Tuesday, August 20, 2013

my trip to E-Mart

I was told, during my campus walkabout, that there was an E-Mart—a large store that isn't quite a big-box, large-volume discount chain like Costco, but is somewhere closer to a Target or Walmart, without the cheaper prices—close to Anshim Station, which sits at the very ass-end of Line 1. I had heard that the E-Mart was "right behind" Anshim Station, but I knew better than to take such talk literally.

So I lumber-waddled out of my place and went to the nearest convenience store to see about buying the local gyotong-kadeu, i.e., a multipurpose electronic "traffic card" like the kind that's popular in Seoul these days. The store didn't have any such card, but the girl working the counter told me where I could find one: there was another convenience store on the main drag that sold them. I thanked her and continued out to the main street. The shop, called CU (Catholic University?), was easy enough to find, and the guy at the register had a whole stack of traffic cards waiting to be sold. I bought one, charged it with W20,000 (a bit less than $20, US), then asked the guy where I could find a bus that would take me to Anshim Station. He said that, along this street, there were only two buses that didn't go to Anshim Station, so I could take my pick. I thanked him and trudged out to the nearest bus stop. As is true in Seoul, the bus routes are clearly marked on charts at the bus stops; the only skill you need is the ability to read hangeul. Everything else is just a matter of common sense. Here's a shot of some folks waiting at the bus stop this evening (around 6PM):

The skinny gentleman in the foreground, with his caved-in chest and his forward-thrust hips, reminded me strongly of one of my colleagues back when I used to teach French at Bishop O'Connell High School in the early 1990s. It's easy to imagine this guy walking in an effeminate way, as my colleague did, his fingers gently pressing against his sternum as he does a combination mince and hip-thrust down the hall.

The bus ride to Anshim Station took about ten minutes. I left Hayang Town and found myself on the wispy outskirts of Daegu. I'm not entirely sure, but I may technically have been in Gyeongsan City, a satellite of Daegu. I stepped off the bus and followed the crowd down into the underground level of the subway station, mainly because there didn't seem to be anywhere else to go. (Later on, on my way back home, I learned that wasn't true.) Not sure which way to point myself, I asked a subway staffer how to go to E-Mart. He told me to go out through Exit 2 of the station and just keep walking for about ten minutes ("right behind" the station, forsooth!). I thanked him and headed toward Exit 2, which featured as many stairs going up to the surface as I had taken going down into the underground.

After about ten minutes' walking, I found myself at E-Mart, that great temple of consumerism (as my buddy Dr. Steve would doubtless label it). I had hit the big-time: no small-town, we-don't-got-dat-in-stock nonsense here: E-Mart would have everything my heart desired. This E-Mart boasted not only a main shopping zone, but also a food court, a Starbucks, a laundry, a pharmacy, an optometrist, and God only knows what else. But before I entered the store, I had to take a picture of some fuh-hunky modern art just outside:

In my mind, I labeled these strange beings Knuckle Creatures, because that's what they looked like to me: giant, disembodied fingers of four-dimensional gods, their appendages poking intrusively into our three-dimensional realm.

Then I turned to face and pay homage to the temple:

I didn't have much cash in my wallet—maybe about $60 or $70. I was, in fact, waiting for several deposits to come through Stateside. Once those had gone through, I'd be able to access the cash from a global ATM here. For the moment, though, all I had was what I'd brought, and as I maneuvered my shopping cart among the shining aisles of E-Mart, I flinched at the prices. Comparisons with Walmart and Target fall apart once we start talking cost: E-Mart, it turns out, is goddamn expensive. The price for a coffee mug? Eight freaking thousand won. Some things were cheap: a 16-ounce bottle of Pepsi was only W1000.

The main thing I had come to buy was bedding. Since my arrival, I've been sleeping on a naked mattress, wearing sweatpants and a coat to shield me from the A/C's breeze, and using a shirt-stuffed laundry bag as a pillow. Time to get more civilized. I found the bedding (chim-gu) section on the lower level and started perusing the various blankets, duvets, yo* covers, mattress covers, sheets, pillows, pillowcases, and other forms of bedding. Call me superficial, but what was frustrating to me was the absence of mature color schemes: all the blankets were covered with unpleasantly infantile patterns composed of sickeningly cute animals very much in a Hello Kitty vein. Where were the solid colors—the navies and earth tones?

