Drop-in shoppin'

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Drop-in shoppin'

Seoul is a city that never sleeps, which is made to order for those of who like to shop all night. During the wee hours at Seoul's Dongdaemun market, heavy traffic - buses, vans, cars and motorcycles - clog the nearby lanes. It's all hustle and bustle everywhere you turn - loud, bright and entertaining. The latest Korean pop hits blast from this big speaker or that, neon signs and strobe lights flash, and dance competitions pulse from an outdoor stage. But the ultimate entertainment is the shopping.

The market consists of a number of mammoth, modern buildings around which are numerous street vendors selling all kinds of clothes and accessories, from socks to beaded bags to shearling coats. All that fashion focus in one small area has made Dongdaemun Korea's shopping mecca. According to the spokesman at the Local Economy Division of Jung-gu ward office, there are more than 20,000 shops registered in the area and about 1 million people a day visit the market.

Over the past years, the wholesale market area has shifted away from its original focus of attracting merchants all over the country to catering more to shoppers looking for bargains. Touted by tourist magazines as one of Seoul's major attractions, Dongdaemun enables visitors to browse and splurge until 4 a.m. But the sheer numbers of shops and people can be overwhelming, making it difficult to track down just where the best bargains are.

By learning a few simple words - market jargon, to be specific - shoppers can aim themselves in the right direction and make their Dongdaemun experience more fun and fruitful.

Two basic terms used by Dongdaemun merchants are jepum and bose. Jepum means brand-name goods, and bose means tariff-free goods, or goods made for export. By asking shop owners whether the item you're looking at is bose or jepum, you can determine its background.

Jepum, sometimes called minsu, refers to mostly Korean brand-name clothes, which can be found almost everywhere throughout the market. The most noticeable places to find these goods at wholesale prices are the big buildings, such as Doota, Migliore, Freya, Designer's Club and the like. These shopping centers were built in the mid-1990s, when the Korean apparel industry was booming and clothes emporiums like these began to spring up.

By contrast, finding bose merchandise is a little tricky. Most of these goods are foreign brand-name goods, which came to the market with flaws or as samples or overruns. Bose goods represent the chronology of Korea's textile export sector.

In the early 1980s, Korea became a favored place for foreign clothes manufacturers to contract with local firms to churn out their clothes, making "Made in Korea" a common sight on the tags of fashionable clothes in more developed countries. Low-rise shopping arcades, such as Jeil Pyunghwa market and Kwanghee market, sprang up near Dongdaemun Stadium to sell overruns or knock-offs of the styles. Through the early 1990s, both markets sold high-quality merchandise bearing various American or European brand names, causing frequent trademark lawsuits filed by the overseas companies.

Eventually the overseas firms shifted their business to China and its cheaper labor markets, debilitating the markets somewhat. But there are still bose goods to be found, most of which are now made for export to Japan. The merchandise is usually sold without proper labels; those with labels may be knock-offs, overruns or leftovers from sampling jobs.

So how lucky can you get at Dongdaemun for your holiday shopping? Here, the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition suggests some bargains - all under 15,000 won ($12) - found in the two bose markets.

The nearest subway station to the market is Dongdamun Stadium.

by Inēs Cho

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