Friday, June 17, 2011

[SEOUL] Cheap Electronics and a Lot of Foreigners

Directly north of the Han River and right smack in the middle of Seoul, Yongsan could probably be referred to as the “heart” of this city if based on location alone. Other than that, this district is popularly known for its electronics market and that area of the city notorious for its night life, party scene, and foreigner attendance. Yes, I am referring to you, Itaewon. If it is night life you seek, in Itaewon it is night life you get.

I was supposed to be at Ganghwa County in Incheon that Saturday but due to a sudden wave of depression and katamaran I thought, WTF, I’ll stay in Seoul and watch their version of Jekyll and Hyde at the Charlotte Theater! The problem was that the ticket for the  musical costs 100,000 won, which was roughly equivalent to the hundred dollars left in my wallet that I was no longer planning to spend. That’s for a VIP seat, by the way. Another thing is that it was going to be in Korean but what the heck, I would love to hear “This is the Moment” in Korean! Anyway, I decided not to go. Boo, me. Instead, I decided to spend my last day in Seoul touring the favorite sights I’ve seen during the week. That and a side trip to a highly recommended bookstore called Kyobo.

My depression just got worse at Kyobo because I wanted to shop for books. Their foreign language book collection is huge. They have whole shelves dedicated for Spanish, French, and German: from course books to popular and classic literature. The dilemma was how to bring them back home. My 7-kilo backpack was already full as it was and I still had a laptop and a paper bag full of souvenirs to carry. I’m not a GMO, I only have two hands; and the plane only allows two hand carry items. And again, I no longer wanted to spend. And so I settled for one book -- a comic book offering a satiric yet honest view of Korean society. Perfect. It was thin too, fit quite well in the laptop sack. We’ll meet again Kyobo, and my plastic will be so ready for swiping when that time comes. And my backpack too!

What else did I see at Kyobo? DVDs! I was eyeing a complete set of Queen Seon Deok which was selling for more than a hundred thousand won. Suddenly a name flashed in my mind: Yongsan. They say that electronics are cheap there. Maybe I’ll find cheap DVDs! I did, but only in two stalls. And I didn’t find anything Korean in there aside from documentaries about Korean History. And some porn. Okay. But the rumors are true. The place is an electronics haven! And that made me more depressed.

Why? Well, I saw my laptop in there selling for almost half the price when I bought it a couple of months ago in Manila. Damn that. The mall connected directly to Yongsan station has more than five floors, each of which is dedicated to a certain electronic item. There is a floor for laptops, a separate one for mobile phones, and then another one for PC games. On the ground floor are various stalls selling camera stuff with different kinds of lenses displayed in glass compartments. There's also a Gundam shop in that building featuring various types ranging from expensive giant ones all the way to cute Baby Gundams. I also saw musical instruments on one of the floors. There is a directory there anyway so just look and take your pick.

I went out of the building, crossed the overpass, and found myself in the middle of another block of “malls” selling the same stuff. People who go gaga over electronics will die of a heart attack in this place because of pure excitement. As for me, I came home empty handed! At least now I know where to go when I decide to upgrade my repertoire of electronic gadgets.

I decided to make Itaewon my last stop in Seoul. I didn’t know that it was in the same district. Going there was a bit difficult because I had to change trains in two or three stations just to connect to the Itaewon stop of Seoul’s Metro line. I think Yongsan-gu has its own subway system, with which I wasn’t familiar. For that it took me quite a while to get there, despite being in the same district, using the Seoul Metro that I’ve come to love.

It was already dark when I reached Itaewon and it was just teeming with people, a lot of them foreigners. I did nothing there aside from crossing streets and dodging cars. The sparkling lights gave me a mild headache and the crowd didn't help at all to improve the situation. To add to my paranoia, I came across a middle-aged man while crossing an intersection. I almost bumped into him so I looked back. He stopped and stared and started following me after that, attempting for eye contact every time I looked back. Freaky. I know when people follow people. I do that too. Sometimes. I don’t need a stalker’s handbook for this one.

Anyway, I could no longer spot him when I arrived at the church area, so after snapping a photo I decided to head back to the station. I was hungry so I decided to try one of the eateries. I’m leaving the next day and I haven’t eaten Korean food yet. So I sat in one of the eateries and ordered fried rice. What? Yes, I’ve been craving for fried rice ever since I got here, which is really Chinese. Is it just me or is it really hard to find Chinese food in Seoul? Anyway I only paid 5,000 won and that came with a Korean food sampler: plain rice, Kimchi, and two more side dishes that I could no longer recall. What I could remember is that I really did not like the taste. The Kimchi was cold but spicy, such a weird combination. No offense to all Koreans out there but I really don’t like Korean food. Sorry for that, just being honest.

I went home after that and spent the night at Silloam again. I already had an adaptor so charging my laptop and my phone was no longer a problem. What remained a dilemma, though, was the WiFi access. Each time I tried connecting the page brought me to the website of T-Mobile (or was it Olleh?) asking me for a username and a password. There was a PC Bang inside anyway so it wasn’t really a problem.

I left after lunch the next day to head back to Incheon. My flight wasn’t until the evening but I wasn’t able to tour the place. I couldn’t find the lockers at the airport and the storage fee on the third floor was a bit expensive. I just drained my laptop and phone batteries surfing the net courtesy of the free airport WiFi. When I got into the boarding area an hour or so before the flight I found a power socket and I was still able to charge both laptop and phone to full capacity. Good.

The flight back was okay, with some turbulence along the way. We arrived in Manila on time and there were no hassles at customs and immigration. I loved Seoul, and my feet are already itching to come back. I have promised myself that I will really come back, whether it be through a short-term language course or a government scholarship for a Master’s degree. It doesn’t matter. We’ll meet again Seoul. We’ll meet again.

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