The bright, flashing lights of Insadong-gil [길 (gil) : Street] regularly attracts large gatherings of people. Travel guides often rank Insadong (인사동/仁寺洞: kind, temple, neighbourhood) among the top 5 attractions to visit in Seoul. On the onset, busy retail and street life along the Insadong strip has the markings of a tourist trap. But it is also where the culture of the past and present collide–a climate that subserves consciousness.
Insadong’s north entrance is located by Anguk-dong Rotary by Anguk Station. The south entrance is across the street from Tapgol Park, where three subway lines converge at nearby Jongno 3-ga Station.
A creek once flowed through the spine of Insadong, starting from Samcheong-dong all the way to Cheongyecheon. Most of the traditional buildings here were once the dwelling place of merchants and bureaucrats.
Local artists settled in Insadong during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) when it was home to Dohwaseo, a government office for training royal artists. The arts presently finds itself in a precarious position however, as it struggles for survival.
The increase in popularity of Insadong paved the way for gentrification in the 1990s. With gentrification also comes increase in rent. Many artists and craftspeople were pushed out of business as a result. But soaring rent wasn’t the only blow to the arts. The restructuring of university programs have also led to traditional arts majors being scrapped.
While walking through the 700 metre street, I stumbled upon the filming of a Japanese variety show. During Japanese occupation (1910-1945), many Koreans were forced to relocate and sell their belongings. Members of the fallen Yangban (aristocrat) class set up shop in Insadong to sell priceless paintings and antiques.
Coffee shops, cosmetics stores, and souvenir stalls share retail space with traditional arts and crafts stores today. Hanji–handmade paper made from mulberry trees, can be found here as well as traditional teas, pottery, and calligraphy brushes and ink.
Major redesigns to the street took place between 1999 to 2000. Granite slabs along the street were added to provide seating and to separate vehicle and pedestrian pathways. Traditional Korean black tiles replaced the asphalt pavement road and additional trees were planted. To further embellish the neighbourhood, utility poles were replaced with floral containers.
Widened sidewalks and narrower road space for vehicles have transformed Insadong to be more pedestrian-friendly. To further promote wayfaring movement, every Sunday is pedestrian Sunday as the entire street is closed to vehicular traffic. The redesigns have allowed more street festivals and performances to take place.
The brain’s amygdala is considered its emotional centre and an integral component to learning. After all, emotional arousal of a learned event influences the strength of the memory far greater than rote memorization. And there was enough stimuli in Insadong to trigger a host of neural activity.
To learn language requires imagery and abstract ideas as its sensory inputs. It’s how the memory of words is created. That way, when the word is heard, a mental image of the word immediately comes to mind. For a moment, a feeling completely foreign befell me: I no longer processed thoughts in my dominant tongue.