Day 4 – Insadong and Bukchon Adventures

Woke up at 5:30 am. Oh my gosh we were so angry. We’ve been complaining about 7 am but 5:30 suddenly? Unacceptable. The only change was that we weren’t tired.  Waking up at 7 am we’ve felt tired, but 5:30 we’re wide awake, ready to go.

We lay in bed for two hours writing blog posts. It was still dark out and we didn’t feel like trying to do anything. Finally at 7ish we got out of bed.

We decided to have Korean toast for breakfast. Just called “toast” it’s a popular coffee shop snack. It’s a huge piece of “toast”, homemade bread cut into about 5 pieces rather than your standard thin slices of about 12 or so. So it’s a gargantuan piece of toast. Then you put things on it, garlic, cheese, ice cream (often all three together). Or it can be really sweet with honey, syrups, sauces, whipped cream.

We had been walking by the same coffee shop every day for a while and noticed it because a popular band “Crayon Pop” was promoting some kind of red bean porridge on the front of the shop. Crayon Pop is … unique in appearance because they always wear helmets. So needless to say we noticed the shop over many other shops

DSC01444While there is toast in many many shops, Crayon Pop beckoned us in.

And for anyone who wants to see Crayon Pop in action, here is a music video.

We got toast with caramel and cinnamon. And before you scoff, know that splitting this (which we did) had less calories than a donut.

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It was tasty – very fluffy. Much fluffier than any toast I’ve ever had. And not a trace of garlic or salt in it – something we had been initially concerned about.

After breakfast we began a very roundabout hike to another market place. We’ve seen two very famous ones, Myeongdong and Namdaemun, but hadn’t seen Insadong. Also, Insadong is very close to a bunch of traditional homes in a neighborhood called Bukchon. A perfect outing.

We knew we could walk there but we ran out of map (we were about a foot off of our most detailed map). But Chris and I (usually) have an extraordinary talent for walking right into what we want to see without even trying. This is perhaps why we enjoy travel so much. We did this with Myeongdong – we were literally walking through it when I realized I had seen the place in a lot of photos.

So we headed in the general direction of Insadong. We crossed over Cheonggyecheon (the restored river). We enjoyed how quiet the river was – no one was walking along side it because it was below freezing. So we enjoyed some solitude walking along the river for about a mile. A “Berlin Square” showed up on the map, we were very curious what this was so we left the river to go see it.

DSC01446We were not disappointed. It had a painted bear like we had seen all over Berlin, as well as a piece of the original Berlin wall. The plaque was only in Korean and German, but, hooray! we actually speak German so we could read it. It said

“This Berlin Square with original Berlin Wall is a gift from the city of Berlin to the city of Seoul. The Wall piece symbolizes the peaceful/orderly overcoming of the separated Germanys and the hope for the friendly unification of the Korean peninsula”

Which we both thought was incredibly touching. Both countries are so very similar in how they were divided (allied forces after WW2) and how they remained separated (communism vs capitalism). So they are two countries who can really relate on such a personal level. This was a very sweet gesture from Germany. A sort of living Halmark card of “we know what you’re going through – it can get better”

We walked along the river a while longer before we knew we needed to head up. We took an immediate right and suddenly we were not in Kansas anymore. We were in an all-locals area. No other westerners, no other tourists. Nothing designed for tourists. This was fine, Chris and I often strive to get off the beaten path. So of course we kept going. We found ourselves in a neighborhood of all lights – every single store was selling lamps, lighting, etc. Never seen that before – where we come from if you want a light you go to Walmart. Here, you go to an entire neighborhood and I bet you find the perfect one with that many options.

We stumbled upon a pretty important square – the site of a March 1st movement. This was one of the biggest and earliest demonstrations against Japanese occupation. The square we were at was a location for 5,000 (more or less I don’t remember) students who waved illegal Korean flags and read a declaration of independence from Japanese rule. About 2 million Koreans participated across the country. The protesters were met with beatings, murder – people were hung from horses, children and spectators weren’t safe either. Many were imprisoned where they were tortured and killed without trial. Japan and Korea don’t agree on the numbers killed on March 1st alone (so none of the murders/starvation that occurred in the prisons in the weeks afterward) but it’s safe to say its in the 1,000s. Probably 5,000+.

