Thursday, February 28, 2013

3 Surprisingly difficult things to find in Korea


For many women, shopping in Korea is a fashionably wonderful experience, where the clothes are cheap and fun to wear. Clothes are also available everywhere, with shirts and skirts for sale on streets and underground markets, as well as subway stations. If it’s easy to shop for clothes, how about bras? Buying a bra in Korea would be obviously impossible for a large-chested woman (since the biggest size of bra available there is about equal to a C-cup), but what about for a smaller-framed woman? Still impossible. I don’t know one non-Korean woman who can fit into a Korean bra. They are heavily padded, and tend to be very small around the ribcage. My friend Yoomi once told me that Korean bras are made for Korean women only. I'm still not sure if it's true, but Korean bras certainly don't fit me. So, if you're planning to be in Korea for a long time, it’s a good idea to bring your favourite selection of bras with you.

Not hard to find - a leopard print fuzzy case with tail for your smartphone

After having a coffee with my friend Joo, we were walking in the street and we came to a special pharmacy in Korea called Olive Young. This is one of few stores where you can buy tampons in Korea, so I asked my friend if we could go inside. Once I found what I was looking for, Joo looked at what I had in my hand and was obviously shocked and uncomfortable. “Kerri, you use those??” She reacted as if I was buying illegal drugs. The concept of tampons hasn’t really caught on in Korea, yet, and most of my Korean friends don’t use them. For this reason, they can be hard to find. When you do find tampons, they are pretty much like the cardboard tampons of ten years ago – stripped of the modern flashy specialties offered in North America. Perhaps with a little pretty packaging and a Korean idol spokesperson, we can make tampons the next big thing for women in Korea.

Not hard to find - a hippie group of foreigners hanging in the grass

Do Asian people just win at the game of sweating? Do they just not have body odour? In my hot summer classroom without air conditioning, I’m wiping the sweat from my forehead while my students keep their spring jackets on. Even when they came into my class right after a volleyball game, they still don’t seem to smell. I don’t know how it works, but I somehow have never smelled B.O. from my Korean students or friends. Perhaps due to the lack of suffocating B.O., deodorant just has no place in the Korean drug store. Or perhaps everyone here has a secret to preventing B.O. that I’m just not in on yet. Either way, finding deodorant is a challenge, and like the tampons, when you find it, there isn’t much selection.

Not hard to find - cars parked everywhere and anywhere

Are there any items from home you haven't been able to find on your travels? 


  1. This was true in Japan as well! I luckily found some stores where I could buy bras that fit, but I usually asked my family to send me supplies from home: deodorant, tampons, toothpaste, etc.. No matter where I go in the world, I always prefer my products from home!

    1. I was just about to say this exact thing about it being the same in Japan. I always had a suitcase devoted to tamps, toothpaste, floss, bras, even underwear- not sure about it in Korea, but wearing thongs has a stigma attached to it in Japan.

      There are definitely Japanese products that I miss dearly as well and I always stocked up on them when I was flying the other way!

  2. I can't imagine ever shopping for a bra in Korea, but with my life I never know haha!

  3. You are right on about bras, but if you can get yourself to one of the big box stores, like HomePlus, E-Mart, or Lotte Mart you can find tampons- even the OB style with organic cotton (the brand name escapes me, but I was surprised to see the same brand when I got back to the US, sold next to the OBs). As for deodorant, while there's not a lot of variety to choose from, you can usually find these in Family Mart in a pinch (if memory serves, it's usually Dove brand), and I have even seen aerosol deodorant, too.


    PS- Not EVERY Western girl can have a pleasant shopping experience in Korea if they aren't shaped like you, Kerri! If you are over a US size 4, have any curves, or wear anything larger than a US Women's 7, you just have to get very used to either wearing the baggy Free/One Size tops, and just window shopping. Maybe that's how I managed to save so much money in Korea... I couldn't buy anything! Even the Western brand stores like Gap, F21 (technically Korean-owned), Zara, Mango, etc don't usually carry the larger sizes even if they would in their North American/European stores. Stores that my size 8/10 self and 6'4 husband had a lot of success at were UNIQLO and MUJI- which ironically are Japanese stores- but seemed to be sized with enough wiggle room for curvier or taller people.

    PPS- There are tons of stores that now ship internationally that didn't offer the service even just a few years ago, so it's always a good idea to check.

  4. I agree with the previous commentator - big box marts have deodorants and tampons. My problem is with shoes. I can always find sportswear, but smth feminine is a huuuge issue. Usually in Korea it's bad quality (good quality is really expensive), and my size is about US 10, so I always buy underwear and footwear when go back home. I wonder why Korean women don't use tampons?*^^*
    PS great picture of a fluffy bra=D

  5. I had trouble with deodorant and shoes. I love Dove deodorant and finally found some in Songtan where they have an American military base. Shoes I kind of gave up on...

  6. Bras were a nightmare for me too! I had one snap when I was in yoga class as the underwire was plastic!! Deodorant & tampons were no problem for me, in China that was impossible literally NOWHERE stocked even old crappy brands!

    Also; I had that fluffy leopard print phone case while in Seoul!! Good times! (Bought a more 'suitable' one for now I'm home!)

  7. I was positively amazed when I managed to find a sports bra that fit at Lotte Mart, considering I normally wear a 34C (sometimes veering into the D range depending on the brand).

    Pants and shoes though... a completely different story. I'm about a an 8/10 in North American sizes and it's tough to find things that fit me in Korea. The tops are too tight across the chest and the pants won't fit my hips and my size 9.5 feet...forget it. Frustrating because the clothes are so cute!

    I had a tough time finding oatmeal or whole wheat bread.

    1. I buy my oatmeal either at HomePlus or E-Mart.. They have it.. It's like 6000 KRW a box.. Forgot how many grams..


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