Diary: Tuesday 28 July
In order to tackle the vast shopping area that is Dongdaemun, it is necessary to heed Sun Tzu’s advice from ‘The Art of War’.
The reason is this: If you arm yourself with just cash and a mindset of bargaining for the best deal, you will totally lose.
For the first-timer, the question is where to begin. I would suggest locating the Dongdaemun JW Marriott and entering the underground shopping arcade which has its entrance just outside the main door of the hotel, on the corner of two main roads. Look for exit 1 of this arcade and some steps will lead you up to a door.
The English fable of Dick Whittington is about a poor boy seeking his fortune in London believing its streets were paved with gold. When I read the story as a child I couldn’t really imagine what this street would look like.
Entering the shoe market in Dongdaemun, and seeing an entire street lined to the left and to the right with shoes, and then realising that this scene is replicated several times over and on several floors in different buildings, I now have an idea that some fantasies can be realities.
Welcome to the shoe shop you have been dreaming of all your life, even if it’s for some everyday shoes.
There are some rules of etiquette. Sun Tzu’s advice above is relevant because the whole point of coming here in the first place is to be victorious in buying shoes at wholesale prices. The shopkeepers do not have to sell the shoes to you as these are representative of what they manufacture. Buyers order in bulk then sell the shoes at a profit in their own shops elsewhere. These shoes which Junior 2 had to have cost 28,000 KRW (around £15).
The first rule is to be polite. Only pick up the shoes if you have a serious intention of purchasing them. The shopkeeper can measure your foot size for you and if they have the size you require, will get a pair of the shoes out for you to try.
If having tried the shoes you know definitely you will not be able to walk in them, just say you are so sorry, these do not fit well at all. Say thank you and smile as you leave the shop.
The second rule is that, if the shoes fit and you want them, just pay the asking price as it will be fair. You want to buy the shoes, the shopkeeper wants to make some money, and it is not necessary to go into battle to save a couple of pennies.
The third rule is to repeat the first two rules for any or all of the following: clothes, handbags, accessories, fabric, stationary, toys, gardening and kitchen equipment. There is even a row of shops where you can order a custom-made tent, which reminded me that St Paul was a tent maker. I spent a lot of time just looking and taking it all in: the experience is truly something else.
These socks cost 1,000 KRW (around £0.55 pence) per pair.
Lunch was in a ‘ssam’ restaurant. This is where you order some meat which is grilled on your tabletop. When cooked, this is placed on different types of leaves, along with pickles and rice, and rolled into a small wrap. There is no need to be polite and you can stuff the whole parcel into your mouth in one go. Young people who are dating can go into ‘couple mode’ and feed each other. Really, eating out in Korea is so much fun on every level.
Shopping did not end with clothes and shoes. After lunch we walked to Gwangjang Market, home of our favourite bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes). Juniors 2 and 3 did even more shopping, this time for matching t-shirts and trousers.
After such a hearty lunch it was surprising we still managed some kimbap and fried chicken for a late dinner.