In the same square/park was National Treasure #2 (#1 was the large gate near our hotel).

It’s Wongaksa Pagoda – constructed in 1467 out of marble – one of the few pagodas in Korea made out of marble. It has survived quite a bit of things and has even been relocated a couple times. It’s still intact and going strong. In fact, it’s still the object of worship – given its significance as a religious artifact. While we were observing it, an elderly woman walked around it and bowed to all four sides. She then lit some incense in front of it and went on her merry way.
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These thingss all well and good but we still hadn’t found Insadong. We were completely without maps but we were still confident we would just stumble upon it. However, we got peckish. And there was a Burger King. Knowing how different fast food is in different countries we thought it would be fun to try some kind of Korean Burger King burger. We got Bulgogi Burgers (bulgogi is a marinated grilled beef, tastes a bit like BBQ). It came with some fries and drinks. Tasty and different. It was also a 3 story restaurant so we sat on the top and got to watch traffic which was nice.

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It was unique because they use reusable cups (see picture). The plastic cup can have the lid and straw snapped to the top. When you’re done, you dump the ice and liquid into a bin and stack the cups. The plastic lid and straw are recycled. Why are we not doing this?

Full of food and our feet feeling refreshed, we set off again. And within a few minutes found Insadong. It is made up of few streets of markets. But there is also a large 4 story building where quirky and homemade shops rent spots.

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It was well below freezing and a kindly shop owner convinced me to buy some lined gloves. They’re bunnies. If you hold your fingers in the right way they have little ears.

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I also got some lion socks. It was cold and the warmth was cheap.

From here we hiked around in the quirky nearby neighborhoods until we got to the many neighborhoods of Bukchon.

On our way up we got a good view of some mountains and one of the buildings in the Gyongbokgung palace area we toured yesterday.

DSC01467Finally we made it to some of the many beautiful homes of Bukcheon. People live in the homes still so they aren’t just for decoration or anything.

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On our way back home we walked through another demonstration. Like the first day there were many police officers – hundreds. 10-20 busses of police officers with riot shields.

We’re learning more and more about Korean riots/protests/demonstrations – they can turn violent, they can be extremely aggressive (towards the issue or an effigy of the issue – not usually against bystanders). So we were less shocked about this demonstration. We’re pretty sure the last demonstration we witnessed was a result of the UN’s report on North Korea. A call to arms to do something about it. Many people still have family over there – in fact, many will get to visit pretty soon (yay!).

The protest today was against a political leader who was recently prosecuted for something. Many people believe he’s innocent, others do not.

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We walked back through Insadong for fun. An agressive candy maker called us over to force us to watch him make candy – it ended up being very cool. They take a ball of honey (real, raw honey) and dip it in powdered sugar/cornstarch to keep from getting sticky. They pull it in a circle and keep folding, pulling, folding, pulling so that you eventually have 16,000 tiny, hair-like strands of honey. It doesn’t even take that long (2 strands into 4 into 8 etc). The whole time the team of 3 younger guys were chatting with us

“where are you from?”

“Colorado”

“Cororado!”

his friend: “Cololado! Oh, so cold there!”

After its in the tiny strands you fill it with nuts, sugar, whatever you want, then “lolling, lolling, lolling” (you have to roll it up but the guy said lolling) “tah dah! you have candy!”

Then because we watched the demonstration we were expected to buy some. We didn’t want to so they gave us a piece for free. We bought some. It’s pretty good.

With an unstoppable sweet tooth, we had a quick snack of Hotteok – the sugar/honey donut think we keep raving about. 

DSC01493We have to eat them now because we’ve heard they go away after winter. We’ll see if that’s true or not but for now we need to get our fill.

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