Whenever you temporarily move to a new country, there is always a ton of paperwork to be done. So on Friday August 31st when we were informed that we would have to go apply for our alien registration cards, we expected to spend the majority of our day in a hot, stuffy office room. We were partially right. The alien registration building overlooked a busy intersection at the 안국 (Anguk) stop on the 2 line. Seoul’s beauty and majestic location amidst mountains will always leave us breathless because the first thing I spotted, past the skyscrapers and officetels, were the lush green hills in the distance. Always a breath taking sight especially to a native New Yorker, Seoul’s cityscape clashing against its natural, sloping terrain will never cease to amaze me.
Turns out not only was the alien registration office hot, stuffy and crowded to the brim with anxiously waiting foreigners, but it also had an impossibly long wait. The number on the board showed it was up to 204. We looked at our tickets: 554. Great. Just 354 people to go.
Luckily, the office was just a couple of blocks away from a popular tourist district:인사동 (InsaDong). Famous for its traditional artwork and antique stores, Insadong was quaint and picturesque compared to the busy flocks of Myeongdong and Dongdaemun. Despite the young crowd, the shop owners and street vendors were all from an older demographic, peacefully selling their work and pottery in small crowded stores with stands to display what they stocked inside. We passed rows and rows of beautifully crafted silk fans, artfully molded porcelain vases and stores that held intricate head pieces to wear with the Korean traditional costumes, 한복.
Halfway down InsaDong, we were greeted by a smell that made our stomachs rumble. A man stood over a large skillet filled with oil frying what seemed to look like small hole-less doughnuts. As we blew on these tasty hot pastries (which we found out were called 호떡, ho-tteok) filled with delicious brown sugar, we embarked on finding a place to get lunch. Halfway full from our pastries, we finally decided on a small, open front 만두 (mandoo) place run by a gang of Ahjummas. With a handful of options to choose from, we finally settled on the variety platter, too greedy to just stick with one type.
After we barely managed to finish our meal, we decided it was high time we returned to the alien registration office to see how the progress was. The absolutely pleasant aspect of touring InsaDong was the unexpectedness of it. Events such as these are truly more enjoyable when they are unplanned. Despite the briefness of our tour, we definitely got the true essence of InsaDong just by walking around and eating a bunch of delicious street food. With a friendly crowd and a beautiful array of merchandise to choose from when bringing back souvenirs, InsaDong should definitely be in the top five stops to make when you visit Seoul.