April 3, 2016
The weather changed from warm and sunny to cold and rainy. Originally we had planned to go to Yeouida Island, but because of the weather (it’s supposed to be a nicer day tomorrow), we decided to stay to walk around the old area of Bukchon and go shopping.
Bukchon is an area in Seoul that still has traditional Korean houses. Many of the houses have been converted to restaurants or stores, but the majority of them are still residential. Bukchon is located close to the Gyeongbokgung Palace we were at a few days ago. We didn’t realize it was so close or else we would have gone that day when it was sunny.
We left the hotel around 11:30am after Facetiming with our families who were having dinner together at one of our favourite restaurants in Burnaby, Pearl Hot Pot (similar to the hot pot we’ve been having in Taipei). It was nice to see everyone together. We miss them!
On our walk to Bukchon, we decided to have lunch at Popeye’s. We noticed there were a few locations in Seoul and we were tempted with the meal combos advertised on the front of the door. The last time we had Popeye’s was last summer when we went to New Orleans (where we had fried chicken 3 times in one day), it’s my favourite fast food fried chicken. We ordered a combo and it satisfied our cravings.
After lunch we continued on towards Bukchon and stopped in some shops along Insadong. Before leaving the hotel, I tried to do some research on all the different beauty shops. I found some blog posts and articles on the stores but the information given wasn’t that useful. I decided to just go into a few shops and just take my time to browse around and look at the different products.
The first shop I went into was, Innisfree, which is Korea’s first “all-natural” brand. Most of their products’ ingredients are sourced for Jeju Island (Korea’s Hawaii). As soon as I walked into the store, a sales girl started following me around very closely without saying anything (I realize this is common practice in all stores in Seoul (Tim: or rather, in the stores that Kaitlyn went into)). There are so many different products in all these beauty shops, you really do need to take your time and read everything. It would’ve been easier if I knew how to speak Korean since the sales girls weren’t able to communicate what products she would recommend for me. I ended up only buying a “sea salt whipping cleanser” for 10,000 KRW = $11 CAD.
The next store I went to was, Missha, which was having a “sale” (I think everything in these stores are always on sale). This brand I had also seen everywhere and was recommended by a friend as having the most reasonable beauty products. I forgot to mention that each of these stores have a girl outside hustling to get people to go inside the store. As soon as I walked in, a girl started following me, but this time she started speaking English to me (I guess she figured I didn’t look Korean). Her speaking English was extremely helpful but at the same time she was a good salesperson and would suggest all these expensive items.
I ended up spending the most time in Missha and the most money (I used my credit card for the first time on this trip). I bought mascara (2,640 KRW = $3 CAD), an eye brow pencil (6,400 KRW = $7.25 CAD), face masks (500 KRW each = $0.56 CAD), moisturizer (12,400 KRW = $14 CAD), hand lotion (2,400 KRW = $2.72 CAD), foundation (13,860 KRW = $15.70 CAD) and a brush (7,400 KRW = $8.40 CAD). The majority of the items I bought from Missha were discounted 20%-50%.
I went into a bunch of the other beauty shops (Tim was very patient and stood around) but was hesitant to go into the shops where there was no one inside because I wanted to be able to browse around without any pressure. I remember reading a blog post from an American saying that she would probably buy more if they weren’t breathing down her neck (they’re literally one step behind you as soon as you walk into the store and I don’t think they’re on commission or anything (Tim: Maybe they’re actually focused on loss prevention?)) while looking around. I would agree with her because it makes browsing around fairly uncomfortable. I only experienced this in the beauty shops and clothing stores.
In addition to the hundreds of beauty shops in Seoul, there’s a tea house that we noticed the first time we were in Insadong, called Osulloc Tea House. The store specializes in green tea they roast from Jeju Island, but the item we wanted to get was a green tea milk spread. We first tried their samples of this and it was delicious – like a green tea pocky in a jar. We bought two jars to bring back for our families, hopefully they’ll still have some when we get back so we can have some. The jars were 8,500 KRW = $9.60 CAD.
