Sunday, October 19, 2014

Shop and Eat Seoul Part 1: Myeongdong

Visiting the local shopping streets and markets versus large department stores and malls, is something that I love to do when I travel.  This time though, I didn't have too much time to visit a traditional local market, so I headed to the shopping districts where they at least had individual stores.

Seoul has several popular places to go to for foreign visitors. Itaewon, Dongdaemun, Namdaemun, Myeongdong, Insadong are at least the most common ones. When I visited Seoul the first time, we had visited Itaewon, which is a global fashion and food mecca.  But I wanted to see what Korea has to offer.  So this time, my friend brought me to Myeongdong, which offers a balance of mid to high priced global and local brands.

I love the atmosphere at Myeongdong.  We had just spent a good part of the day relaxing outdoors at Changdeokgung Palace and the Secret Garden.  It was nice change to stroll through a busy and lively street this time.  The weather was just right, getting cooler as the autumn months come in.  The street was crowded, people going into all directions, but I could still stand around and just watch people go by.  I see mostly Asian faces, although I know through their language that they weren't locals.  It was tempting to go and see international stores like Uniqlo and H&M, but I'd rather spend my short time exploring their local stores which were mainly cosmetic stores. Store sales folks invite you as soon as you even spend a second gazing at their products or their store. They immediately hand you a tiny basket and a free sample, announce their promotions and politely lead you towards their store.

Beauty/Cosmetic Products

One of my goals was to get some cosmetic products for which Korea is known for:  BB cream and facial masks ;-)  We stepped into almost all the cosmetic shops: Innisfree, Missha, Nature Republic, Face Shop, Skin Food and Olive Young, some of which are already available back home, but it was nice to scan through their store even just to window shop.  A few blocks away, you'd find the same stores too, so if you miss one, you'll always get a chance to find another one just a few steps away.  I'm not so much a cosmetic product fan, but I am curious as to the secret that Korea offers as Korean skin is one of the best in the world.  I got a tube of BB cream from Missha to try, since I'm the lazy type wherein I hate long regimens.  BB cream stands for Blemish Balm or Beauty Balm, and is an all-in-one cosmetic that often acts as a moisturizer, primer, sunscreen, skin treatment, concealer and light foundation.  Perfect for me, right?  They even have CC cream now and soon, DD cream as well.  They pretty much have the same concept, but some have additional features like whitening and color correction.

The other product I wanted to get was facial masks.  I've used hyrdating and collagen masks in the past, and my friend had given me a couple of new ones made with many different ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, pearl, etc.  I've also been hearing about snail slime and caviar having excellent facial benefits especially for aging.  I wouldn't dare put a live snail on my face, so the next best thing would be a facial mask.  While we can probably find these stores elsewhere and in big shopping malls, they usually sell big packs here and offer a lot of freebies. Since I also plan to get these as gifts for my friends and family, it was more economical to buy them here.

Street Food

In between shopping and waiting for the travel buddies, I stood to look around at the street food stalls curious of the goodies that they have.  We had a late lunch and dessert, so our tummies weren't exactly craving for more food.  But it was still a great experience to look through.  From the traditional Korean rice rolls on spicy sauce, to a more familiar Nutella and Banana, to grilled dried squid, to twisty potato sticks, to grilled barbeque.  They had a lot.  Stalls line along the middle almost on the entire street with an occasional stall selling the cute socks or other souvenir items.  It was indeed a feast for the eyes and for the nose, even if I don't get to taste all of them.

Pork Knuckles
Twisty Fries and Twisty Fries with Sausage
In between food stalls, we can find surprises like these ;-)
Grilled BBQ Sticks
Egg Balls
Chestnuts, Dried Squid, Grilled Corn
Nutella and Banana Crepe
Grilled Squid

Nanta Theater

We even managed to sneak in a musical show while in Myeongdong.  While walking around, we saw the sign for the Nanta Theater, and my friend was already waiting for us by the front steps and had already checked out the time. Nanta is a famous South Korean non-verbal performance that features a comedy show featuring chefs that perform using kitchen utensils in the traditional rhythm Salmunori.  The show is very famous and had also shown in Broadway. We've heard about this from a friend and we went up to check out if there were any tickets for the 8pm show.  It was already 7:55pm so we just had to try our luck.  Seeing the stairs leading two floors up with no lobby in sight, we decided to use the elevator instead.  Lo and behold, there were no labels in English for the floor guide so I just made a wild guess and pressed 3rd floor.  And yup, I was right! The front desk asked us if we had reservations, and we said no. She appeared a bit worried but in a few seconds, was able to find us seats.  There were 7 seats left, a pair of seats each for each section: orchestra, loge, and upper balcony.  We just got the middle-priced one (KRW50,000) which gave us seats in loge.  So we put our shopping bags in the lockers provided at the lobby and we headed into the theater, just in time for the start of the show. We were actually seated in the last row but it was not bad. Seats were comfortable and we had a great unblocked view.  There was no boring moment, and the rhythms kept our hearts pounding.  The show was also a bit interactive and they'd ask for volunteers from the audience to participate. And the non-verbal style made it appropriate for a global audience.  One should definitely see if this if they get a chance.

We weren't allowed to take photos so here's a sneak peak from their official youtube videos:

Short Version:

Long Version:

Here are some photos I took of the entrance and lobby area.

Nearby Police Station
Building Entrance and the Nanta Theatre signage
Pots and pans line the entrance at the 3rd floor
Photo booth
Orange Team performed for us

Read more about our shop and eat experience in Shop and Eat Seoul Part 2: Insadong

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