For most people, getting a direct Facebook message from someone asking if you want to go to Korea would immediately raise red flags. Was I being groomed by a would-be scammer? Fortunately for me, I went against my pessimistic instincts and replied. And just a couple of months later I found myself with one more country ticked off my bucket list and officially in one of the world’s most high-tech cities, Seoul.
Work and Play
I was invited by KOTRA – a trade and investment promotion organisation that is funded by the South Korean government – to go to their annual Consumer Goods Showcase. Why me? Apparently, word got out about my undying love for all things KBeauty, and they thought that I might want to experience it first hand. They thought right. There was zero hesitation on my side (duh) and I travelled over 20 hours to reach this popular Asian nation and tourist (and English teacher) hot-spot. Worth it (and not just because I was put up in my first ever 4.5-star hotel. And yes, I did fill everyone I know in on that minor detail). Here’s how my whirlwind journey went down.
Day 1: Consumer Goods Showcase 2019
The first day of my trip was spent at the showcase itself. This was essentially a convention centre that was filled with suppliers of products across multiple categories. I was able to interview a few vendors about their wares while they quizzed me about whether I felt their products would take off in Africa. Some of them include a premium, Insta-worthy dental care line, Dr. Pauhls (musk and patchouli toothpaste, anyone?), a company – Kangstem Dermalab – that uses human umbilical cords to create stem-cell skincare (yes, really) and a designer @romystory who makes fashionable dust masks for when a plain ol’ white one just won’t do.
There were awkward moments, but just as many interesting ones, and I left feeling more educated on Korean import and export industries and weighed down by my enormous bag of freebies.
The second half of the day was, even more, my scene: Retail therapy. My event translator took me to some of South Korea’s most well-known beauty stores, such as Olive Young, so that I could see KBeauty spoils in their natural habitat. Walking in was the first, but definitely not the last, time I was left in awe in my short stay.
Day 2: Familiarisation Tour
On the second day KOTRA had arranged for us to get out and about, so those of us who were there from the media were loaded into a bus where we journeyed to the Dongdaemun Market and Design Plaza to get an insider look at their wholesale fashion industry. Then it was on to the AmorePacific – arguably one of SK’s most beloved beauty conglomerates – to explore the history of their products in an interactive museum.
After the information overload, we were all decidedly famished, but we needn’t have worried because a traditional Korean BBQ was our next stop to provide us with the sustenance to carry on (and yet another photo op).
After refuelling, we went to the AmorePacific headquarters, where I had my first encounter with a robot and got to learn even more about this iconic beauty company.
Day 3: Solo Missions
Since my flight was only leaving at midnight, I had my last day in Seoul to myself. And what should you do when you have just 12 hours in this bustling city? I recommend going for a peaceful stroll at the Bongeunsa Temple which is smack bang in the middle of a busy business district. This Buddhist temple, which was established in the year 794, is surrounded by skyscrapers and was conveniently opposite my hotel. This put me in a relaxed state of mind to cope with the chaos that would lie ahead.
Next, I took a cab to the famous shopping district Myeong-dong, where I spent more money on snail cream than I care to admit, and spent more time in a cat cafe than was wise considering my allergies. With everything from traditional snacks, KBeauty, souvenirs, stationery and clothing, this area could easily deplete your credit card, but you probably wouldn’t have any regrets.
After a crazy three days, it was time to say goodbye to the land of robots, kimchi and plastic surgery (yes, there are entire high-rise buildings dedicated to ‘body modification’), but I have vowed to return. There is still so much more to discover. And things to buy.
There is a moral to this story. If you see a mail from KOTRA in your inbox, don’t overlook it. You might be in for the journey of a lifetime.