Sunday, March 15, 2009

Where are the Asian dolls?

Yesterday and Today, I went to Shinsegae Centum City. I walked around the store and I went to the toy section in the basement. I saw something that I could not believe--all the dolls had blond or medium brown hair. In America, it is not politically correct to have only blond-haired dolls. Mattel even came out with dolls of different colors of Barbie. There was one Barbie doll and a few Barbie look-alikes and most of them had varying shades of blond hair. The boxes said that they were made in Korea or China. The baby dolls also had blond hair. The boxes had pictures of Asian girls holding these dolls. It was a bit of a shock to me. In America, there would a public outcry over the lack of dolls of different colors. I was surprised that in Korea, a place where most kids have very dark hair and have two parents with black hair, the darkest color on the dolls' hair is medium brown.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

신세계 (Shinsegae): The Mecca of Department Store Shopping

Last week, Shinsegae Centum City (left) opened its doors and it is massive. It is now East Asia's largest multifunctional shopping center. I went on its second day open and I could not believe how big it is. According to Shinsegae's brochure, the store is on a 75,719 sq. meter plot of land (18.2 acres), and has a floor area of 509,810 sq. meters (5,487,594.84 sq. ft.). It cost 1.025 trillion won (USD 1.09 billion) to build. There are 14 floors above ground and four basement floors. The store has a golf course, movie theater with seating for 2,700 people, an IMAX theater, a spa, an ice skating rink, a food street, grocery store, bookstore, and everything a typical high-end department store would have. The floors are all marble and there are crystal chandeliers in the middle of the store as one goes up or down the escalators. The first time I went there, I walked around on the floor that sold the kitchen accessories and bedding and I could not believe the number of people working on just that floor. It was as if they had a worker for each rack or shelf. It was a bit intimidating. The bottom floor has the grocery items. Since Shinsegae owns E-Mart, the store-brand food was E-Mart brand, the same items that I could buy at the E-Mart two blocks away from home.

Shinsegae Centum City is not the only fancy thing in Centum City. It is next to a small Lotte Department store and BEXCO (Busan Exhibition and Convention Center). Centum City is an urban development project in Pusan. (Pusan is the old Romanization of 부산 and Busan is the new Romanization.) There are many fancy apartment buildings there. There is a Trump Towers and Centum Park is a very fancy apartment complex. Centum City is located in the Haeundae district of Pusan. Haeundae New Town is a beachfront community.

Shinsegae Centum City is very close to where I live and work. Above is a map of the Busan Subway. My subway stop is Jung-dong on the green line. Three subways stops away, Busan Museum of Modern Art, is where I work and one stop from that, Centum City, is where the store is located. All three stops are located in Haeundae. Before Shinsegae opened, I would have to ride the subway for a half an hour or longer if I wanted to go to a nice department store. The closest one that I know of is the main Lotte store in Pusan, which is located at Seomyeon station, which is on the green and orange lines. That store has only 10 floors above ground and two or three basement floors. Before Shinsegae, I thought Lotte was big as it had a grocery store, movie theater, travel agency, wedding coordinator, ophthalmologist's office and the typical department store items. Shinsegae puts Lotte to shame.

The department stores are popular places in South Korea because people have more money than what they did in years past and they want to spend it on nice things. Women typically wear nice dresses, skirts, or pants with high-heels. Many of them carry designer purses such as Louis Vuitton or Prada. Men who work in an office typically wear at the very least dress pants, shoes, and a dress shirt; however, most wear a suit. They also carry a bag, unlike American men, who will not because it is too similar to carrying a purse.