Exploring Daegu (Gyeonsangbuk-do)

Today was my final day in Daegu. I have been here for almost a week. I have heard some locals and travelers alike express surprise at my staying in this city for so long because apparently there is nothing to do here. But I have enjoyed hanging out here. I’ve developed a pleasant routine of sitting in the hostel common room working and chatting in the mornings before going out for lunch and a short walk, eating ice cream, relaxing in my room and then going out again for dinner. I’ve had the privilege of spending time with some locals who have told me something of their lives and the work of the Empathy organisation.
 photo IMG_2663_zps60dd18cd.jpg
 photo IMG_2664_zps4b92a953.jpg
Today I decided to forgo work and the routine to do a little sightseeing. I started with Gyeongsang Gamyong Park, which is located near the hostel. Many people were sitting here enjoying the sunshine. The park is home to some brightly painted pagodas and buildings. I know it has historic significance but the signs I saw were in Korean. So I just enjoyed the visual experience.
 photo IMG_2666_zps5b397e11.jpg
A trip down handmade shoe street followed. I admired the handcrafted leather footwear through the shop windows as the sound of small hammers hitting nails and sewing machines stitching leather rings gently through the air.
 photo IMG_2672_zps185b258c.jpg
 photo IMG_2673_zps215e1a3a.jpg
My walk takes me through Daegus more industrial streets. Here you can buy everything from electric drills to small motors. Each tiny shop is crammed full of items, leaving the shop keepers to sit out on the footpath waiting for customers.
 photo IMG_2678_zps260b1724.jpg
I find myself at Dalseong Park. There is a pagoda up on a hill.
 photo IMG_2675_zps9a27ac7f.jpg
And a sort of miniature zoo where animals from all over the world are kept in small cages. This vulture is huge and keeps charging the people looking at it. I feel a bit sad for the animals; not in a judgemental way but just because I think it must be boring to be wild but caged.
 photo IMG_2679_zpsa4a19cc2.jpg
Small school children play on the grass as teachers watch vigilently. Some teachers wear small microphones like those used by tour guides so their class can hear them. The uniforms vary from sporty to cute little suits and ties worn by five and six year olds. But no matter the uniform, one thing is the same: the brightly coloured shoes.
 photo IMG_2680_zps8ab57a0e.jpg
There are a couple of bonsaied trees. This photo is for my friend who loves bonsai.
 photo IMG_2683_zps5fa646cc.jpg
My next stop is the Seomun Market where clothes, traditional medicines, groceries and street food are sold at small stalls, many of which are marked by brightly coloured umbrellas. Old women fall asleep at their stalls while middle aged women work hard to entice customers to their’s. The enticement here is not pushy and rude like in some other countries. Rather, it is courteous and apologetic; always with the promise of a free taste and discounted price.
 photo IMG_2684_zps79eb67cf.jpg
It’s lunch time and I like street food so I start with a piece of fried squid and a piece of fried sweet potato. I take my place at the stools and use the cooking cart as a table.
 photo IMG_2685_zps4cd05cda.jpg
A fishcake on a stick is next. I have seen these being sold all over the countyr and finally decided to try one. These are boiled in a broth so they look less enticing than the fried foods. The taste is quite good but it is a little more bland than my pallet is used to. I eat the stick dipped in a soy, sesame and chili sauce while standing at the food cart; the lady vendor fussing over me and smiling.
 photo IMG_2686_zps849ce10e.jpg
Finally I buy a deepfried hot dog sausage with tomato ketchup. It’s a familiar flavour and can be eaten while walking.
 photo IMG_2687_zps64ef3243.jpg
And I leave you with this photo of the entrails. There are a few stalls selling them but I’m not sure how to ask for them to be cooked so I can’t buy any; or at last that’s my excuse.

I buy some groceries for my departure tomorrow. I end my day by patching a tube on one of the bikes here at the hostel. One of the hosts asked whether I minded giving it a go seeings as I am a cyclist. It was a nice quiet way to spend the afternoon patching the tube and chatting to the hostel hosts.

