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8 Things to do at Insadong

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8 Things to do at Insadong

Located between the Five Grand Palaces of Korea, Insadong is a must-visit neighborhood during your vacation in Seoul. Historically the main street was inhabited by the arts and traditional culture. In the past decade, commercial businesses have trickled in, driving up rent prices. Skin care shops are turning Insadong into Skin-sadong! A handful of long-standing souvenir shops remain. Here are the top activities to partake in as you stroll down Insadong Street:

1. SOUVENIR SHOPPING

On the main street and in alleyways are shops selling specialized goods, including pottery, hanbok (traditional Korean clothing), and hanji (traditional handmade paper). Souvenir shops carry an assortment of standard Korean utensils, calligraphy materials, figurines, as well as tacky touristy goods.

Crates of assorted ceramics found at Insadong.

Crates of assorted ceramics found at Insadong.

Utensils of the Korean people: metal chopsticks and spoons.

Utensils of the Korean people: metal chopsticks and spoons.

Pick up sets of kitchenware for your family and friends back home! Just remember to take off the price tag :)

Pick up sets of kitchenware for your family and friends back home! Just remember to take off the price tag :)

2. EAT KOREAN FEASTS (HAN JEONG SHIK)

Rule of thumb: come to Insadong Street with an empty stomach. Restaurants such as Hanul Poong-Kyung offer dishes such as ginseng chicken with black rice, mung-bean jelly with beef and vegetables, soybean paste stew, abalone, natural pine mushrooms, various types of kimchi and more!

Korean feast at Hanul Poong-Kyoung.

Korean feast at Hanul Poong-Kyoung.

Natural Pine Mushroom at Hanul Poong-Kyung.

Natural Pine Mushroom at Hanul Poong-Kyung.

3. VISIT ART GALLERIES

With rotating exhibitions, soak in the paintings and sculptures while you can. Get lucky and you just might meet the artist themselves! They may be tending the floor where their work is being displayed.

Ceramic piece by Jeon Changhyun.

Ceramic piece by Jeon Changhyun.

Gana Art Space at Insadong.

Gana Art Space at Insadong.

4. EXPLORE THE TWISTING ALLEYS

Sure, it can be plenty of fun walking on Insadong's main street, but wait until you venture into the hidden alleys. From traditional tea houses to affordable Korean food to makeolli drinking, you'll want to come back again and again to try every hidden gem. These alleys may get busy during lunch hours, but makes for a meditative stroll when the calm sets back in. Observe. Chefs lay out their ingredients to dry under the sun while cats take a nap like it's a lazy Sunday afternoon.

A typical alley at Insadong is filled with food, food and more food.

A typical alley at Insadong is filled with food, food and more food.

Halved eggplants tanning. Visit on a dry day and you'll find restaurants laying out their ingredients under the sun.

Halved eggplants tanning. Visit on a dry day and you'll find restaurants laying out their ingredients under the sun.

Kitty sighting in an alley. Baby Meow drinking its mama's milk.

Kitty sighting in an alley. Baby Meow drinking its mama's milk.

5. GO ON A HANBOK PHOTOSHOOT

Grab your friends and get traditional! Ladies, dress up like a queen, princess or gisaeng (old-school entertainers). Gentlemen, be a king or warrior for the day. Even get your makeup and hair done at select hanbok studios.

Professor Oh (me), Yoonah and Judy dressed in hanbok at  Goguan Studio .

Professor Oh (me), Yoonah and Judy dressed in hanbok at Goguan Studio.

I share my hanbok photoshoot experience with you in KWOW episode 130.

6. EAT STREET FOOD

As long it's not raining, street food vendors come out to serve their specialties. From spicy rice cakes to saxophone-shaped ice cream cones, you'll leave the street with a full tummy. Watch their cooking and try to mimic the steps in your own kitchen!

Man grilling skewers of octopus on a winter day at Insadong.

Man grilling skewers of octopus on a winter day at Insadong.

Lady in hanbok making Korean crackers during autumn.

Lady in hanbok making Korean crackers during autumn.

