Girls and shopping, it does seem that the former can’t live without the latter, but sadly enough, the latter never makes it easy for the former.
It had been a while since I went shopping, like ‘really shopping’. My last real shopping was probably during my last trip in the States, which goes back to… last May-June. Just like a trip, shopping has now become something I only do by myself or with someone I’m really comfortable with (mostly my sister…). Gone are the times when I used to set up a date with my girl friends at Myungdong or Ewha to frolic around the small shops and alleys, looking for the cheapest garment on the hangers. No more picking up the hoodies with Mickey Mouse or Snoopy in full blast, when you’re nearing 30. And especially, no more trying on the biggest size in the store in the tiny so-called ‘fitting rooms’ only to find out that these pants won’t get past what you find are normal-sized thighs or that you can’t really zip that dress.
Thank god Korea now has Forever 21, Zara, H&M and the likes, where you can also find varying sizes, from 32 to 40. These minions of capitalism, consumerism and globalization also come with decent fitting rooms where you don’t have to have anyone standing outside to make sure that unlocked door stays closed or that some typical Korean ajummas don’t fling that curtain wide open without an apology but just a mumble that sounds like ‘Well, I guess someone’s in here’.
Of course, I had done some occasional shopping since last June, but those were just 30 minutes-1 hour ‘drop by’s at a nearby department store. And although I admit I come back home with a couple of satisfactory items, the experience there is nothing, compared to what you get after some ‘real good shopping’.
Plus sides of going to department stores near home:
- It’s for something comparatively ‘big’ and expensive, like a new winter coat or a new pair of shoes.
- Mom usually tags along and usually she buys them for me 🙂 No matter how old you get, having your mommy buy you nice stuff never gets old.
Minus sides of going to said department stores:
- Mom is anxious to get out from there, so basically, I have to spot what I want and like (and also what she wants and likes) within the first 15-30 minutes and try them on.
- Korean department stores are often insanely expensive.
- The employees’ attitude is nearing ‘harassment’. You can’t go into a store and just ‘look’. They will come running and suggest you try on this floral pattern dress or this lace-adorned blouse… which are at the farthest end of what I think is ‘acceptable fashion’. You feel bad walking out on their eagerness, so unless you find something you really like, you have to stand at a safe distance.
- The fitting rooms are tiny, and you have to take off your shoes…
- Most of the time, you can’t try shirts or t-shirts on. Just dresses and pants.
- I always end up asking for the biggest size they have.
- The employees always have something ‘nice’ and ‘appropriate’ to say. ‘This dress covers your hip very well‘. ‘Well, I guess somebody has to lose some weight‘. ‘These pants don’t accentuate your hips (which, for them, is good)’. Or they offer some nonsense comments just to make you buy something, like ‘Oh, you can just tear the sleeves a bit, everyone wears them like that‘. Erm…really?
- The tops and dresses they have always have such a tight neckline I feel like I’m choking.
So I was quite happy with the ‘me-time’ I had last Saturday at Zara. It was, yes, expensive, but fruitful. The thing with shopping though, is that you spend most of the first one or two hours shop-hopping, trying on things that looked good on display but not on you, and just when you’re about to give up and realize that shopping is not the fun it used to be before, you end up to ‘the‘ store where everything looks nice enough, at a reasonable price. But then, you’re tired, and you have other things to do…
My next shopping spree was… at a bookstore in Itaewon. I have to confess, I know liking second hand bookstores makes you look cool and sophisticated and sensitive, and all, but somehow I’m more of a Kyobo or Barnes and Nobles (if you want the American equivalent) gal than second hand bookstores. I like the smell of a new book, its still hard-to-flip covers and its untouched pages. I know that small bookstores are often considered the gems of a neighborhood and are in danger of extinction because of the big chain bookstores (I always feel guilty when I watch ‘You’ve got mail’), but I just can’t help it, I’m allowed to be shallow too, from time to time. But! Since I’ve been trying to reduce my expenses on books and since I wanted some good fiction books/novels to read without feeling guilty to have two brand new untouched novels still on my shelf, I decided I would exchange some books I have read but don’t want to keep on my bookshelf for some ‘new old books’.
I discovered this second hand foreign bookstore with a good friend of mine, and knew they would also exchange old books for some in their store, so that was my next destination.
Unfortunately, they don’t exchange one book you bring in for another book in the store. Which, really, makes sense, since they wouldn’t be able to have a profitable business then, but I was foolish enough to think so when I went there. I brought it 6 books, and thought I could have 6 other in exchange, but the owner said that’s not how it’s done. I had already chosen 5 books…and I felt bad putting them down. Plus, they were a good deal.
These are the treasures I brought home that day:
- The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. The one random book of the day. I had no prior information about the author, or the book. It was big enough to last for a couple of weeks, and it seemd an interesting historical fiction. We’ll see.
- The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing. Nobel Prize winner. I’m usually a little doubtful when it comes to Nobel Price winning authors. Not that I think they’re not good enough, quite the opposite, they are often so intricate they make me feel stupid for not feeling very appreciative. But I took my chance with Lessing. I’ve been wanting to read her work for quite some time anyways.
- ‘Tis by Frank McCourt. I enjoyed Angela’s Ashes, and anything related to Irish-American literature is welcome in my list.
- Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe. Also enjoyed Things Fall Apart and No Longer At Ease.
- Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. I’ve been dying to read another book by Lehane, after The Given Day. I had hoped for something else, something I hadn’t seen in its cinematic version, but one Lehane is better than no Lehane, I figured. Super excited about this one.
Although the second day of what I thought would be a great weekend was momentarily ruined by some (what I think is) selfish relatives, this Saturday was a tiresome day, but fruitful. It was good to be out and about on your own, willingly, and not like a couple of times I felt obligated to go out at a coffee shop because some relatives were coming home and I wanted to avoid their stupid questions. I was proud of a Saturday afternoon well-spent, and not the usual ‘stay at home and watch TV shows in my PJs’.