A night out in Daegu (Geonsangbuk-do)

 photo IMG_20141017_001740_zpsdl6sznwa.jpg
Rene the Swiss cyclist who I met in Seoul happened to turn up at the same hostel as I am staying at here in Daegu. So what else do you do when a fellow cyclist comes to town? Why you go out to eat food and drink beer. And that’s what we did.
 photo IMG_20141017_001951_zpswmpn55bp.jpg
We started with makchang, a delicacy here in Daegu that consists of pig’s intestines cooked on a coal grill at your table. When raw it looks rather graphic.
 photo IMG_20141017_001415_zpszbndjcg6.jpg
But then you (or, if you are a foreigner who seems to lack suitable BBQ experience, your host) cooks it up at the table until it looks just like any other sort of fried meat. You dip the fried intestines in a delicious sauce, place it on a lettuce leaf, add marinated bean sprouts, raw garlic slices, onion and this delicous paste, roll the leaf and eat. I was sceptical at first but found it to be one of the most delicous Korean foods I have eaten so far.
 photo IMG_20141017_001850_zpsapy1vej0.jpg
After makchang we wandered around a little while looking for a bar where we could drink a beer. It seems these are few and far between in Korea. Don’t get me wrong, you can pretty much buy beer anywhere. But usually it’s sold at restaurants where they also sell food. And being from Australia and Switzerland we are more used to bars where you just buy a drink. Eventually we found a place. They brought us our beers and then a big bowl of buttered popcorn. I found that very random but also very tasty.

Women in war photo exhibition in Daegu (Gyeonsangbuk-do)

 photo IMG_2669_zpsb6e80890.jpg
I knew the Women in War photo collection as part of the 2014 Bienniel Photography Exhibition would be moving. Jane from the hostel had told me about it after we spoke the other day and she suggested I might be interested to see it. But I wasn’t quite prepared for how deeply it would touch me. So I will just share with you the thoughts I wrote as I stood there in the gallery:
 photo IMG_2670_zpsbecbb453.jpg
Extraordinary photography. Some haunting others stunning. The contrast between the horrors of war and magical colours makes it all the more harrowing. I wonder how I could ever return to the life I once had after seeing all that I have seen this past year already.

There is no rushing here. No glory to be seen. Just the cold realities of war through the lenses of female photographers. The exhibition makes me more sure that all who can should travel to cure their minds of hatred based on fear. For pain and loss are human experiences, not something any group owns exclusively. No matter the side, the flag, the religion, the race or the gender: tears mean sadness, blood means pain and death is forever.

The exhibition ebbs and flows. From the jungles of Vietnam to the soldiers of the Balkans. From death in Africa to uncertainty in the Middle East. A female US marine plays with a child and mothers try to maintain normality in Afghanistan. Acid violence disfigures faces and women are taken to “comfort” men.

Humanity on display both in and out of the photos. An older Korean man sits crying openly. Young couples move slowly with reverance. A teenage girl touches her mother’s shoulder. A raw heart wrenching exhibition not to be missed and from which I pray we will all learn.

Baseball in Daegu (Gyeonsangbuk-do)

