Since I was heading to class in Busan, I figured I might as well go early and make a day of it. Two friends from the Busan expat group joined me for a morning of thrift shopping in Nampo-dong.
There’s so much I don’t know, but thrifting is my area of expertise in any country. After all, thrift tends to find me.
We had a snack from some street vendors then I led us through the maze of the market, not quite remembering where the cluster of used clothing stores was, but not too worried. Getting lost in Korea usually means finding something better.
At our third stall, I sorted through a rack of shirts then looked at a wall of dresses until–
“Customer, hey, customer!”
Who, me? Who is so rudely calling out?
The store worker glared at me and said, “You need to do it nice and orderly!” She huffed in annoyance and pointed to the clothes on the metal rack which were no longer spaced exactly one inch apart.
My mood instantly soured. Never in all my decades of thrift shopping has anyone ever scolded me for the way I touch hangers.
Lady, if my rifling through hangers is going to damage your clothes and your mood, you are in the wrong business!
I asked her about the price of a skirt and without even looking up she grumbled something about “ten thousand won”.
You think I’m going to pay ten dollars for a used skirt? And after you chewed me out? You’re crazy!
I dragged my accomplices out and complained. Nampo-dong had been suffering a lack of tourists and shoppers for over a year because of COVID so she should be a little kinder to the three she has!
The other storeowners luckily ranged from indifferent to helpful and one particular shop was so well curated I really have to commend the owner’s eye.
It was labelled “vintage” which, in my experienced thrifting eyes, is code for “overpriced”. However, most of her items were under forty dollars and she even had a sale rack. I didn’t recognize any brands, but it was clear from the heavy fabrics, specific cuts, and shoulder pads that these were truly well cared-for and unique items.
It was also eccentrically but tastefully decorated, and I had to laugh at the mini posters for sale.
The three of us passed a few hours quickly rummaging through piles and hangers for our various wanted items– skirts, summer dresses, a Burberry coat.
Earlier I fretted that they wouldn’t be able to keep up the pace– most people have no idea what it means to thrift with me, and many often wander off after an hour or two.
My thrifting style is a marathon, not a sprint!
Luckily, these two ladies had been bolstered by their earlier finds and intrigued by the stores with dollar piles. I found several skirts in a three dollar mound.
We shopped until the moment I had to leave for the subway. My class is by Busan University, which is about an hour away from Nampo-dong. Busan, because of all the mountains, is not a particularly condensed city.
The underground station gave me such nostalgia. Even if it’s only been a month! I really do like Busan. My teacher, once I made it to her class, reminded me of her plan.
“Remember? I have great plans for you. Here’s what were going to do after COVID– You and I will go to a bar. You will point out a man you like. I will excuse myself to use the restroom and on the way back, I will ask that man if he wouldn’t mind chatting with you for practice. ‘She’s my student,’ I’ll say, ‘do you mind practicing with her?'” I giggled all the way through. It sounds preposterous and also incredibly fun.
She also suggested I move back to Busan after next year.
I’ve thought about it too, but we’ll have to see: where my Korean level is, if any Busan schools will offer me the independence I have here, and if small town life proves to be too little after all.
Most public schools run with the dual co-teacher plan (I wouldn’t get to lead or teach alone), so I would have to scour job boards carefully and look for the rare direct-hire public school or a private school.
It was never my plan to immigrate to Korea but as opportunities continue to present themselves, I’ll certainly have to readjust my vague five year plans!
While I also want to try living and working in other countries, I’m not ready to leave Korea just yet.
In any case, we shall see! We’ve all learned that the future is hardly predictable and often defiantly surprising.