A journey back in time at Seoul Folk Flea Market
Korea’s traditional markets are the best sites for experiencing Koreans’ unique “jeong,” a special feeling of fondness, warmth, bonding, and attachment. Such traditional markets across the nation have similar, but unique characteristics of their own. These are something more than just shopping places. You can get a glimpse of the lives of ordinary Koreans.
Clad in Hanbok, a mascot welcomes visitors at the entrance to the Seoul Folk Flea Market located in Hwanghak-dong, Jung-Gu District.(photo: Jeon Han)
If you are looking for something rare and unique, Seoul Folk Flea Market is the place to go. All sorts of old appliances such as black-and-white TVs, obsolete refrigerators, laptops, secondhand books and clothes, out-of-date cassette tapes, and LP records make you feel as if you were in a time machine. Seemingly hundreds-of-years-old knick-knacks make you wonder where they come from and how they came here.
This is Seoul Folk Flea Market located indoors in a two-story building in Hwanghak-dong, Jung District, which opened in 2008 and has now grown into one of Seoul’s major folk flea markets with about 900 vendors selling all sorts of secondhand goods and antiques.
It would surely be great fun even just for window-shopping without buying anything, surrounded by all kinds of curious and rare things.
Jeong Su-young, an owner of an antique shop, says these irons came from the Joseon Dynasty
The flea market has much more to offer than just obsolete, rare knick-knacks. It is also a living historical site where you can find hidden treasures tracing back to historical phases of Korea, such as a charcoal iron from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and textbooks from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, watches waiting for new owners, and seemingly useless but still working cameras.
“Those things once used as daily necessities are now sold as ornaments or interior decorations for cafés,” said Kim Jin-woo, who has been selling antiques collected across the nation for ten years. “Once-easily-accessible items are now out of production, and it is quite difficult to find them anymore.”
Seoul Folk Flea Market is home to all sorts of knick-knacks dating back hundreds of years (photo: Jeon Han).
Seoul Folk Flea Market is also where out-of-order goods are turned into new ones.
“I repair abandoned laptops and sell them for KRW 50,000 to 130,000,” said Lee Chul-woo, a self-claimed “all-round mender” who can fix anything. “I can fix everything from laptops to desktops. Although they are secondhand, I can transform them into new ones.”
He added that he felt sorry to see once-high-end computers losing their ground to more advanced and high-tech ones.
Seoul Folk Flea Market is a place where apparently useless items can be given new life by all-round repairmen (photo: Jeon Han).
The flea market, which was once visited by the popular variety show “Running Man” for an episode featuring famous girl group Girls’ Generation, is also a must-visit spot for filmmakers looking for interesting props.
“Nostalgic, old school uniforms” previous generations used to wear until the liberalization of the dress code was introduced to every school in Korea, are available for rent as well. Such old school uniforms are often used as stage props and costumes in dramas or films.
“Many people involved in the film industry drop by and borrow such stuff as old school uniforms and other accessories including hats and bags,” said a vendor who runs the next store. “Others stop by to look for interesting garments reminiscent of their old school days to wear to their alumni meetings.”
There are other special events for foreign tourists. Seoul Folk Flea Market entertains visitors with a variety of cultural performances and special flea markets for foreigners. It will hold the People’s Market and the Foreigners’ Flea Market from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on April 27, where foreigners and Koreans who want to sell stuff can sign up to become a vendor by calling the Seoul Folk Flea Market office at 02-6326-3366.