Seoul breathes at a frightening pace. It’s not difficult to lose yourself or your breath, here. Towering slabs of mortar and glass, dominate a jagged skyline, often competing — for a spot of grey. Following a Darwinian model of survival, primitive structures are quick to be razed, to be equally quickly replaced, by monsters of steel. It would be hard, to imagine, what this bustling city might have looked like — ten years ago. Unless, you take a walk along the narrow alleys — hidden in plain sight. Fortunately, for the likes of me, there’s some soul still left to be found.
A walk through, the dimly lit alleys of Gwangjang Market, can turn back the hands of the clock. Local markets have the ability of arresting time and freezing it in a bottled alleyway. Far away from the whir of sparkling black sedans, crisp tailored business suits, and gigantic shopping marts; it almost feels like home here. The pace is busy, but, far from — breathing down your neck. It’s business as usual for most merchants and vendors. One of the bitter truths of life: everyone, doesn’t get to stroll through a market for fun.
Unlike most Asian street markets, vendors don’t always scream for your attention. Looking at the wide variety of wares and unusual fish (complete with the frozen look of death) on display, I guess, their work’s half done. Although, we didn’t stop to ask; I have a feeling, that prices, like time, are reflective of another epoch.
The air is ripe with dozen odd aromas. Most of them are unfamiliar, but definitely inviting, for anyone who’s famished — after a long hike along the Fortress Wall in Bugaksan. And, it’s surprising, how fast those tired legs will move, when it comes to food. Most of the words made little sense and having YJ, with us, helped. At lunchtime, every stall was teeming with hungry travellers, and it took some effort to find us a table to squeeze in.
Turns out, Tim Burton ate at the same food stall. The throes of marketing do not escape small businesses either.
These narrow alleys are deceptive. There’s lots more to see, touch, eat, or smell. Stacks of shoes, cotton clothes, traditional stationary, and freshly baked sweets scream for your attention. At the exit, a group of young girls feasted on skewered meats and Gimbap. Gimbap (or kimbap) is not a desert. It’s more of a quick snack — perfect for the outdoors. A stuffing of rice and veggies, rolled in seaweed sheet, and sliced into thin slices; once tasted, Gimbap can get addictive. And it’s also an excellent way to leave behind a quaint world, with a lingering taste of the sea, before heading back to the wide streets and their towering companions.