Freezing my toes off in Insadong

Three ladies wearing Hanbok in Insadong

So, to break my poor habit of staying in my room the entire break due to being awfully sick, I ventured out into the cold today to meet with my language exchange partner Hyeon-jin (현진) and her younger sister Hye-jin(혜진)**.

Hyeon-jin is on the left and Hye-jin is on the right.

Since I still don’t really know where anything is in Seoul outside of my small region within Hongdae, Sinchon, and Ewha (curse you cold weather!) I asked that she pick the place to meet.  She chose 인사동 (Insadong).

Insadong is a area that specializes in traditional Korean wares and souvenirs.  It may not be the most …authentically Korean place in the city, but it was still a fun experience…despite the fact I couldn’t feel my toes at two separate occasions.  It definitely caters to the tourists of the city, and prices are clearly marked by that.  Overall though, I still really, really  want one of those handmade, mother-of-pearl inlaid, lacquered jewellery boxes.

To get to Insadong from Daeheung Station is pretty easy, with only one transfer.  You take Line 6 (Brown line) starting at Daeheung Station (대흥 역) to Yaksu Station (약수 역) and then transfer on to Line 3 (Orange line) until Anguk Station (안국 역).  Take Exit 6 and walk down the street, taking the first left you come across.  There should be an information booth right on the corner as well, so you can’t really miss it.  The booth has maps of Insadong as well as other pamphlets of things going on around the city.  Hyeon-jin had hurried ahead to grab a map, so I’m not sure if they can speak English at the booth, but I did see a few people wearing red vests walking around the main strip of Insadong with big tags stating ‘English’, so help won’t be far off.

We got to Insadong approximately at 11:47 am….by approximately, I mean pretty much exactly at this time.  Why do I know the exact time?  Because the restaurant we went to told us they couldn’t take our order until 12:00 pm and I was curious as to how long we were going to have to wait ^^  We went to a place called 사과나무, which directly translates to Apple Tree.  Since it’s winter here right now, I have no idea if the trees around the area are actually apple trees or not, but they did have some adorable apple decorations on them to make them festive.

Apparently if you go to this restaurant during the week you can get a pretty decent set menu, but because we were there on a Sunday we had to chose a dish off of the menu.

We all chose the special dish of the restaurant, 티켄달밥 (Chicken Dal Bap).  Now…this may not be funny to any of you who don’t read hangul, but ‘chicken’ in Korean is 닭 (dalk).  The way they wrote ‘chicken’ in the menu is ‘티켄’, the phonetic version ^^  I’ve seen it a few times on other things, but it always makes me smile a little when I can pick it out.  Another such example would be this candy wrapper.

The middle one

‘Corn’ is 옥수수 in Korean, but on this wrapper it’s spelt ‘콘’.  Though, apparently this candy wrapper was designed during the World Cup in 2002 (hence the Italy-based colour scheme).  All you need to know about it, is that despite it being made out of corn, it was surprisingly delicious.  The little circle candies also had happy faces on them and reminded me of rockets.

Back to the restaurant, its exact location is about a minute to the left of the main strip of Insadong.  I can’t remember exactly which side street (the internets have informed me it may be down  Insadong 3-gil, but I’m not 100% on that) you have to go down, but you walk past a bunch of hanok houses, some of which Hyeon-jin informed me had been around since the Joseon.  You’ll know you’re on the right road when you get the end of the alley and you see a sign that says ‘예쁜 마당이 있는 사과나무로 놀러 오세요’  (Essentially ‘Welcome to the Apple Tree’).  The food was very good, and cost 7,500 원 a plate.

The restaurant is situated inside of a renovated hanok so it was very interesting to see the architecture of it.

After we had finished eating at 사과나무, we went back to the main strip of Insadong which was getting busier by the minute.  We stopped in at Totoman (토토의 오래된 물건 – which translates to Toto’s Old Stuff).  It cost 2,000원 (despite what the tourism website says) to get in to what could be described as a pack rat’s heaven.  Before anyone takes offence  I mean this in the highest possible positive light.  My family knows better then anyone that I am a Class-A pack rat.  I’m sure I still have little pieces of paper I wrote something down on from my first year of university, and definitely still have all those pretty pieces of string used to tie of packages ^^  Back to the store!

It’s filled with every day objects, predominately from the 1960-70s, but I saw my fair share of Pokemon, Gundam, and a very large Sailor Moon replica thrown into the lot.

My favourites that I failed to snap of a picture of were the old school uniforms that insisted that you do not try it on.  It was here that Hyeon-jin spent 1,000 원 and bought some nostalgic candy.

They cost ~300 원 each, but apparently they would have been only 100원 when she was growing up.

After we left Totoman, we hit up 쌈지길 (Ssamziegil – note, the hangul doesn’t completely match  up in this case, but that’s the Romanization they have on the wall).  쌈지길 is a multi-level open air building filled with little shops selling a variety of small items.  Near the stair wells there were a few booths selling some artisan jewellery.  We were ushered into the complex by three different guys near the entrance doing some pretty impressive … juggling (?not the right word, but the best I can think of) act with their oddly arrow-shaped signs, herding the people towards 쌈지길.

