365 DAYS OF SEOUL SEARCHING

December 6, 2010

TOY ALLEY SOUTH KOREA

Changsin-dong Toy Street – A.k.a Toy Alley

Dongdaemun Station, Line 4, Exit/Way Out 4

At the top of Exit 4’s stairs head left down the street and Toy Alley is the first right

Toy Alley sounds like a fictional place right from the pages of Harry Potter.  Truth be told it exists and is just as magical.  I heard of Toy Alley from some friends in passing and immediately knew that I had to see it for myself.  My 4-year-old nephew’s birthday was just a few weeks away giving me the perfect excuse to venture out.  It was exactly what I had been told.  An alley just with one toy shop right after the other.  A bit odd since in the United States when opening a store people tend to find what is not in a location and try to fill a gap.  This philosophy does not ring true in South Korea.  Here if one toy store exists then why not a hundred.  I have come to prefer this when I am purpose shopping though it does become a little overwhelming at times.  The beauty of toy store after toy store is that I just hit up ten shops within a 500 foot span and easily found my nephews gift in a timely manner.  I have returned to Toy Alley three times since its discovery!  In addition to toy stores this street is full of stationery stores, stuffed animal stores, children’s umbrella stores, kids toy sports stores and party stores.  If you are looking for party supplies such as paper plates, table clothes, balloons, table decor then look no further.  These party stores during Halloween had an impressive selection of costumes and now that it is Christmas they sell all sorts of holiday lights, decor and ornaments.  This is a cool place to visit whether you have a designated need or not.  Just a warning though that if you peruse with children you better be ready to whip out the wallet!

Note: Most of the stores preferred cash.  Many accepted cards but only with an additional fee to the purchase.

September 2, 2010

SHOPPING FOR HOME GOODS IN SEOUL

Photo pulled from Kosney website

It is not easy figuring out life in a new country and often times it takes months of stumbling around, chatting with others and just getting lost to discover where things actually are.  My whole home goods mission started because I went to a little get together one night and the host’s apartment was nicely decorated and had lovely scented candles burning and as accent lights.  I returned home that evening to my own apartment, which is lovely but not at all decorated, and a tinge of jealousy struck.  Why didn’t my apartment have the faint scent of vanilla bean and my bathroom hold the aroma of jasmine?  Why did I only have my overhead fluorescents instead of a string of dimly lit wicks flickering in the night?  I asked my friend the next day where she had bought her home decor and as with everything else in South Korea there was no simple answer.  She had bought her decor throughout her travels of Asia and the rest had been gifts.

This set me into motion.  I needed to find my own decor and since I was on a budget a trip to an Indian bazar just wouldn’t do.  I have slowly begun to find places to buy home decor and the candles I had sought out after but like a lot of stuff back home these stores are very much just mass producing these objects.  If you are looking for items with real character my best advice is to just continue traveling and keep your eyes open.  For everyone else who wants or needs a quick fix or perhaps prefers style over story, here you go:

(Stores arranged in pricing order from cheapest to most expensive)

* The Dollar Store: Seoul has hundreds of dollar stores.  They are everywhere!  I have no idea the name of the chain but they pretty much look just like the ones back home.  All items are tagged with stickers that give the price in won usually ranging from 1,000 – 5,000.  These stores sell the same items as the dollar stores in the USA: Kitchen-ware, Tupperware, Office supplies, stickers, candles, small plants and lots and lots of junk.

* Home Plus: That’s right, no need for an English translation because the store name is in English.  If you hop in a taxi and say Home Plus with a slight attempt at a Korean accent then the driver should be able to get you there.  Home Plus has multiple floors of clothing and home goods.  They are very similar to a Kmart or Wal-Mart selling the same types of goods.  Somethings here are cheaper to buy on the street such as clothes and purses but this is where I found the best prices for dishware and bulk sticker-sets for school.

* Kim’s Club: This appears to be a chain that holds a bunch of little outlet booths in each building.  They have different floors, most of which are clothing.  The clothing ranges from cheap sale bins to expensive booths for things such as baby cloths.  They have one section dedicated to housewares and the prices were higher than Home Plus.  This being said Kim’s Club appears to have goods of a higher quality and are geared towards someone looking for a little more Martha Stewart style.  The home goods section of the Kim’s Club I shop, is  in comparison to a Macy’s home goods section.

* Emart: Yes this is an English name but if taking a taxi you must remember to put an “e” at the end similar to an “e” sound from ewwwww or else the taxi driver may not be able to understood you.  Emart is the equivalent of a Target but not as trendy.  They have a grocery floor, a clothes floor, house supplies, electronics, book section, pet section and a small home decor section. Prices in the home goods section are comparable with Target prices back home…ie not South Korean prices. Emart is all around the most convenient store to shop at since it is one-stop shopping.  Items here are nice but very generic and the home goods items seem expensive after being able to stretch a dollar so much more in other shops in Korea.

* Kosney Lifestyle Shop (http://www.kosney.co.kr/ksn/shop/store/index.jsp)

I had written about Kosney in the past and  didn’t give it a rave review but now I would like to go back and alter my opinion.  Originally the only Koseny I could find was the one at Techno-Mart so I traveled almost an hour to look at home decor there and was severely disappointed in their limited selection and obscene prices.  I still agree with my first review by comparing it to an Urban Outfitters. It is basically Urban Outfitters Korea.  I stumbled upon a Kosney in Myeong-dong (exit Forever 21 out the back entrance, and to your immediate left in the basement of the building next door is a Kosney Lifestyle Store.)  I shopped this Kosney super early in the morning so there were only a couple of shoppers and it was quite enjoyable.  They had clothes, some home goods (limited) but even more importantly they had funky little knickknacks such as mugs with sweet Korean sayings.  They also had a bit of a green theme going on with some of their house and healthcare products and a cool office supply section with pretty stationary.  This Kosney had the best smelling candles I have been able to find in Korea but funny enough they were imported from a small company operating out of the USA and in turn Kosney was asking almost 20,000 won for these tiny delights.  This is a store for perhaps a splurge here and there or maybe even a good place to stop in for some funky, higher quality mini-decor or Christmas gifts to send home.

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