So far I haven’t done a ton of shopping for a few main reasons. First of all, the communication barrier can be trying when you are looking for something specific. Secondly, the size differences can be quite confusing (but luckily most Korean made clothes are “free size”). And thirdly, shopping opportunities here are endless and one could easily spend an entire paycheck fairly quickly. This weekend I decided to check a few major items off my list and do some shopping. I headed to Myeong-dong, which is one of Seoul’s largest shopping districts complete with many Americanized/European stores such as Forever 21 and H & M. The shopping scene in Myeong-dong is, let’s say, overwhelming and crowded. The street is lined with department stores and coffee shops and outdoor vendors fill the center of the street selling winter apparel, food, toys, shoes and anything else you can think of. Don’t expect to go to Myeong-dong and get some quick shopping done because the street is wall-to-wall people so you can’t move all that fast.
When in Seoul, I’ve learned that there are certain things worth buying here. One item on my list that I finally bought this weekend was a new pair of prescription glasses. In the U.S. we have opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists and it is quite expensive and complex to get a good pair of glasses. In Korea, everything is done in one location, the prices are extremely cheap, and the glasses are made right then and there. Prices for frames range from $20-$150 and the lenses are $20! I have put off buying a new pair of glasses for years because I don’t wear them all that often and they would have cost close to $500. In about 30 minutes I went to a trendy eye wear store, picked out my frames, got an eye test, and chose the best quality lenses for a little over $100 and walked out wearing my new glasses. Glasses are super trendy and fashion forward here so I think I may be wearing them more often now.
I did some clothing shopping at Forever 21 where it was nice to see some familiar sizing charts. The Forever 21 here is beautiful. There are 3 floors with many employees working on each floor to keep everything looking neat. The prices are similar to back home which is also a rarity for American clothing stores here. I was able to get some cute weekend clothes and an outfit for an upcoming dance performance I have to do at school this week. Other stores such as the Gap and H & M are significantly more expensive and not worth the money. So far I have done a lot of window shopping and some real shopping and I have made a few conclusions. Department stores are extremely expensive and overpriced and typically carry all imported brands. Hyundai Department store is the top of the line followed by Times Square mall and then Lotte World. Buying things from vendors in the subways or on the streets is definitely the cheapest way to go, but you are not going to get good quality stuff. For example, buying shoes in the subway is probably not a good idea because even though they cost $5 or $10, they will fall apart. Prices for clothing overall are not that much different from back home. Accessories such as jewelry, hats, and scarfs as well as prescription glasses are definitely good purchases to make while in Seoul.
Two words that I would use to describe salesmen in Korea so far would be honest and efficient. They do not waste time trying to sell you the most expensive thing. They actually point you right to the best deal and cater to you as quickly as possible. This weekend my free pre-paid phone expired and I needed to get a real phone contract. I had been putting this off for a while because I was nervous about dealing with the hassles that normally come with buying a cell phone. To my surprise the experience was great. To any other foreigners out there, be sure to go to an LG store. Tworld and SK will typically not give contracts to foreigners. I went into the LG store and the salesman spoke great English. He gave me options of three free phones and a plan that is about $11 per month. The phone I chose is a pretty popular model and I can even watch unlimited TV on it for free (even though I won’t be able to understand any of it). The K-dramas can easily be understood without words anyways. The phone came with a free charger and other accessories and I walked out of the store without paying a dime. One of the other things that I thought was pretty funny was that if I decide to cancel my contract the fee is only $30. Back home they wanted to charge me $200 for canceling after being with the service for almost 2 years. It makes me wonder how cell phone companies in the US can really get away with what they are charging.
I was happy to have a productive weekend of shopping and I went back to my apartment on Sunday night complete with a new cell phone, a new pair of glasses, and some new clothes.