Warmer weather brings an abundance of fleas (markets, that is)

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Warmer weather brings an abundance of fleas (markets, that is)

A housewife living in northern Seoul skips away from a neighborhood park, having just bought a pair of shoes for herself and an adorable little dress for her 6-year-old daughter. Total cost? Just 3,000 won ($2).

Welcome to the world of Korean flea markets. Informal second-hand markets have never been very popular in Korea, but with the onset of spring plenty seem to be taking off. The housewife, Kim Hyeon-kyeong, 34, was rummaging through people's cast-off clothes, shoes, jewelry, kitchenware and knickknacks at the Junggye Neighborhood Park flea market in Nowon district. Though she had reservations about buying used clothing, the shoes were comfortable and seemed perfect for when she has to step out for a quick trip to the store.

"You can find daily necessities at low prices at this flea market, that's why I go there," Ms. Kim said.

As winter turns to spring, allowing more outdoor activities, flea markets are again opening up.

Nowon's flea market opened for the first time this year on March 8, and will be held every 10th of the month through November, from 10 a.m., to 3 p.m. If the 10th is a Sunday, the day is switched to Friday. If the weather is extremely hot, like in July and August, it may skip a month.

Nowon's flea market is organized by the 24 housewife associations that represent its constituent neighborhoods. The associations collect clothes, furniture, books, toys and appliances from their neighborhoods to sell at the markets, with the proceeds going toward neighborhood improvement projects. The prices are usually quite cheap; rarely is anything priced at more than 2,000 won. And the market is open to all sellers - you don't have to be a member of a housewife association to spread out your old stuff and hawk it.

Seoul's Jongno district also runs a flea market, which takes place on the first Thursday of every month. Held at the entrance of Jongmyo Park, vendors sell items from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jongno's swap meet is organized by the Family Bicycle Association and the Moral Life Movement, which represent the district's 19 neighborhoods.

Other districts are getting into the flea-market act. One is Dobong district, which recently began holding swap meets on the last Saturdays of every month. But perhaps the most popular market is in Seocho, an affluent district in southern Seoul, which has been holding a flea market every Saturday for a few years now. Seocho's flea market is held from 8 a.m., to 3 p.m. at the public square off the district office, which is just down a road from Yangjae Station. All car traffic is banned on the road on swap meet days.

The Seocho flea market is different from the others in a number of ways. The markets are held year-round, even on cold winter days. It's not organized by civic associations or communities; it's run by the district officials. Prospective vendors need to apply for the allocation of the spots by 10 every flea-market morning. And the competition at Seocho is pretty fierce. Typically, some 2,500 applicants show up for the 500 vendor spots available.

The head of a Seocho neighborhood, Cho Nam-ho, said: "Our flea markets help common people pick up useful things and everyday necessities at very cheap prices. We're looking at new ways to develop them."

by Ahn Jang-won

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