I hate cute stuff.

I finally found a cheap, simple blanket and a pillow that wasn't too garish. They didn't match, in terms of color, but I was beyond caring. I noted with dismay that the cost of the pillow and blanket alone totaled $65, which was almost enough to wipe me out. I tossed the bedding into my shopping cart, grabbed that bottle of Pepsi, and headed for the cashier.

On my way out of E-Mart, I wondered whether I might find a bus stop close to the store. As I walked, I scanned the street, but didn't find what I was looking for. By the time I finished scanning, I was back at Anshim Station, which is when I noticed that I could simply cross the street to get to my bus stop—no need to go underground at all. That was a relief; I'm not a fan of stairs, however healthy they might be.

After a wait of only a few minutes, a bus trundled over. I asked the driver whether he was heading to Hayang Station; he said yes. I got on and pressed my traffic card to the sensor. Another W1000 or so deducted.

So here's a shot of my bus's interior as I was riding home:

The yellow-backed seats are the noyakja-seok, i.e., they're reserved for the elderly. Korean society still places great value on its older citizens; it's rather gauche for a young, strong person to sit in those seats, although I've seen such bad behavior in Seoul and, as you see in the photo, here in Hayang. If you want to get into an older Korean's good graces, rise and give up your seat when you see a grandma or grandpa get onto a bus or into a subway. The oldster may return the favor by offering to hold your bags for you. One of the cuter perks of living in Korean society.

So that was my trip to E-Mart. Navigating the route was super-easy, and I now know how to get to the big city if I want to. Daegu's subway system is much more comprehensive than it used to be; back in the day, the subway consisted of little more than two pathetic lines that crossed each other roughly downtown like a drunken X-chromosome. Now there are four subway lines (see here), which together cover much more of the city. I have yet to ride the Daegu subway; part of me is leery, given the subway's tragic history. I'm sure I'll get over my leeriness as practical pressures—like seeing a movie in a real cinema—impel me.

Tonight, I'm looking forward to my first sleep under a genuine blanket, and with a genuine pillow.

*A yo is a Korean-style bedroll—very thick, very comfortable. Not for everyone, though, especially people who are sensitive to the hardness of the floor. However thick a yo might be, you're still aware of the floor beneath you. Nevertheless, Korean yo are very comfortable.



John from Daejeon said...

Crud, a decent pillow over at HomePlus is between 5,000-9,000 won and a blanket at Costco is about 20,000 won. Plus, for all the little household things (plates, glasses, clothes hangers, shampoo, dish soap, etc.), the South Korean version of the dollar store (Daiso-1,000 won store) is now all over the place.

You should have spent more time asking those types of questions on your trip to the school. They could have definitely helped you out, and I'm sure Daegu has their own foreigner Facebook page where you probably could get a lot of this stuff on the cheap as people are always coming and going.

Your next question of your employer should be about just how valuable student feedback is in regards to you keeping your job. Maybe that is the reason for some teachers letting those kids leave 30 minutes early, especially if English is not their major, and English is only an elective for them. The absurd power of the students in many schools over here, and the feckless and power-mad administrators, are pretty scary in so-called higher/enlightened education.

Oh, if you need any big purchases, look (ask) around for second-hand shops. I tossed my puny refrigerator and got a near new, full-sized one for about 180,000 won my first month here. Those puny ones cost more than that new. I also scored a lot of "free" furniture just by riding my bicycle around some of the bigger apartment complexes late at night.

Just wait until you see the costs of TVs/hard drives over here--at least double the price back in the states, but, then again, the cabals have an actual captive nation here. Water on three sides and hell on the other.

Good luck with the kiddos.

Kevin Kim said...


"You should have spent more time asking those types of questions on your trip to the school."

Gee, great timing, John. Thanks.

