Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Umbrellas: A Guide

When the rain came down the last few days I couldn't help but reflect on the wonder of my umbrella. Actually it had broke in several places and so I needed a new one.

If you think about, umbrellas are quite a great invention. But sometimes they can be a real pain in the butt. For example when they don't open on time, or when you do get it open you realize that it's broken in a few places.

When I first came to Korea I entered into the rainy season and bought my first umbrella here. It was a whopping 15,000 Won, but had a button to release it. That umbrella lasted about one and a half years before I realized it had holes on the top. Since then I haven't really found a sturdy and affordable umbrella. As I keep searching for one I figured why not share my analysis of umbrellas with you.

Types of Umbrellas:
After doing some umbrella shopping I have come across different types. Here for you are examples.

First you can break them down into the type of handle. Hook or Stick.
The hook umbrella is called that because the handle is in the shape of a hook. Typically these umbrellas are pretty long in length. I have never really used a hook umbrella before, but I can say I avoid buying them because it looks inconvenient to carry and tote away. As a city dweller one ends up taking buses and getting crammed inside subway cars. I don't want to have to worry about where to fit my wet umbrella when this happens. However, I have noticed that the hood-span is very wide and seems very sturdy.

The stick umbrella, in my opinion, is more favorable. I go for more of the kind in the second picture. These usually have a button that engages the umbrella to open, although it doesn't really help when closing it. Also the size of stick umbrellas come in usually small-to-medium sizes. Sometimes you can find them as long as the hook type. They are good at stowing away in a backpack, or are small enough to fit in your large-sized purse. 

Then I found this one in my search, which I suppose is a compromise between a hook and a stick umbrella.

Sturdy Expensive Umbrellas vs. Cheap:
You might think that an umbrella can work in any weather. But if you have been in a rainstorm where the wind is blowing hard and the rain is coming in sideways then you know that an umbrella is pretty much moot. 

But there are umbrellas on the market that advertise themselves as built tough. Take this New York Magazine review that checks out the designer end of umbrellas vs. the ones you can pick up on the street corner.

 You might think this London Fog umbrella, for about $15 would hold up but...

Conveniently fits in a medium-size purse and has a comfy gel handle that gives good grip. But it’s flimsy: Be prepared for the dreaded inside-out flip.
Let's go a little higher with this umbrella at $45, which came out to be a good review. 
The handle doubles as a clip, so this sturdy umbrella hooks onto anything. Quick release increases the probability of knocking someone out.
Something tells me that when it comes to umbrella shopping the more expensive and better built, is the way to go. Definitely you want your umbrella to last a long time, and not end up breaking at a bad time. (Exiting a bus and trying to pop it open.)

Should your umbrella match your personality?
So far you can decide between a hook or a stick umbrella and one that is either expensive or affordable. But what about the color or print on the umbrella hood? 

If you are a young 20 something and you have a beige colored umbrella does that make you look old-fashioned? 

Certainly when I go to pick out an umbrella I put its structure and price first, but sometimes I find myself interested in the hood designs.

  • Pattern
  • Solid color
  • Picture
  • Clear 
  • Clear w/ pattern
Some examples:

Buying Umbrellas in Korea:
Don't worry Korea stocks all varieties and prices of umbrellas. And you can find ones with fun and wacky prints on them too. I find a good place to buy an umbrella is at the big grocery stores, such as Lotte Mart, Emart or Homeplus. Another store to try is a stationary store in your local area. Also, you can find umbrellas for sale inside subway stations. If you are really in a pinch you can sometimes find a peddler selling them inside the trains. 

I have to say, though, that going the cheap route here does mean you end up getting what you paid for. 

Using Umbrellas in Korea:
From experience I can tell you that using an umbrella on the streets of Korea is a tricky thing. It is not like I have never used an umbrella before, or never used one in a busy city. But let me tell you there appears to be an "anything goes" kind of attitude here. For one people often hold very large umbrellas. What ends up happening is you have an "umbrella-war" with the other people on the sidewalk. You would think that folks would move out of the way when approaching each other. Most of the time I get side swiped by other people's umbrellas. Either their umbrella hits the side of mine or the side of my body. 

Even when I walk to school and walk with the children as they enter the school grounds, they too just plow into each other like it's no big deal. I have made it a point to skip walking on the sidewalk with them (when it is a rainy day) and walk on the street so to avoid their waste-level umbrellas soaking me. 

Of course, umbrella attacks don't happen all the time and certainly lots of folks either move themselves or their umbrellas out of the way. However, that is usually the case when it is just you and them on the sidewalk and not within a crowd of people. 

My advice when using your umbrella here in Korea, or anywhere in the world and facing this issue, is to use your umbrella like a shield. I tend to lean in with my umbrella as I face another person so that it ends up acting like a shield. A more friendly approach I take is to (and normal) is to step out of the way or lower my umbrella so that it is at a level that won't bump into the other person's umbrella. That last part is often seen done by other people too. 

Umbrella Storage:
When you walk into a restaurant or other such stay-in establishment here in Korea there is quite often an umbrella stand at the front door. It is custom here to shove your umbrella in one of these things and either shop or stay to eat. Sometimes I have had experiences where the shopkeeper comes to me and takes my umbrella then puts it in the stand. I am sure they don't want my dripping umbrella getting their floor wet. 

Although this stand makes it convenient to shop and keep the store's floor dry, I think it aids in helping your umbrella break. I have noticed that the tips of the spokes of my umbrella have broken off a few times when the storekeeper Ahjumma shoves my umbrella into the stand. But what can you do?

Umbrella Bags
Another option you find here, when entering an establishment such as large retail stores or malls, is the umbrella plastic bag wrap-stand. What you do is stick your umbrella into the bag-hole and pull it out. Like magic your umbrella is completely covered in the plastic bag. This is a convenient option as you can hold on to your umbrella and even store it if the rain has stopped. But definitely it is not an environment saver!

Well I hope that this post taught you something new about umbrellas or what umbrella culture is like here in Korea. I am still on the hunt for an affordable yet sturdy umbrella (possibly stylish), and I might just switch over to the hook variety.

What is your favorite kind of umbrella? Do you have any umbrella-culture stories?


  1. Great post!! I've been lookin to buy a new umbrella... I bought one once when it was raining a few weeks ago and then it stopped raining as soon as i bought it... lol... but then i ended up breaking it later from the wind... :( and now the other umbrella I had recently broke... it wont open... so i'm also on the hunt for a new umbrella!! LOL! this was definitely helpful... i would say i would just wait till i really need one but it's monsoon season soon and it might be too late by then... lol!!

    Thanx again and I hope you're doing well!! let's meet up soon!!


  2. I have terrible luck with them... I either lose them or use them til they are worn to death. My current one that I received as a teachers day gift last year is broken in several places but... I'm still using it since my only other one is enormous and inconvenient. I like ones I can stick in my purse


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