Getting in the game

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Getting in the game

Which to visit first, Migliore, Doosan or the wholesale markets across the street? That is often the debate for shoppers at Dongdaemun Market.

The colossal Migliore and Doosan department stores dwarf the rest of the buildings in the area. But they're the Johnny-come-latelies to this decades-old shopping district in the eastern parts of downtown Seoul.

Before the two shopping high-rises infiltrated Dongdaemun, other markets such as Ganghui, Dong Pyeonghwa and Heyang were the affordable fashion attractions. But before there were fashion markets, there were sports stores. And before there were sports stores, there was a stadium.

Dongdaemun Stadium was built in 1926, mostly for baseball. For many years, it was the only stadium in Korea. In 1956, a soccer stadium was built next door. The sports fans who came to the stadium complex attracted sports stores. A few sports merchants started renting lots just outside the stadium, and others followed.

Crowds still gather here for high school and college baseball and soccer games, especially high school baseball games. Defending baseball champions Gwangju High School will be returning for the next major high school tournament to be held May 1-8. There will also be tournaments May 22-26 and August 1-16.

As more stadiums went up around Seoul, Dongdaemun Stadium lost its eminence. But the area is still tops when it comes to athletic equipment.


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Tennis is his racket -- and his passion



When Kim Jeong-hun was 28, he decided he had had enough.

"I hate to lose," Mr. Kim says from behind the counter of Woori Sporting Goods. He was playing tennis for fun, but would lose game after game. People invited him to play, but he wound up fetching water. For a long time, one opponent celebrated a bit too much when he beat Mr. Kim. So for two years Mr. Kim focused on tennis, then faced his archrival. "I won," Mr. Kim, now in his 40s, says, "and I kept on winning."

Mr. Kim started in the wholesale sports market. But in 1997, after the economic crisis, he was close to going out of business, so he went into retail at Dongdaemun Stadium. "Dongdaemun is the best place to have a sports store," Mr. Kim says.

Over the years, he has noticed that certain nationalities prefer certain brands. The Japanese buy Head or Yonex. Koreans buy Wilson, Head or Babolat. Westerners buy Wilson or Prince. He watches his customers their size, weight, experience to suggest the perfect racquet.

But Mr. Kim may be running into problems. Tennis seems to have plateaued and the government is planning to redevelop Dongdaemun Stadium with brand-name stores or a sports mall. "There used to be a time when every new apartment had a tennis court," Mr. Kim says. "Now apartments are built with badminton courts or simple parks." As for the government, he says, "A sports mall will increase the overhead costs and many of the owners here will be slowly squeezed out. But what can I do?"

In order to take his mind off such concerns, Mr. Kim plays tennis. Every Tuesday, a friend, Bill Majors, a volunteer minister for Youngnak Presbyterian Church, calls, saying, "Older brother, let's play tennis." It has become a tradition for Mr. Kim and Mr. Majors to play in the mountains behind Korea University. Mr. Kim says, "I will play until my body stops."


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IF YOU DON'T SEE IT, JUST ASK


Looking for a uniform worn

by the SK Bigs? How about

1 kg weights? Dongdaemun's got 'em -- and lots more.




SOLE SURVIVOR

The Converse All-Star first came out in 1917. It was a basketball shoe, available in one color only -- black. The All-Star had a thick rubber sole and a canvas upper that covered the ankles.

But the All-Star story really revolves around "Chuck" Taylor, the "ambassador to basketball" and the first athletic shoe endorser. Chuck Taylor toured the small towns of the United States, holding basketball clinics and talking up the All-Star.

The most popular All Star you'll find in Dongdaemun is the low-top for 31,000 won ($24). "We'll sell 100 during the weekends," said one clerk, "mostly in black."



GET YOUR KICKS

Kika, a Korean soccer brand that started in the early '80s, designs gear for "all of soccer." Zebra is Kika's latest and most popular cleat. Before the Zebra, there was the Eagle and the Aeorus, but the Zebra has really taken off.

