Wednesday, October 9, 2013

SweetShop Adventures; Dongdaemun Market

Greetings SweetShoppers! It's been a while since I've posted, but the weather here in Korea is cooling down so I find myself with more time and less humidity on my hands--perfect for crafting and blogging about crafting. One of the biggest crafting challenges I've found since I've come to Korea this year is finding a reliable, inexpensive source of crafting supplies.

For example, there's a cute little yarn shop near my house with some gorgeous yarn on display. The proprietor is a cute little old lady and one of the fastest knitters I've ever seen--the shop windows are full of display mannequins wearing her work. Imagine my surprise when I went in there, armed with my best travel Korean and...

Me: (in broken, halting Korean; pointing at a skein of Red Heart Chunky) How much is this?
Cute Old Knitter: 20,000 won. (About 18 USD)
Me: HOW much??!!!
Cute Old Knitter: 20,000 won. Cheap, isn't it?

Sweetshoppers, you know me. I don't pay $18 for a skein of acrylic yarn. I don't pay $18 for a skein of cashmere yarn, if I can help it. And I know you. If you ever come to Korea, there is no reason YOU should pay $18 for a skein of acrylic yarn. So when some kind people from the Gangnam Stitchers group offered to show me around the famed Dongdaemun markets, where bargains and variety abound, I gladly took them up on it.

So, what is Dongdaemun like? Well...they say a picture is worth a thousand words...

The possibilities were endless...
That, SweetShoppers, is ONE stall out of hundreds in the market. Armed with only my smartphone camera, I couldn't really get a picture that captured the sheer scope of the market, but imagine several hundred of the above, spread out over a city block in a basement full of other amazing things. The best part? Those balls of cotton/acrylic blend yarn you see in that photo were only 3,000 won($2.75 USD) each.

So, what is Dongdaemun, anyway?
To give you a little bit of context, Dongdaemun(pronounced DOHNG-day-moon) Market is a 10 block area of Seoul that contains 25 shopping malls, countless independent market stalls and shops, and over 50,000 manufacturers. All in all there's over 30,000 shops, so depending on your preferences, it probably sounds like either paradise or hell. Dongdaemun is known for its clothes, textiles, crafting supplies and the nearby Gwangjang market has plenty of nooks and crannies full of deliciously kooky street food to satisfy you after your shop-a-thon.  Historically speaking the area is one of several --daemuns, including the more famous Namdaemun--"daemun" means gate, and there are eight famous gates in Seoul that were part of the old fortress wall. The market portion of the Dongdaemun area is a fairly recent addition to the Seoul cityscape, having been in existence in one form or another since 1905. After being burnt down, rebuilt, renovated and rebranded it's now one of the major tourist attractions and cultural focal points of Seoul, and I'd highly recommend a visit even if you're not a major crafter or shopper. If anything, the night market--which is exactly what it sounds like--is worth a touristy visit. 
If you're in the Seoul area, and want to go to Dongdaemun, it's conveniently located on subway lines 1 and 4. Simply get out at Dongdaemun Station and follow the signs.

Okay, enough with the history lecture...what did you see there?

Too much. Honestly, the Dongdaemun experience was a little overwhelming for me. We're talking a whole city block packed with hundreds of small stalls packed with millions of skeins and hanks and balls of yarn and their accompanying salesmen(and saleswomen.) To be honest, I only took a few pictures and I bought almost nothing because after years of buying at small independent retailers and online--it was all a little too much for me.

That said, I did have a good time seeing just how much yarn there is in the world. A lot of the stall owners are crafters themselves and proudly showed off the things they'd made from their own yarn. I took a few pictures of the things they had on display. 
The monkey was my favorite...
The one thing I DID buy was buttons...I'm making a cream colored button up cardigan for this year and it needs a classy understated button...believe it or not, I found the perfect ones here...

I spent about $1.50 on some beautiful wooden buttons from this stall...but the selection was, frankly staggering. And there were about 50 other stalls with a similar selection of things. 

Like most market stall owners I've run across in my travels, this lady wasn't too crazy about having pictures taken of her or her wares, so I could only sneak this blurry one. This was the case with most of the vendors I met on that day, which explains the poor images in this blog.(Doesn't excuse them, just explains...) I've found that that is often the case in ANY big market, ANYWHERE, and I really wonder why. At least at Dongdaemun people tell you to put away your camera with a the Halės market in VIlnius, Lithuania, a large lady with a frown tried to snatch my camera and probably would have smashed it had I not scampered away and shown her(from a safe distance) that I was putting it away. I wonder why that is the case--do any of you know why market vendors hate photographers so much?

Also, I've noticed a curious crochet and knit trend here in Korea--skirts. Everywhere I go I see yarn skirts being made or displayed, but I have yet to see anyone wearing one. This has kept me from making one for myself, but when I see gorgeous ones like this on display, I do wonder what it would look like on...

In any case, Dongdaemun Market--the craft section anyway--was equal parts awesome, inspiring, overwhelming and exhausting. I spent about four hours there and that was ONLY in the craft section--I didn't get to look at any of the other million things for sale in the area. After buying my buttons in awe, I wandered over to Gwangjang market and ate a delicious bindaetteok to recover. I'll definitely go back again, and buy more things, and I reccommend it for hard core bargain crafters like myself, yarnaholic visitors to Korea, and just about anybody who wants a fun, colorful, crowded day out with no idea what you might get into.

Peace, beautiful people!