At the Market, Waiting for Hope to Drop By

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At the Market, Waiting for Hope to Drop By

by Gal Jeong-woong


The Lunar New Year sun appears above Namdaemun ("South Gate Market") in the middle of winter. The warm rays of sunshine that flood into the warren-like roads of the market seem to awaken the merchants, who work day and night, and footsteps flow into the market as if providing it with a pulse. Later, people with bags of goods pass by the hundreds of stores and street stalls, and disappear, one by one, back into the outside world.

On a corner, a man sings out loud, struggling to get the attention of passersby. He is a doumi, a helper hired to promote a store and attract customers.

Next to the man is a group of carts selling stuff like clothes and shoes. Familiar, carelessly written signs are posted on the carts, saying "Big Sale," and "Last Chance."

Some elderly people stop to take a look at one of the carts, and its merchant, without a moment's hesitation, begins the coaxing pitter-patter of his trade. The veins and arteries of the market throb with the laden motorcycles and small trucks that load or shed goods. Every store is swollen with piles of goods, waiting to be sold.

A market is alive with the passions and scents of those who inhabit it. It is a place where an old women can get a sweater at a bargain price from a generous merchant, who gives in after the obligatory banter. It is like a small town in the countryside, where people know one another and try to be generous, a place that makes people feel happy that they are alive.

Today, e-business is gaining so much power in the goods distribution market that traditional markets are losing ground. Traditional markets, however, still manage to survive due to the customers who want something more than products. Many people still want to communicate with the merchant when they buy goods and believe that buying at a traditional market means sharing their affection for their fellows. That is what the market is all about.

Some of the old buildings that are left in Namdaemun convey the ups and downs of the market and force people to feel the heavy burden of life. Every store keeps its lights on from early morning to late into the night, waiting for a final sale. Particularly when the economy is unstable and customers are rare, merchants must cultivate patience.

There are a few times of the year when the market screams with excitement - when it's jammed with people buying food for New Year's Day or looking for Christmas gifts for their loved ones or ornaments for their Christmas trees.

The flood of customers during these peak seasons revives the place for a while, but then the routine of waiting soon resumes.

In Namdaemun on a cold winter's day of 2001, people hurry into buildings and merchants out on the streets keep hopping to warm up their feet. The stagnant economy freezes peoples' minds as much as the cold weather alarms their bodies. Only a few people are striking deals, including a foreigner trying out his ragged Korean.

Suddenly, there comes a sound of heartbeats. It seems that the sound may be a sign of hope. It's time to straighten up, warm up and take heart. Drink a cup of hot coffee.

It's time to think for a moment. Life is here. And hope is here at this moment. Hope is neither something far away nor something promised to come in a certain time.

Hope, like the sun in the blue sky, is always present in a place where people are striving to live their lives. With hope, the frozen earth will slowly soften. When we hope, we know that spring will come no matter what, and skeletal trees will survive the winter.

The shadow of the depressed economy has occupied the people's minds. But the busy, earnest steps of those who come to the market to buy goods with the honest money they have earned are life and hope.

The writer is president of DITCO and the author of several books, including "A to Z of M&A" (Myungjin Publishing Co.).
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