Walking and the pedestrian environment
May 14, 2002
Hyundai Dept Store (Seoul)

Behind the scenes look at department stores in South Korea!

Two things happened to me today that were pretty cool. One at the beginning, one at the end. I'll start with the one at the end cuz it's shorter.

I went over to Coex Intercontinental for dinner because they are cheaper than Grand, and I really liked that chige last year. I was placed at a table next to the window which overlooks the lobby from the second floor. Bored, I watched the comings and goings of visitors to the hotel and its restaurants. As I was about halfway done with dinner, a strange thing caught my eye. It looked just like a dog; first I thought 'they let dogs in here?', but then something just felt horribly wrong about it. I waited for it to come closer around a pillar. First I saw the cute little Korean toddler girl that was pulling it. Finally I saw the dog, and realized that it was actually an inflatable helium balloon made to look like a dog, and filled just full enough to float six or eight inches off the ground. It even had little feet hanging off bouncing off the ground as it glided along. It was the most darling thing ever, and a very brilliant idea. The little girl following her mother and pulling a fake dog was just insanely cute and I wished I had my camera with me.

Then her older brother walked up. His first move was to kick the dog. When it floated up a bit, he did a soccer dribbling move off of his knee, then off his chest, then a few more times off of his knees and feet. It was the funniest thing. I started chuckling really hard. I was trying to contain myself and to hold in the chige I'd eaten. The more I thought about it funnier it got, though. Once I realized I didn't have anyone to laugh about it with I sobered a bit, but it still made me smile.

The other thing happened this morning. I'll type verbatim what I wrote as I wated for it to conclude. The Afternoon Tea pad came in useful.

I showed the Diesel postcard to the man at the concierge desk and was dismayed to find that one of the branches was in the Hyundai department store next to the hotel. Why did I even bother trying to study Korean if I can't figure out that much? With nothing better to do, I headed over. 9:45, I figure I'll wait outside for them to open.

Although they were still setting up the credit card application booths outside the main entrance, the front doors were unlocked, so I went straight in. I was surprised to see the place totally devoid of customers, especially after having to fight for every inch the night before. I was also interested to see the employees nonchalantly cleaning and straightening things up. However, I had seen the same thing in Italy - cleaning after opening time - so it didn't seem that odd and I just chalked it up to the differences between Japan and Korea.

When the escalator between the second and third floor was not turned on, I knew I had either walked in right at opening, or they were still closed. I kept right on going though, because the store with Diesel was on a higher floor. Walking up from the third floor I found a man standing, speaking into a microphone, and several dozen female employees sitting on the floor. I turned around immediately and headed for the elevator, knowing I had walked in on an employee meeting.

But I couldn't figure out how I would get to an exit from the elevator without being noticed, and I figured the entrances would all be shuttered or locked. So I decided to just sit down on the bench in front of the elevators and wait it out.. but for how long? Finally I noticed the 10:30-xx:xx sign on the floor guide. 35 minutes to go... Finally an employee (maybe the floor manager?) noticed me. As I sat looking at my Japanese tour magazine, he tried several times to get my attention by moving himself further and further into my field of view. Unable to hold back any longer when he stammered "Excuse me sir", I looked up and smiled at him with a "how can I help you" expression. He was very polite but obviously baffled that I was sitting there. He agreed to let me sit there and turned on the TV for me. What a nice guy!

A few minutes later another man, maybe in customer relations or security, noticed me. Obviously the first man hadn't spread the word. This guy spoke less English and was absolutely flabbergasted to see me in the store before opening, and less accepting of the idea. He left for a minute to figure out what to do, then came back to escore me to the plush couches at the main stairwell and elevator bank. He even showed me where the complimentary tea bags and cold and hot water were! But I suspect he mostly wanted me out of the main floor area and away from unattended merchadise.

While I was speaking with him the first time I noticed the amateur singing... what in the world?? As I sat in the main stairs, where I could hear echoes off of the marble tiling from other floors, the pieces of the puzzle came together. When I arrived on the third floor, there were employees everywhere cleaning and straightening. At the time that he escorted me to the other stair case, everyone was seated on one end of the display area. They weren't just having employee meetings or orientation.. they were having pre-opening pep rallies complete with karaoke! The emphatic speeches, the responsive cheers and the heart-felt tunes of each floor mixed together and gave me a good laugh.

Ten minutes before opening time, the piped music started in, with some sort of announcement. I couldn't decide if it was normal piped information for customers, or if it was some sort of 'everyone get ready' message to employees. My questions were answered when the next bit started: very patriotic marching music with recorded excersize calls, just like Japanese 'radio fitness'. Hya! Hul! I know I would have been laughing even harder if it were in Japanese and I understood it.

After the marching music ended came some pumping, thumping k-pop dance music. I guess it's the motivation for the younger generation. Finally the shutters raised, and a countdown began... I didn't look up from my pad, but I knew the employees were lined up and they were looking at me: there's not supposed to be anyone there yet! The countdown ended and the elevators open. Customers poured out to dramatic fanfare over the speakers. The floor manager held them in the reception lounge with me until the first phrase of the anthem ended, then finally allowed them to enter the store with a deep bow.

What an exciting way to shop.!

Posted by Rob Ketcherside at May 14, 2002 8:05 PM
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