I remember, before I ever went to Seoul, I was talking to another foreigner in South Korea who was telling me about Seoul. He said that Koreans were telling him ‘Oh, don’t you want to go to Itaewon, Itaewon is where all of the foreigners are’ and his response was ‘I didn’t come to South Korea to hang out with non-Koreans, I can do that in my own country. I came here to learn about Korea’.
I ended up going to Itaewon a few times – it turns out I kept on having things to do there.
First of all, my non-hiking shoes were so worn out that they were nearly unusable, even though I had repaired them multiple times. Furthermore, my feet are so wide that I often have trouble finding a shoe which fits them even in North America. Where is Seoul can you find shoes which fit larger feet? The answer is Itaewon.
I had visited my first custom-shoe-making shop in Namdaemun. I found even more custom-made-shoe shops in Itaewon, and saw that the price for having a pair shoes made to your specifications (such as size) is only about 100 USD – which I think is pretty reasonable. If I could get that kind of service where I live for that price, I’d probably get custom-made shoes anytime I needed to buy shoes. However, as a tourist who was busy seeing the sights of Seoul, I didn’t have time to get into the process of ordering a custom-made shoe.
I did find a little shop in an alley in Itaewon which did have shoes which fit my feet. Nice.
Itaewon, of course, is full of restaurants representing the many cuisines of the world. I myself ate once ate at a Mexican restaurant there. I also once ate at PLANT, the vegan bakery in Itaewon.
Based on the descriptions I had heard, I had assumed that Itaewon would be a cluster of very affluent foreigners, and indeed, many of the foreigners in Itaewon seem affluent indeed. But there’s also an enclave of Africans who have their own shops and they look like they have less cash (the shops aren’t as fancy, and the prices are lower).
Finally, as a bibliophile, I couldn’t help but look at What the Book, Seoul’s premier English-language new-and-used bookstore. It’s interesting to look at what kinds of English books – particularly used books – find their way to South Korea.
Of course, as the guy I mentioned at the beginning of this post said, I don’t need to go to Itaewon to experience a neighborhood where cultures from around the world meet. But I thought it was interesting to see what South Korea’s version of such a neighborhood looks like, and hey, it’s great I was able to get shoes I needed on short notice and Itaewon has some good food too.