Sunday, July 6, 2014

Shopping in Itaewon

6 July 2014

Yesterday started with a ride on the subway - one woman got on carrying this HUGE bunch of flowers, which she put on the floor and then sat down between us.  Turns out she's Korean, but has lived for years in other parts of the world, and spoke great English.  So we had a long conversation about the flower market (she was ready to give us a stem of hydrangea but we were headed out for the rest of the day).  But, most interestingly, she talked about the human rights and civil rights situation in South Korea, which she said is very oppressive.  This is one of those issues where, as visitors, we really don't know much of what is going on in the country, we have to go with either what we hear from people who can speak English well enough to tell us about this, or if there is something in the newspaper or on the news.  And in South Korea, it can be difficult to find an English paper.  So it was a fascinating conversation, and while it wasn't uplifting, it was certainly an insight into a previously unseen part of Korean culture or society or politics.  And yes, we know enough to stay out of other countries' politics - we both know we can't impose our values on another culture.  But, when someone else states boldly that XYZ is going on, well, it builds a bigger picture of that country.

Our destination was Itaewon again, the neighbourhood close to the US military base, so there are various US-oriented businesses in the area.  (I enjoy the TV monitors in the subway stations, with ongoing commercials and a little mini-train slowly moving across the bottom, showing how far away your next train might be.  So funny to watch the animated train lurch across the screen!)  

We found an excellent spot for an American (or Canadian or British or Australian or New Zealand) breakfast - because as much as we enjoy the diverse Korean foods, well, breakfast is just breakfast and sometimes we want eggs and hashbrowns, or bacon, or pancakes.  So, welcome to the Tartine Café, which is also a bakery with gorgeous pies and tarts.

We debated having one of the beautiful tarts for breakfast, but filled up on the more traditional eggs, bacon, sausage, etc.  The menu has tons of options, so you can go from one to three eggs, add in a pancake instead of biscuit, go vegetarian, whatever.  It was lovely, and we had a wonderful brunch.  As well as drooling over all the pastry, and taking photos (but being good and not eating any pastry).  And notice that the chocolate fudge tarts have an R.  For Richard.  We were good and ignored them as they yelled our names - we were too full.

And look at this amazing pie for the Fourth of July!  As American as cherry and blueberry pie!!!!

Okay, enough food porn.  I know, it makes me want one just looking - and I'm still full from our stir-fried vegs and pork on rice dinner!

So, we've been looking for a special gift for our little niece (well, great niece or grand niece, whatever the terminology is) who was born in Korea and adopted into the family.  And it seemed that a traditional Korean outfit would be a special gift from her country of birth.

Korean modern fashion is very Western - business wear, suits, jeans, mini-skirts, lots of layers, most often in neutral tones of black, white, grey, navy, beige.  Some pops of colour, and occasionally a floral print.  But mostly slim-fitting and trendy clothes, with tall shoes on the women who tend to be a bit short.  (Not tiny as in SE Asia, but in general shorter than me.)

Traditional Korean dress, on the other hand, is voluminous.  Rarely seen on the streets of Seoul, although I did see a few older people one day in traditional dress, but almost all white.  (A little research confirmed my suspicion - white is for funerals.  Red is for wedding clothes.  Yes, I know - this is what makes life and travel so interesting, right?  The differences.)

So, it turns out that the traditional Korean ensemble for a girl or woman (called a hanbok) is an underdress, for summer made in an organza sort of fabric, floaty but with body at the same time.  (The heavier version was probably silk, but now mostly a heavy polyester.)  This has straps and a very high waist, and wraps and ties around the chest.  Then the ornamental jacket goes over the top.  The jacket very often has striped sleeves made of pieced fabric, much like a quilt.  Edges might be painted or trimmed with ribbon and embroidery.  And of course there are special hats, regional differences, all that.  (For little boys, the jacket is much like the girls but usually in darker colours, with less ornamentation, and goes over sort of a wrapped trouser thing.) 

Anyway, I had a great time helping Richard shop for the hanbok - trying to find the right size, allowing for the differences in sizing between the two continents.  He did the bargaining, but I ended up discussing the size, ornamentation, the right colour, and all the fun stuff.

I found a blog from someone who taught in Korea, and there are great photos of adorable children in traditional dress - I'm not sure if this was for a special occasion, or a traditional school, or what, since as I said previously, I've only seen a few people in traditional dress.  But the photos here are great, and I didn't want to steal them without giving the teacher credit - so here's the link:

And then I found all kinds of information about the hanbok, the traditions, and, well, just about everything Korean by another blogger.  For more information about the hanbok and it's components (as well as more photos):

And yes, that was pretty much our entire afternoon, LOL - food and shopping, then a snack, how can you go wrong?


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