After Leon and I got back from a wonderful weekend in Houston with my grandfather, parents, and a few aunts/uncles/cousins from the Douthit clan, we both jumped back into work.  Even though we’re in completely different professions, our colleagues and everyone around us in D.C. were talking about the debt ceiling agreement and the stock market.  For my job, I also had to do a little analysis work on the current economic conditions (scary).

Which, in an indirect way (and probably to try and cheer myself up) made me think of non-stock related marketplaces in the U.S. and around the world.  With all of the talk about GDP, enormous debt, high unemployment, and so forth, all of the numbers and statistics being thrown around can be overwhelming.  For a smaller economic microcosm that’s easier to digest, however, one need only look to a marketplace.  Whether visiting a market in your neighborhood or a bazaar in some exotic location, the economy of culture is alive and well everywhere.

My mother first introduced me to markets as a child.  She was an antique collector, and to make extra money she would sell her finds at a local shop in McKinney.  I remember dreading the early Saturday mornings when we’d head to McKinney Trade Day or other markets to scour the booths for treasures.  Now, as an adult, I love going to markets.

Markets are fascinating snapshots of the local culture.  You can gain great insight into how locals live, what kind of food they like, what they consider to be worth selling, and what social mores exist within that particular environment (yell while bartering in Egypt and you’re normal, yell while bartering in Texas and you’re crazy).  They’re also a lot of fun.

Whenever I go to a new country, I try to check out the main market and usually make a Saturday of it.  In my mind, there’s nothing more fun and relaxing than poking around a market with some treats to nibble on and interesting people to watch.  (I also began a jewelry collection from my market experiences, so if I have a daughter she’ll have to listen to plenty of stories about where Mommy bought such and such necklace).

I still think back fondly on the times when my parents, brothers, and I would go to McKinney Trade Day, and I hope to take my family to markets one day.  I’ve listed some of my favorite markets around the world–I definitely recommend each of them if you want a unique, “culturally economic” experience.

Madrid, Spain:  El Rastro.  Literally translated, it means “the trail,” and it certainly is one.  I spent an entire day winding my way down the long road of stalls checking out antiques and other cool Spanish wares, scoring some framed antique prints of the Spanish landscape for only a few dollars.

Bangkok, Thailand:  Chatuchak Weekend Market.  This enormous market covers 35 acres of land and has over 15,000 stalls filled with goodies.  I picked up some locally made wallets, coin purses, and other crafts to give to friends back home, plus stocked up on delicious smelling incense.

Bali, Indonesia:  Kuta Market.  Bali is lively and laid back at the same time, and this market is no exception.  I remember picking up beautiful scarves, handcrafted shoes, and indulgent coffee there.  You can also find nice handcrafted wooden things there–I got a pretty carved container to put in my bathroom.

Seoul, South Korea:  Namdaemun Market.  In Seoul there are two gigantic and famous markets, Dongdaemun and Namdaemun.  Dongdaemun is larger than Namdaemun, but I always went to Namdaemun because it was closer to where I lived.  You just have to walk around to get a VIP pass to Korean culture.  Ajima (word for married or middle aged Korean woman) and ajasshi (Korean men) sold everything from pig’s feet to Korean health concoctions to clothing to furniture.

London, England:  Covent Garden Market.  England has dozens of markets filled with wonderful things, but Covent Garden was my favorite.  I went there pretty much every weekend while studying in London–it’s that addicting.  You can find everything from gorgeous British antiques to funky jewelry to locally made Cornish pasties that melt in your mouth (savory pies filled with meat, cheese, vegetables, or other combinations, done like only the English can do).

Buenos Aires, Argentina:  Recoleta and La Boca Markets.  Recoleta market is located next to Recoleta cemetery, where Evita Peron is buried, and has amazing local jewelry makers displaying gorgeous wares at every turn.  I purchased a necklace made from a local stone, rodochrosita, that is pink with white streaks in it and that always draws compliments from friends.  I’m wearing it today actually.  La Boca market is in a neighborhood of Buenos Aires with super bright and colorful buildings.  It was such a unique neighborhood that in the market I bought a framed picture of one of the buildings as a souvenir.

Santiago, Chile:  Santa Lucia Artisan Market.  While in Chile, my mission was to find some lapis lazuli jewelry, and that was accomplished at Santa Lucia.  The jewelry and other Chilean crafts were also quite impressive.  I walked away with a pretty lapis necklace and keychain without spending that much.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:  Feira Hippie de Ipanema (Ipanema Hippie Market).  This market, open on Sundays, is close to the world famous Ipanema beach and is so much fun to visit.  You can scoop up precious stones at wonderfully inexpensive prices, fun crafts, locally made belts and purses, and tons of other things.  And, of course, don’t forget to pick up a pair of Havaianas while you’re there.

Moscow, Russia:  Izmailovskiy Park.  This is apparently the place to go for souvenirs in Moscow, and you can find everything from the famous Russian nesting dolls to replica Faberge eggs to Indian rugs.  I tried Russian shaslik there for the first time and definitely recommend it (the Russian equivalent of barbeque).

Those are just a few of my favorite markets.  I also enjoyed checking out the wares at the Khan al-Khalili market in Cairo, Egypt, Central Market in New Delhi, India, and the Grand Bazaar in Kusadasi, Turkey, but each of those experiences was pretty intense.  Between having obviously American features (a friend overseas told me that Americans are easily spotted because of our teeth) and, at times, being overwhelmed by heat/aggressive vendors/pushy crowds, I remember leaving those markets exhausted.  The souvenirs were worth it though…

I also can’t forget the market that I frequent here in D.C.  Eastern Market is located somewhat close to Capitol Hill, and it is a great place to hang out on the weekends.  There are fun places to have brunch before browsing the jewelry, antiques, furniture, and so forth.  Local farmers also bring fresh fruit and vegetables, and depending on the season it’s a great place to pick up items that aren’t as good at the grocery store.  I love to stock up on locally grown apples, white peaches, and berries.

Even though the financial markets are not doing so well these days, the economy of culture is thriving.  It’s refreshing, for me at least, to take a break from discouraging economic news and enjoy seeing markets that aren’t so volatile.  Markets provide millions around the world a chance to enjoy economics at its most basic–you either like an item or you don’t, you see if the vendor will come down on the price or won’t, and you buy it if you can or don’t if you can’t.  It’s as simple as that.

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