 photo IMG_20141015_171007_zpsgzwfhrf2.jpg
I had been told that Koreans love baseball and that attending a game here is a must do experience. So in Andong I checked the game roster and noticed that the season was coming to a close with just one week left to play. There would be no games once I got to Busan but there were still two games to be played in Daegu. Foreigners cannot buy tickets online in Korea. You must either make a phone booking or turn up at the gate an hour before the game and hope there is a ticket available. So while I was here at the hostel I asked whether someone could phone the stadium to organise me a ticket and, guess what. There was only one ticket available in the whole stadium and I got it.
 photo IMG_2593_zps80a3f478.jpg
I was told my seat would be the worst seat in the house and this was correct. I was behind a post so I had to lean sideways to see the batter
 photo IMG_2591_zps6ff062d3.jpg
But who cares. I was at the baseball in Korea. And I bought a Samsung Lions baseball cap to commemorate my first ever baseball game (ever).
 photo IMG_2594_zps7bec5499.jpg
Crowds of people thronged outside waiting to enter the stadium.
 photo IMG_2592_zps83eddfa0.jpg
As fried chicken vendors hawked their food. And what delicious food it was too.
 photo IMG_2597_zps60b61b26.jpg
The super cute mascotts supervised the players’ warm ups.
 photo IMG_2610_zps1474316a.jpg
A white coated choir sang the national anthum.
 photo IMG_2611_zpsf12c15c2.jpg
And then the first pitch of the game was thrown. Little did I know that this would be the start of the game that sealed the penant championship for the home team: Samsung Lions.
 photo IMG_2599_zps8f637add.jpg
 photo IMG_2600_zpse9dddf4d.jpg
 photo IMG_2653_zps36903565.jpg
So I’m no baseball nut and the game is a little too slow and tactical for me to imagine ever becoming totally enthralled in it as a sport. But boy is attendance at a game a wonderful spectacle and something I will certainly try to do again when I travel in other baseball mad countries. I don’t know whether any mascotts will ever match up to the cute Samsung Lions with their grinning faces and cheeky skipping-style running.
 photo IMG_2612_zpsab50389e.jpg
In the next stand a cheer leader encouraged the crowd to engage in choreographed cheering. Before the game started he went onto his little stage and gave instructions. The crowd were encouraged to practice and practice they did. During the game choreographed dancing, cheering and singing reverberated around the ground as the cheer leader did his thing. Might I add that from my vantage point in the cheap seats his dancing looked rather camp with his hip swinging, arm waving and butt jiggling.
 photo IMG_2618_zps3869084a.jpg
Naturally there were also scantily clad cheer girls for the (mostly male) crowd’s entertainment.
 photo IMG_2640_zps96be5174.jpg
But the girls were not without their eye candy either. Every time this player (number 7 from Samsung Lions) came out to bat the girls and women in the crowd went wild. I was sitting next to two teenage girls who fell into fits of adolescent giggles whenever he came on and they took many photos of him with their phones, resulting in more embarrassed adolescent giggling.
 photo IMG_2616_zps30a20db8.jpg
In the good seats spectators had tables on which they ate whole meals of rice, pizza and fried chicken washed down with copius cans of beer. Beer is a big thing here in Korea. When you buy fried chicken they give you a can and people carry whole cases into the stadium to share with their friends. There was even a beer sculling competition between the fifth and sixth innings, which was shown on the big screen. Three men went head to head to see who could scull a mug the fastest.
 photo IMG_2628_zps4a42094b.jpg
The game itself was a thriller with Samsung going up 3-0 at the bottom of the third inning and the opposition figthing back with a home run at the top of the sixth and then two at the top of the seventh inning, tying the score at three home runs each at the top of the eight. The Samsung pitcher held the opposition at bay in the eighth …
 photo IMG_2638_zpsc5af98fd.jpg
And I found myself going wild with the crowd at the bottom of the eight when Samsung scored two more home runs. All that was left to do was for Samsung to despatch of the opposition’s batters without score in the ninth inning. We were all at the edge of our seats … well, actually, everyone was standing with breath held.
 photo IMG_2641_zpsb4afc56f.jpg
 photo IMG_2657_zps29f3e51b.jpg
And as the final batter was struck out … the crowd went wild, the players ran onto the field and a fireworks display burst out from behind the scoreboard.
 photo IMG_2652_zps1cc742c7.jpg
 photo IMG_2659_zps446f21cb.jpg
The Samsung Lions had won the penant race championship in a thrilling game.

As for me … I have yet another amazing memory of my time in Korea. I have to shout out to Julian the German I met in Seoul who is traveling the world watching soccer matches. If I hadn’t gone to the Asian Games with him I probably wouldn’t have thought to try to go to the baseball game. And what an experience I would have missed.

Chilling in Daegu (Gyeonsangbuk-do)

