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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.