7. HANG OUT AT SSAMZIGIL

A spiraling four-story building of arts, crafts, shopping and food, Ssamzigil will fulfill your appetite for all things cute and colorful. Head to the basement for workshops where you can paint on pottery and purchase handmade goods. The top floor hosts a cafe and an area where you stick lovey-dovey messages on walls.

Crafts and handmade goods found at the basement of Ssamzigil.

Crafts and handmade goods found at the basement of Ssamzigil.

Rooftop of Ssamzigil. Write messages on circles and fasten them on the walls. A fun activity for you and your love!

Rooftop of Ssamzigil. Write messages on circles and fasten them on the walls. A fun activity for you and your love!

8. RELAX AT A CAFE

A rainy day in Insadong? Street food vendors might've taken a day off, but some cafes will give you a discount for the wet weather! Most spots provide dependable Wifi as the majority of cafes in Seoul do.

Jars of tea inside the famously long-titled cafe called "Moon Bird Does Thinks of Only the Moon."

Jars of tea inside the famously long-titled cafe called "Moon Bird Does Thinks of Only the Moon."

Handful of cafes in Insadong allow customers to write on their walls.

Handful of cafes in Insadong allow customers to write on their walls.

Traditional Korean desserts enjoyed at "Moon Bird Does Thinks of Only the Moon" cafe.

Traditional Korean desserts enjoyed at "Moon Bird Does Thinks of Only the Moon" cafe.

The older traditional cafes are hidden in alleys as the commercial cafes dominate Insadong Street.

The older traditional cafes are hidden in alleys as the commercial cafes dominate Insadong Street.

Watch the KWOW episode on Insadong if you haven't already (below)!


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Exotic Korean Drum Dances

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Exotic Korean Drum Dances

This week on KWOW, Professor Oh explains the drum dancing featured in 2NE1's "I'm the Best" and "Gu Family Book."

Feel the beat of the vibrant 5-drum dance (ogomu/오고무). The female players spin, jump, kneel and bend backwards as they hit the drums. Time to break out in some colorful sweat!

A shiny, abstract version of the 3-drum dance (samgomu/삼고무) appears in 2NE1's "I'm the Best" at 2:47.

Many, many, many drummers! Up, down and all around!

Stay tuned for our special 100th episode of KWOW next Wednesday! Granny Kim is cooking up something spicy.



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Korea's Traditional Folk Music (KWOW #37)

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Korea's Traditional Folk Music (KWOW #37)

As we already learned in KWOW episode 37 (see below), pansori (판소리) is a genre of Korea's traditional music performed by one singer and one drummer. Think of pansori as "Korean opera."

The most famous pansori story is “Chunhyangga (춘향가).” Set in the city of Namwon, Chunhyangga is the legendary love story of Chunhyang and Mongryong (몽령). To make a long story short, Chunhyang was a gisaeng (기생), a female entertainer for the aristocrats and royals. Mongryong was a district magistrate. Despite their class difference, they fell in love and married illegally. While Mongryong was in Seoul, another man forced Chunhyang to be his concubine. She refused and was given the death sentence. Mongryong returned to Namwon just in time to save her.

Here’s some Chunhyangga for you to enjoy:

Another traditional Korean music genre is pungmul (풍물). Pungmul was once practiced by farmers for rural holidays and for shamanistic purposes. Nowadays pungmul are used as art and for political protest. Pungmul is commonly held outdoors and contains many performers, each dedicated to sing, dance, play drums, and more. The performers wear colorful costumes accompanied by hats with twirling ribbons.

Watch this pungmul performance:

Samul nori (사물놀이) is similar to pungmul as it uses the same traditional instruments: ggwaenggwari (꽹과리), janggu (장구), jing (징), and buk (북). The four instruments symbolize a weather condition. Janggu stands for rain. Ggwaenggwari symbolizes thunder. Buk represents clouds. Jing symbolizes the sounds of the wind. Compared to pungmul, samul nori songs tend to be faster and are performed while sitting down. Farmers would perform samul nori in hopes of good harvest.

Check out the performance by Kim Duk Soo, the most famous samul nori player:

Other Korean traditional music genres include sanjo (산조), shinawee (시나위), and jungak (정악).

Hope you enjoyed the music! :)



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