When I left my apartment Saturday morning, despite my doubts about the directions the Internet gave me, I aimed to find American Apparel and replace my favorite dress. As expected, the map took me the wrong direction, and rather than taking me straight to American Apparel, it created a diversion which lead to a huge traditional market. Without any hesitation, I saw this as an opportunity and put my search for American Apparel on the back burner.
As I approached the covered market, I had no idea of its size. When I first entered, my eyes immediately went to the product, and I caught the familiar stares of older Koreans who are not used to seeing a foreigner in their midst. Ignoring the looks, I continued into the market. The smell of dried seaweed, salt, and fresh ocean fish greeted me. I could almost taste each item. As I walked I saw piles of whole fish, squid, and octopus. I saw buckets of clams. I smelled kimchi, herbal tea, and garlic. I saw green onions, peppers, artfully stacked apples, and Korean traditional rice desserts.
I sauntered on further, at a pace much slower than usual. Finally, I looked up and saw the market's great expanse. The aisle seemed to continue on indefinitely, and myriad directional options surrounded me. Should I turn left toward the upper part of the market with sunlight, napa cabbage and daikon radishes the size of small babies, turn right toward bean sprouts and a large variety of dried beans and peas, or keep going straight toward even more fish, carts of sweet potatoes, and orderly piles of red and green hot peppers? In the end, I decided straight, straight, straight for my first route through the market. I could always return via another route to the aisles I missed.
The displays were precisely arranged and aesthetically appealing. The stall keepers took great pride in their work, constantly arranging and rearranging as product disappeared from their tables and bins. No one except those with mobile carts bothered to yell out what they were selling and for how much, so the market remained calm and welcoming, even with the occasional scooter and a large number of people working, buying, and gawking.
I continued to wander through the market and was astounded at the amount of product these sellers had and were able to prepare. Weeks of work lie ahead for the couple with countless heads of garlic. As I gazed in amazement at this stall, a man, surrounded by bags of garlic sat peeling and separating individual garlic cloves. Korea is a country where many people prefer to purchase their garlic peeled.
Evidence of work already done showed with fresh peppers next to dried peppers and dried peppers next to crushed peppers. My mind jumped to my experience of Pike’s Place market in Seattle. The scale of this market was much larger and the products sold much more practical. While Pike’s Place does serve a practical function for select Seattleites looking for fresh fish, the main appeal seems to be touristic and the majority of stalls I remember sold flowers. On the other hand, while Korea is working to promote traditional markets as a tourist attraction, the markets serve a very real and necessary function for local farmers and family dinner tables. Dried peppers and garlic cloves brought that point home.
Overwhelmed by the market, and realizing that I could not carry fresh vegetables, fish, and other pleasantries around all day to American Apparel, the Busan Museum of Art, and wherever else I wandered, I vowed to shop at the traditional market near my apartment.