Friday, February 1, 2008

Feelin' shady in Itaewon

I don't know what it is - I just can't get used to this routine. Every month I withdraw a stack of hundreds, this time an even 50. Sometime later I go find a "money lady" out in town. They run currency exchange services out of small buildings in alleys that sport a yellow sign. They have a posted currency exchange rate, but they'll give you a random amount extra if you bring hundreds and ask (or are a regular). The Army run Dragon Hill Lodge will give you about 850 to a dollar if you're a guest. The bank on base is a little better at about 920 now. I got 946 from the money lady today, even given that we just took a big hit from the fed lowering interest rates.

In any event, I'm only a little nervous riding the subway to Itaewon with my wad. Today is pretty convenient, they had three 1 million won notes for me, so I "only" had 173 of the standard 10,000 won notes. I've been stuck with all small bills - you feel like you're carrying a suitcase full of money. An interesting thing is that the 100k and 1mil notes aren't official currency. I think they're issued by banks or something. You typically have to sign the back of them when you pay, sometimes even write your phone number. It's ok to have many signatures.

Once I had won in my backpack it was ok. There's no reason anyone would jump me for funny money. I was stopped by a tailor in front of his shop. Long story short I walk out having committed a negotiated $500 for 2 piece suit, a long cashmere jacket (same price as the suit), and 2 nice collared shirts - all custom made. I've always planned on getting a couple custom suits while I'm here. I've heard guys get them in the low $100 range. At that price I might get a pimp costume made in white or pink. Here it depends more on the material than the labor, weird. I'm also told that Osan has much better prices. Seoul's getting "expensive".

So I'll be getting a car at some point. I've been too indecisive. I've passed up a free one (accidentally) and several nice ones at about $1000 (doww!). It's funny how your standards change with your environment. I keep seeing $500-800 "Hoopties"and thinking that they're overpriced. Might spend up to about $2500 depending on the deal. It's tough, because you can't expect to get nearly anything back on your Korean car. On the other hand, we have American auto manufacturers that will give military members a great deal on new cars overseas. You can drive them here then get them shipped back.

No comments: