Gyeongdong Market

While I’m leaning over bags of wood chunks and yellow and velvet blossoms of scented plants unknown to me, someone pulls my arm and when I turn, I see through the lenses of the camera, a woman pointing at a metal bucket full of blue bags.

The short skinny granny shoots something in Korean, looks at the camera then at the blue bags and smiles. I reckon it must mean that I can take a photo but why would I capture some scruffy unappealing sacks? At a closer look I notice something moving inside of the net bags. My stomach shrinks when I finally realise that these are honeycombs all together with live bees. As I’ll find out this is the least shocking sketch of Gyeongdong Market (경동시장), the oriental medicine and herb market of Seoul.

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10-centimetre long centipedes

Down the narrow crowded alleys of the market my attention is caught by bunches of long sticks wrapped with red strings. The sticks are legless 10-centimetre long centipedes. And I quickly find the answer to my question: “Why on Earth are they selling centipedes?!” The stall owner approaches me and explains in disfigured English that they are used for back problems. Well, such explanation is not provided for the pack of dried frogs hanging from the ceiling. Maybe they help with digestion?

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To be fair the entire market is not that scary to a foreigner’s eyes. A variety of herbal teas, spices, nuts and dried berries can be found at the hundreds of stalls in the maze of tiny streets. In particular ginseng, one of the proud national products, is very popular and great for making your own tea or for a present. Despite the language barriers, the sellers will try their best to explain their use and assist you in finding whatever you need. Of course some of them will try to con you simply because they can.

During my search of persimmon tea (감차), which is considered to be a health booster, I was offered a bag of leaves costing 13000 KRW (~ $13). Of course I declined the generous offer and five minutes later I found a bigger packet for 3000 KRW at a corner stall. My advice for anyone interested, is to find a place where the products are packed with labels and prices on or to try to negotiate the prices, which is very common in Korean markets. The word used the most by sellers is “discount”, so discounted or not actually you can always try to eliminate the “foreigner’s price”.

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Chicken Feet

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Live Mussels

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Crab

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Lots of cooking products can be found at the market as well so if you feel like cooking you can get supplies such as beans and local seeds, vegetables and fruits. Just across the main road you will see grocery, meat and seafood stalls. Still living crabs and mussels twitch in big buckets. Women chatter while selling only peeled garlic or another “delicacy” of Korea – chicken feet, luckily without the claws.

The market can be accessed directly through exit 2 of subway line 1 Jegi-dong station (제기동역). It is the perfect place if not for shopping, for fulfilling your eyes with images and your scent with unknown oriental smells.

 

Article by Mirela from Bulgaria

 

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