The Seoul of the "local" people

Seoul Travel Blog

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Picking out plants for the garden in the center of Seoul!

I was on my own for the day as Mark was tied up with some people he had to meet.  I felt comfortable enough in the city to venture out on my own to visit another recommended market area and hopefully pick up some silk material for a friend of mine in Arizona.

I planned to see the Dongdaemun Market and whatever else came my way as I wandered through the city.  The front desk agent advised me against walking there, saying that for locals it was easy to find......but for tourists....well........  better catch a cab.

I'm a good walker and am used to laying down miles whenever we travel but I was glad for the taxi ride if only for the chance to people watch once more as we twisted and turned our way through the narrow streets.

The climate was perfect for fresh flowers.
  I waved my Korean translated ...."take me to the (fill in the blank) card" that was supplied by the hotel, since none of the drivers we had found so far could speak a word of English.   About ten minutes later I was deposited in front of the upscale highrise department store, Migliore, in the general vicinity of the Dongdaemun area.  I say, general vicinity, because even with a map, it was difficult to navigate the little alleyways which didn't seem to make it on my colorful, tourist oriented map of downtown Seoul.

I walked first one direction, then another, down into subways, around block after block of Western looking shopping malls and along sidewalks covered in unopened vendor's stalls, all in search of the ellusive Dongdaemun market.

The clothing market where traditional, ceremonial costumes were made to order.
  My hip was aching, my feet were throbbing and my butt was already dragging as a result of yesterday's pedestrian activities. It was only 0930 in the morning!  They must keep banker's hours in this part of town as many of the stores had yet to open their doors and the canvas flaps were still tightly cinched in place with no vendors in sight.

I limped back to the original drop off point having made no progress in the hour I had already wasted.  I took a different tack and headed across the bridge over the Cheonggye Stream and finally started to have some success.  I wandered into the Dongdaemun Shopping Complex, which was a multi-story building absolutely filled to the gills with fabrics, laces, zippers, hooks and eyes, buttons, trims, bobbins of thread and everything that could have anything to do with the sewing and fashion industry.

One of the "nicer" back alleys in the city.
  I'm confident that this was the supply warehouse for every sweatshop in the U.S. of A.  It was a bee hive of activity with what appeared to be young fashion designers consulting with the vendors over fabric swatches and patterns, completely ignoring my presence as I walked invisibly between the skyhigh bolts of colorful materials.  There were hundreds of vendors on each level of the crowded complex which would have been any claustophobic's nightmare.  There were no air conditioners running as far as I could tell, which seemed to faze no-one but myself as I frantically looked for a way out.  Each twist and turn through the narrow aisles brought me to another dead end or to another staircase that went up and not down.
Time out for lunch in the KwangJang Market with the locals.....NOT.
  It was worse than trying to get out of an IKEA warehouse, without the cinnamon buns and frozen yogurt.

I finally gasped for fresh air as I rushed out onto the street, unsuccessful in my quest for silk.  I guess it was sensory overload or I just hadn't found the floor which housed my fabric of choice.  In any case, I continued my walk, not even consulting my map. I had given myself up to the obvious conclusion of wandering aimlessly through the streets until I gave in and hailed a cab.

I stayed parallel with the Cheonggye Stream as I walked the back alleys of several markets which seemed to have no name.  It was worse that any scene portrayed in movies, of the back streets of London in the Charles Dickens era.

KwangJang Market, used by the "locals", not the touristy junk and trinkets you see in the Namdaemun market.
  Dank, grey, narrow passageways through which a stream of water or waste, not sure which, trickled along at a slow pace.  Occupants in the alleys were sitting on stools or crates, cleaning whatever was to be served at their particular stall for the day.  I dared not pull out my camera to take pictures of the scene as my prevailing thought was to make it back to a cleaner, brighter area of the city.

My luck soon changed as I walked through the gardening district.  I made a left turn, into a brightly lit, though covered market area called, KwangJang Market.  Unlike the Nandaemun Market which is tourist oriented with trinkets and cheap plastic sunglasses, this market was the Mecca of the working class.  The "food court" in the center of the market consisted of dozens of grills, spits and fry tanks, tended by middle aged women who chopped, whacked, kneeded, rolled  and stirred whatever their speciality may have been.

Buying silk fabric for my friend, Eleanor.
  I saw pigs trotters (feet), piles of intestines, stacks of pigs ears and snouts in addition to various fishes, eels, and crabs, alive and dead, but all headed for the same pots!I quickly came to the conclusion that I would not dine here, no matter how hungry I may have been. 

I was finally successful in my quest for silk when I ran upon the fabric area of the market.  It was not so oppressive here and the vendors were more eager to serve, even attempting a bit of English in the process.  I found a friendly little booth, stacked with silk in all colors imaginable.   I was able to communicate enough of what I wanted through words and sign language to come away with three lovely selections of silk.   I was quite proud of myself as I strolled away and felt quite at ease admiring the brightly colored, traditional Korean costumes that were displayed along this section of the market.

Care for a gift basket of ginsing?

I was back onto the street and once more came upon another section of the  Cheonggye Stream.   Stopping to rest, I looked over the railing to see a delightful display of hundreds of umbrellas, open and hanging on wires running from one side of the stream to the other. The rainbow colors shimmered as the umbrellas wavered back and forth in the breeze.  A Korean businessman walking past saw my reaction to the display  and commented, "Beautiful", in English as he nodded his head toward the sight.  "Yes, beautiful", I replied, to the wind.

As I was limping along rather slowly by now, I decided to catch a cab over to the Insadong area once more to hopefully pick up a few more items before my shopping day was complete.

Artistic intrepretation of the Umbrellas of Cheonggye.
  I raised my hand as a taxi came to a stop next to me.  I showed the driver  my trusty "take me to....." card, while pointing out the hieroglyphics for "Insadong".  He looked at it in disgust and motioned out the window off to the left, all the while babbling a stream of Korean, which I took to mean: "You stupid American, can't you see it is just over the road?"  I readily understood and thanked him for his trouble.  As I walked over the street, for the next ten blocks or so, I finally recognized a Pizza Hut which we had passed the day before.  When the Pagoda park came into view I knew I was in the right spot and my spirits picked up.

Several purchases later, after being charged twice the amount I found on the same items in other stores, I decided it was time to head back to the hotel.

Strings of fish drying in the KwangJang Market.
  I knew I wouldn't be turned down by the cab for this ride, possibly because I had that "no nonsense" look on my face that said, "Don't even mess with me".   I arrived home, tipped the driver (they are always surprised when they get a tip) and dragged myself back to the room with visions of a nice cup of tea and a Lotte pastry leaf on my mind.

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Picking out plants for the garden …
Picking out plants for the garden…
The climate was perfect for fresh …
The climate was perfect for fresh…
The clothing market where traditio…
The clothing market where traditi…
One of the nicer back alleys in …
One of the "nicer" back alleys in…
Time out for lunch in the KwangJan…
Time out for lunch in the KwangJa…
KwangJang Market, used by the loc…
KwangJang Market, used by the "lo…
Buying silk fabric for my friend, …
Buying silk fabric for my friend,…
Care for a gift basket of ginsing?
Care for a gift basket of ginsing?
Artistic intrepretation of the Umb…
Artistic intrepretation of the Um…
Strings of fish drying in the Kwan…
Strings of fish drying in the Kwa…
Goods on display in the gardening …
Goods on display in the gardening…
Seoul
photo by: chiyeh