I've never been to France, but this is what it is like sometimes living in strange lands. Multiply this by how many times you do a simple transaction in your day and you get the level of frustration that emerges every once and a while.
Case in point: I have a Mac laptop and wanted a bigger monitor so that I didn't kill myself trying to make out things on 13 inches. So, we went to an electronics market in Yangsan, Seoul, a 45 minute subway ride away.
As far as there being floors and floors of electronic goodies, Yangsan delivers. If you want an iPod, hacked gaming systems (Wii, Nintendo DS, etc), speakers, vacuums, lamps, computers, washing machines, lamps, or pretty much anything that plugs into an outlet, this is the place.
Yangsan Electronics Market
Finding what we needed here wasn't too much of a problem. There are about 100 "booths" selling the exact same thing, so choosing one can be annoying, but once we picked our pony, we got a nice 22 inch monitor. Of course, mac being mac, they don't do anything standard, so I had to get a little doohickey (a mini-DVI to DVI converter, for those of you wondering) so that I could actually use the monitor with my little computer. This, of course, proved to be the problem.
In the States, it would be fairly easy. You could easily go to the nearest Apple store, pick one up, and be done with it. Barring that, you could get it online and have it shipped to probably anywhere in the US. In Korea, though, there is no official Apple store, and the online site is all in Korean, so none of those "usual" options was available to me.
In the Yangsan market, there were a number of people selling Apple laptops, so I pointed to the laptop, pointed to my monitor, then motioned that I wanted to connect the two. I tried this at a couple of different places, but I might have well been asking to build a rocketship to go into space; they waved me off and looked at me like I was some sort of crazy man.
So, just like anyone else who has no clue where to go or what to do, I turned to the holder of all transient knowledge: the internet. After sifting through a lot of garbage, I finally hit on a blog post of some guy who noted a store called Frisbee that sold a lot of Apple stuff. Yes, a store called Frisbee sells computer products. Not frisbees or frisbee related materials, Apple products.
An hour subway ride later, we end up in Myeong-dong, a touristy shopping street that is a little like the Magnificant Mile in Chicago on steriods. Not only are there all kinds of shops, they are packed 4 stories high with salesmen clapping and yelling to get your attention. On top of that, there are various street vendors selling all kinds of random things right smack in the middle of the walkway. In addition, the shoppers in the street were literally shoulder to shoulder, making it hard to look up at the signage:
Ummm...it's somewhere around here
After a decent amount of wandering, we finally ran into the Frisbee store, and true to Korean standards, it wasn't an "official" store per se, but it did a pretty good job of looking like a real Apple store, complete with the employees wearing their name tags around their necks.
It's unofficial, but pretty official looking
So, finally we had my doohickey to get the monitor to play nicely with my computer! So, yes, I am typing this to you from a nice, shiny big screen 22 inch monitor.
The point of this story is that while fun and exciting, living somewhere strange can also make you pull your hair out. Whether you're looking for non-spray deodorant or women's shoes that come in sizes larger than 6, the task is never as easy as it is at home. The answer is always out there, it may just take a little while longer to find it.