Thursday, March 18, 2004

LATEST VICTIM OF URBAN RENEWAL: The "dokkaebi sijang" in Seoul.
Last June, some 73,000 street vendors were forced to leave their strip of pavement where many of them have done business for over four decades as the city set about demolishing the elevated highway to resurrect a historic stream, the Cheonggyechon.

The adjoining flea market downtown was a scruffy but a lovable cultural icon known as the "dokkaebi sijang" or "Devil's Market."


Now located in Dongdaemun Stadium, eastern Seoul, a handful of the Cheonggyecheon merchants are back trying to revive the atmosphere of the old market.

Densely scrunched together, one can still find the antiques, the counterfeit goods, the second-hand clothes, the bizarre odds and ends and the bargains that made the original market successful. A 10-year-old Samsung video camera sells for around 30,000 won. Two Oxford shirts are only 10,000 won.

The market's old motto was: "You can find everything here except a tank," and with FBI jackets and chainsaws scattered about, that spirit lives on.
Reading this piece brought back memories of wandering the labyrinthine alleyways in search of a cheap stereo, an umbrella, or, in one case, most of my apartment's furnishings--table, chairs, clothes washer etc. etc. (which were delivered in one trip by motorcycle). Around the corner was a row of used bookstores carrying an assortment of dictionaries, dusty foreign magazines, and beat-up textbooks that varied little from store to store but included the occasional rare treasure. Shopping for the same goods inside the Dongdaemun Stadium just wouldn't be the same.

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