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Let’s feel Seoul’s antique atmosphere!The Seoul Folk Flea Market (the Seoul Pungmul Market) in Shinseol-dong

   
 
  Until now, markets have played an effective role for people to exchange various goods, meet other people, and experience new cultures worldwide.  Le Marche aux Puces and the Rose Bowl are popular flea markets in France and U.S. respectively.  These markets provide tourists with plenty of colorful attractions, so tourists can really enjoy their exotic atmosphere. Similar to these markets, there is a Seoul folk flea market in Korea. It is also called “Seoul Pungmul Shi-jang” in Korean.  Located in Sinseol-dong, the folk market is one of the most gorgeous markets in Seoul. It has been called “a place that has everything except a wife” from early times. The market draws many foreign visitors as well as Koreans into Korea’s folk world.  Now, the Post is going to show every corner of the market.  Let’s go together!

  In front of the main gate, the market’s mascot, Jangttoli named after a Korean traditional merchant, greets people with a big smile.  The folk flea market is organized into two stories.  Each story has several sections organized according to the products’ feature.  An information director, Choi Yong-kyoo, said “we had a hard time moving from Cheonggye creek to here.  All shop-keepers are making an effort to provide good products and services.  It is the time to go forth.”  As he said, the market was originally located in Cheonggye creek. Although moving a market’s location is not really good for both shop-keepers and consumers, the new location is more convenient and well organized to help consumers find what they want to buy. 

  On the ground floor, there are antique, sundry goods, and various kinds of clothes.  Walking into a narrow way, visitors can see old craftworks, ceramic wares, and electronics. An electronic store deals with almost every kind of electronic products from hair driers to big-sized PDP TVs.  There are about 119 antique shops, 115 sundry goods shops, and 100 clothes shops.  It is as such that visitors can find every goods they might want.  Among these shops, antique shops are the most popular and attract most attention of customers.  Because antique commodities are unfamiliar with modern customers, people who would like to see traditional things really enjoy them.  “A lot of foreign customers come here.  They are really interested in Janggu (double-headed drum with a narrow waist in the middle) and Jing (Korean traditional musical instrument) and Korean rice bowls,” an antique shop-keeper said.  It is likely that traditional goods which can present Korea’s culture are popular to international customers.  Not only foreign people but also Korean people look for antique goods. The shopkeeper also said, “Some film makers used to buy our old items for props for their films making.  And some collectors of Korean antique goods used to visit here.”  That’s why it became a cultural background at a movie, Insadong Scandal.  While looking for the antique items, great masterpieces might appear. 

  Along to the second floor, souvenir shops sell extravagant and unique items that have won awards in various competitions.  Hanbok apron which transforms traditional hanbok into a practical apron, Hahoe masks and hand-made natural soap featuring famous Korean paintings are but some of the items available.  On the right side of the second floor, handcrafts from Jeju Island and North Gyeongsang Province, traditional alcoholic beverages and other regional specialties are on sale.  If you are looking for unique gifts for foreigners or the elderly, this is the place to go.  On the back corner of the floor, there is a special shop which sells LPs (long-playing record).  The shop-keeper has sold LPs  since the 1980’s.  Because he has spent 30 years in the market, he said the shop became a part of his life.  He said, “I really like LP music.  Now I am 72 years old so this job is my hobby.  I raised my children by this job.  Without any interest in music, I might fail to run my shop.”  He also recommended LPs.  “CD’s sound is much clearer than LP’s but the tone quality of LP is quite different from that of CD,” said the shop-keeper.  He also noted some music aficionados wanted to find the old sound of an LP.”  Nowadays the number of people who are interested in LP’s is on the increase worldwide.  He said that many foreigners also come to his shop.  His shop is designated as one of sightseeing courses in the market. 

  As the proverb says, “a loaf of bread is better than the song of many birds.”  In Seoul Folk Market, there are two food courts by the side of each floor.  Visitors are able to eat almost all kinds of Korean food.  One host of an eatery said “I have served many customers since the market was located in Dongdaemoon.  One day, a Japanese customer came here, and showed me a picture of Kimchi jjigae, a kind of stew, and ordered it.  I didn’t know exactly what the food was, but I guessed it was Kimchi jjigae.  He clearly enjoyed the meal, because he continues to visit my restaurant.  When customers make a feast of my meals and remember my meals, I feel satisfied with my job.”  She wakes up everyday at dawn, buys ingredients and goes to her shop.  In any market, all hosts should be diligent so the market can be lively too.  If visitors are tired from all that shopping, they can take a break and enjoy Korean foods in the food court.  This will be the best opportunity of experiencing Korean eating style.

  The Seoul Folk Flea Market, which celebrated its first anniversary on April 26 in 2008, has undergone several changes.  A new public parking lot is now available and street signs have been revamped.  Businesses and items have been reshuffled and cultural performances staged.  Work has been going on to make the Seoul Folk Flea Market a must-see destination for foreign tourists.  Shop-keepers are also making an effort to learn English in order to make it easier for tourists to shop.  The information director, Choi Yong-kyoo, said “In order to attract foreign tourists, I am teaching English to shopkeepers in this market.”

  When visiting the Seoul Folk Flea Market, it is recommended to use public transportation.  On the web-site (http://pungmul.seoul.go.kr), a transportation guide is well explained so it is easy to find the market.  Now, it is the time to visit the Seoul Pungmul market!

Kim Tae-hyang  kimtaehyang@dongguk.edu

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