I think the last time I walked the whole stretch of Insa-dong was during the flash mob of K-Performance Supporters last year. That was a fun experience in surprising the crowds and tourists in the area with a flash mob. If you were part of the flash mob, perhaps I was able to capture your dance moves in these photographs.
This time, there won't be any flash mob, only a wandering tourist with a smartphone and an uploaded Seoul Walking Tour app.
As I strolled down the main alley, listening to the audio file about Insa-dong on the Seoul Walking Tour app, I agreed when the narrator (who I think is Mr. Choi from Arirang News) described Insa-dong as 'one of the most popular attractions for international tourists visiting Seoul.'
This place is hugely famous for traditional Korean art work and handicrafts, and small shops offering Korean tea and the experience of enjoying a quiet afternoon in this part of Seoul, which has its own unique character.
Aside from tea and coffee shops, they are restaurants on both sides of the alley. Aside from a pasta restaurant, my favorite restaurant in Insa-dong is Koong Mandu, which has the best mandu (korean dumplings) dishes in Seoul!
Years ago, when I visited Insa-dong for the first time, I remember the main alley was full of artsy galleries and artisan shops. Lately, cosmetic shops are invading the place. I hope the Jongno district government puts an end to this invasion, as we don't want to wake up one day to find out that Insa-dong has turned into another Myeong-dong.
Although I'm a Seoulite now, I always look at Seoul through the eyes of a tourist every time I roam the city. And as a tourist, I certainly would want Insa-dong to remain true to its character as one of the places in Seoul, where a visitor can still experience a purely Korean atmosphere, surrounded by unique traditional architecture and full of uniquely Korean artistry and tradition.
According to its history (provided by the Seoul Walking Tour app), Insa-dong started out as a market where the descendants of Dohwaseo, a government body tasked to organize royal processions and events during the Joseon Dynasty, sold artworks and artisan tools for these crafts. The workers and their descendants must have been forced to find a livelihood when Dohwaseo was closed down when the dynasty declined.
The Joseon Dynasty lasted for five centuries, ending just about hundred years ago. And today, although I could still see a hint of that character of a traditional market that was started by those descendants more than a century ago, I am worried that commercialism will eat its way into Insa-dong and erase such character soon.
But in the meantime, armed by a smartphone with the Seoul Walking Tour app and a camera, I felt the cobblestones beneath my feet, thinking that, these steps must have the same place where, a hundred years ago, those descendants walked and set up shop as they made, sold and let everyone else appreciate their artistry just like the present-day artisans do.
So, if you're walking through Insa-dong, make sure you have the Seoul Walking Tour app in your smartphone as well, and you will also feel the character of the place like I did today.
My next stop....Jogyesa Temple!