Gangneung Central Market

My choice of photographic subjects is mostly limited to Gangneung because I have no car. I have a fairly large collection of photographs showing the streets of Gangneung, but I wanted to do something more specific. Gangneung’s Central Market seemed like a good candidate because it’s not too far from where I live, there are some interesting things to see, and markets have always had an attraction for me. Two of my favourites were the Saturday morning market in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and the Sunday market by the river in Brisbane.

I thought I would take a year to thoroughly explore Central Market and get enough photos for an exhibition or at least a gallery on this website. I started going whenever I got a chance and my camera of choice was the Nikon D810 because the market is quite dark inside and high ISOs are needed. I made a few decent photos but after a couple of weeks I abandoned Central Market as a subject for an exhibition. There are some photogenic scenes, to be sure, but mostly the market is an unorganised, dingy place that brings me no joy.

Despite that, I managed to make a few photos that people might want to see. For better or worse, here they are.

Delivery at one of the entrances to Central Market

Because the market is fairly large, there are many deliveries throughout the day. This driver has parked decently but others are not so considerate and getting into the market can sometimes be a chore. Random Fact: The two large hypermarkets in town close two days a week to help encourage people to use the traditional markets. This is voluntary, but maybe voluntary in the way that students are required to volunteer in order to complete their requisites for graduating. When the hypermarkets are closed I just go to the Co-op because they are always open.

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Confidence in his wares

I’ve posted this photo before but I’m including this and other earlier photos because want this post to be The Compleat Market report. There are lots of things for sale on the outer edges of the market complex. Mostly seafood, as far as I can see, though this friendly fellow is also offering cakes and dried persimmons. I’ve printed this photo to give to him the next time I’m passing by.

Woman selling fish #1

This woman has a good laugh at me every time I take close-up photos of her dried fish. And rightly so, I guess. Her little stand is located just a few metres from the young man above.

Woman selling fish #2

And this woman is next to the one above. I’m surprised that none of these people told me to shove off but maybe they are used to cameras. The Central Market is a bit of a tourist attraction because of some of the restaurants inside.

Woman selling fish in tubs, Central Market
Fish seller

This lady has no shop or stand. She simply brings her fish on a two-wheeled cart, sets them out on the sidewalk, and sits on her cart for the day. (I don’t think cart is the correct term, but I’m losing active English vocabulary for things I don’t often talk or write about.) She didn’t mind me taking her photo at all, and smiled after I had finished.

Woman selling vegetables in front of cosmetics shop
Shop in front of a shop

Another lady with no shop. She’s set up in front of a cosmetics store. I think this was a Sunday so the shop wasn’t open for business. Closed shops attract street sellers who know they won’t get driven away

Stuffed dumpling seller
Stuffed dumplings

This take-away shop is located across from the main entrance to the market complex. It’s more popular in winter when it’s cold but there are usually quite a few people around, even in summer.

Woman coming out of market

I squatted at the entrance and waited for someone interesting or at least colourful to come out of the market. This woman has an interesting look so I made the photograph. I think she looks quite annoyed with me, but my wife says it’s almost a smile. In front of every shop is a yellow line that merchants are supposed to keep their goods behind so that it doesn’t interfere with foot traffic. This line is routinely ignored. The blue sign above the woman’s head says, “If we stay inside the line, we get more customers.”

Aisle vendors at Central Market

You can see the yellow line on the left and this shop has more or less kept inside it. The line seems to be covered by crates on the right. The biggest barrier to customers getting around it, as you can plainly see, is the row of women selling vegetables in the middle of the aisle. These women used to sit on the sidewalks next to the high street and sell their vegetables and fish. The city wanted to clean up the sidewalks but maybe didn’t want to take away these women’s livelihoods so they moved these women to the aisles of the market where they are now more in the way. Not only that, scooters are going up and down these aisles all day, covering the produce with exhaust and probably giving these women lots of health problems.

