By Ilya Belyakov

When I first came to Korea, I didn't like traditional markets that much. I thought they were dirty and messy. Middle-aged male vendors tried to deceive me because I am non-Korean. Traditional markets in Asia might intrigue non-Koreans from Western Europe, but I didn't feel like going back to traditional markets ever again.

However, my feeling toward traditional markets suddenly began to change without me knowing it. I wasn't annoyed by motorbike riders anymore who ride on the sidewalk, against traffic rules, as much as before. I didn't care much about the dirty environment in the markets anymore. Rather, I started to see charming points inthose markets. I think restaurants might have helped me to change the image Iused to have about traditional markets.

Not long ago, I went to meet some Korean friends. When they told me to meet at Jongno 5-ga Station, I was surprised. I didn't understand why they wanted to meet in a place that wasn't too popular, and I wondered what we could do there. I asked why and they said we were going to eat bindaetteok savory bean cakes(빈대떡) at Gwangjang Market.

I've been to Gwangjang Market only once when I started living in Seoul, to look around Seoul. I didn't have any chance to go there again since. I only knew it from a guide book about Seoul that the market gives tourists "a glimpse into Korean history" and that was it. However, this time it felt unusual and it was as if a piece of Korean history that I learned about in books was unfolding beforemy eyes. We were walking around the narrow alleys in the market. I don't know why, but the scene in the market reminded me of the Korea from the 1950s I saw in the movie "Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War" (2004).

I'm not a big fan of bindaetteok savory bean cakes, but I really enjoyed them. Sitting on plastic chairs in a crowded and very narrow market pathway, we had bindaetteok savory bean cakes served on paper plates and makgeolli rice beer (막걸리). It was really delicious. I think it was the overall atmosphere that made me feel that way, not the food itself. The environment might be too simple andnon-Koreans might be reluctant to visit the place, but I think this is where you can fully experience the communal and friendly atmosphere that existed intraditional agricultural Korea, often called jeong (정).

Gwangjang Market has been recently partly renovated, contrary to Dongdaemun Market, but it still looks the way it was before. It's true that promotional material and accurate information about the market are lacking, even though the market has been advertised. Among the outdoor markets in Seoul, the market is relatively well-known, but it isn't even comparable to the main tourist attractions in Seoul. Maybe it's because I had fun there hanging out with my friends, but I think the Gwangjang Market is worth a few promotional activities.

Another reason why I was surprised about traditional markets in Seoul is because Russia doesn't have them. I'm not saying that we don't have markets at all, but that there are no traditional wet or dry markets similar to the ones in Korea. We have many markets where food, clothes and daily supplies are sold, but we can't feel any Russian traditions there. We should go to a museum or to a traditional village made for tourists if you want to see that.

I think what's interesting about Korean traditional markets comes from the word "tradition." The traditional markets you can find here and there across Seoul illustrate recent Korean history and lifestyles of the past. Tourists who come to Seoul on a three-day tour might not be interested in this part of Seoul. For me, however, who have lived in Seoul for more than 13 years, traditional markets give me an opportunity to learn some of the different charms of Korea.

Ilya Belyakov is a local TV personality from Russia and a frequent presence in Korean media.