Yeah, I heard about Daiso (is it really "Daiso," or more like "Dae-so," i.e., "Big-Small"?) from a fellow expat here, but he was fuzzy on whether one could find bedding at the local branch.

Our new-profs' handbook also mentions going to used-products shops to get cheap fridges and the like. My studio comes with its own modest-sized fridge, which I hope will be OK for my needs, at least for now. On my walk to E-Mart, I also saw a used-furniture store; I filed that knowledge away for future reference.

In terms of a prof's future, I'm pretty sure that a lot hinges on student evals. They were a determining factor in the, uh, non-rehiring of one of my coworkers at Sookmyung back around 2007. My own evals never really dropped below 96% or 97%, so I'm not too worried about how things will go here at CUD; if my kids are that under-motivated, if they're really intent on nailing my ass because I (gasp!) teach to the end of my scheduled time, then I shouldn't be working here, anyway.

I do indeed know about expensive electronics in Korea. It's ironic, really, given that this is the home of so much lovely tech. And you're right—prices can be about double what they are in the States. Go figure.

John McCrarey said...

I've sat in the yellow seats on occasion, fully understanding that when an elderly person boarded the bus I'd immediately surrender the (now warmed)seat. Is it your view the seat should remain empty when those for which it is intended are not present?

I don't use the reserved seats on the subway (easier to stand than on the bus), but whenever I see someone (usually elderly or a mom with baby)I always offer my seat. Usually an "argument" ensues (although it is done with gestures on my part)about who needs the seat worse. Most times, I have to get up and insist they take my place. It is all pretty sweet.

Of course, I'm close to qualifying as elderly myself I reckon...

Kevin Kim said...


I try my best not to sit in the old-people seats, even when the vehicle is nearly empty. But that's just me. I suppose it's fine for younger folks to sit in them as long as they yield the seat when an actual old person gets on the bus or in the subway.

John from Daejeon said...

Here's the funny thing about Daiso: Daiso or The Daisō is the largest franchise of 100-yen shops in Japan owned by Daiso Sangyo Corp.. Daiso has a range of over 100,000 goods, of which over 40 percent are imported goods, many of them from China. Many of these are own-brand goods. (Wikipedia)

It claims there are close to 900 stores in South Korea.

Most of the really cheap stuff is from China and South Korea, but once you hit the 2,000 won and up prices, many items are from the parent company in Japan.

You most definitely want to renew your Costco membership here as the cost is only 35,000 won while it is now $55 back in the U.S. The only downside is not being able to get cheap gas at Costco back in the states without needing a manager's override.

Chip Lary said...

This is unrelated to your post, but Steve Honeywell at 1001plus suggested I reach out to you. I am looking for advice on self-publishing and he said you had some experience with it.

If you do not have the time to respond due to your recent relocation, I would understand.

I gave an overview of what I am looking to do in this post: http://tipsfromchip.blogspot.com/2013/08/can-you-offer-me-advice-regarding-self.html

If you would prefer to not leave a public comment, you can email me at golf04330@yahoo.com .


hahnak said...

>>...the South Korean version of the dollar store (Daiso-1,000 won store) is now all over the place.<<

i didnt know that daiso was all over s korea. if it is, thats great. shit there is really cheap and at least several of the ones ive been to in l.a. and seattle sell junk food (ramen, snacks, some drinks) as well as cheap pots, silverwear and stuff, stationery, cleaning supplies and containers. but nothing large like bedding.

>>Your next question of your employer should be about just how valuable student feedback is in regards to you keeping your job... ...The absurd power of the students in many schools over here, and the feckless and power-mad administrators, are pretty scary in so-called higher/enlightened education.<<

at university of illinois, tenure at the business school is dependent on both publication and on positive student evaluations. it seems to be difficult for my husband to do well on the evaluations. when you dont particularly like teaching, i suppose either you have to let go on the integrity front or you have to look for a job elsewhere (in the grab for tenure, my husband is giving away "A"s to more than half his students. "absurd power of students" is right on the money). i wish my husband enjoyed teaching as much as you seem to. anyhow, i think youll probably do very well with student evaluations, given your past evaluations.