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What to expect at the island's five-day marketsIt’s tough to get the low down on the life, color, and haggling tactics at the stalls
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승인 2012.02.09  16:12:52
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▲ Jeju City Five-Day Market. Photo by Kim Gyong Ho

I went to both the Jeju City and Seogwipo City five-day markets to try to learn about haggling strategies. What I found instead is that, on any given day in the five-day markets, there are three kinds of attendees: the professionals, the dabblers, and the tourists.

In the first two categories are the merchants and the buyers. You can always tell who are the professional merchants because they go to both Seogwipo and Jeju five-day markets. Professional buyers show up with lists and sophisticated plans of attack. They attend every week to maximize their grocery shopping potential.

Dabbler-merchants run their shops as a side-business. They might own a coffee shop and as a supplement to their main income sell garlic at one of the five-day markets. Their purchasing counterpart sees the market as an activity. Grocery shopping as a ward against boredom.

The third category, in which I found myself included, is kind of a special circumstance; I was there but not as a full participant. I may buy something or I might just take cute pictures with the glistening, suffocated fish. The merchants’ responses to me as an onlooker will range anywhere from “Hey, an easy mark!” to “You’re not going to buy, stop standing in front of my stall and taking up space.”

In every scenario, the merchants will want to talk to you to get your attention. However, there is exactly one scenario where people will not want to talk to you, that is when you need to interview them so you can write an article for The Jeju Weekly. In the relatively open main paths it’s all but hopeless. People will literally run away from you. You have to lurk in the capillary pathways and corner them in ambush. It’s interview-by-mugging. But even that’s not foolproof.

It’s not that I am such an intimidating force — my translator was bubbly, pleasant, had none of my threatening facial hair, and was in fact female. We tried different permutations — I approached; she approached with me; she approached while I hid. The only real change in effectiveness was when we were both present, and that was only because we could wedge them in.

There were only two customers who talked to us the entire day: one was a grinning guy just inside the maw of the Seogwipo Five-Day Market. His haggling technique: “Hey, oemma [mom]! Hey, come on, I need a discount. Pleeeeaaase, oemma?” A big smile is the key he says, and shows me his. Call the merchant mom, he says.

The other was a family. We caught up with them not 10 seconds after they’d finished making a purchase. The father said his strategy was foolproof for knocking a thousand won off every purchase. “Take your kids with you, and tell [the merchant] that you need to have money so you can buy your children a snack.” The merchant they’d just left pretended not to hear this.

In the back of the mega-tent of the Seogwipo Five-Day Market, past the constellations of light bulbs hanging from their clutter of exposed wires, Kwon Kyeong Min sat in front of her great big closet of random housewares. “The most effective technique,” she intimates, “is when people just throw money at you and take the stuff.” It seems more like robbery than haggling, and you can see that kind of bewildered gambit working on someone as seemingly soft-spoken as Kwon.

To other vendors, including Kim Dae Hyeon, a slightly boastful cabbage vendor, to a savvy-looking red pepper paste mixer, haggling is a courtesy first and foremost. Kim says he’ll give a discount if you’re polite (asking for too much of a discount is impolite, he says).

“If the person wants too much of a discount I say ‘Okay, you grow it yourself then!’” he says with an inflated chest. Yi Yeon Hwan, a stern middle-aged clothing vendor with an almost predatory gait says older people still think it’s necessary to get a discount however small.

I’d still recommend haggling if you go to the markets — and you should go. But go with a shopping list, not an interview pad — and if you’d like to try Kwon’s money barrage “haggling” tactic, please let me know how it goes. I wanted to, I just didn’t have the heart.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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