North Korea tensions fail to break beating heart of Seoul’s Myeong-dong Markets

Diplomatic turbulence between North Korea and the United States rates a bare mumble among the humdrum of Myeong-dong Markets, deep within the heart of Seoul.

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Wall-to-wall restaurants and stores selling clothing, cosmetics and accessories line the narrow streets, while one-man stalls hawking food and cheaper clothing and accessories fill the spaces between.

The myriad of veins and arteries of Myeong-dong facilitate a constant heave of locals and visitors seeking Korean culinary delights and the latest fashions. The stream of bodies flows thick and smiles are abound.

It’s hard to image what it would take to fetter the conviviality of Myeong-dong. North Korea’s recent threat to test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific, perhaps? The North’s nuclear proclamations at the UN General Assembly may have spooked investor confidence at the big end of town, but at Myeong-dong, the Hermit Nation’s ambitions barely register a mention.

Myeong-don MarketsSBS/Darren Mara

But according to Ki Sung-min, that “keep calm and carry on” mentality may carry problems of its own. Ki has run a small barbecue chicken stall deep within the markets for two years. One of his specialities is the aptly named “Hydrogen Bomb” skewered chicken.

“It will explode in your mouth,” X says in broken English. “Very hot. Very, very hot.”

Ki says he came up with the name ‘Hydrogen Bomb’ for that particular recipe some time ago. And he has a message for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, whose regime is determined to perfect an H-bomb of its own.

“My chicken bomb is 100 times bigger than yours, Mr Kim,” Ki says with a chuckle.

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The food vendor has a “nothing-to-see-here” attitude that’s not uncommon in Seoul when discussing the North Korean threat. Make no mistake, South Koreans are watching carefully as tensions between Pyongyang and Washington rise once again. The war of words between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un is front-page news on a near-daily basis and Seoul has more than 3,000 bomb shelters dotted around its streets as a reminder. But Ki says there’s no use letting it stop him from living his life.

Seoul shelter SBS/Darren Mara

“We must continue, always,” he says. “Bomb or no bomb in North Korea, I must think clearly, I must work, I must love, I must continue.”

But, says Ki, this carries with it a deeper issue: that of repression.

“Sometimes we don’t talk. But we should talk more, sometimes. I think this can be a problem for the mind, if we don’t talk with friends or family. And it can be a problem for the South Korean nation if we don’t talk because we must confront this and find a solution together.”

 

A customer waiting for an order of Hydrogen Bomb chicken chimes in on the conversation: “I think [the North is] some kind of a threat because of its recent [nuclear] progress, but most of us generally feel safe here,” he says.

“We should continue with our daily lives.”

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