It took me a while to get my head around the Korean specialist shopping districts. I couldn’t see the economic sense of entire malls, or suburbs(?!) where every store sells the same crap. Seoul seems to have a special ‘district’ for just about anything you might want to buy. The Korea Tourism website states for example, that Seoul’s ‘Wedding’ street in Ahnyeondong has over 2000 wedding dress stores (and pretty much nothing else).
I once read a brochure boasting that Seoul’s Yongsan Electronics Market has around 27,000 individual stores (in 30 large buildings), selling… well, electronics (Wikipedia claims the Yongsan market contains a measly 5,000 electronics stores, housed in 20 large buildings)…
This I couldn’t comprehend. Why on earth would anyone be stupid enough to see hundreds of stores in a row selling the same bedside lamps, then think… ‘Wow, look at all these lamp stores! People must really like buying lamps! These guys must all be rich! I know… I’m gonna rent the place next door to all these other guys and open a lamp store!!!’
It wasn’t long before a Korean friend of mine pointed out that practically every bride-to-be in South Korea makes the journey to the wedding dress street. My friend asked me where I bought my laptop and camera.
“Yongsan,” I said.
“Of course you did. Why would you go anywhere else?”
Ok, so there’s a kind of logic to it. After a while I came to like the convenience of being able to browse and haggle for a camera lens at 20 different stores without having to drag my arse all over the city, or even across the street.
My favourite of these shopping districts is also the smallest I’ve seen, consisting of just a handful of small stores near Seoul Station. It’s a run-down, dilapidated little row of stores (operating in strict adherence to the internationally recognised dictum of town and city planners stating that all major railway stations adjoin, at least in part, an area of the inner city committed to dilapidation and decrepitude).
I have never seen anyone enter any of them, and looking in through their dusty windows I’m not sure if they’ve even been open for business since the war. This is the prosthetics district. From old cardboard boxes on the floor of one unlit lit showroom wave disembodied plastic hands. Artificial legs dangle from a rack on the wall. The bits and pieces don’t look like they were manufactured during this, or last century. They look like the kind of prosthetics that might be favoured by movie pirates, or perhaps one of the unfortunate souls living outside Seoul Station who may not have a full complement of limbs (and a budget of less than three dollars for replacement purchases).
Last time I walked past, one of these stores looked somewhat maintained. The windows were clean and the fixtures and merchandise looked less than a hundred years old. There was a small assortment of hands, feet and parts thereof in the window, along with one breast, a few ears and other random body parts… a few fingers, a nose… none of which looked remotely useful for even Halloween purposes.
What really struck me though was the head. Call me a glass-is-half-empty kind of guy, but I think when it comes time to go looking for a replacement plastic head, you should probably just admit defeat and call it a day. Now that I think about it, perhaps this was actually some kind of weird fetish district, or a hospital for injured mannequins. I honestly have no idea.