed back to the train station and were attracted to an area of activity in the underground walkway. We made our way to a place called Shinsegae Market–WOW! What a market! This was a high-end indoor market just blocks away from the open market. It has the footprint of a city block but is 14 levels high! I thought I had seen a lot of employees at the E-Mart yesterday. This place seemed to have 1 employee for every 2 shoppers–and that’s a close estimation. For all of the knock-off brands and factory seconds that were sold on the street, the good stuff was at Shinsegae.

We continued on to another place called Lotte Mart–it is another mid to high level grocery store. We had to laugh when we saw how they were bagging their groceries. Apparently, all of the cases that are emptied to refill the shelves are saved and brought to the front of the store. Customers then select an appropriate size box, fill it with groceries, seal it with strapping tape, then finish it off with a bow-tied ribbon. People are leaving the store with stacks of boxes.

There are whirling barber poles everywhere, but you don’t get your hair cut there–Chris found out the hard way. He went in to get his hair cut and the attendant started to undress him. He said “No, I want a haircut”. They said “we don’t do that here”. Apparently, the barber poles signify massage, but many go further than just a back rub. It depends on whether there is also a heart, or a star, or oriental characters among the twirling ribbons that are so familiar at barbershops in America.

We made it back to our hotel as the temperature almost reached 32 degrees for the first time since we got here. We were too tired to go out for dinner, so we decided to have pizza again. This time it was a Korean favorite–bulgogi pizza. Bulgogi pizza has marinated beef plus cheese and normal vegetables. Any American would enjoy this blend of familiar tastes.

Lori and I travel very well together. We like to do the same kinds of things and humor each other when we don’t. We are patient and adventurous and have pretty good instincts for navigation and things to see and do. Today, we found Louis in many shapes, colors, and textures at very good prices–so it was a very good shopping day.

We have made reservations to tour the DMZ on Wednesday. Check back for the day 9 story of what I hope will be the highlight of our trip.

The cosmetics area at Shisegae Market in Seoul


A display of shoes stacked outside near Numdaemun Market


Browsing the knick-knacks indoors at Numdaemun Market

View from above at Shinsegae Market

Published in: on January 31, 2011 at 5:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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