Kyong-dong Herbal Medicine Market
The winter is almost over, and people are busy preparing for the spring. Many people gather at the Kyong-dong Herbal Medicine Market this time of year to prepare a concoction of medicinal herbs to invigorate themselves in the spring.
The shops are lined along the street. In the shops are seeds of cockscombs, cornsilk, mugworts, the roots of mulberry trees, etc… Various medicinal ingredients fill bag after bag in the shops and the sweet but slightly bitter aroma of the herbs being boiled fill up the alleys of the street. At the ginseng wholesale market, we can see buyers and sellers cutting deals. A housewife tries to beat down the price so she can take as many roots of ginseng as possible, and the shopkeeper complains while handing over the ginseng.
“Kyong-dong Herbal Medicine Market consists of the Ginseng wholesale market, the Health Supplementary Food Market, the Banquet Food market, and the Dried Seafood market. The size of the market place expanded tremendously, from about twenty shops at the end of the 1950s and early 60s to more than six hundred in 1987, and to over one thousand in 1992. This is the largest herbal medicine market in Korea. Since so many herbal medicine shops are concentrated in one place, people from all walks of life; from commoners to large income earners as well as foreigners visit the market. Also, at the entrance of the market, there is a signboard that shows the market price of the major medicinal herbs to help consumers with their shopping.”
The Kyong-dong Herbal Medicine Market is the mecca of medicinal herbs in Korea. About 70 percent of the total production of medicinal herbs are circulated in this market. The market is located in Je-gui-dong, northern Seoul. Ever since the market was formed at the end of the 1950s, the market has experienced continuous growth. The growth is attributed to the convenient traffic. In the neighborhood are the Majangdong cross-country bus terminal and the Chong-nyang-ni railroad station. However, Mr. Eom Kyong-sop, at the Kyong-dong Herbal Medicine Market Association says there is another reason why the market began to grow there.
“The market did grow spontaneously here owing to convenient transportation, but there seems to be another big reason why the market flourished here and its the Po-je-won near here. Po-je-won was a medical organization run by the state to give medical service to the poor during the Choson dynasty. It was part of the government’s medical insurance system. It’s noteworthy that the organization was established here in Je-gui-dong. I think it was because of its historical background that the market flourished here.”
Various markets flourished in and outside the four main gates of Seoul during the Choson dynasty. There used to be the Chil-pae marketplace outside Namdaemun, the great southern gate, which dealt with seafood and vegetables. Rice dealers were concentrated outside Seo-so-mun gate, and Jeo-dong was famous for ramie cloth. People visited Mo-jon marketplace of Mu-gyo-dong to buy fruit, Yon-cho-jon marketplace of Su-pyo-dong to buy tobacco, and Ji-jon marketplace of Pong-nae-dong to buy paper. And of course the Kyong-dong Herbal Medicine Market of Je-gui-dong to buy rare medicinal herbs.
With the establishment of the railway and the station, as well as the bus terminal, it became easier to gather medicinal herbs from all over the nation including Kangwon, Kyonggi, Kyongsang and Chungchong provinces. Mr. Eom Kyong-sop says you can find many rare herbs in Kyong-dong Herbal Medicine Market.
“All the good quality medicinal herbs from all across the nation are brought to this Kyong-dong Herbal Medicine Market every season. We sort out good medicinal herbs here, and sell them to each of the region or to consumers. This is where all the medicinal herbs are concentrated from all across the nation. You can find any of the rare medicinal herbs here, and you can buy them at reasonable prices.”
The entire market place covers 230 thousand square meters in area where more than one thousand herb shops are concentrated. About three fourths of the annual ginseng and honey consumption in Seoul are circulated through Kyong-dong market, and the sales of two thirds of the nation’s medicinal herbs are made here. Every day more than 200 thousand people visit the marketplace with a market worth 2.5 million dollars.
Also quite a large portion of visitors are foreigners. Mr. Cho Seung-uk, president of Seoul Tour Dot Com says it’s become a trend for foreign tourists to visit the Kyong-dong Herbal Medicine Market.
“It’s the natural impulse of men to want a healthy and long life. It’s become a trend for foreigners visiting Korea to search for unique ways to enhance their health. So, many like to visit the Herbal Medicine Market to buy healthy supplementary food, or to find herbal remedies for diseases. People from the west are also quite curious about the mysterious effects of Oriental herbal medicine.
The visitors satisfy their desire and curiosity by visiting the Kyong-dong Herbal Medicine Market. They can smell the unique fragrance of the herbs there, and actually taste some of them. A part of a special tour even offers tourists a taste of the herbal remedies. Many people like it and buy it.”
Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, you can just look into the shops, and you will find that time passes very quickly.
Dried Young-ji mushroom and deer antlers are some of the expensive ingredients known to be very effective for recovering one’s strength. There are also less expensive ingredients like o-mi-ja, dung-gul-lae, or hwang-gui which you can boil as a tea and take as much as you want in a day to maintain good health. The Kyong-dong Herbal Medicine Market is the only marketplace in Korea that’s equipped with all the herbal ingredients listed in the Dae-han-yak-jon which totals more than five hundred.
Also, across the street from the Kyong-dong Herbal Medicine Market is another conventional marketplace. All kinds of vegetables and crops are found in the market place with merchants beckoning us to come and take a look. There are also various delicious dishes like mak-kol-li wine, pa-jon, green onion pancakes, and sun-dae-guk, a sausage soup, calling to us. But we can’t leave the Kyong-dong market before we buy some ginseng, the specialty of the market. Here is Mr. Cho Seung-uk to tell us more.
“To westerners, ginseng is known as the herb of mystery that looks like a man’s body. In Asia, too, the Korean ginseng has been acknowledged as the best in the world and many people want to purchase it. Those from other Asian nations prefer the actual ginseng, like the Hong-sam, the red ginseng, which is dried ginseng, and those from the west prefer processed ones like the ginseng tea or ginseng capsules.”
Products are concentrated in the market and people flock to the place to make deals. A woman asks for a discount so she can save her bus fare, but a merchant shakes his head that it would leave him with no profit at all. Here and there in the market place, you can see people haggling over the prices. In fact, that’s something you can experience only in the conventional market places in Korea.
“There are two major herbal medicine markets in Korea; the Kyong-dong herbal medicine market and the Taegu herbal medicine market. Of course, the Kyong-dong Herbal Medicine Market is better known to foreigners than the one in Taegu. Also, in the neighborhood are the Jung-bu market, the Dried Seasfood Market, and Dong-dae-mun market. Among them, Dong-dae-mun market is the largest clothing marketplace in the whole world. That’s why it is a favorite tourist stop among foreigners, too. The night market offers a unique and pleasant experience and offers a first-hand look at the lives of everyday Koreans.”
As Mr. Cho Seung-uk says, foreign tourists enjoy conventional market places very much. In fact, there are many Korean conventional markets surrounding the Kyong-dong Herbal Medicine Market. There is the Dong-dae-mun Hanbok market where one can purchase Hanbok, Korea’s traditional costume at reasonable prices, and the Hwang-hak-dong antique market where one can buy all kinds of antiques like old pipes covered with dust, a grinding stone, a necklace made of tigers’ tooth, and many more.
You can find the special vigor and warm hearts of the Korean people in the Kyong-dong Herbal Medicine Market. Who knows? There might be someone just this moment somewhere in the world, who is recollecting the slightly bitter smell of the herbal medicine of the market, and picturing the dynamic atmosphere of the Korean market places and the merchants. It’s through a place called Kyong-dong Herbal Medicine Market that they remember Korea.