Vendor at an intersection

Most of the market aisles are covered but at intersections there is no covering or just some tarpaulin. Some of the intersections have shopping carts (good luck getting around with those) or benches and flower pots for resting. Others, like this one, are just open and become parking spaces for scooters.

Woman dodges a wagon full of pig meat

You can see in this photo how close these dirty scooters come to the vegetables. You can also see this guy brakes for nothing and the woman in the orange coat is trying to get out of the way. The back of this three-wheel scooter is full of pig meat. You can probably see a pig’s head on the left. I don’t buy meat in the marketplace. Or vegetables, for that matter.

Elderly lady takes a break from shopping at Central Market

One of the benches I mentioned earlier. The cart she has is based on a baby stroller. Many poorer old women use abandoned baby strollers to do their shopping. Some company has obviously used the idea but made a good version with brakes on the handle and covered compartments instead of a seat.

Inexplicably placed radishes

I don’t know.

Two women in blue jackets
Two women in blue jackets

Sisters? Good friends? The shop with the big pink sign is a fried chicken shop. There are a number of them along that aisle and they have long queues at the weekend. The shop in the foreground is definitely not observing the yellow line.

Woman fell asleep while preparing vegetables

This is quite a sad scene. A woman of her age should be retired and relaxing at home or chatting with friends in a park. Instead, she’s falling asleep in the middle of an aisle and breathing scooter fumes all day. Korea’s welfare system has improved in recent years but it’s not good enough yet, and old people didn’t have time to pay into it. Income tax here needs to be higher and the government should hire ‘enforcers’ to make sure all businesses pay their share.

Father and daughter
Father and daughter

I thought this was quite a nice scene.

Baby and sweet seller

This baby has no interest in sweets and biscuits but my camera and I seemed to be quite curious.

Woman cooking vegetable pancake

Although the market is grimy and there are many obstacles to getting around, there are quite a few delicious foods to buy. Each aisle has its own specialty. One aisle has fried chicken, another has ox-head soup, another has chicken rice soup, and another has traditional foods such as this vegetable pancake. Yum yum.

Fried chicken draining

The market has good and famous fried chicken and fried chicken in sweet and spicy sauce. Good stuff, and reasonably priced. You can have this shipped by courier anywhere in the country. This fried chicken is delicious but I don’t know why you’d order it from another city since excellent fried chicken can be found anywhere at all. It’s worth coming to Korea just for the chicken.

Man preparing soup

I can’t remember what kind of soup this was. Probably ox-head soup or chicken. The food in these restaurants is delicious but you should probably never look directly at the kitchens.

Strainer and pots at a soup restaurant

Chicken soup in these pots.

Doughnut shop
Doughnut shop

At the far end of one aisle, past many fish-mongers, is a doughtnut shop. These are made from rice flour. They taste good but can be a bit greasy.

Woman cooking buckwheat and gimchi pancakes

This is a Gangneung speciality. It’s a buckwheat pancake with gimchi (pickled cabbage) and welsh onion. It’s served flat like in this photo or rolled up. Long ago, the staple crops in this mountainous province were buckwheat, potatoes, and maize.¬† So foods like pancakes and stuffed dumplings are more popular here than in other parts of South Korea. Nowadays, modern farming methods allow rice farming.

Salted Chinese cabbage

This cabbage will likely be made into gimchi. Lots of the restaurants in the market make their own gimchi and it’s very delicious. Just the thing to go with a nice bowl of chicken soup.

This thing
This thing

As I mentioned earlier, I’m losing some of my English vocabulary and can’t remember what this is called. But here it is.

The market is an interesting place and I’m sure it’s possible to get some good photos there. The goal of photography for me is to make the ugly and awful look beautiful or at least interesting. I don’t think I have the patience to do this in the market. But who knows? Maybe next year or the year after I’ll have the urge to go back and practise documentary photography. It isn’t something I’m good at but I would like to be.

Thank you for reading this rather long photo essay of Gangneung’s Central Market.

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