Saturday, October 11, 2014

Eat Your Way to Suwon Immigration

More than four years ago I was standing between cars on the Mugunghwa train to Suwon. Unfamiliar scenes of rice fields and communities of concrete high-rises passed my view, and in my pocket was a torn piece of paper with Korean directions for the taxi driver when I arrived at the station. I had lived in Korea for a little over a month, and it was time for the Gyeongi-do ESL teacher's right of passage: a visit to Suwon Immigration Center to get an E2 visa card.

It was the first of countless trips to Suwon Immigration over the years. However, in retrospect they could have been much smoother and cheaper trips. An expat's life is full of expenses, namely alcohol and hangover food. To make things worse, many blogs and websites I've seen give confusing or inaccurate information on how to get to Suwon Immigration. Schools are not much better. Nobody needs the extra stress of trying to navigate confusing directions when you have to be back to teach in a few hours and you're still recovering from hoesik, the Korean company dinner-drinking-noraebang extravaganza. So here is the definitive guide on how to get to Suwon Immigration for newbies, along with the not so definitive guide on where to eat along the way.

1) Subvert the bus and cab drivers! Take the shiny new subway. It's cheap, convenient, and fast.
  • From Suwon Station take the yellow Bundang line to Yeongtong (영통). 
  • Distance: five stops away.
  • Travel time: ~15 minutes 
  • Cost: ~1,050 won.
  • Take EXIT 1 out of Yongtong station. There will be a big HomePlus on your right and a large Lotte Shopping Plaza on your left across the street. Your view should look like this:
Yongtong Station, Exit 1
  • Walk straight until you get to the end of HomePlus and turn right. This is what it will look like: 
    The end of HomePlus. Turn right here.
  • Now here is the easy part. Walk straight for three blocks.
    One block down. Keep going straight!
    Second block behind you. Keep going! 
    Third block gone. The building behind the trees is Suwon Immigration.
Getting back to Suwon Station:
  • Just retrace your steps and take the subway back towards Suwon.
  • The first stop on your way back should be Mangpo.
Where to eat:
  • There are hundreds of restaurants, cafes, and hofs in Yongtong making it a perfect area for a good night out. On a visa run, however, you probably won't have time for a long meal. But if you have 40 minutes to spare try the nearby Hakoya. I don't like to recommend large chains, but they have recognizably Japanese ramen, something I regularly crave having spent quality time in Japan. Their ramen is still a shadow of what you will find in the Dōtonbori district of Osaka, but worth it nonetheless. To get to Hakoya, turn left at the second intersection as you walk towards Suwon Immigration. The restaurant will be on your left. 
  • If, on the other hand, you need good food in a pinch, try Nae Gohyang Wang Mandu (개고향 왕만두). You might recognize the brand if you watch a lot of Korean TV. It's a popular stop in the media, and for good reason. Their mandu and jjinbang are not only uncommonly delicious but cheap. Just one fist sized mandu will set you back a 1,000 won. They are across the street from Home Plus right after your first turn. 
Wang mandu (top) and jjin bang (bottom) from Nae Gohyang Wang Mandu in Yeongtong, Suwon

2) Take the Taxi. The drivers are characters.
  • Exit Suwon Station from the front. The taxi stand will be on your right in front of Baskin Robins.
  • You'll have to queue in line if there are a lot of people, but the line is usually small to nonexistent. 
  • Tell the driver that you want to go to Suwon Immigration. It sounds like this, "Suwon Chool-ip-gook-gwan-lee-saw-moo-so-eh ga-seh-yo." And looks like this in Korean: "수원출입국관리사무소에 가세요." 
  • Travel time: 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Cost: 7,000 won and up depending on the driver. 
  • If you are lucky you might find a cabbie like the one below who bombed the inside of his cab with a stadium's worth of Korean national pride during the 2014 World Cup. 
    Perhaps coincidentally, PSY's "Champion" was playing in the Taxi too. 
Getting back to Suwon Station:
  • Taxis wait in front of Suwon Immigration up until around five or six pm, after which time you'll need to find the main road and flag down a taxi or take the bus or subway.
  • To get back to the station tell the driver, "Suwon yeok-eh ga-seh-yo." In Korean it looks like this: "수원역에 가세요."
Where to Eat:
  • There is actually a lot of great international food near Suwon Station. One of my favorites is a dark, strangely empty Russian restaurant in a basement. What it lacks in atmosphere it totally makes up for in rich, flavorful, hearty fare good for bolstering public school comrades and gulag hagwon laborers through the cold, long Korean winter. To get there cross the foot bridge at Suwon Station that goes over the taxi stand. When you get to the end look down from the top. You should see an alley below you leading away from the station. Take the stairs on your right and follow the alley to its end. Immediately in front of you should be Damunhwa Food Land (다문화 푸드랜드). Damunhwa takes up the basement level of the building with several different international restaurants like Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Mongolian, and, of course, Russian. 
A bowl of borscht. Not at all fancy to look at,
 but would you expect from Russians?

3) Take the not so bali-bali bus. It's a good way to see the south-central side of the city.
  • Exiting Suwon Station, the bus stop for Suwon Immigration is on your right. It is past the taxi stand and pretty hard to miss with all the city busses traveling through it. 
    Suwon Station bus stop heading towards Suwon Immigration
  • There are two main bus lanes. It doesn't matter which one you are in.
  • There are six busses you can take: 5, 7, 7-2, 9, 310, 900
  • Take the bus to Yeongil Junghakyo (영일중학교) Yongil Middle School in English.
  • Distance: 29 stops away
  • Travel time: 15 - 20 minutes, but 45 minutes during evening rush hour. 
  • Cost: 1, 200 won without a transit card, but 1,100 won with a transit card like CashBee or T-Money — the same cards used on the subway.
  • When you get off the bus turn to your left and walk down the street. You should be walking downhill and the school should be on your right. Take your first right by the 7-11. The school should still be on your right. Walk past the school, and then keep on going straight for a block until you reach Suwon Immigration.
Yongil Junhakyo bus stop. The school is behind the trees.
Suwon Immigration coming from Yongil Junhakyo
Getting back to Suwon Station:
  • Walk the back to Yeongil Junghakyo
  • Take the 5, 7, 7-2, 9, 9-1, 310 or 900 back to the train station. 
  • Now, some observant subway takers might notice the bus stop in front of Lotte Plaza at the Yongtong subway stop. However, it is three blocks away from Suwon Immigration as opposed to just one. Moreover, there is only one bus on that stop that goes to Suwon Station, the 51 bus. And that bus runs every 17-20 minutes, so I do not recommend it.
Where to eat:
  • Across the street from Yongil Junghakyo is Pizza Heaven, home to some of the best pizza in Korea. I worked as a pizza chef for seven years from high school through college, so I am very picky about my pizza. And in a land full of Pizza Schools, Mr. Pizza, and even pizza from Lotte Mart, Pizza Heaven is truly a pice-a-heaven fallen from the table of the gods. In other words, it looks, tastes and smells like typical American pizza. This isn't anything to talk about in the USA, but in South Korea that's BIG. To put it in perspective, while on the way home to Pyeongtaek from Seoul one day I hopped off the train in Suwon to bring home a pie from Pizza Heaven. This was during rush hour no less, and I stupidly took the bus. I'd do it again too, bus and all. Now, how many Americans would drive 45 minutes out of their way for take-out pizza? 

(Edited Jan 29, 2015: Added information and photos for Nae Gohyang Wang Mandu) 

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