Journey to Long Lost Traditional Markets
Journey to Long Lost Traditional Markets
  • Yoo Kim Juhee
  • 승인 2013.11.11 00:27
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Images of traditional markets like food sizzling and cheerful bargaining as well as a crowded atmosphere are typical thoughts of Koreans at the mention of the words traditional market.  However, it is becoming harder and harder to find those images among modern society, since the market have been declining for a long while.  To revitalize these dying markets, the government recently pushed major wholesalers and superstores to close their doors on certain weekends.  Though the regulation has not had much effect, some traditional markets are finding their own way to survive.  How are these markets able to keep themselves afloat?  To uncover the secret and see progress, the Sookmyung Times Reporter Juhee Kim went on a journey to experience a day at long lost Korean treasures, traditional markets.


Secret 1 : Unique Experience Tongin Market





Some markets survive by differentiating themselves with unique experiences.  One such market is Tongin Traditional Market.  Tongin is famous for its public design and Box Lunch Café.  The Market had well organized facilities similar to big commercial stores.  It also had a customer satisfaction center, public toilets, and great interior.  I went to Box Lunch Café, which is run by the Union of Market Merchants.  To experience, first I had to buy Yeopjeon (brass coins similar to traditional Korean currency) from the customer satisfaction center.  Then, I was able to get a full lunch from stores that displayed the membership mark.  It cost one to two Yeopjeon for each item of food I added to my lunch box.  For just 5,000 won, I was able to have a full lunch and the enjoyment of walking around the traditional market.  The experience and atmosphere of the market were very unique.  Facilities like public toilets were convenient and buying food with Yeopjeon was fun.  Moreover, unlike modern style superstores, it was possible to experience Dum and Korean traditional culture.  “Welcome Miss” and “This is on the house” were comments heard from shopkeepers as they gave Dum and shared smiles.  However, not everything was perfect.  Tongin lacked the cleanliness of large stores with food displayed out in the open and with its old, in need of repair, facilities.  Nevertheless, Tongin Market sales have increased by developing this unique experience.  One person at the café said, “The market has experienced a great increase in sales after establishing the café.  Merchants are happy, and the market is always busy.”  Tongin Market also operates other activities like its permanent DIY Wood Workshop, photo exhibition, and occasional bazaar.

Secret 2 : Cultural Tourism Gwangjang Market





Gwangjang Market is thriving as a cultural tourist attraction.  Many foreigners and even local Koreans visit the Market to tour a Korean traditional market.  According to the Korea Tourism Organization, 73% of merchants in Gwangjang Market feel foreign visitors are the reason for increased sales.1  The market is the biggest site of the Korean traditional food culture Yasik, late-night meals.  To reflect this new tourist attraction, shops present their menus in English as well as other various languages.  Personally, I found the translated menus to be useless.  For instance, the English menus were often placed out of sight in corners.  One merchant, Nam (55), who sells food in the market said, “Many foreigners come to tour the traditional market, mostly Chinese or Japanese, but they only browse about.  They rarely make an actual purchase.  Most customers are still native local Koreans.”  Regardless, the market was bustling with foreigners and has a value as a tourism site.  The atmosphere was vitalized and the market displayed plenty of traditional products as well as traditional Korean clothing, namely Hanbok.


Secret 3 : Assistant Onnuri Gift Card



To assist in the revitalization of traditional markets, the Agency for Traditional Market Administration offers Onnuri gift cards, which can be used in registered traditional markets.  However, trying to buy and use a gift card made me question its practicality.  First, a gift card was difficult to get.  Although the official website stated gift cards were sold in all branches of the National Post Office, Woori Bank, Saemaeul Finance, and so on, there were not readily available for purchase.  The Post Office and Saemaeul Finance near Sookmyung did not carry the gift cards, so I had to go to a larger branch office.  The result was the same.  Gift cards of 5,000 won were unavailable.  These larger offices only carried the 10,000 won unit gift card.  Still worse, bank tellers had no idea what I was talking about, so it took an hour to get a gift card.  One bank teller said, “No one really buys Onnuri gift cards individually.  Companies tend to buy them as event prizes, so we don’t carry small unit gift cards.”  The sale of Onnuri gift cards largely depends on purchases by major companies, which means that these cards are not supporting traditional market’s independent survival.  Moreover, it was difficult to use the cards, especially out of Seoul.  I tried to use one gift card in my hometown Daejeon, but the number of markets where I could use it was limited.  Most market shops refused to accept the gift card.  It would be great if the cards could be used for Internet shopping, but it only provided the service to electrical gift cards, not ones made out of paper. 


What is the Real Secret to Glory?

The government is demanding the closure of wholesalers and superstores to on weekends to balance sales between large markets and traditional markets.  However, is regulation of big companies enough? “The regulation is losing its purpose.  Medium-sized firms are disappearing and visitors to traditional market are not increasing.  Benefactors seem to be convenience and online stores not traditional markets for whom it was intended.”2  To save traditional markets, it is not necessary to kill superstores.  The secret might be centring on the uniqueness of each particular traditional market, something only it provides and developing that.  To do this, major companies could help its independent survival, not making traditional markets rely on them as the case of Onnuri gift card.  Every traditional market has its secret to distinctiveness and though some have found it, others are still struggling.  The traditional markets that I visited provided more than the mere idea of a market, which might be the key to keeping those markets thriving and attracting the younger generation.

1  Shin Yoori, “Traditional Market Sales Increase Thanks to Foreigners,” YTN, September 30, 2013
2  Kim Jungho, “Obligatory Closing on SSM, Who became Happy,” The Korean Economic Daily, July 3, 2013

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