Shopping is easy these days. Supermarkets are just steps away from our homes and we can order things on the internet around the clock from almost anywhere in the world. In the old days, markets were open only once every five days or so. Market days differed by a day or two with neighboring villages, so vendors loaded their stuff on their backs or carts and traveled from one village to another. Such traveling vendors were called ‘jangdolbaengi장돌뱅이.’
Modern era writer Lee Hyo-seok’s iconic story “When the Buckwheat Flowers Bloom” is the story of these itinerant merchants. A group of traveling vendors take a break one night in Bongpyeong, Gangwon-do Province. The field is abloom with white buckwheat flowers and the men share their stories from the past under the bright full moon. One young vendor finds out through the older men’s stories the secret behind his birth and gets to reunite with his birthfather who had disappeared before he was born.
If these vendors had sung a song instead of telling stories, the song would have been “Jangtaryeong장타령” meaning a market song. It features the characteristics of each local market, which went like, “The cobbler wasn’t able to see Chuncheon춘천 for his shoes were wet and wasn’t able to see Hongcheong홍천 because it was too far.” This episode’s first song is “Gangwon-do Jangtaryeong” sung by Lee Yu-ra.
Gangwon-do Jangtaryeong/ Sung by Lee Yu-ra
“Gangwon-do Jangtaryeong” features characteristics of markets opening all over the province, in Chuncheon, Hongcheon, Yanggu양구, Samcheok삼척 and Gangneung강능. Five-day markets, referring to local markets that open only once every five days, are still commonplace in rural areas even today. There are, of course, itinerant merchants who sell only at such markets like in the old days, but nowadays most of the vendors are old ladies who take infrequently running buses to come to the town and sell the vegetables and grains they grew in their fields. There are also old men who fix broken umbrellas or sharpen knives, chores that can be considered too trivial yet inconvenient if not done properly. Such elderly ladies and gentlemen most likely come to the marketplace not to make money from selling their stuff or skills, but to meet people and talk to them about the world, because living in a remote village can become quite boring. In old times, there used to be medicine peddlers who performed circus acts to draw people’s attention before selling what they claimed as cure-alls or life-saving elixirs. There were also a group of beggars called ‘gakseori-pae각설이패,’ who traveled in groups to beg for changes from shoppers. But these ‘gakseori’ beggars differed from others in that they made people happy by singing satirical songs. The song they used to sing was also called “Jangtaryeong” or “Pumbataryeong품바타령.” Master singer Kim Jong-jo who gained fame during the Japanese colonial period composed a market song with various anecdotes, such as how he fished a carp with a needle he bought at a market or how he could recite different types of pants sold at a clothing shop. Let’s listen to Kim Jong-jo’s “Jangtaryeong.”
Jangtaryeong/ Sung by Kim Jong-jo
The market song sung by gakseori beggars could have entertained shoppers but could hardly be called a professional performance. But its popularity prompted some professional singers to sing various versions of the market song during their concerts. Even in pansori Heungboga흥보가, a group of traveling beggars come out of the giant gourd that Heungbo and his wife cut in half. “Jangtaryeong” was also often in the repertoire of master singer Kim Jong-jo, a popular folksong singer in the early 20th century. Lately, traditional singer Kim Yong-woo sang “Jangtaryeong” to the accompaniment of western instruments like the piano or drum. Let’s conclude this week’s Sound of Korea with Kim Yong-woo singing “Jangtaryeong.”
Jangtaryeong/ Sung by Kim Yong-woo