saditycents











{October 23, 2015}   Market Shopping in Korea 
A Dapper Dog at the Market

A Dapper Dog at the Market

As a military dependent, shopping overseas isn’t as tricky for us compared to others who don’t have the connection and support of a local base. We of course have the base commissary.  When I was in the states I loved the commissary because of their great prices. Overseas they have an awesome coupon policy (you can use expired coupons for up to six months overseas), friendly service (for the most part), and products from home. But the truth is there are somethings the commissary can’t achieve; like fresh local produce. You see the commissary is ran under an arm of the Department of Defense, which means it has government contracts it must fulfill, which for me means my fruit is often frozen, shipped, and defrosted, only to prematurely rot. So while I buy many of my staples at the commissary I like to shop locally for my fresh items. And to tell you the truth it’s almost always cheaper.

Almost every town or province in South Korea has a local outdoor market where farmers and shopkeepers set up booths and sell their produce and goods. Where I live the market is known to the locals as the Songbook market. The Americans call it the “4/9 market” because vendors set up on any day ending in 4 or 9 of every month. Another base has the 3/8 market;  you get the pattern. I reckon the same vendors travel to many local towns.

Anyway the 4/9 market can be intimidating. There are flurry of people pushing their way through the crowds, a lot of yelling from vendors trying to make a sell, foods you don’t recognize and what seems like general chaos. After frequenting the market almost weekly for a few months I’m starting to understand the method behind the madness.

An example of unfamiliar foods: If anyone knows what this is please let me know.

An example of unfamiliar foods: If anyone knows what this is please let me know.

IMG_0016

First understand how the market is set up. One thing to note is that for the most part vendors are always in the same spot. This becomes helpful as you build relationships. That way you can find the same tomato vendor over and over. Also don’t be afraid to go down alleys and side streets. Many times vendors who are not on the main drag are more willing to bargain because they don’t get the same amount of traffic. Once you find that special vender ask for what you want. This may seem elementary, but sometimes the vendor is set up in front of their brick and mortar shop, so if you don’t see an item they would likely sell, just ask. They have more items in the back. 

Learn how to bargain. The greatest appeal about open air markets is the ability to bargain shop and haggle prices. I learned from a Korean national that it’s part of the Korean culture to haggle.  The thing she didn’t tell me was that as a foreigner the same bargaining rules don’t apply. When Korean vendors see Americans they know our method of shopping is to see a price and pay, so many won’t haggle with you because they know that’s not your culture. This doesn’t mean haggling is impossible it just means that your shopping experience isn’t going to be the same way as your well-meaning Korean friend’s trip.

Here are some tips to improve your haggling experience.

1) Get a Calendar – Make yourself familiar with traditional Korean holidays. The market tends to be more crowded and vendors are far less likely to haggle with you on those days. They don’t need your business that day and they don’t have time to waste going back and forth with you for fear of losing another sale.

2) Get the Worm -As in the early bird… Get it?! Anyways, I just mean go early. The earlier in the day the better. The earliest I’ve been is 8 am. Sure some vendors aren’t set up yet, but the truly committed die-hard vendors are and they are ready to make their first sale. There is a cultural belief that your interaction with your first customer is how the rest of the day will go for your business. So theoretically they are more willing to bargain to get a sale. Superstition aside, in my own experience I have found that vendors are just nicer in the mornings and therefore more likely to give you a deal, even if you aren’t their first customer. Another plus is that the market is less crowded, though still crowded, in the morning; so it makes for a more pleasant shopping experience.

3) Get an expanded definition of bargain. Many people only think they got a good deal if they paid less than the asking price. Sometimes that’s hard to achieve. I frequent vendors who throw in free items or who who give me significantly more for the same price compared to other vendors. This takes some trial and error and a good memory.  I try to remember specific vendors for specific items because of their generosity with portions. Like my raw nuts lady. She puts more in the bag than other vendors and puts a free item in as well. I also appreciate vendors who will fairly cut an amount down for me. Sometimes the vendors pre-portion their produce (say that five times fast) and you pick the basket of produce that looks best. But it’s just my husband and I at home, so often their portions are too large and I know a large amount will go to waste. There are some vendors who try to force you to buy the whole amount. It could be because they’ve already weighed out the produce, but it doesn’t serve my purposes. Others will cut the fruit in half to their advantage. Meaning the entire pound was 5,00 won but for 3,000 won they’ll give you half. I don’t use them. I like when I get just a little more than half for about half the price. it means they value you me as a customer and want me to come back. Either way, there are more than one way to get a good deal. For instance, we use a lot of organic Korean honey (seriously, whatever these Korean bees are doing, it’s life changing). So rather than ask my vendor for a cheaper deal on the honey, I buy double the portion and then cut a deal on that. I know I’m going to use all of the honey, so it’s a win for me, and he moved merchandise, so its a win for him.

4) Get o.k. with “N.O.”. Sometimes you have to walk away. I’ve heard stories of Americans buying items and not knowing what they bought because a vendor started putting it in a bag as they were talking and shoved it in their hands. I can’t even imagine being bullied into a purchase just because I’m afraid the vendor won’t like Americans afterwards. I think that’s a simplistic and insulting view of people in foreign nations, to think that a seasoned vendor won’t know how to handle a “no thank you” (but that’s a different, more political view that would probably be titled: Polite Paternalism). Anyways, the point is that if in the midst of haggling you aren’t getting the deal you want, walk away. It’s ok. I am not afraid to walk away from any vendor, nor am afraid to try several vendors to see whose willing to haggle. I’m also okay with hearing “no.” Some say no as a bargaining method. Try another number. But if they are insistent on the price, then I smile, bow, and walk away. No hard feelings. You don’t have to be rude to bargain, but you don’t have to be a pushover either. Sit back from a distance, you’ll see them bargaining with other locals. Many just assume that you won’t.

5) Get a basic vocabulary. I’m pretty horrible at other languages, speaking wise. But I have found that even recognizing a few words is helpful, even if I can’t respond. The vendors are less frustrated if you understand something, and actually appreciate a few words in Hangul (Korean). Words that I have found to be useful are:

Hello = Ann-yeong-haseyo (all the translation books say to pronounce it this way. Locally, I find Ah-naseyo gets a better response)

Thank You = Kasi-hamm-ni-dah

How Much = Ooh-ma-im-ni-kah

Please Give Me = Joos-Aa-Yo

Yes = Nay or Dae

No = Aneeyo

Once you get the basics of the marketplace down, it can really be worthwhile. Before the market our grocery bill could easily be $300 a month for 2 people and that was with little to no fresh fruits or vegetables. Now I spend about $250 on groceries and that is with about half being large amounts of fresh produce, and of course local honey (I use it for almost everything that requires a sweetener). Here are some pictures from a typical trip:

IMG_0075

I think I spent less than 15,000 won on this trip with 10,000 won being the honey. Still a good deal, but this was one of my earlier trips, before I’d grasped the concept of bargaining.

This is a more recent trip. Even with the superior honey I spent about 30000w

I love seeing twists on foods I grew up with or foods I've never even heard of.

I love seeing twists on foods I grew up with or foods I’ve never even heard of.



et cetera