Fresh food was for sale in a lot of areas. On the sidewalks sometimes, and at huge, sprawling vendors’ markets, and at stands outside of corner stores. Prepared ‘street food’ was for sale on the roads in certain areas. Small, blue-coloured Daewoo trucks drove slowly through residential neighborhoods, with a man’s voice on a loudspeaker announcing seafood or Asian pears or even eggs for sale. These were all affordable, or they were even great deals. Like I’ve mentioned in former blogs here, you could see a man selling roasted chestnuts outside of a venue, or come across a truck selling bags of rice snacks next to a subway station or you could go to a stand selling freshly cooked ‘boongobbang’ (waffle-like cake filled with red bean paste shaped like fish) beside a factory.
There were underground malls adjacent to subway tracks and above-ground markets that had hundreds of stores in clusters of buildings, covering a lot of city blocks, that sold just electronics, for example. Many times the buildings that housed these ‘markets’ were a number of stories tall, and there would always be vendors at these same markets who had their wares on the street too. Food courts were large and in malls and big box stores.
Malls were huge, but were in 6, 7 or 8-storey buildings to save precious space and they sold high-end clothes and jewellery. Prices of food and necessities were good at most places but clothing was always high-priced everywhere, no matter what. There were no sizes for tall, big-boned women like me. And when I wanted gloves or a hat, for instance, there were only fancy, expensive choices. In Canada, by contrast, there were elite stores but also there were always more affordable ones that were usually cheap department stores. I could have bought cheap, affordable gloves or scarves or winter hats in a North American department store for a few dollars each, but in Seoul each of these items was over 8 dollars and nowadays the price would be much higher 22 years later. In November of 1997, I needed sneakers or boots and saw some spread out on the pavement, outside, below some apartment buildings, but they were too expensive and the sizes were small. I looked at the men’s ones, since I knew I couldn’t fit into women’s sizes, and they weren’t much bigger than the women’s sizes and also, these men’s boots were not at all rugged or practical. Everything was made to wear while going from a car or subway into an office building – even the men’s winter boots! They reminded me of men’s dress shoes I would see in Canada. I wanted something made for walking long distances or even hiking or at least going through some snow. So I never bought any footwear while I was there and had to make do with one pair of sneakers from home.
One thing that was so interesting was that one time in Seoul, I was at a very large place where people could buy vegetables, and not only did they have carrots for sale, but they were in a space the size of my city block at home. That city block was full of carrots piled there right on the pavement. You walked and walked a long way to pass the mountains of carrots. Then you had an area the size of another city block piled with onions, just piled there for a long way, like the carrots were. A large area the size of my neighbourhood in Canada had all the common types of vegetables on the ground for sale. You walked a very long distance to get your vegetables at this place. I thought that was something I certainly would never have seen in my country and I marvelled at such a set-up. The population was so high they needed to do it that way.
There were grocery stores all around, and I would find them with difficulty, as they were usually in basements of buildings that had other businesses in them, and the signs were all in Korean. I was always struck by how there were no potatoes or milk or bread made with wheat like they’d have in my area of Canada. There were no fridges full of cartons of cow’s milk. Just some little plastic bottles of ‘flavoured’ milk, perhaps strawberry or coffee flavour, and the banana one is very popular with foreigners today. The tea sections had expensive green Korean ‘loose’ teas, and big glass jars of lemon or plum to mix with hot water. Some kinds of tea in bags were ground barley ‘tea’ in bags or ground corn in tea bags. ‘Job’s tears’ tea was popular and was usually a powder mixed in hot water, called ‘nut’ tea. I found some Lipton ‘black’ tea in bags like at home but Canadians in the Atlantic region think Lipton tea is not very good, and we have better brands of ‘black’ tea – my older relatives all would have perished without their King Cole or Red Rose tea! I had no idea that the tea we use in the west is called ‘black’ tea. Now, if I order tea in an Asian establishment I must remember to call it ‘black’ tea or the server won’t know what I’m asking for.
In Kyeongju we walked through a sprawling market of mostly produce, where you passed items set out on a the street by many vendors. The picture above with the vegetables for sale reminds me of what I saw there. In the picture above, the prices show how items, some in packages, cost a dollar or two or three each. The prices are in Korean won and I always estimate if something costs 1000 won, it would be around one American dollar. The stock market fluctuates, but that’s how I figure it. Also, I figure ₩1000 is around a Canadian dollar too sometimes, to make it simple.
In Pusan, we were in a gigantic fish market downtown where we came upon anchovies for sale. I never knew what anchovies were because we do not eat them or sell or buy them in my area of Canada. They are little silver-coloured, dried fish. This indoor market had a few large boxes of big anchovies (still small, dried fish) in a section. In that same section beside the big ones, were a few boxes of a size a little smaller, then another few boxes of the slightly smaller next size, and so on, until you saw a few boxes of tiny, tiny anchovies. Maybe there were 8 different sizes. I thought it was amazing to see the sheer amount that was needed, as there were so many of those little, dried fish for sale in that one area of the market.
Speaking of these anchovies, I had soup with different sizes of the tiny fish in it while I lived in Korea. I like fish in general, but I didn’t want to have soup with little fish in it in the morning. One morning I was finishing my nice bowl of Korean soup in the basement of my institute and there had been a bunch of these anchovies in it – they were all in the bottom of my bowl!
I should mention that in one area of the old downtown there were many little jewellery stores, and it was thought of as a ‘jewellery market’. I went in a few of these stores, and it was amazing to me to see many display counters showing pieces with only one particular coloured gem, like a yellow one. Then after looking at many counters of yellow, I saw many counters where all pink gems were showcased, and then blue gems, and so on. Counter upon counter and row upon row of just one colour! Then more! I couldn’t believe the sheer amount of one kind of coloured gem in one spot and there were many other stores with the same set-up in this famous ‘jewellery market’ as well. At home we’d have smaller stores with smaller displays and only a few stores in my city at that.
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