 photo IMG_20141014_141254_zps7leyzgcz.jpg
I have decided to have a change of pace to my travels here in Korea. After a couple of weeks spent riding the north-eastern mountains and coasts it’s time to slow down and take in city life in Daegu and then Busan. I still have another 11 full days before I fly home and I intend to spend them chilling out, finalising two university papers that are due and generally eating a lot of food that is probably not good for me. So here is my first day in Daegu: a city I could easily get used to.
 photo 20141013_194626_zps0vw52mia.jpg
It started well on Monday night after I arrived when I caught the subway halfway across town to meet a local Korean guy to learn more about the local way of life. He is a similar age as me, works in the civil service and speaks excellent English. The subway here doesn’t issue tickets for single trips, rather it issues these tokens that look like they would be more comfortable in a casino. But, as always in tourist-friendly Korea the ticket machine had an English language option. It was refreshing to spend time with a local and be able to hold a conversation without needing sign language. And maybe I have made another new friend on this adventure in the land of the morning mist.
 photo IMG_20141014_142237_zps0afszkzz.jpg
Yesterday morning I woke early despite wanting to sleep in. I was still tired after staying up well past midnight the night before and having ridden so far over the previous two days so I had a leisurely breakfast, wrote another few hundred words about ethics in education and set off to wander Daegu’s downtown. The outdoor shops were fun to walk through and it took much restraint not to buy a pair of brightly coloured hiking boots. I also visited the modern history museum, which gave me some insight into this city’s more recent history and role in Korea’s current democratic governance.
 photo 20141014_133546_zpsvphgoxvs.jpg
I am finally starting to feel more confident about buying food and have let my usual desire to be somewhat healthy drop in favour of enjoying some naughty foods. This deep fried delight of squid, sweet potato and zucchini with soup set me back just 2,500 won ($AU/US2.50). Not the sort of meal you show to your doctor but hey, my doctor is safely far away in Australia and I will deal with her later 😉 . I was only out for about three hours before fatigue won over and I made my way back to the hostel where I rented a couple of movies from iTunes and lazed in my bunk for four hours watching them.
 photo 20141014_194816_zpsoifo8rzs.jpg
The rest was just what I needed and I was ready to explore the streets again after 7.30pm. I have to admit that I love Asia’s neon nights. There’s something joyful about bright colours. Sure, it’s probably terrible for the environment and I know that it’s currently much more cool to disparage cities in favour of a night under the stars. But I can quite happily enjoy either and right now it’s the neon that is calling.
 photo 20141014_195500_zpsdiwdfqfb.jpg
As I wandered I took photos of random things I saw like this cool scooter (as a motorcyclist I never thought I’d call any scooter cool but the paint job on this one is worthy of praise).
 photo 20141014_195256_zpslb7dtv26.jpg
And these teddy bears that seem to have got lost at a coffee shop while on their way to the picnic. Or perhaps this is where teddy bears go after the picnic is over and they need a shot of caffeine before they turn into party animals. Coffee shops are plentiful in Korea and people seem genuinely surprised if you say that you do not drink the bitter black liquid.
 photo 20141014_195421_zpsvj7quoxw.jpg
Fortune tellers are also common here in Korea. I have seen their tents and tables set up in parks and city streets all over the country. Often they have young couples as clients. Here in Daegu the fortune tellers have brightly coloured shops and anyone with such interest could probably easily spend a whole week going to each different one and still not see them all.
 photo 20141014_194224_zps5pmp5vif.jpg
A street near the hostel is lined with shops selling creatively displayed Korean seafood. I am not quite sure what the significance of the shapes are or what one gets here. Do you actually buy the displayed decoration? Or a meal based on the display? Or just some fish? Whatever it is, the displays are eye catching.
 photo IMG_20141014_200821_zps1vv5xryn.jpg
Don’t tell my doctor but my diet didn’t improve on my nighttime wander. If anything it was worse because there wasn’t even any vegetable or soup involved in this 3,000 won ($AU/US3) street meal. I think it is fried chicken in a honey chili sauce. The pieces of meat were tiny but the flavour fantastic. Naturally I chased it down with an ice cream from Baskin Robbins, which is alive and thriving here in Korean cities (Baskins is my favourite ice cream but it seems to be almost gone in Brisbane).

I ended the day with a lengthy conversation with an American Korean lady living and working here at the hostel in Daegu. The hostel (Empathy House) is a non-profit that offers support to North Korean defectors seeking to setttle in the Daegu region. It is a wonderful social project that fits well with my personal values of everyone having equal opportunity in life regardless of what card we drew in the lottery of birth. Twenty percent of the hostel’s profits are returned to the project, which provides housing, education, medical, emotional and social support to it’s clients.

