7 cool souvenirs from 2012 Korea Travel Expo
Visiting the 2012 Korea Travel Expo feels a bit like being in a futuristic time-warp.
Thousands of visitors speedwalk through hundreds of booths with LED screens offering visual summaries of Korea's best travel destinations.
You experience all of this while local goods and crafts from around Korea rush by on display tables.
Around 400 local government organizations and travel agencies are represented at the expo, which runs until January 15 at COEX Exhibition Halls C and D.
While some 1,000 intriguing products and gift ideas are being displayed -- many on the display shelves in each booth -- most of are not for sale. Not on the spot, anyway.
“You can call this number and have them ship it to you,” says a manager in a Chungju booth, urging visitors to sample some surprisingly tasty “apple vitamins.”
For those who need instant gratification, here are some of the expo’s coolest souvenirs that can actually be purchased on the spot.
Pair of wooden mandarin ducks
This pair of mandarin ducks, made from the wood of ginko trees, makes a great symbolic wedding present.
In traditional Asian cultures, mandarin ducks represent a lifetime of marriage, as they are known to mate for life and die of loneliness if separated.
“These ducks were crafted by a local sculptor,” says Sohn Kyung-jo, a sales representative manning the National Souvenirs Center booth. “It usually takes two to three months to make a pair because so much work goes into them.”
Silk aprons in the style of hanbok
Inspired by the designs of dang-ui hanbok (당의한복), the traditional formal dress of the Choseon Dynasty, these exquisite aprons are made from Korean silk and embroidered with tiny peonies symbolizing long life and happiness.
A beautiful gift for newlyweds, as the hanbok were usually worn by brides.
Gold and silver letter opener
“We get a lot of bulk orders for these letter openers,” says Sohn Kyung-jo, at the National Souvenirs Center booth. “Companies tend to buy tens of them at a time and order engravings of their logo or company name on the back.”
Gilded with gold and silver, the letter openers are surprisingly heavy and feature beautiful and detailed traditional patterns in the head, while the blades narrow to a sharp end.
The National Souvenirs Center also operates a shop in Insadong for those who can’t make it to the Expo.
Peel and leaves soap
“This soap is for people who suffer from atopy (skin allergies),” says Sohn. “But of course, those who don’t suffer from it can also use it.”
The hand-crafted natural soap, created in the form of a samtaeguk symbol, is made from Jinpi (dried orange peel) from Jeju’s mandarins (“good for wound disinfection and acne"); Yulpi (chestnut peel), which contains a large amount of tannin (“effective for managing widened skin pores"); and Ppongip (mulberry leaves), which is said to be“helpful for maintaining elastic and glowing skin.”
Peach tree comb
“Our customers say that once they’ve used this comb, they can never go back to using plastic combs,” says Sim Sang-Yeol, the Director of Serom Corea, a traditional Korean souvenir company that displays its goods next to the National Souvenir Center booth.
This lightweight comb is made from the wood of a peach tree and has “massage properties,” according to Sim. “It’s great because it doesn’t cause static while you’re combing your hair – even for long hair.”
Character rubber pens
These rubber pens are crafted in the form of traditional Korean figures and are the cheapest (and cutest) souvenirs at the expo.
Available figures include those of monks, Korean king and queen couples and a bride and groom in traditional Korean dress.
Zen tea set
“The concern that a lot of people have about ceramics is that they will emit chemicals or lead when hot water is poured into them,” says a sales representative at the Zen Hankook booth.
“This tea set has been fired three times at 1,300 degrees and is completely environmentally friendly. No chemicals will be emitted in any condition.”
On sale for 20 percent off, ₩50,200
Coex Exhibition Hall C and D, Samseong-dong, Seoul. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. ₩5,000 admission for adults, free admission for students and children; www.naenara.or.kr; +82 2 6000 8133