OFFICE HOURS (06:00 – 18:00)
It seems odd, in a damp and cold warehouse, that the unofficial uniform tends to consist of a bulky fluorescent soft shell with brand and colour left to personal choice, a vibrant red rubber apron and bright pink marigolds. It takes character and a dry sense of humour to get away with it. Whatever the fashion sense it adds a punch of colour to an energy driven environment. Since the night has ended the first shift change has reported in. Men seem less prominent at this time. Some remain to prepare the fish for consumption.
The occasional trolley and scooter whizzes by. Craftsmen stand by butcher blocks with a toolkit of blades, intricately carving through salmon. Simple inventions like tweezers pluck out the bones with a natural rhythm akin to a classical musician.
Once the peak times arrive it is a case of dealing with whatever comes your way. Doing your business through the night is a much more regimented affair to prepare for this time of unpredictability. Vendors who are the most organised tend to enjoy the more improvised nature of enticing customers.
But it is during these more social hours the myth of the homemakers role is dispelled by the savvy nature of the women at the front of the stalls. They stand guard confidently welcoming you to purchase. They don’t suffer fools easily or waste time. Unfortunately beyond the infrequent “hello” and “sashimi, good price!” much dialogue is lost in translation and we resort to lots of hand gestures and smiles to communicate. All well and good for some home purchasing but not so easy when attempting to clarify unanswered assumptions such as “Who is in charge?” “How easy is it to sell the same produce side by side in relative harmony?”
Distracting from those questions is a film crew, some 20 strong, broken into clusters and directed through the traffic by men on walkie talkies. Shortly after, an amateur crew set up a scenario which involved eating a sannakji (live octopus) and posing with giant crabs or any other novelty they could find. The market vendors barely blinked; this wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last either. Be it a gimmick, journalism, or entertainment, Noryangjin finds its way into popular culture on a more frequent basis than my modest acknowledgement would care to venture.
During a previous visit in 2014 I had noticed an array of flags, like bunting for a parade hanging from the rooftops. What I was unaware of at the time was there was in fact a seafood festival taking place, which explained the impromptu parade walking through the thoroughfare on a Sunday lunch time in full traditional costume.
Vendors stood to attention the front of the stalls as if greeting royalty as the parade passed by. Afterwards they calmly got back to work, returning to stand and welcome customers again once merchandise was refreshed.