The Screenplay-novel Manifestos

Less is more vivid

Saturday, October 28, 2006

"A Glimpse of History in the Marketplace"

The following is the opening to a piece I wrote for rabble on Korea.

Market culture in Korea fascinates me; it's something you can only catch the vestiges of in downtown Seoul, which has been caught up in a frenzy of modernization and self-improvement for several decades now. (I suppose the exceptions are Dongdaemun and, in particular, Namdaemun markets. But they're geared to clothing and electronics, and don't quite catch the flavour of the more traditional markets emphasizing food.)

The demise of the traditional markets is explained as an inevitable off-shoot of progress. And I suppose no-one can argue with the inevitability side of it. But something else is lost, too. I don't want to sentimentalize the markets: with their ramshackle design, their lack of heat, their constant emphasis on discount prices that cut into the profit margins of the people in the stalls, they represent a harsher way of life. But they also represent an autonomy that you don't find in the perfectly cleansed lucite halls of the spanking new department stores.

A Glimpse of History in the Marketplace

She's smiling. They often do here. This part of town is called Nambu Shi-jang (Nambu Market), and though it isn't the only traditional market in Jeonju, it's the largest. It's run in large measure by middle-aged women called ajumas. (Ajuma means aunt. It, along with ajushi — uncle — is an almost universal term in Korea, and can be used to address a multitude of people, from shop owners to bus drivers to strangers.)

The traditional markets all possess the same basic elements: a large indoor shopping area specializing in textiles and cooking utensils and rice desserts and butchers' shops. Outside, an even larger area selling food comprises small booths or sometimes simply individual sellers — the latter crouched close to the ground next to goods which they have spread out in front of them on blankets and plastic sheets.



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