Seoul's Flea Markets: Where Tech Goes To Die

How did a 70-year-old Philco radio find itself 8,000 miles from home? Seoul is home to some of the most advanced tech in the world, vibrating between the poles of Samsung and LG, blanketed with LTE-Advanced waves. But Seoul's flea markets are where American and Japanese technology goes to die—and maybe, if you're waving the right packet of won notes, to be reborn.

The roiling chaos of Hwanghak-dong Market, crammed behind a high school just east of downtown, spills out into the narrow streets. It's ordered, if loosely so: there are cult 35mm cameras from 50 years ago, enough restaurant supplies to fill a food court, and an amazing cache of mid-century modern furniture. The electronics streets, Majang-ro 3-gil and Majang-ro 9-gil, are right at the entrance as you come off the Cheonggyecheon river path, greeting you with wheelbarrows full of used cell phones and pyramids of 1970s-era boom boxes. Want to buy a few pounds? Nothing here has a fixed price, and few vendors speak English: if you can speak Korean, maybe you can make a deal.

The indoor Seoul Folk Flea Market is far better organized, but holds fewer gadget treasures: you’re not going to find anything there like Hwanghak-dong's Tenochtitlan of VCRs, a house made entirely out of cables and video recorders draped over a few boards. On the official map, electronics are in the "sundry goods" areas.

If you're looking for more current gadgetry, Yongsan is the place to go. I've been there twice, a few years apart. Yongsan is Korea's answer to Japan's Akihabara, although it's all business and no maid cafes. Prices across the 20 interconnected shopping malls are the same as mainstream retail. You won't find any bargains in that great expanse unless you show up on weekends for the Yongsan Flea Market inside blocks 19 and 20 of Najin Mall. That's where you'll find $1 mice, $5 keyboards, and $10, four-year-old PC motherboards. TheSeoulGuide has a video overview of the flea market.
During the week, the best part of Yongsan is undoubtably Video Game Alley, a giant dumping ground of old consoles, cartridges and CDs. I haven't been there recently (I was last there in 2009), but expat blog Derek vs. Lonely Planet has a good rundown of how to find the place, and the kind of vintage games you'll find there.

Hwanghak-dong's electronics street is open seven days a week from 10am-7pm. To get there, take Seoul’s Subway Line 6 to Dongmyo Station, exit 5; take a left when you cross the stream and look to the right after the high school. The Seoul Folk Flea Market is open 10am-7pm daily. To get there, take line 1 to Sinseol-dong station, exit 6, and follow Cheonho-daero until you see directional signs embedded in the sidewalk.

Take a look at the treasures we found at Hwanghak-dong and Seoul Folk Flea Market in the slideshow. I couldn’t identify some of them—can you?

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