Introduced last November, the Zebra weighs in at 260 grams and is worn by Brazilian striker Cezar Oliveira. The Zebra is popular not just among strikers, but midfielders. Special attention was paid to a cup-in-sole design.

The Zebra black will be introduced at the end of April. According to Kika headquarters, Zebra black will be an upgraded version, with a new design and outsole.



REINVENTING THE WHEEL

The hula hoop is supposed to help tone your abdomen. But I have only tried the hula hoop during lunch breaks back in kindergarten, and who is trying to lose weight in kindergarten?

The Magnetic Health Hoop looks like a hula hoop with odd bulbs encircling the inside. The sensation is not smooth like the normal hoop, but feels oddly like a massage. Maybe not for the ticklish.

Pyunghwa Industrial introduced the health hoop several years ago, but sales are still going strong and it can be found throughout the area. "If you use the health hoop for only a couple days, nothing will happen," one storeowner said. "But if you consistently hula hoop at least 200 times a day, you will notice a difference in your stomach muscles." Hmm. Sounds familiar.



STRAPPING IT ON

In 1877, sea captain Helly Jueil Hansen made his first "oilskin" waterproof jacket. The rest, as they say, is history. For more than a century, Helly Hansen has continued the tradition of outdoor clothing and accessories. One of the hottest backpacks is a Helly Hansen, in black. You can hang a lightweight windbreaker from the elastic cords that wrap around the backpack, or clip a water bottle through a loop.



CHIC FEET

"The Mei Lo is so hip, especially in black, we're always out of stock," according to a manager at Adidas. Designed by Yohji Yamamoto, the Mei Lo makes women's sneakers chic. The Mei Lo is for those who want hip-looking sneakers but aren't about to splurge on Yamamoto's limited edition line.

Made of supple full-grain leather, the Mei Lo provides lightweight coverage. The upper is perforated to keep your feet cool. It's perfect for yoga, tai chi, or quick jaunts around the city -- but only if you're lucky enough to snag this hot item.



SKATER'S HIGH

Nike has re-entered the recreational inline skate market. In February, Nike released Air Max N-Dorfin in Korea. Just as the name suggests, the N-Dorfin uses the patented Air Max heel cushioning technology, developed for Nike's high end athletic shoes. The result is comfort, cool design and a hefty price tag. The going rate is 295,000 won for the N-Dorfin 3, which is the most popular choice, and 455,000 won for the N-Dorfin 1, which is top of the line.

The N-Dorfin is also modular. The boot can be separated from the frame, making the frame interchangeable. Of course, you'll want to keep the boot. "It's like plastic surgery," says Hong Pyeong-seok, of the bowling and inline skating store Undong Guchong Panjang. "You can change the face, in this case, the skating frame, but you'll always have your heart, which is the boot."

Or if you're lucky, you'll be happy with the entire skate. Just ask Sohn Jeong-min, television actress and sister to g.o.d's Sohn Ho-yeong. According to excited store clerks, she bought an N-Dorfin 1 last week.



Note: Endorphins are a "feel-good" hormone commonly associated with exercising.



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Like to shop? Market stories available online


Visiting a market is not just about shopping. The markets in Korea also provide opportunities to experience the country's culture -- from looking at fresh fish at dawn to trying on the latest jeans at midnight.

Last year, the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition surveyed Dongdaemun Chain Store, Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market, Gyeongdong Traditional Herb Market, Namdaemun Market, Hwanghak-dong Flea Market, Dapsimni Antique Market, Yangjae Flower Market, Chungbu Dried Foods Market with Bangsan Stationery and Label Market and Moran Traditional Market. Recently, the market series resumed with stories on Sadang-dong and Nonhyeon-dong furniture markets and Toegyero Pet Market.

All the market stories can be found at http://english.joins.com.


by Joe Yong-hee

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