Saturday, January 16, 2010

Welcome Home

Up until this weekend, my stay in Korea has had a massive shadow cast over it by one store and two syllables. Home Plus. I have heard so much about this magical place, but never quite grasped the magnitude of what exactly Korean shopping had to offer until yesterday when I made my first trip to this Wonka Factory of consumerism.

Suwon has three Home Plus locations, and the closest to me is only a 5 ish minute cab ride away. The store is 4 or 5 stories tall, and each level is the size of a Wal Mart. The first level is full of clothing and jewelry, and prices range from insanely cheap to very high end. The clothes here looked great and were definitely affordable, but I unfortunately don't seem to fit into anything. I guess I will need another couple of months of the Korean diet before this level of Home Plus will be of much use to me.

I made my way to the top with the idea that I would check out the entire store and work my way down. This level had literally everything from televisions to cell phones to art supplies to home products, and I spent a good hour looking at everything I didn't really need and really didn't have the money to buy. I left only spending 30,000 (like $25) and felt that I had done a pretty good job. I bought a bath towel (finally I can stop drying myself with the shirt I wore the day before) three floor cushions, and a dining room table. The dining room table was only 16,000, but one must keep in mind that a Korean dining room table is maybe 3 feet across and comes up maybe 9 inches off the ground. These products have brought my apartment a long way towards feeling more like a home, and I am very happy with the purchases of the 5th floor.

While perusing the grocery store level, I came to a sudden epiphany. I have spent a lot of time here searching for a strong statement of Korean culture. Besides the fact that I am paying for things in Won and listening to people speak in a different language, I keep having to remind myself that I am in another country. Everything is so consumer driven here that there doesn't seem to be a strong statement of culture that is uniquely Korean. In that moment, I realized that this the cultural statement I have been looking for. This store was really incredible, and was like nothing I have ever seen before. It truly was uniquely Korean.

The store was completely packed with families bonding together through large scale consumerism. An employee was stationed at every aisle with fresh cooked samples of really great food, and the employee was not only expected to cook and distribute the food, but to loudly yell about the wonders of said product. Talk about multitasking. At each sample table there was a minor mosh pit of Koreans of all ages going back for seconds and thirds of these generous sized samples. It was truly anything goes, and I was frequently shoved out of the way by 4 year olds dive bombing, toothpick in hand, for the last remaining chunk of unidentifiable meat. The sampling crowds were especially present around the liquor aisle, where they were giving out large "samples" of beer. There were at least 15 male shoppers fully taking advantage of the fact that there really was no limit to exactly how many samples one could take. I could tell by a combination of their bright red faces and not so steady stances that they had been there for quite some time.

I timidly made my way through the store holding my products in hand. The process of getting a shopping cart was bizarrely intimidating so I just decided to skip it all together. I had found everything I came for except one key thing; peanut butter. I had made my way through every aisle and knew I didn't have the energy for a return trip through the store in search of my last remaining need. I quickly found an employee who, as it turned out, is the nicest person who has ever existed. Over the din of the store I slowly enunciated the words "PEA-NUT BUT-TER." He smiled, nodded, took me by the hand, and walked with me for nearly three minutes to the large display of peanut butter. We wound through massive crowds of shoppers, and even though he never let go of my hand, he frequently looked back, smiling, to make sure that I was keeping up with him. I was kind of embarrassed when I realized that it was right underneath the jelly and the bread, products which were currently in my hands, but he thankfully paid no attention to my ineptitude as a first time Home Plus shopper.

When I finally left the store I was exhausted. My Home Plus experience lasted a good 2 and a half hours, and was without a doubt the most significant event of my weekend. I have been here now for over 5 weeks and have yet to get a paycheck from my school, so my consumerism was pretty limited. Once I do get paid, however, Home Plus will be a priority destination for some good, ol' fashioned Korean shopping.


I did not bring a camera with me to Home Plus, so I am posting this completely unrelated photo because I have realized that this blog is seriously lacking in pictures. This is Stephanie of Seattle, Tara of Dublin and Confused Korean Man, preparing for New Years Eve in Seoul.

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