Monday, September 25, 2006


I went to E-Mart (in Yongsan) this morning. Thoughts:

Is the "Happy Happy Song" specifically an E-Mart thing? I've never heard it anywhere else but it plays at E-Mart every single time I'm there. (I don't know the song's actual name, but if you've ever heard it you know exactly what I mean by the "Happy Happy Song".) I know it ought to be annoying, but I've gotten weirdly fond of it, and I'll be disappointed if I ever go to E-Mart and I don't hear it.

There are always a lot of non-Asians shopping at E-Mart. I figure it's partly because Yongsan's probably got the largest foreign population, per capita, on the entire Korean Peninsula. But also E-Mart's got a huge range of products, organized along broadly the same lines as a Western supermarket. Open-air neighborhood markets are scenic and all, but I get the feeling a majority of Western expats prefer something a little more familiar. In any case, I've never felt like the only foreigner around while shopping at E-Mart.

That said, E-Mart's got a business model I've never seen duplicated in the States. At Yongsan, the main sales area is two floors; the top floor sells a range of clothing and other products - rather like K-Mart in the U.S. but with far fewer electronics. The bottom floor is a supermarket. There are escalator-ramps you can take a shopping cart on, and each level has a about a dozen checkout lines where you can pay for goods picked up on either floor. Does this supermarket-retail goods combo exist in the United States?

Subliminal Marketing! In one part of the produce area, they have speakers set up quietly playing the sound of birds singing. Obviously to remind people of the farms this produce supposedly came from - remember this is a metropolitan area of 22 million people and you could probably travel for miles in any direction from E-Mart without ever encountering countryside.

One more thing, a minor anecdote I just want to put out there. I bought some lightweight but bulky storage units at E-Mart, and as they were quite awkward to carry I took a taxi home. The cabdriver initially misunderstood where I wanted to go (probably my fault - I have no illusions about speaking Korean with an accent) but when he realized he'd made a mistake he reset the meter when he changed course. It's nothing, but so many foreigners in this country have stories of bad-tempered, rude cabdrivers that you'd think most cabdrivers here spend their days in a perpetual rage that they sometimes have to give rides to foreigners. Resetting the meter was enough of a gesture to remind me that not everyone fits the negative stereotype.

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