Costco: (South) Korea’s Heart of Darkness

October 25, 2009

I’m just going to say it: I hate Costco.


One of those jars of mayo. Faces censored to protect the innocent and those who used that mayo to make their hair shinier and later smelt strangely of salad dressing for weeks. Just kidding! It was only a couple days.

Now, to most people in the States, Costco is AMAZING. It’s warehouse wonderland full of hot dogs on the cheap, hairnetted fairy godmothers bestowing every form of sustenance in little paper cups, and near mythic, head-sized jars of mayonnaise. I really do have fond memories of Costco back home. And I would even say that Costco in Korea is not all that different. It’s the same layout, same font on the logo, some of the same products (plus some regional variations like bulgogi bakes along with the immortal chicken bake). Theoretically, the experience should be the same, right?


Well, not really. What Costco in Seoul also provides, along with a good selection of cheeses, is a sense of your own mortality, an acute awareness of the insignificance of your life, and an overwhelming sense of rage and aggression towards your fellow human beings.

Last week, my co-workers and I were talking about going there, and there were tales of shopping carts nipping heels and altercations between grandmothers and ketchup-hoarding ajummas (the best quote from that story: “This KETCHUP is for someone IN THE HOSPITAL.” This was not in the store area, but in the food court, where ketchup is free-flowing, though I’m not sure about the legality of putting said ketchup in large ziplock bags)… but I had yet to live those stories. I was willing to forgive some of it, accidents happen, people are allowed to put huge dollops of onions on their plate and use it as a side dish, and not a topping, and some bitches are just crazy, that’s alright, it isn’t Costco itself. But I had yet to experience the madness. From what it seemed, like when I went: shit like that happens all the time!

For example: I was standing in line in the food court (which is in the basement, not outside, which adds to the fluorescent lit clausterphobia of it all) and I was next. But then the cashier has to refill the register. And that would have been fine, if this lady behind me doesn’t crowd me so badly that’s she’s practically half hugging me, stomach pudge prodding me in the back, in order to put her won on the table! What did she think she could just slip by and cut me? What is up with that?!

(I was going to draw a diagram here, but I can’t actually draw, you get the point)

Not to mention getting a seat in the food court is like playing high stakes musical chairs (though Russell would say, “no it’s not. People that play musical chairs agree to play that game.”). Three seconds of getting up to get onions means that some ajumma in a pink hiking outfit with three slices of pizza is going to swoop in and take your spot. Someone should do research on the dexterity and quickness of middle aged Korean women. Is it the kimchi? The living through the Korean War?

Why is Costco so frustrating? Is just that people go mad for wholesale (p.s. I don’t know why they check your bags, it’s not like they sell anything tiny enough to steal)? Is it the worse parts of American consumerism imported and combined with Korean population density?

Anyway, maybe you don’t get it. Maybe I just seem to be complaining (well, I am). Maybe you had to be there. Maybe you have to go there. But here’s what I have to say in short:

Dear Diary,

Costco is hell.

The end.

Okay, anyway, to brighten up my day and because it’s almost that time of the year again, here are pictures of Korean people in animal hats:


Image from here.



  1. This post is AWESOME. But I’m sad there weren’t any pictures of more, y’know, KOREAN things in-bulk. Like kimchi or bbq or cell phones.


  2. One of the funniest things I noticed at Costco was the use (or abuse) of the condiments in the food court. About half of the people there fill a huge plate with onions, slather on some ketchup and mustard, and mix it up. It’s eaten as some sort of salad. I was really perplexed when I saw one person eating a naked hotdog and shoveling in forkfuls of this stuff, but when I looked around, I realized almost everyone was doing that! It seemingly makes a great sidedish for pizza too. What a country!

    I feel your frustration though. Last trip I managed to get yelled at by only two ajummas. Seriously, what happened to the “group mentality” that Koreans are supposed to have? This woman was pushing her empty cart and reading a kid’s book that she decided she didn’t like. She proceeded to park her cart in the middle of the aisle between two other carts and leave it to go through the books again, thus completely blocking the aisle even for those of us shrewd enough to browse the ground level sans shopping cart. When I moved the cart, I got yelled at! What the hell?!

    The next time I got yelled at that day was a similar situation where a woman stopped in front of me to chat about whatever sample she had hoarded five of, while keeping a hand on her cart and thereby blocking the entirety of the aisle. Apparently it’s rude to yell excuse me and ram shopping carts out of your way. By that time though, I had ventured too far into the heart of darkness to let normal social conventions distract me from my mission to buy bulkloads of cheese and then eat the closest thing to good American style pizza that I’ve been able to find in this country.

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