I have this favorite pair of shoes (black mary janes) that I wear with nearly everthing. I've had them for so long, the strap was starting to fall off. So... while I was walking around Itaewon (in Korea) shopping for a new set of luggage, I decided I should look for a shoe cobbler. A man in a very nice, long cashmere coat asked if I wanted him to make me a coat, and I said "No, I need my shoes repaired." He pointed across the street to a cabinet-kiosk and said, "Repairing shoes, over there!" I thanked him and crossed the street.

The shoe cobbler was busy hamering away on the heel of a woman's high-heeled boot, but when I showed him my shoes, he ushed me inside his cabinet-kiosk and told me to wait five minutes. I watched him hammer in three very long, skinny nails, and then he got frustrated and pulled the whole heel off. I wondered if he was a very good shoe cobbler or not... The inside of the cabinet reeked of kerosene, shoe polish, and rubber cement. On my left was a mid-sized television that took up one end of the cabinet-kiosk and on my right was the shoe cobbler. I realized I had never in my life seen anyone repair shoes, except on old Dicken's movies or cartoons. He grabbed bits of elastic, twine, a needle I wouldn't want to war against, and a blade in the shape of a shoe horn. Within a few minutes, he was done and my shoes were like-new. We argued a bit over the price -- I thought he wanted 40,000 won ($40), but he wanted 4,000 won ($4). I gave him 5,000. With that, I walked out of the warm cabinet-shoe-kiosk into the freezing air of Itaewon and rambled about looking at hats and Burberry scarves and other trinkets. I bought my suitcase set (a red one!) and found a taxi to take me back to the hotel.

Everything in the market was the same... the scarves, the hats, the tables piles with socks and gloves... the stores with cheap plastic little drums with the Korean flag painted on them and enameled jewelry boxes... Nothing truly appealed to me or my cheap budget. All in all, I did some fine shopping while here and got the minimum of things I needed for Christmas.

Tonight promises a Korean meal steamed in culture.
I've been in Korea since Monday. It's similar to Japan, but a little dirtier and the food has more flavor. I went shopping on Tuesday and walked around the alleys and streets looking for good deals on leather jackets and souvenirs. One alley I went down must have been the spice market, because it had large barrels of bright red, yellow, and orange spices. There were bowls full of kimchee, and a few stalls away, tables piled high with foot-long silvery fish. There were tables with plucked chickens (with heads -- how did they kill them?) lined up as if they'd died right there, in the middle of a dance. The smell was...interesting. The Korean women at the stalls looks at me with surprised expressions; apparently not many foreigners walk down to that section of town. I found the fruit market and bought a mesh bag full of mikans (that's the Japanese word, don't know for Korean word, for clementines). When I realized I was hungry, I went to a retauarant that specialized in bulgogi, but I didn't order that -- I ordered bibimbap, which was ok but had a strange vegetable in it that my stomach wasn't too keen on. Nauseated, I didn't eat much. By the time I got home, I had several bags I toted, eager to drop them on the floor of my hotel room.

I think I may go back out into town today and do a little more browsing and try some other national dish. The alarming thing about being in Seoul is that North Korea is just miles north of here... people are there, starving or freezing to death all the while believing they have it better than anyone else. It's not exactly uplifting.

Well... time to get up and go to the gym.