Namdaemun is awesome. There is such a variety of things for sale at cheap prices, and even if you're not into shopping, just the atmosphere is great to be in. But I'm constantly surprised when I hear other foreigners say that they don't like Namdaemun, or that they've never been there.
I'll admit, the first time I went over six years ago, I was a little confused about the hype and wasn't overly impressed. I thought it was just full of ginseng in soju and knock-off bags. But you really need to go on a weekday when it's not so crazy, and you also need to be brave. For a long time, I never ventured into the buildings in Namdaemun. I just glanced into the stores on the ground floor. Don't be afraid to go into random buildings and go up stairways and escalators -- basically get lost.
The reason I write this is that yesterday I went to Namdaemun for the first time in quite a while. I used to only have time to go on weekends, and this is not a good time to visit Namdaemun, especially if you don't like crowds. So my friend Amira and I went yesterday around noon to check out the baby malls. I have been in the baby malls before, but never looked seriously because I wasn't expecting a baby! But yesterday I took more interest (although I didn't buy anything for baby) and helped my friend pick up some fantastic deals on some clothes for her son, Noah. The clothing there was half the price (or more) of the clothing we were looking at in Doota last week, and some of it was exactly the same.
Baby and kids' clothes here are cute. And they're affordable if you shop in places like Namdaemun. Forget Doota and Homeplus and definitely stay away from the big department stores. Hit the markets. I'm always amazed when I hear friends with kids saying they order their kid's clothes from abroad because the clothes are too expensive here, or they're not good. I had a co-worker once tell me that his wife only dresses their daughter in brand name clothes that she orders from the U.S. because they're better quality. Excuse me? I can't imagine ordering expensive baby Polo clothes for my kid, only to watch them spit up on them and then grow out of them in a matter of a couple of months. What a waste! I know I'll be hitting Namdaemun for all my baby clothes when the time comes.
To get to the baby malls, take exit 7 out of Hoehyeon Station (light blue line 4), go straight, and then turn left. Wander around. You will see big buildings with funny names like Mama Land or Happy Baby (I can't remember if those are the correct names, but they're similar to that). Go on in and look. Take the stairs and see what's on the other floors. For example, after wandering around the first floor of a baby mall yesterday, I decided to go up to the second floor just out of curiosity. I'm glad I did because hiding up stairs were tonnes of women's discount clothes, even maternity shops. My friend bought a gorgeous black suit for $60 (bargained the lady down from $90 -- don't forget to bargain)! There were all kinds of cool shops up there that I had no idea existed.
Mesa also has a baby clothes floor with good deals. Mesa also has good deals on women's clothes, and has some maternity shops. It is also near exit 7 of Hoehyeon Station. Just look up when you get out. It's the tallest building in the area. Yesterday I bought a bunch of flowy shirts there on sale for 5 and 10 bucks. I've found out that I really don't need to buy maternity shirts, especially with this year's fashion trends. The shirts I bought are roomy and comfortable with plenty of room left. I did look at actual maternity shirts, but they're humongous, I don't like them, and they're way more expensive because they're called "maternity" shirts. Take a look around Mesa first and second floor and you won't be disappointed. There's also a food court up on the 8th floor.
Also, Korean souvenirs and gifts. Most foreigners think that the best place for this is Insa-dong. Yes, Insa-dong is great, but a lot of the souvenirs there are overpriced, naturally, because it's a tourist zone. If you just wander around Namdaemun, you will see a lot of Korean souvenir shops. These places are all right, but where you want to go is the Korean Folk Art building, second floor. I can't give precise directions there because I always get lost wandering around Namdaemun, but what I do is just wander around, and look up for a big banner that says "Korean Folk Crafts" or something like that. Go in the building nearest that banner and go up to the second floor. It's a huge building full of the same stuff they sell in Insa-dong (phone charms, silk bags, boxes, Korean lamps, etc.), but for cheaper, and the salespeople there are more willing to bargain, especially if you're buying a bunch of gifts. I always go to this building to buy gifts before I go home to Canada for a vacation.
Anyway, I always have a good time in Namdaemun, and today I felt compelled to write about it. It was great to get back there on a Tuesday afternoon and take a leisurely look around. I just found this neat map of Namdaemun, which attempts to make it look easy to get around. Have fun with the map, but I still think it's best to go and wander. I also just found out that Mesa has a floor full of beads in the basement (I haven't even been to the basement!). Damn.
I actually have today to myself since I'm waiting for feedback on my sample unit I sent to the publishing company last night. Very, very late last night...I was too busy shopping in Namdaemun yesterday afternoon instead of doing my work. Yesterday evening I also had a CWIK (Career Women in Korea) meeting, which means I got home around 10pm, soaked my feet, caught up with Sejin, and started working around midnight. How silly is that?
By the way, if you're a career woman in Korea or are looking for a career, you should go to CWIK's monthly meetings. They usually meet the third Thursday of the month at the New Seoul Best Western Hotel. The meeting is in English, and both Korean and foreign women are welcome. The schedule is something like this: 6:45pm - networking, 7:30 - dinner, 8:15 guest speaker speaks, 8:45 Q&A, 9:00 - finish. It's a great place to meet other career women. If you want more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org.