A new country, a new opportunity to visit the second best place in the world (don’t ask me what the first is, since I don’t even know myself), bookstores! Prior to leaving, I had already researched bookstores I should visit in Seoul, and I came up with two options: Kyobo Bookstore in Gwanghamun and What the Book in Itaewon. During my 9 days in Seoul, I only visited Kyobo, and I came out a happier kid after.
Prior to my departure, I had already researched bookstores in the city, the first is What the Book in Itaewon and the second, Kyobo Bookstore. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go to What the Book because of my unfamiliarity of the area. On my second to the last day and the last day itself, I decided to visit Kyobo Bookstore and see if I can pick up a new book for my shelf.
Located in Gwanghamun, Kyobo Bookstore isn’t really hard to find, in fact the store is connected to the train station and has its own exit. The first time I visited, I sort of got lost, because I wasn’t paying attention to the directions in the station, and I was still contemplating between Seoul Museum of History or Kyobo. I chose the latter, given the lateness of the hour I wouldn’t enjoy the museum as much.
Anyway, upon entering the bookstore I was greeted by the buzz of activity, I thought I had entered either Lotte Mart or one of the city’s many malls. It was the kind of activity you’d hear if you were in a department store on sale. This was generally a good sign, it meant that people were inside the bookstore and it meant that the store was popular. Having no idea where to go, I asked the security personnel where the foreign books were. He directed me to section J of the store. Not knowing where that was, I just moved along with the crowd.
The flurry of activity was infectious and envious, inside people were busy taking up every possible space just to read. There were couches, benches, tables, and every conceivable nook and cranny was stuffed with people reading books. At the same time, my eyes were going nuts over the numerous sections inside, there were just too many sections and each one covered a different topic.
When I finally reached the foreign book section, my heart sank, compared to the others this part of the bookstore is located in a small corner of the store. There were a few books here and there, a few interesting topics in the non-fiction shelf, and a whole table filled with the latest bestsellers and a whole shelf dedicated to the classics. A quick review of the titles and I knew that I wasn’t going to find any of the stuff I wanted or that I had written in my book list.
Unfazed, I went to one of the kiosks but I was stumped once again with the language barrier. But there was one more option, the book concierge. The book concierge is a customer service who will gladly look for the book (or in my case books) and either pick it up for you, print out a directions sheet, or give you recommendations based on your request. After going through a list and to no avail, I asked for a book on the Korean War. The concierge gladly brought me to the English section and gave me a few (serious looking) books.
I went home disappointed and saddened that my first visit was a failure. Though I had seen a book on The History of Korea for International Readers by the Association of History Teachers in the Books about Korea secion, but it wasn’t enough to really convince me to buy one. After my visit to the museum, I took a stab at the bookstore one last time. This time I hit gold with a book about North Korea titled “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea” by Barbara Demick. Not wanting to take any risk and after a quick review of its rating on Amazon, I decided to buy the book and the textbook on Korean history at once. It was a good thing I did, apparently the books were on sale!
With two books in hand, plus a book on the Korean War which I got for free in the War Memorial of Korea, I was leaving South Korea a happy kid. Nothing brings me greater joy knowing that I bought some pretty cool books in another country. Plus, seeing how alive Kyobo was, made me envious that bookstores aren’t places to hangout and have selfies in, but where people actually go to and read. With purchases in hand, I left the store and made my way home, promising myself to visit next time and try to visit What the Book as well.
1 Jogno-ro, Jongno 1 (il)-ga, Jongno-gu
Open daily from 9:30 – 10pm
Nearest Station: Gwanghamun, exit 3