The ground floor held a few tables where you could write your wish on a piece of paper, and then fold it into the shape of a boat.  They were collecting these paper wish boats to take out to 총청남도 (Chungcheongnam-do) where they would release them all out to sea.  I think they were doing it as a closing act to the official Visit Korea Year.  We didn’t spend too much time in 쌈지길, mainly because it was bloody cold.  On an exploring aspect, I definitely chose the wrong season to move to Korea.  Oh well, spring will get here eventually.

After leaving 쌈지길 we continued to walk down the strip for a while….until we were hit by that Siberian wind one too many times and the slushy streets had frozen our feet.  After that we sought refuge in a tea shop which served traditional Korean tea.  Again, because this is a high tourist activity zone, we had to pay a bit more for tea then what I would normally feel comfortable with, but what the heck?  When in Rome….

Once we were inside, it turned out that I was the only one getting some kind of tea.  Both Hyeon-jin and Hye-jin were getting 코코아 (hot chocolate)and I got 계피차 (Cinnamon Tea)  I’m a huge fan of iced sujunggwa (a ginger-cinnamon-persimmon tea that they serve as dessert at the Korean restaurant back home), so this was right up my alley.  The tea cost just as much as our meal, but it came with free 한과 (the 한 stands for Korea, and the 과 means snack of rice…or so they told me).  The 한과 was an odd mix of crunchy and chewy with a faint taste of honey.  My tea was served in a bowl with three pine nuts floating on top and was everything my almost non-sickly self needed.  We stayed there for quite a while.  Long enough to see the place go from relatively empty to almost completely full.  It was definitely more of a commercial tea house, so it may not be for you if you’re looking for a more ‘authentic’ feel, but the tea was delicious, and they didn’t give us any stink-eye for loitering around after our drinks had long been finished.

Tea shop on top

I can’t tell you much about the name of the place.  The card, 인사동 풍경이 있닌 전통찻집 translates to ‘Traditional Teahouse in Insadong Landscape’.  I can tell you however, it sits on the second floor, right above what I think is a hand-cut noodles restaurant.

Noodle shop on the bottom

I didn’t take too many pictures outside, because today was one of the coldest days I’ve experienced here in Korea.  I have not had my feet be this uncomfortable in a long time.  All of my pictures were taken with my phone (sorry for the poor quality!) due to simple easy access.  To close off our walking around Insadong, Hyeon-jin was determined for me to try 꿀타래 (translates to Long life, but I’ve seen it called ‘Dragons Beard’).  It’s a traditional Korean sweet that used to be served to the royal family.  They make a bit of a show out of it, talking it out in Korean with a few English words thrown in.  It was pretty funny how they were all doing their own thing, but would chant out the word when it came to their part.

I didn’t take any pictures of my own  the act, but I found this video that is a pretty good example of what we saw.

Hyeon-jin also gifted me with a set of the candy at the end!  Such a nice thing to do!

Essentially they take a hard piece of honey, smash a hole into the middle, and then start kneading it in a large container of corn starch.  It makes the honey very elastic.  Eventually they start stretching it and wrapping it, causing it to form tiny individual threads.  The grand total number of threads equals 16,300.  I seriously recommend watching the video!  It is almost the exact thing that I saw and I laughed just as hard watching it again as when it happened.  It was great, and not too sweet.  It was 6,000 원 for the walnut and chocolate set and 5,000 원 for either the almond or peanut ones.  There was also a deal for 10,000 원 you got a bit of all three kinds.  Hyeon-jin gave me the tray with the walnut and chocolate filling.

Now, we had decided it was time to go home.  We were in the subway, heading to the turnstile.  And then Hye-jin made an offhand mention that stopped me in my tracks. There was a 다이소(Daiso) in this 역 (subway station).  WELL!  Let me tell you, we turned around, headed back up the stairs and started to head towards the place of wonders.  (If you haven’t read any of my other posts, Daiso has become one of my favourite places on Earth).  Hye-jin scampered ahead to make sure it was actually there while Hyeon-jin and I moved at a slightly slower pace.  Thankfully for my gleeful spirit, the Daiso was actually there.

It was very different from the one in the Ewha Woman Univ. Station, but just as fun!  I bought some Nivea body lotion (I’m find the water to be very hard here), and a pair of froggy boot stuffers for 5,000 원.

I have dubbed thee 개 and 구기…together 개구리 means ‘frog’

Over all?  A day well spent!  Icing to the cake?  Two hours of being home, my toes have happily thawed out on my ondol heating.

Till next time~!

P.S. ‘Things I Loved’ will return next week!

**Fun fact, often in Korean siblings, they will share one of the same names.  In this case both Hyeon-jin and Hye-jin share the ‘jin’.


One thought on “Freezing my toes off in Insadong

  1. hi darrling ,hope u had a great new years eve. we went to conways and jennelles. plus to amberleys wedding. we have been so busy it is unreal. im getting so tired. the girls r going to go to school starting on monday the 7. poor nikkis had been trying to catch up on her corrispondence course of xmas. she still has 15 assignments left. then she writes in feb 6? or so? anyways she has been so busy. she dosnt no whaat to put down on her u of s application. i told her to ask miss d armstrong. lov u from all of us

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