shopping in seoul: part 1

seoul has a lot of famous department stores, like Lotte, Hyundai, Shinsegae, but they tend to be a little fancy. and by fancy, i mean expensive. hella expensive. i also find them a little annoying because most brands in women’s fashion only carry two sizes (55 and 66, which are a bit smaller than US sizes 4 and 6). this makes me a little bitter.

anyway. my style is more along the lines of the gritty, crazy Namdaemun (“Great South Gate”) and Dongdaemun (“Great East Gate”) markets, which are hectic, disorganized, and, well, cheap. there are thousands of stores and stalls just piled on top of each other in these markets, and i find them completely disorienting and intimidating. i never go alone — always with my mother, who goes to these markets fairly often, and even she admits that she can rarely find the same store twice. she’s always getting lost, and there’s high turnover for some of these businesses.

now, the one thing i’ve always been confused about is the difference between these two markets. they’re pretty similar in the sense that they both seem to sell a whole bunch of everything. but when would you to choose to go to one over the other? this has been my observation so far: 

Namdaemun’s customers tend to skew slightly older — more of the middle age/”ajooma” crowd.  my mom and i go to NDM to buy the following: skin and haircare stuff, underwear/pajama stuff, eyeglasses, and korean souvenir stuff (Insa-Dong is also great for souvenirs. i will tell you more about that later). there are also a lot of wholesalers, especially of jewelry, but they are very strict about selling only in bulk to business owners. there are also a lot of old ladies selling food (beans, grains, random seafood, etc.) and  good little hole-in-the-wall restaurants. mom tells me that this is because these eateries cater to the NDM shopkeepers, who have notoriously high standards for korean fast food. interesting, if true.

Dongdaemun is often associated with the younger crowd, thanks to the fashion malls like Migliore and Doota. these malls are pretty good, but nothing all that amazing — quality is generally sorta cheap and styles are very trendy.  but recently, my mom took me to a new area of DDM that i absolutely fell in LOOOOVE with — Dongdaemun Shopping Town. the basement level has all sorts of knitting supplies, and the upper floors have fabric. the 4th or 5th floor (lost count) has all the accessories stuff, and i totally went to town at this one jewelry stall, that had the greatest designs. i would have bought out the whole shop if my mom weren’t there to hold me back. one of the best things about these stores is that even though they are wholesale, they sell to regular folks like me as well. some of the jewelry supplies stores even offer jewelry making lessons to customers.

somewhere deep within the bowels of these markets are also shady shopkeepers that sell fake designer goods. i saw them at DDM’s Migliore, and i’m certain that i’ve seen them at NDM as well in the past. but i wasn’t looking, because if i want a fake Gucci bag, i can get them by the dozen right here in Shenzhen, easy peasy.

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