Saturday, October 18, 2008

Asia's largest underground shopping mall



I'm in Seoul, Korea for a few days on business. Just arrived late last night after traveling for nearly 24 hours including airport stops. Whenever I travel somewhere, I like to check out the local scene as much as possible - it actually helps me adjust to the time zone changes to get out there and walk around. Since today is a Sunday (Seoul is currently 13 hours ahead of Eastern US time, so ignore the date above as is actually October 19 as I write this), I decided to check out Asia's largest underground shopping mall. COEX Mall, which is just steps from my hotel.

This place is HUGE! It's part of Seoul's convention and exhibition (COEX) center. There's a train station. A casino. A movie theatre showing, like, 20 different movies - including four English language movies. An aquarium. Even a kimchi museum and a dental emergency center. (Let's hope I can avoid that last one.)

There are hundreds of stores here, selling pretty much anything one could possibly want to buy. Seems like they have hundreds of restaurants, too. There are all kinds of traditional Korean and Asian restaurants - everything from Korean BBQ to noodles, dim sum, sushi, pho, and everything in between. There's an Italian pasta shop and a TGI Friday's and a Pizza Hut. They've got two Starbucks cafes and several other coffee shops.

I just window shopped . . . that is, until I found Bandi and Luni's. B&L is a bookstore and it may well be the largest one I've ever been in. I'm drawn to bookstores like a magnet to steel, and this is one of the best I've ever seen in terms of selection. Of course, most of their books are in Korean, but they also have an impressive selection of Japanese and English language items. In fact, they have more English language books than most small bookstores have books. There were paperback versions of books here that we can only get in hardcover back home, such as Stephenie Meyer's The Host and Breaking Dawn. (I also saw these in paperback in Europe, so this is not necessarily unusual.) They had a whole wall of literature classics, the latest bestsellers, and one of the largest sci-fi/fantasy sections I've seen outside of the megabookstores back home.

Particularly impressive was the size of B&L's foreign language studies section, geared to Korean speakers. There were miles of aisles of books, CDs, and other tools for learning English and other languages. And this was one of the more popular sections of the store. I couldn't walk down the aisles without bumping into someone. It seems as if everyone in Korea is interested in learning a foreign language. I could not help but wonder - why don't we have this interest back home?

I bought a couple of gifts, but nothing for myself. I wanted to buy a novel set in Korea or by a Korean author, but unfortunately I didn't find anything on my own, and neither of the two store clerks I asked could help. If I have time, I'm going to do a little research online to see if I can find such a book, and then go back again and ask for it.

I'm not hungry now, but when I get hungry, I'm probably going to go to Jackie Chan's Noodles and Dim Sum restaurant. Yes, Jackie Chan the moviestar has a chain of restaurants and one of them is at COEX Mall. It's right across from the Megabox movie theatre, which as I previously mentioned is showing several movies in English. Maybe I'll take myself out later to dinner and a movie.

But first, a nap . . . jet lag is catching up with me!