Seomun Market Chaos: Daegu’s Oldest Traditional Market

Seomun Korean market in Daegu

Walking around in crowded places like Seomun Market is like walking into a butterfly exhibit. The butterflies, or in this case locals, fly around aimlessness. They are looking down at their cell phones or chatting unaware until the very last minute. They walk into you momentarily paralyzed– dazed before their formation changes course.

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Seomun Market
Has a Long History

Today we spent the afternoon in the tangled mazes and economic chaos that is Seomun Market. Located directly in front of the monorail or gold line, the market is open seven days a week from 0900 to 1700, except every 1st and 3rd Sunday. And although the market has grown in size, its original footprint has remained mostly unchanged since the 12th c. Joseon Dynasty. That may sound like a long time, but I found out, it’s just one of three markets in Daegu with just as long of a history.

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Where the Locals Shop

Housewares, Clothing, Crafts and Produce

It’s hard for westerners to comprehend how much “stuff” can be sold in such tight spaces. But somehow it works, and there is a symbiosis at work as both vendors and patrons maneuver and negotiate in the narrow alleyways. The market is comprised of more than 4,000 stalls inside and out, in air-conditioned areas, on side streets, and under umbrellas, selling everything from fabrics, to housewares, men’s and women’s clothing, both modern and traditional, crafts, produce, seafood and more.

There are lots of food stalls selling edibles, some of which I even recognized, and people handing out samples of fish on toothpicks. I knew instantly I shouldn’t have accepted it, and it took me 10 minutes to find a trashcan to toss the half-eaten morsel into. Especially after watching all the flies being waved off the warm fish at all the stalls further down where the day’s heat had melted all the ice the fish had once lounged on.

Fish Market

Local Market for Everything

Unfortunately, the small family fish vendors can’t afford the air-conditioning a lot of the clothing vendors enjoy. But I’m glad there are deprives of the midday sun inside this air-conditioned kiosk. Unfortunately, there is no deprive of the crowds who are also looking to cool off.

The madness at Seomun Market is intense, too intense to shop, so after looking around at a few pieces of jewelry and some shoes, with my cart on wheels being slapped and jostling behind me, we gladly step back out into the heat. I don’t enjoy shopping enough for this to be anything but a new experience because it’s not fun.

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I did enjoy shopping for a hanbok (han-boak), the traditional Korean dress. Even though communication was challenging, the ladies were so nice and attentive, trying to match my skin color against the pretty fabrics and convince Steven to purchase a matching suit.

For all I know, I might have been the first little black girl some of measured for a hanbok before, and that makes me happy. I can’t wait to see the finished product, made to fit me for 350,000 Won. I’ll let you know if our partial Korean, partial English, and google translate conversation yields a hanbok or something else entirely.

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Bartering for a Good Deal

My other finds included a pair of pretty slippers and a small, cute plaid cart on wheels. The shopkeeper wanted 15,000 Won for the carriage and seemed amused when I offered 12,000. “Ay,” he nodded, and I handed him the money with two hands. “Kamsamnida,” I replied. “Ay,” he retorted. That cracks me up every time. I’ve heard whole conversations that are essential blah blah blah, ay, blah blah, ay. It appears to be the answer to most questions. Note to self for next time. Purchase more essential things like the cart just before leaving for apparent reasons. I even thought about buying a parasol, but couldn’t find one that didn’t make me look like an ajumma (old lady).

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