Opposite Seoul’s Heunginjimum Gate lies Dongdaemun Shopping Complex and one of the busiest textile districts in Asia. The intersection is busy with cars and minivans turning right into downtown Seoul or heading left out of the city core. When the traffic lights change well dressed pedestrians surge across the street. A lone chige porter runs through the crowd, his stride quick and nimble with an empty wooden A-frame balanced lightly on his shoulders.
In the middle of the textile market, the traffic composition changes. In this neighborhood of wholesalers and resellers, roads are congested with people and automobiles delivering and unloading goods. The warren of narrow alleys is blocked to large vehicles. Instead, they stop at the boundaries where chige porters unload bales of cloth and packages. Three wheeled and bi-ped porters throng the streets and it’s a careful dance to avoid collision with vehicles and pedestrians alike.
I am fascinated by the chige carriers. Made of wood and rope, the sturdy A-frame back backs were originally used by Korean farmers and field workers. It was designed to lever heavy loads on to the shoulders while maintaining a center of gravity low in the back. It allows the bearer to carry loads while walking, even on a steep gradient.
During the Korean war, the carrier was adopted by United Nations troops. The Americans called them A-frames, the British called them ‘jiggies.’ Modern-day backpackers will recognize the origins of modern-day aluminum frames used to hoist camping, hunting and baby gear all over the world.
In Dongdaemum market a chige dispatch stall is on the sidewalk close to the market edges. Propped up against the stall, folded A-frames and workers pause under an umbrella, waiting for the next job. Presumably, vendors call in their orders and a porter is quickly dispatched for pick-up and delivery. Quick is the operative word. Everyone walks briskly here. I could barely keep up with this man as he loaded his pack and loped away.
Photos taken in Seoul, South Korea. May 2016.
This post features Just One Person from Around the World. Every week CadyLuck Leedy challenges us to profile one person met in our travels. You can visit her blog which she updates every Wednesday with a new post along with links to other blogger submissions.