Myeongdong is two train transfers away from our home station of Sindorim, roughly a 20 minute commute. We emerge from the underground Korail line at the foot of a great Uniqlo which shimmers in the morning sun like a giant white obelisk. At 11:00am the streets are filled with vendors selling knock-off Tory Burch flats and Ugg Boots, the smell of pork dumplings and fried potato mixed with something fishy and raw.
Lisa and I meander through the crowds, weaving between small children puffed up to two, three times their size by thick layers of down and wool. Couples huddle close and walk in unison, practically wearing each other to keep from catching cold. Shops are packed in close between and on top of one another. What they lack in space they more than make up for in spectacle. At every entrance and on street corners costumed mascots hawk daily adverts and beckon in wayward shoppers.
I’m severely impressed. It seems that Korea is in agreement with American hipsters when it comes to shoes, jeans, and eyewear. This look so thoroughly permeates the street that I wonder if perhaps we stole it from them. I fight the impulse to buy a new pair of Chucks and mumble to Lisa that we are in a dangerous place. “Korea,” Lisa declares matter-of-factly, “is the temptation island of shopping.
Somewhere in the bustle of things there’s been a cosmic transference. I find myself holding up traffic, eyes upward gawking at the surrounding sights, stopped in the middle of the street, giant fold-out map in hand, inconveniencing strangers to pause and snap a photo. The American tourist has arrived in Korea.