I went to Namdaemun Market today. While it's a fair subway ride from Minlak-dong, and I could probably wander into Uijeongbu (or just walk about five minutes away from my apartment) and find one, I like the one in Namdaemun.
Since today was Sunday, and I didn't get there until about 5:00 or so, it wasn't quite as big and as crazy as normal. That isn't to say it wasn't big and crazy, though. You could get everything you ever needed from one of these markets: food, clothing, entertainment, cookware, and so on. I thought I would miss farmer's markets in Korea, but honestly, the Q-mart ain't got nothing on Namdaemun. Well, except maybe for mullets. And cinnamon buns.
My first order of business was to pick up a fan. I don't know why we don't carry them more often in the states, it really is a handy thing to have when the weather pushes the 90s. I'm fairly confident that haggling is expected in these places but I'm not 100% on that, in any case I bargained down from ten thousand to seven thousand won on a flimsy little folding fan no doubt made in China.
Inexplicably, there entire main drag of Namdaemun houses an incredible amount of ophthalmologists. And by ophthalmologists, I mean, "glasses and contact lens retailers with an eye chart in the corner." Clearly, glasses are a sort of luxury/fashion statement thing, less a "I need these to get through the world" thing.
I was always under the impression that visits to the optometrist were something that were A) expensive and B) you had covered under your health insurance. Pretty sure they are neither here in Korea: after a quick exchange in Konglish, an attendant sat me down at a machine that looked like a giant microscope, where the technician flashed a landscape before my eyes, sometimes blurry and sometimes in focus. I floundered for a second—how would I communicate to him the usual "better/worse" exchange? But after a minute, he pulled me away from the machine, wrote some numbers down and explained them in Korean—I guess he didn't need my verbal assent to figure out how I fared, because he pulled out some sample lenses and had me read a nearby eye chart. After some tweaking and fiddling, I had a new prescription. "Plus one," he explained. People default to the system they use on contact lenses back home, which of course I can only vaguely remember. -2.75? I haven't worn my contacts in years. But that confirmed my suspicions re: prescription update.
I had two options for frames: expensive ones in a glass case, or cheap ones just sitting in bins in the middle of the store. I opted for the cheap ones, which were obscenely so: 30,000 won, which is about $21 US. Ridiculous! I sprung for two. The lenses ran an extra 20,000 won for each pair, so all told I paid about $70 for two new pairs of glasses. Not too shabby.
After I paid, the clerk gave me a slip and told me to wait about an hour. I nodded, grabbed a business card, and wandered around the market some more. By now it was nearly six o'clock—dinner time. I had some tteukbokki from a street vendor and meandered a bit.
A word here about street vendors: they step it up a bit from American ones.
All of those umbrellas? They are attached to plastic lawn tables, which in turn are under the purview of one street vendor or another. Beyond junky snack food, you can get legitimate sit-down meals, complete with soju. (Pretty sure there's no Korean word for "liquor license.") Quite literally, a movable feast.
After I ate and wandered the side streets, I returned back to the optometrist's to pick up my hot new eyewear.
These might actually be hipster glasses. Jury's still out.
The world is fresh and crisp again. Huzzah, Korea.
“next bus outta here”
11 months ago