For years – YEARS – I never had t.v. in America. So I had no desire to watch t.v. in Korea, either. Unfortunately, it came free with the officetel, and of course I switched it on occasionally to get a finger on the pulse of Korean pop psyche. I tried to watch Korean shows to learn Korean, but found it overwhelming, and so I’d default to the English-speaking shows, of which there are many: most of them incredibly bad, so I rarely turned on my t.v., except to catch some old Korean films to get a general sense of what has changed and what persists.
On Style channel, however, only failed me half the time. The highlight of my week would be when I accidentally hit Project Runway.
It’s next to impossible for English speakers to figure out programming here – unless you REALLY devote A LOT of energy to it, since there isn’t really anything covering such extensive and changing programming in English. Hell, even trying to get accurate movie theatre (cine) information is hit-or-miss.
And then I was delighted to find out there was a Project Runway Korea.
After five months without t.v., I now have it again and am happily watching my favorite show. The designs on Project Runway Korea put the, btw, put the U.S. version to shame. Two weeks ago I was really engaged by the design brief, which was taking photos of architecture as inspiration. (and there are some really amazing modern buildings in Seoul) And all the designers but one did an amazing job. But, to be fair, the Korean show features young unknown design professionals, whereas the American show features design students. This week, the final three put on an entire collection and each and every one of them was worthy of its own spread in W or Match.
Watching the contestants shop for fabrics in Dongdaemmon’s fabric market reminded me that I’d never truly checked it out. Last weekend, however, I finally got my chance as I was shopping for fabric for TRACK’s baby kangaroo that I’m making. (I’ll post photos tonight)
Shopping for fabrics here is like a dream: everything under the sun you could ever want is here. It’s also like a massive heart attack. The market is about three football fields wide and is seven floors. No exaggeration. I might even be underestimating this. How many 3 to 6 meter wide stalls can you fit in that??? The bottom floor is mostly home decorating fabrics, the second and third floors are clothes fabrics, and then there’s a couple floors of accessory fabrics and then heavy-duty upholstery and safety fabrics. I missed the garment district and Soho when I was in Manhattan, but I imagine it’s similar – only here, it’s all in one building and goes on and on and on and on. I wonder if many of the fabrics in Manhattan actually are imported from here…and this place has everything: every button, lace, fur, leather, spangle, ribbon, netting, etc.
Because it’s a market, the fabric shops are market stalls. I learned the hard way that if you want to buy the fabric right then, you have to make sure you can SEE the roll of cloth you want and that there are scissors hanging near-by, which may be only 1/4th of the stalls. Because space is so limited, most of the shop owners only have samples or tables of swatches, which (I learned the hard way) takes about a week’s lead time to order from a fabric company or, a few days to have cut from some retailer’s warehouse.
Thank God for BBB interpretation services, which have gotten me out of a jam on numerous occassions. BB stands for Beyond Babel (I don’t know what the other B stands for) and references a story in Biblical Babel, where people moved by the spirit spoke in tongues, communicating across different languages. They have 3,000 volunteers that speak 16 languages. You call their number 1588-5644 and are taken to a voice-mail message where you choose your language. And then it’s a bit awkward, as they connect you to the volunteer’s personal cell phone — and the volunteer totally isn’t expecting to be translating, so they’re always surprised at first.
The volunteers are always awesome – having to deal with frustrated, scared, angry, desperate foreigners at their wit’s end. (that would be me) But it always works out and afterward I am showering them thanks.
There’s also the Korean Traveller’s Phone service, whose number is 1330. They’ll look up things on-line for you, give you directions, hours of operation, bus routes, tourist information, etc. in English. They will also help you out with interpretation, but want to limit themselves to logistics for the most part.
It was like being a kid in a candy store…with no money…because I couldn’t speak Korean and didn’t know HOW to order anything. So it took awhile, but I was finally able to find out through the BBB interpreter that fabric is sold by the ma. (I think he told me a ma is 313 mm. but that doesn’t seem right. However, that width IS about the same size as the traditional hand-made raimie cloth, and that width is called pok, so maybe a ma is the length of a pok but the width of the western rolls and bolts we are used to) Later, I found out that many of the sellers understand what a yard is, so that was a relief.
The fabrics were absolutely stunning and inspiring. Especially the ones being sold directly by the fabric houses. If a person could spend a few weeks getting to know this place, whole collections would practically jump off the bolts waiting to be sewn.
But I’m in CheongPyeong: my dress form and sewing machine at home…
This is where living in a foreign country gets really hard: how many personal items do I collect? How entrenched do I allow myself to get? If I get more stuff, will it keep me here forever?