Sangju to Daegu (Gyeonsangbuk-do)

 photo IMG_2565_zps9ef79c38.jpg
The rain is bucketing down outside the pagoda when I wake and I briefly consider laying in the pagoda for the day but that would be a bit soft and Daegu is calling. It’s only about 125km away and, while I’ve never ridden 100km in a day with a fully loaded bicycle the river path is flat and I am confident there will be a bed waiting for me at the Empathy Hostel despite my not having made a reservation. Besides, rain is only water.
 photo IMG_2569_zps2ff70083.jpg
The wind is gusting and rain is stinging into my eyes like a summer storm back home in Brisbane. Like those storms this rain is warm and, fortunately, unlike those storms there is no lightning or thunder to make my heart race. As I leave I notice two Korean cyclists packing up their tent under a pagoda near the first certification centre that I pass so now I feel more confident about future pagoda camping adventures.
 photo IMG_2566_zpsbcaafb2e.jpg
As my Goretex fails to keep me dry I pass many Korean fishermen sitting comfortably in their tents with coal barbecues, picnic tables and soju. Their fishing set ups are epic and would make my uncle Big Muscly Bill in Holland jealous. With at least six rods a piece sitting on fantastic rod holders and at least three crab (?) nets in the water and a multicoloured scoop net on the shore, these men are not just here to watch the scenery.
 photo IMG_2568_zps15c1a592.jpg
I also pass some strange totem poles. I can’t quite decide whether I should be afraid or amused. Perhaps a little of both is the intended emotional response.
 photo IMG_2572_zpsec8dd7ee.jpg
Despite the rain there are still some lovely sights. In fact, I think this orange-leaved tree might look more impressive against the steely water as the greenery around it gets washed out by the rain.
 photo IMG_2574_zps4e94c848.jpg
I reach Korea’s answer to Silicon Valley: Gumi. Through the rain I can see a sign proudly proclaim that LG Displays is the Global Number One display company. I guess it probably is if many Australian households are anything to go by. This section of the cyclepath is industrial as it travels through Gumi’s industrial zones.
 photo IMG_2575_zps914d7fa8.jpg
At Chilgok Dam and certification centre I stop at the only shop I see on the entire cycleway today. It’s a CVU where I experience my first Korean microwave burger. I have been eyeing these things off for weeks and it seems like time to take the plunge. Naturally, the instructions and the microwave buttons are all in Korean so I rely on the CVU lady to show this ignorant foreigner what to do. The burger actually tastes quite good. It has two mince patties, cheese, mustard and (my personal favourite) pickled gherkin. I have a messenger conversation wtih my friend at home. He wishes for me that the rain stops. I scoff and say I doubt it will. I step outside to find that it has. The skies are not blue but at least the worst of the downpour is over and I can take off the Goretex that has so far failed to keep me dry anyway. I pass a typical Korean city residential area with numbered buildings. I wonder what life must be like to live in such places. Is it any different to living in a suburban house like many Australians do? How many rooms does an apartment have? How big is it on the inside?
 photo IMG_2584_zps9ade89ca.jpg
 photo IMG_2580_zpscd4c8345.jpg
I spy a traditional looking building about 50m off the track. There is a place to park my bike at a pagoda so I walk in to take a look. The building is an old residence that has been partially restored. The story is not so interesting but the building has a charm and I enjoy a short stay.
 photo IMG_2587_zpsb3c5aa61.jpg
After 95km of cycling I see Daegu sprawled out in the distance. The city is nestled between the mountains and river. It feels so close but what I don’t realise is that it will still be 5km before I reach the certification centre and then another 20km until I reach the city centre. But it’s only 2:30pm and this means I have time to make it to that warm dry bed and nice hot shower I have been daydreaming about. The cycleway into the city seems to end abruptly after about 5km leaving me with two choices: ride along crowded pedestrian footpaths that have a cycle lane painted on them or join the crazy traffic. I jam my helmet onto my head and select the latter as it will be much faster and, unlike the pedestrians, the traffic is only going in one direction. I don’t know from where I draw the energy to zip in and out of parked vehicles and sprint off from the traffic lights after the ride I’ve just done but somehow I find myself cranking down the road at speeds of over 30kph and throwing my 60kg loaded bike around as though it was built for trials. It’s worth it when the hostel has a bed and I enjoy a deliciously hot shower.