EXPLORING KOREA: A Jewelry Hunter’s Mission

by Bonnie Shoemaker, 19/03/2008


First of all, I developed my taste for costume jewelry from my mother.  To open her cascading sky blue jewelry box always aroused my curiosity to explore further.  Each drawer and compartment I opened introduced new waves of color and sparkling gems.  This love of colorful trinkets has taken root in me and planted itself in each of my three daughters.  Every destination I visit is comprised of quests to find the most unique necklaces to bring back to my girls.  We have necklaces from Spain, England, Italy, Portugal and France.  I was looking forward to our trip to South Korea to visit my sister Karen and her family, expatriates from Indiana living in Bundang, south of Seoul.  I knew Karen would take me to places where I could satisfy my addiction.  Shopping comes easy to me.  My daughters and I have been known to spend eight hours wandering around in huge malls.  Nothing can overwhelm me when I am on the hunt - until shopping in South Korea.

The Dongdaemun shopping district was our destination for the day.  We hopped on the subway train and made it there within 45 minutes.  Karen had visited before and was excited to show me some real shopping in her new homeland.  She had a particular “mall” in mind.  Our steps quickened as we approached the Doota building.  I had no idea of what awaited behind the entrance to this tall glass structure - floors dedicated to items satisfying every desire or need.  Each level had a particular focus.  For example clothing, furniture, traditional Korean souvenirs, shoes, jewelry, etc. - something for everyone.  We proceeded to the top floor first, the food court, to grab some coffee and a pastry to fuel our spree. 

The jewelry floor would be saved for very last as I knew I would linger there the longest.  So, our first stop was shoes.  As we stepped off the escalator, the sight was irresistible.  The only question was where to start.  There had to be a plan to navigate through the bustling crowds.  Aisles of vendor booths generated rows and rows of glorious shoes.  I have never, in my lifetime, seen so many shoes in every shape, size and color displayed in one place.  The only thought plaguing my brain was how to carry everything I would purchase on the subway that afternoon.  I would have to pace myself.  We devised a plan to start at one end and move along in an orderly fashion.  My first mistake on the shoe level was not having a particular color or style in mind.  My decision-making skills are not finely tuned, so I wanted to see everything before buying.  My constant gasps at all the selections brought an “I know, I know” from my sister.  By the time we made it to the end of the last row, I was officially overwhelmed.  “Just wait until you see all the jewelry, “ my sister said as she gave me an “I can relate” hug.  No way.  How can anyone be overwhelmed by too much jewelry?  I knew exactly what I was looking for - necklaces with unique pendants and a brooch for my mother.  This was my strong suit – finding jewelry my girls would gush over.  We left the shoe level empty handed.  Then the escalator carried us to the jewelry level.  This would be much quicker than the shoe floor…or not.  We again devised a path that would allow us to see everything.  I promised myself I would buy something along the way if I couldn’t live without it.  Display after display enchanted me.  I never imagined there would be what seemed like hundreds of brooches to choose from in one location.   A friendly Korean woman working the booth tried desperately to help me decide.  She spoke a little English, but it didn’t bring about resolution.  And my sister…well, she was snapping pictures of me, a big grin on her face.   Finally, a decision was made in haste.  Mom would love anything I bought her, I concluded, justifying my purchase.  And, considering it was barely 3,000 won.

Two hours had elapsed and I had acquired a few trinkets, my backpack still light.  As we approached the last aisle of vendors, my sister saw a booth providing manicures and pedicures for weary shoppers.  “You go ahead and keep shopping.  I’m going to treat myself to a manicure,” she said, somewhat drained.  I hesitated for a second, pondering the thought of a relaxing pedicure.  I glanced down the aisle ahead of me and knew I couldn’t forego even a minute exploring the treasures lying ahead in the distance.  “I’ll stay close,” I said, giving her a big hug.  Off I went, determined to finish the “looking” phase. 

Karen caught up with me about a half hour later, rejuvenated.  Feeling satisfied in seeing all there was to see, I was ready to start purchasing some goods.  As we made our way back through the maze of vendors, necklaces I admired the first time around still attracted my attention.  This was a good indication of the pleasure it would bring for years to come.  Ten necklaces and one brooch later, we made our way back to the subway station. 

As Karen and I sat down in the quiet subway car, I took a peek at everything in my backpack.   A jewelry hunter’s mission – accomplished.  Next stop - Itaewon…

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