I never really got the Korean specialist mega-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 imaginable. 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 slightly lesser figures, but still mind-boggling)…
I just didn’t get it. Why 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! These guys must be doing well! I know… I’m gonna rent a place here and open a lamp store!!!’
A Korean friend 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 all, South Korea is a small country with 50 million consumers. I came to like the convenience of browsing and haggling at 20 different stores without having to drag my arse all over the city, or even across the street.
My favourite of these districts is also the smallest I’ve seen; just a handful of small stores near Seoul Station. It’s a run-down, dilapidated little row (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 these stores, and looking through their darkened dusty windows I’m not sure they’ve even been in 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. They look like the kind of prosthetics 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 three-dollar replacement budget).
Last time I walked past, one of these stores looked kinda maintained. The windows were clean and the fixtures and merchandise looked like having been updated to early last century. 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-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.