Maya Sinji Jung helped organize the festival and is here on stage alongside Kim Bok-soon, a Seomun Market trader. Photo courtesy Jeju Sori
It is a corner of the city that has seen development pass it by in the past 60 years, but over three days last weekend it was again the undisputed heartbeat of the community.
For its 60th anniversary celebrations, Seomun Market held the “Jeju Seomun Market Global Festival” and hundreds of people filed through its narrow lanes over three days from Nov. 28 to 30 for arts, crafts and culture.
Six decades may have passed since Nov. 10, 1954 when it opened, but for many of the market traders and their families, these few “golmok,” or alleyways in Gu (Old) Jeju, have retained their essence.
Once the hub of the city, the hustle and bustle long moved north, east and west. Jeju City resident Mun Hyekyeong, despite many childhood days here, had never returned — until now.
Plenty of people mucked in to make some kimchi during the festival. Photo courtesy Jeju Sori
“I used to live around here as a young child. My parents came to this market all the time. I can’t believe it has been so long, but I had never been back, except for the fried chicken outside,” she said.
The fried chicken is famed, but it was Jeju’s artisans, musicians, chefs, filmmakers and more who brought Mun back inside. A vibrant atmosphere transformed the market with sellers hawking food, clothes and wares from homemade trinkets to exclusive works of art.
Park Gwijong, head of the Seomun Market Traders Association, said the market is a “symbolic place” for the Jeju people.
“For years it has been a place where people have held special occasions as it is somewhere to eat sundae [blood sausage] and meat, and stocks hanbok and fabric, and more.”
Drummers perform at the festival. Photo courtesy Jeju Sori
It was therefore decided that the theme for the anniversary events would be “janchi” (party), and the central arcade buzzed as people of different ages and nationalities mingled together. Various workshops were also held on art, language and cooking, with even talk shows and documentary screenings.
Artist Agne Latinyte was among the vendors on Sunday and she was impressed with the “increased bonhomie.”
“It was similar to the fringe festival. Much more a home-like family feeling. I am also glad it was possible to hear and spread the stories of the market grandmothers. Coming to a smaller community feels like getting closer to real Korean culture,” she said.
Latinyte wasn’t the only one glad to see the cultural exchange between communities. Local English teacher Alexis Oesterle attended on Saturday and tried her hand at some crafts.
Alexis Oesterle (left) said the event was "fantastic." Photo courtesy Jeju Sori
“It was fantastic, really well organized, the musicians were amazing, there was a couple of tables with arts and crafts for instance. I made a keychain .... for a youth outreach program. The money goes back to them. Then I made Japanese bracelets,” she added, adding she would definitely return to the market in the future.
Filmmaker Giuseppe Rositano showed some exclusive clips from his documentary on Jeju shamanism, “Spirits,” during the festival. He also attended an “inspiring” Jeju language class and was pleased to see the increased interest in Jeju culture among foreign residents.
The teachers for the class were Moira Saltzman and Kim Seong-u, both conducting research into the Jeju language. Saltzman said it was important for people to hear the language in such an authentic context and Kim added that such events are a great way to “bring a bit of life” back to markets.
Much of the zest was provided by the musicians, many of whom are mainstays of the local circuit. A relative newcomer is Fancy Man, an experimental folk quartet of local teachers. Violinist Daniel Lee-Wickner said the band loved playing in the bustling environment.
▲ Fancy Man perform on stage at Seomun Market festival, Jeju City. Photo courtesy Jeju Sori
“The atmosphere was great— public and lively, but also quite intimate and cozy. It was actually quite similar to our last performance at the Jeju Fringe Festival. These are great opportunities for us to build an audience,” he said.
All the while the Seomun traders, just as they have for 60 years, continued to sell their meats, fruits, beans and grains and much else.
Amongst the novelty all around, Park of the traders association believes the abiding image of the festival will be of the fishmonger lopping off tuna heads while folk bands and old crooners belted out tunes to his right.
“The sight of the fishmonger catching fish while the musicians were singing in their prime is unforgettable! We have found a new direction for the market!” she said.
The event was organized by Seomun Market Traders Association and Jeju Sori.
You can read interviews by Maya Sinji Jung with Seomun Market traders here and here. Photography by Simon J. Powell.
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