Friday, May 02, 2008

KR Travlogue Day5f: Penniless in the Streets of Seoul

Tell me, who needs a guy when a girl can do shopping??? Right. That’s the spirit girl, I told myself. A few walks away from the restaurant landed me to my very first purchase in Dong Dae Mun. This place is very much like Divisoria in the Philippines with night black market – only cleaner and colder. The item is a cute headdress – same one that I’ve been trying on in Everland but was hesitating to buy due to its extortionate price – which I intend to give to Tita Millet as a thank you gift for lending me the matching spotted neckwear. I’ve got hundreds of US dollars here in my wallet purely earmarked for shopping – hence the use of my personal credit card in Best Western Hotel in Gumi. But of course, it’s a city of fashionable people and surely there’s lots of fab finds! Now if we could only find some money exchange.

Our first few queries with the street people was exasperating. They simply couldn’t understand us. Some would swing their head left and right, some would just smile at us, others would wave their hands that gestures NO (as though we’re “special offer” agents) and others would answer in Korean that says I don’t understand you – atleast that’s how I interpreted it. The three of us decided to cross the other side via an underpass and see what we can get from there. There are also stalls in the underpass selling different merchandise and however willing and decided I am to ask each and every person until I can find one that can point us what we’re asking; Lawrence advised that we just ask in the mall. There’s a bigger chance of someone versed in English there. I acquiesced to his suggestion. It’s a night market anyway and there’s no need to hurry.

On the streets of the other side, I can already see items worth buying. For example, there’s this trendy top that sells at 20,000 KRW and there’s a nice bag that my mom would probably like – although I know I already got her a bag from my last trip – but I can’t buy them yet. Out of the hundred stalls spread on Dong Dae Mun, I’m taking a clear picture of the stalls and I am registering them carefully in my brain so that I can come back for it later.

The malls here are very much like that of 168 in Divisoria. No high-end boutique or whatsoever, just rows and rows of stalls that sell what else but CLOTHES!!! No wonder why even if it’s just a Thursday, and a night no less, lots of women are still going shopping. Good thing, Lawrence has thing for fashion, nothing new in there, and Dien’s looking for a nice dress for his girlfriend so I can roam around. :P But honestly, seeing all these clothes just makes me all fascinated and depressed at the same time. Imagine, there’s a whole lot of nice things to buy and I simply can’t. Even putting on a Becky Bloomwood mode is not applicable, no credit cards allowed. :( In this particular mall, still no one could comprehend us. At that moment, I could’ve given up my Excellence in Languages award in high school just to have a basic knowledge of the Korean language!! Who needs to be outstanding in English when I can’t use it in here???????????

Then my brain clicked. I realized that the way we ask question is too profound. Hi, do you know where we can find a money exchange?? Wow, how very deep! I suggested we modify them into something with words like: Change dollars to won. There!! Surely, they must’ve heard about these currencies!! We walked off briskly down the road onto the second mall as the bitter cold night was getting unbearable – even with my extra coat on!!

So instead of roaming around in search of dresses, Lawrence – whose need to shop is more pressing since he’s leaving early in the morning tomorrow – immediately asked one of the storekeepers of a food shop. I was expecting a negative reaction but instead:

“Aaah, chain ja!! Chain ja!!” exclaimed the old man with his right pointing finger turned upward.

For once, this situation would strike me comical but I managed to maintain a modicum of respect and suppressed my giggle. He gave us directions in Pidgin English on where to turn downstairs with matching hand gestures – which we followed carefully – only to find out that there’s indeed a money changer but it is already closed. :(

No, this can’t be happening. And a horrible thought wormed in: could it be possible that there are money changers around but they’re all closed by now?? Oh, NO!!! It can’t be. But Lawrence was ever encouraging to say that we can try onto the next.

As for the next mall, the guy that was the owner of a jeans store, instructed us on where to locate a money exchange outside. I was seized by sudden hope with the thought that it’s not within the mall and pictured a scene of money exchangers juxtaposed with each other just like what my mom and I used to visit when I was still young – in Ermita!!! We can even choose which one gives the highest rate!! But to our dismay, there’s only one in there and it is also CLOSED!!!

On the way to our third mall, we saw some policemen in suits and approached one of them. He pointed us to one of his colleagues who’s very proficient in English. He told us that money exchangers are all closed by now. I wasn’t prepared for this cold, hard truth. I know it’s just a lame excuse to the fact that they are policemen but they couldn’t even point one more money exchanger!! Yes, I’m being bitter about it. But it was the pity in his words that hammered the truth home. =( Lawrence and Dien seemed to have accepted our fate. After all, the former came here two days earlier than our training and was half done with his shopping while the latter and I as well still have time tomorrow to do it. Well yes I do but the thing is, I might not catch the ones on the streets as my flight is at 10 PM. That’s where I found the cheapest and nice clothes as those in the malls are a bit pricey. We stopped by this huge electric fan with burning coals in it to keep us warm before I requested to try on this last mall. Hardly have I been taking note of the names of these malls to differentiate them from each other.

We only tried on the 1st floor and the two guys stopped at a certain store to check out a dress. Lawrence was giving tips on what style would best fit a girl by asking Dien’s girlfriend’s physique when I left them both for a while to approach the information area. There’s a pretty Korean lady in the desk and I charmingly asked:

“Hi, do you have a money changer here in this mall?” I didn’t see the need to say anymore dollars to won as I see INFORMATION could’ve just been translated into Korean right?

And I was right coz she spoke to me in English. I repeat, IN PURE ENGLISH!!

“Sorry, I do not understand what you are saying.”

“?!?!” or should I say “Okay, thanks!” was my response biting a sarcasm. Then turned my back on her.

WOW!! With all the misery going on, the truth now is, I want to laugh. How ironic was that????????? As soon as the guys approached me,

“Have I got a story for you guys?” and narrated to them the scenario. After that we all decided to trace back our steps and get cab from the same spot we dropped off two and a half hour earlier.

No Samuel, No Clothes, No Money. What a girl's gotta do?? Take picture! :P What a miserable night!!


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