Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Colorful Daegu, Day 1

Seoul & Daegu A few weeks ago, I went to Daegu for the weekend with some friends. Daegu is the fourth largest city in Korea and the only major city in Korea I had yet to visit. It's only 130 miles away from Seongnam (on the map, I live at the blue check while Daegu is the orange check), which is just a few hours by bus. One of the best things about travel in Korea is a) this country is small, about the size of Kentucky and b) almost everywhere has an express bus linking it to Seoul in just a few hours.

The plan was for Margaret, Veronica and I to meet at the bus terminal in Seongnam after school on Friday and buy our tickets, but when we arrived at 6:15, we discovered that Daegu was popular destination that weekend and consequently, the next several buses were sold out. The first bus could tickets for didn't leave until 8:10, meaning we wouldn't arrive in Daegu until close to midnight. Since we were free spirited ladies and wandering around the Daegu bus terminal at midnight trying to find a hotel didn't much sound like fun, we decided to pick a new destination for the weekend. We wrote down the name of all the cities with an express bus leaving from the bus terminal (including Daegu, because an hour and a half wasn't that long to wait) on pieces of paper. There were four cities with buses still leaving and three of us, so we each picked a slip of paper and decided to go to wherever the last piece of paper told us to go. The last bit of paper was Busan, the southernmost city on the peninsula. The next bus left at 8:00, just ten minutes before the bus to Daegu, but it would take us an extra two hours to get there.

We ended up going to Daegu. Fate, I can take a hint.

We pulled up in Daegu around 11:30 and set out in search of a love motel, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like but, despite the seedy connotations, they are, hands down, the best deal when traveling. Love motels are everywhere - literally on every corner around bus and train stations - and while rooms can be rented in two hour blocks, they're also available for the night. Love motels are cheaper than hotels and even a basic love motel offers better accommodations than similarly priced hotel. Plus, you're almost guaranteed a fun and exciting light scheme. However, multiple beds are obviously not common and we had to visit four different motels before we found one with 방 하나, 침대 두개 (one room, two beds).

Love Motel, Daegu
Missing from this picture are giant bathroom, creative lighting scheme and the tiny disco strobe lights. We looked at a few rooms that included a sauna, but went with the cheaper, sauna-less room.

Saturday morning we woke up, hit up a convenience store for breakfast and went to the Daegu Herbal Medicine Market. Before we reached the market, we stumbled upon Rice Cake Street. Seoul has these areas with a high concentration of shops all specializing in the same thing. There's no warming: one moment it's a perfectly normal street full of regular shops and then suddenly every shop in sight is selling shoe laces or socks or prosthetic limbs. Daegu is no different, it appears, and Rice Cake street, which dates back to the Korean War, has 37 different shops selling every possible variety of rice cakes. Rice cakes (떡, tteok) are "cakes" made from steamed glutinous rice flour. Because when I think of the word glutinous, I think delicious. There are tons of different types of rice cakes and they are part of many traditional Korean meals. Tteok has no actual relation to real cake, but I've been given many rice cakes in my time here because hey, it has cake in the name and foreigners like cake, right? I'm not a big fan, but it was neat to see the elaborate tteok creations the shops made.

Rice Cake Street, Daegu

The Daegu Herbal Medicine Market, founded in 1658, is the oldest market in Korea. It's suppose to be one of the largest markets in Korea, but it was almost abandoned on Saturady morning. We only saw a couple of other people shopping and lots of the stores were closed. We did, however, see lots of ginseng and reindeer horns (good for stamina, heh heh heh) and bins full of what appeared to be bark (no doubt good for well-being, but please don't ask me how). We also stumbled upon the wholesale market, which was filled with sacks brimming with spices and herbs and bark and what I swear to God was twigs. Korea, I don't *understand* your mania about well-being. There were samgyetang (i.e. the soup with an entire damn chicken in the bowl) restaurants nestled between shops with antlers hanging in the windows. Veronica and I decided that breakfast samgyetang at 11:00 was an appropriate life choice, and while Margaret went to pick up her boyfriend Nick, we had an early lunch of chicken soup. 맛이 있어요!

Yangnyeongsi Herbal Medicine Market, Daegu Samgyetang
Left: Jars of ginseng at Yangnyeongsi Herbal Medicine Market; Right: Bowl of samgyetang. Yes, that's a whole chicken in a bowl of soup for one person.

After lunch, we headed off to Palgongsan Provincial Park to hike to Gatbawi, a stone Buddha built in 638 AD. We were under the impression that it would be an easy hike. In Deagu, we were told it was an hour hike. Half an hour up and half and hour down, simple. When we got to Palgongsan, we were told it was an hour each way, not an hour total, but two hours is still a pretty basic hike. Over an hour later, when we finally reached Gwanamsa, a temple on the mountain, we were told that Gatbawi was at least another hour hiking up stone steps. All in all, it took us three hours to reach the summit and because the hill was so steep and steps were so uneven, it took us almost two hours to get to the base of the mountain. It was a pretty beautiful hike, though.

Gwanamsa Gatbawi
Top: Temple bell at Gwanamsa; Left: Main building at Gwanamsa; Right: Gatbawi. Gatbawi means Stone Hat Buddha because the 15cm thick flat stone atop the Buddha's head resembled a gat (갓), a traditional Korean hat.

When we finally made it back to Daegu, we were starving. The others wanted steak. I, while not begrudging their desire for steak, did not want steak. We all felt that, eh, you know, not sitting on the floor and eating with chopsticks might be groovy, and in downtown Daegu, the first combination of the three was an Outback Steakhouse. Again, 맛이 있어요 if, you know, a bit shameful.

The cheese fries are delicious, the onion rings are not and we were all a bit loopy by that point.

More photos are here.

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