I had read about Dongdaemun being the mecca for traditional medicines in South Korea and being that I long divorced myself from over the counter pain relievers and embraced ancestral knowledge by opting for traditional medicines, like my preventative daily tonic of ʻōlena tea, I just knew I had to go there.
After arriving in Dongdaemun, I walked briskly on the main drag, keeping up with people rushing off to work, but after a few moments, I realized I was lost. None of the names I saw on the signs looked vaguely familiar and to avoid looking like a pathetic tourist like I did yesterday, I ducked into Coffee Bay Coffee and Bakery, to let the foot traffic die down, check my metro map, and enjoy two lattes while I continued pecking away at my computer to bide my time. In the meantime, I enjoyed two coffees: a goguma (sweet potato) latte and a red velvet latte, each being 3300 won. I don’t know about you, but getting a less than $3 regular latte is impossible where I’m from, unless you make it yourself with a machine that costs about $200 that you pay off in installments for 2 years. It was a lovely little spot that served fresh honey bread and it was a nice respite before braving the hard streets of Dondaemun again. Okay, not hard, just crazy busy.
I proceeded toward Heunggrinjimun Gate, hoping to find traditional herbs, but all I saw were sock and food vendors. One thing to notice is people get a late start here. The Daiso opened at 10:00 and it wasn’t until 9:30 that street vendors started to open up for business. When I finally realized that I was FAR from the medicinal herbs section of town, like 3 metro stops away from where I needed to be, so I walked to the Dongdaemun Shopping Town and perused 3 of the 5 floors of fabric and sewing notions before calling it a day.
I went back to walking the main drag and stopped into a glasses shop. I’d read that it’s ridiculously cheap to get prescription glasses in Dongdaemun and it’s true. I remembered to pack my prescription and walked in, found a frame for 10,000 won (less than $10) and in 10 minutes (yes, 10 MINUTES!), I had a brand spanking new pair of glasses that costed me about 30,000 won, just under $30 USD. After the initial shock, I began to feel jipped by the so-called world power that is the United States because they need to work on giving their people $30 glasses… in 10 minutes!
I returned to the Daiso store, bought a few omiyage for people back home and then came back to the hotel, where I stopped by a 7-11 closer to Jongno-3-ga and found banana milk to be on sale. Yay! After dropping off my things, I was back on the metro and headed to Cheonggyecheon Stream. It was a nice walk and I wish I could’ve watched the light show, but I prefer not being out alone at night, no matter how safe Seoul claims to be.
I was then off to Myeongdong, shopping capital of Seoul and was amazed at how many cosmetic stores there were situated right next to each other. Exactly how many skin care products does one need? Apparently, not enough and if you didn’t know, the beauty business is a thriving market in South Korea.
Next, I found the Myeongdong underground shopping center and found even more optical vendors, all selling glasses at the same price I bought mine and yes, ready in 10 minutes (Are you hearing me, western world?!). I could have bought a spare spare pair, but decided against it and instead, found ginseng candy to bring home for friends. I also stumbled upon SMTown Stardium, which is 6 floors of vendors associated with SM Entertainment, the management company of Girls Generation and Super Junior. Again, I walked through, but nothing caught my eye, so I made my way back to the hotel.
Now, at the end of this very long day, I submit. I throw in the proverbial towel and announce that I am officially over shopping. I’ve got 3 more days in Seoul and I’ve gone to every possible place I’ve wanted to visit, with the exception of Apgujeong and Gangnam, which I may or may not visit during this trip. The area is known as Seoul’s Rodeo Drive and being that I have no interest in luxury items, I’m trying to convince myself that I need to see it.
I’m actually considering not going anywhere tomorrow and hunkering down to work on a paper and stuff for my doctoral program. I totally overdid today. I was over-caffeinated for most of the day, my feet ache, and I want to establish some normalcy while I’m here.