Our columnist uncovers shopping haunts in the Fragrant Harbour and Seoul’s soul.
I don't really eat goose, neither have I tried it. But roasted goose is a delicacy in Hong Kong where I spent six days recently. All I did was walk, eat, meet people, shop and eat some more. That’s Hong Kong for you.
I don’t exactly like this crazy, crowded city, but I do love how convenient it is. It was easy to get to places and find things I needed, especially work-wise. Although many fashion agents have moved from Hong Kong to mainland China, which has become the hypermarket for almost all industries – there are still a good number located here, making Hong Kong a good destination for business.
Add to that, my all-time favourite tong sui (soupy dessert) at almost every corner, and Hong Kong is right up there among my top work destinations!
My recent trip was a bit of an adventure. Firstly, my assistant and I kept our suitcases at our supplier’s office when we arrived, and he forgot to hand them over before closing shop, so we didn’t have anything to change into on our first night. It was, of course, the perfect excuse to go shopping! Then, it was raining cats and dogs, and we couldn’t take the train back to our hotel because the tracks were flooded and the trains weren’t able to function. Unfortunately, we were in Hong Kong right smack in the middle of the rainy season, which meant we got soaking wet almost every day! One just had to laugh... it’s the best way to destress!
I’m lucky to have many friends in Hong Kong, so you can imagine how well-fed we both were. Thank you, Tecky, Benny, Sammi and Annie, for being the perfect hosts and guides.
After six days, we returned to Kuala Lumpur, and I unpacked my suitcases only to pack again for my kimchi and K-style trip. This one was pure indulgence – a holiday with my girlfriends from Singapore, Taiwan and China. Although I’m quite busy for my upcoming Emel Raya as well as Melinda Looi International ready-to-wear collections, it’s hard to get all of us girls together for a trip. So, we all made the commitment to put some time aside to spend with each other – always so important these days when everyone is so busy – and pamper ourselves.
It was my first time ever in Seoul, and I must say I was very impressed with the economy and how the entertainment business has taken the Korea brand to the global arena. Everywhere, one is besieged by billboards of famous Korean stars. They are up there advertising everything and anything, especially cosmetic brands. Koreans must be very appearance-conscious because almost every shop sells cosmetics, face masks, lip masks, eye masks, foot masks… Even more interesting, their ambassadors are all male movie stars. It was certainly an eye-opening trip. And their marketing seems so effective, as I couldn’t help but buy quite a lot for my staff and myself, even though I’m not really into cosmetics. I have since discovered that they were value buys as these products are very good and pretty affordable too.
As you can probably imagine, this became another eating and shopping trip. I have to say, after a while, I felt very tired of all that shopping and eating. Strange, isn’t it, considering how much of both I do on work trips? I guess I am just not used to shopping for leisure, only for work.
My favourite picks of this K-style trip for food would be the modern Korean restaurant Moi, located in Hananmdong Yongsangu. Thanks to Moi, I’ve come to realise that Korean cuisine is not just about kimchi and BBQ. Some of the highly recommended dishes include the fresh seaweed soup, grilled sirloin/Korean beef, spicy boiled chicken pot, seasonal fresh Korean vegetables with fresh scallops salad (this is absolutely to die for!), mixed grilled fish, fried chicken with Korean leeks salad with sesame oil, preserved fresh prawns with a special sauce (you can’t even tell it’s fresh prawns!) and potato pancakes (dip this into the preserved prawn’s sauce). As our party was quite big, we were able to try many different dishes. And when the bill came at the end, we were pleasantly surprised to find how reasonably-priced the entire meal was.
Next has to be the Gangnam area. Popularised by Psy’s song, Gangnam refers to a part of Seoul situated near the south of the Han River, and is most notable for high-end shopping, restaurants, unique cafés and entertainment. Along with the Bongeunsa temple and Banpo Moonlight Rainbow Fountain, Gangnam is a young and hip area boasting some of the best sights in Seoul. You can find all kinds of BBQ grill restaurants which in itself makes the place worth a visit.
Adding to its allure is Singsadong, a famous shopping area nearby with mainly Korean brands. Just bear in mind that the area has no tax refund policy, so whatever you buy, don’t think about getting any money back. Some say it’s because the rental is very high in this area, which is unfortunate for tourists!
If you don’t manage to buy enough during the day, don’t worry, go to DongDaeMun, a night-time shopping paradise full of wholesale and retail malls selling mainly fashion. Most shops open from 8pm till 4am in the morning. There must be sufficient people in Seoul who shop while others sleep!
The shopping here is so fantastic, you can’t possibly bring too much money. What is truly great about shopping in Seoul is that it has “soul” – it’s not like shopping in most capital cities where you find the same global brands.
Koreans, like the Japanese, are very patriotic and are very local brand-conscious, making the shopping experience here unique, which I think is very nice.
I could go on and on about eating and shopping here, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. All I will say is Seoul is definitely worth a visit, so do go and discover it for yourself. And, until my next column, hope you have a great half-year!
> Award-winning fashion designer Melinda Looi tries to marry consumerism and materialism with environmental consciousness. She believes her greatest creations are her children. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.