Friday, January 05, 2007

Insadong and other cool Markets

One of the coolest places to see in Seoul is Insadong Market. Near the center of the city, the place still has the feel of an Asian city not completely paved over with concrete and mortar. And despite brimming with tourists and locals on New Year's Day, was quite lovely.

There are numerous tiny tea shops throughout the area, and one can find all sorts of delicious teas. Not speaking much Korean, I was lucky to stumble into one where the guy spoke a little bit of broken English. He sold me a cup of tea with some traditional sweets. They weren't too dissimilar from several I had eaten in Japan. This particular place was filled with all kinds of old junk.

Several other types of shops that existed, including antique shops. As Japan is often a very forward-looking society and culture, finding antiques there is somewhat difficult at times. It is easy to find old traditional handicrafts in Japan, but they have all been made recently, as nobody sells anything truly old. Korea appears to differ in this respect, as Insadong market had some real antique places, filled with both Asian and European antiques of all sorts.

I also frequently ran across chinese calligraphy stores. Like Japan and China, the Koreans evidently love to write their letters as stylishly and pretentiously as they can. One particular shop I went into had an enormous brush that was about 4 feet tall and looked to weigh about 70 pounds. Hanging on a wall, the part with the bristles was at least 1 foot thick. Two people would be required to use the behemoth, so I had trouble figuring out how it would be useful.

As you can probably guess, I made my way to the coin dealer, to spend my laughably tiny amount of cash reserves on obsolete currency. I found a place and managed to find an old kingdom coin predating the Japanese invasion for less than 5000 won (about 5 USD). I got a couple of others for about the same.

I also visited a number of other markets in Seoul, and noticed stores selling ginseng were everywhere as well. One man caught me taking pictures of a giant spindly root display suspended in liquid and dragged me into his store to sample some ginseng. His English was incomprehensible (if that is indeed what it was) so I said I didn't understand, but he finally strong armed me into sampling some of his ginseng. After putting up some resistance, I finally chewed a piece up and said "Yum!" in a loud voice before bolting for the door. This was the second time this happened during my trip. I did get some cool shots of the creepy spidery roots floating in glass cylinders.

There was one market that had fish and kimchee of all sorts. See pictures to come.

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