▲ Jeju’s traditional five-day market offers a staggering variety of wares, including clothes, spices, fresh farm produce, plants and even Haenyeo-caught fish. Photo by Kim Gyong-ho
With all this talk of a depressed market nowadays, it is good to know some are less so than others. Jeju’s five-day market is definitely not depressed and it gives off a buzz of jostling activity that local markets are famous for the world over.
The five-day market is held at locations across Jeju; from the main urban areas of Jeju City and Seogwipo, to the smaller towns of Sehwa, Pyoseon, Seongsan, Jungmun, Daejeong and Hallim. As the name suggests it is held every five days, or thereabouts. In Jeju-si, arguably the main location, the market is held on the 2nd, 7th, 12th, 17th, 22nd and 27th of each month.
On market day the traffic heaves as cars vie for the entrance and shoppers weave between them laden with melons and baskets.
As a foreigner, the first visit to the market can be more than a little disorientating. The entrance is less of a formal entrance you might expect and more of an opening into a huge gazebo. The first smell that hits you is, unsurprisingly, red pepper; it is stacked up in bowls alongside other spices, whose names are exotically unknown.
As you progress deeper inside, the sun reels away; giving the scene a more intense atmosphere. The smells become more pungent, but no more identifiable, and the goods become increasingly alive.
The pet stalls sell everything from dogs and cats, to fish, budgies and reptiles. Luckily, these are some way from the meat stalls and butcheries; where Jeju’s famed farm produce is chopped up as fresh-as-you-like. A market-goer who fails to leave with a kilo or two of fresh samgyeopsal- fatty pork meat popular among locals, may well have to pay penance in a later life; it is that good!
▲ Left: A craftsman at work forging hand-made tools. Top right: Onlookers are entertainedby a colourfully dressed merchant. Right: A family explores the market’s many offerings.Photos by Kim Gyong-ho
As you stroll deeper into the market, cloths of various cuts and weaves create wavy curtains around you. For a textile worker it must be heaven. Among the cloth stalls, and everywhere around the market, you can also find one of the most well-known icons of Jeju- the galot.
This persimmon-orange-dyed clothing defines so much about Jeju life and is arguably best sourced from the five-day market. An abundance of choice is on offer, with styles ranging from short-sleeved to long-sleeved, and from cheap to expensive.
This is where a skill so often neglected in modern times comes into its own. Haggling is an essential part of the five-day market experience. A stallholder may quote you 100,000 won for a galot outfit, but stand firm and it can be pushed down to 80 or even 70,000 won; if you’re lucky. Bargain-hunters are advised to go early in the morning, as it is said that Korean merchants desire an early sale to ensure luck for the rest of the day.
After the assault on the senses, it is time for some light refreshment. A visit to one of the many food stalls is ideal. These, serving traditional Korean foods such as jigae and noodles, offer the perfect respite from the throng of the market. Pick up an iced grape slush too and you’ll soon feel re-energized.
As you leave with your cloths, spices, fruits and galot, the rush of people entering will not have eased off. It will keep going until late afternoon; when sellers finally pack up their wares and take their earnings home.
If you happen pass the location of the market the following day, its haunting hollow stalls and faint echoes of hustle and bustle will make you wonder how a place could be so transformed in just a few small hours.
Indeed, where has it gone? Take the coastal road to the market’s next stop and you could start a coastal tour of Jeju’s five-day market! Be prepared to join the queue of people at the next location, although you’ll probably find less of a queue and more a five-deep scrum; but that’s all part of the appeal.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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