After Insadong, we made our way to Bukchon (finally after a couple hours in the shops). We had about 20 minutes of dry weather but as we continued to walk around Bukchon, it started to rain really hard (almost like the downpour in Kenting except it’s cold here). I feel bad for the residents who live in this area because their streets are full of tourists poking around and taking pictures in front of their house (like us, at least we didn’t sit on their doorsteps).
When it started to pour we took refuge in a Softree Ice cream shop. Softree is a Korean organic ice cream soft serve shop that is Soft Peaks in Gastown’s inspiration. We decided to get the original soft serve with honeycomb. It was a bit pricey (just like Soft Peaks) at 4,800 KRW = $5.45 CAD).
The rain eased off a bit so we decided to power through and try to get to the train station (Tim: I’m not bothered by the rain). At this point in the day we were thinking of going to the Yoido Full Gospel Church on Yeouido Island for a Sunday service. After feeling tired and soaked by the rain, we decided to save Yeouido Island for tomorrow (which is supposed to be a nice day).
Because of the change of plans we decided to just make today our designated shopping day and head back towards the hotel through Myeongdong.
I would say that 90% of all stores/stalls in Myeongdong are beauty shops, socks stalls and accessory stores. Since I bought enough from the beauty shops, it was time to buy our Korean socks.
We had seen some stalls during our second night here that were advertised as buy 10 get 1 free. For some reason tonight, we weren’t able to find many stalls that had this promotion. After going up and down each street and looking at each stall advertising 1000 KRW = $1.13 CAD each, there was no buy 11 for 10,000 KRW in sight! We ended up just going to a stand that had all the socks we were looking for. Then as we started to head back to the hotel, we found a buy 11 for 10,000 KRW stall away from the main area… of course! What made us feel better was that they didn’t have the socks Tim wanted (Ironman and Captain America). We decided to buy more socks, so we went from not sure if we were going to buy any to buying 21! So we got 21 pairs of pretty cool socks for 20,000 KRW= $22.68 CAD.
For dinner we went to Myeongdong Kyoja, which I found after reading a few blogs and reviews online. They have been in business for over 40 years and are well known for their “knife cut noodles” and dumplings. The menu only has 4 items, so we just ordered the noodles and dumplings. We decided to share the noodles and dumplings. Good thing we shared the bowl of noodles because the portion was quite large (again). Everything was good, except I wished the noodles were cooked more al dente as they were too soft for my liking (Tim: Too soft for any reasonable person’s taste… everything else was good though). Food portioning here is definitely good bang for your buck, but it’s not ideal for two people wanting to try more food.
After our first day of shopping during this trip, I feel guilty that I got a bit of a “shopping high” when we came back to our apartment and I laid down our haul. After spending time in a few of the beauty shops, I can see how you can get very carried away by buying a lot in those stores. There are so many different products at very reasonable prices and since Seoul isn’t exactly accessible to us in Vancouver, it’s the fear of regretting not buying something. I know it’s an irrational fear but I seem to get this feeling every time I go shopping while traveling. I feel like if I came here on another trip I would “go crazy”, but I guess it’s better that we’re in Seoul during this trip since I had to restrict myself.
While shopping, I experienced that Koreans in retail are not very friendly or courteous. I think the nicest Koreans we have interacted with have been street food vendors and most restaurants. As much as store workers want you to come into the store by being “friendly” it comes off as aggressive (who really enjoys having facial masks being shoved in your face as you walk down the street? I don’t!). Once you’re in the store, as mentioned earlier, you feel a bit harassed because they aren’t following you in a “I want to help you kind of way” (although there are some that are not as aggressive) and once you go to pay, they ignore you on the way out. I know it’s not a language barrier thing either because you can be courteous towards someone without speaking the same language (ie. at a few stores we were shoved aside by store clerks without any acknowledgement, I guess that’s normal?). In Taiwan, where I don’t speak Mandarin (even without Tim around) store clerks were always very friendly, helpful and grateful if we ever did buy something. Tim says I won’t experience any of this type of behaviour when we go to Japan.
Anyway, that’s just my observation on things here and my mini-rant on customer service and common courtesy in Seoul (Tim: “Common” in the North American sense). While it’s a great city to visit, I can see how little annoyances like that can irritate me in the long run.
Total steps today: 17,000