Saturday, December 5, 2009

An yung ha say yu, Daegu!!!

The 4+ hour busride from Incheon to Daegu was surreal. I witnessed a neon lit- skyline unlike any I have seen before. Even the churches make use of LED technology. Lit crosses dot the tops of houses of worship all over the city here. They are almost as densely present as Mosques in Moslem cities (thinking back to Morocco). My director, Mr. Lee tells me that well over half of Koreans are Christians.
This is the best I could find online, I haven't taken many pictures. Most are actually red (sangre de Christo!). Welcome to the 21st century, Jesus.

I was able to catch some much needed z's on the bus in spacious reclining lazy-boy style seats (awesome). As we pulled into Daegu, I thought to myself "well done, we've covered a lot of ground today, followed my instructions and managed it all without a hitch." After Prague and other travel follies, I've come to anticipate trouble. In truth, I was not quite in the clear. No early celebrations for this guy.

I got off at the station with the remaining passengers and gathered up my mass of luggage underneath, trudging toward the street where taxis awaited. Mr. Lee told me to wait there and I had told him when my bus was scheduled to arrive. Turning down numerous rides, 15-20 minutes passed with no sign of Mr. Lee. Oh boy.

"Did I get off at the wrong stop?"

None of the cabbies seemed to speak English, so when I asked if this was Daegu main station, I got an answer in Korean. It was little use. I waited some more before a cabbie offered his cell phone.

"Great, I'll just call Mr. Lee to make sure."

As I dug through my pockets and bag for my print-out will all my numbers and info, I realized I didn't have it. I'm not positive, but my hunch is that I left it by the payphone at the airport. Well, mission accomplished, problem encountered. So it goes. [Come on people, where would we be without this blog suspense?]

Handing the phone back to the cabbie and thanking him for the service I was quite unable to take advantage of, I nervously gathered up my things and made my way through the rain soaked streets and sidewalks in search of power and an internet connection or the real Daegu main station. I toasted through my laptop battery during my layover in San Fran and had only enough to boot at the Incheon airport before it died.

My search only led down dead-end alleys and to crosswalks that never lit green. Eventually I resolved to try a well lit strip with shops and restaurants. I spotted a power outlet next to a table in a Korean restaurant of some kind. Following the example set down before me, I removed my shoes and dropped my stuff by the door in exactly the fashion you would expect a dogged Westerner that just arrived in a very foreign land after 30-some odd hours of travel.

It wasn't the type of place you would just stroll into and jack power from, so I felt obligated to order something. Completely unable to read the menu, I used the trusty pin-the-tail on the donkey selection method, landing on something cheap. 5,000Won ($4 and change). You can imagine my surprise when plate after plate of food came out. The grand finale was a big bowl that was literally boiling and bubbling. I felt a little overwhelmed, but not too overwhelmed to take a picture.
Figure 1. The first of hundreds of servings of kim-chi I'll eat. Without exaggeration, I've eaten it every single day since I got here. One week strong.

I soon managed to get an internet signal (bless the connectivity of Korea! it seems to me that they are light years ahead of Spain, the Czech Republic and most of the U.S.) and call Mr. Lee. I had no clue where I was, so I put the waitress on my little headset. Korean is an extremely jolting rhythmic and expressive language, so I was awe-struck and confused as to the particulars of the lengthy discussion that unfolded over my table as I stared down, not at all hungry, at my small feast. At last, she gave me a nod and handed back the headset. When I got on, Mr. Lee had hung up. So now we wait and hope.

It was just then, when it seemed I had finally reached my ultimate destination that the exhaustion of it all overcame me. I barely had the strength or awareness to operate my computer, so I put it away and attempt to preside over the food.

Mr. Lee soon arrived, and though I really didn't feel like one, we shared a bottle of beer. It was pretty refreshing.
Hite beer: Cool & Fresh. The Korean pop group "Big Bang" uh...throw a perfectly good pitcher of Hite? Korean advertising is a subject for another post. The visual innuendo in this one is a little much.

I sooned learned that I ordered the boiling pig spine soup. Yum. It was pretty good, kind of like rib soup and I as I had more, I realized I did actually need a little something to eat.

After finishing up, Mr. Lee drove me to the grocery store and bought me some staples to hold me over for a few days. It was the beginning of what has been, and will hopefully continue to be, a very warm accommodating relationship. Thanks Mr. Lee. We then made it to my apartment, I dropped my bags and collapsed. *Christopher Walken speak* I can't believe, ya' made it!

Mr. Lee gave me the next day off to collect myself a bit. It was much needed. That night, we went out to dinner at a Korean pork grill place.

It seemed like an endless meal. In Korea, all your sides are free (various grilled vegetables and pickled things and of course kim-chi), you only pay for the meat. Vegetarians rejoice! The server brings out everything raw and you sort of working together to cook it. "That one doesn't look quite done."

It was my first opportunity to learn some drinking manners from Mr. Lee. It is traditional for the younger person to pour for the elder using two hands, then receiving with two hands. It is rude for a glass to remain empty. It is also custom to drink together, never alone. Whenever Mr. Lee raised his glass I had to follow suit and take a drink. I quickly learned that big gulps were best. I'm definitely a frequent sipper and if I didn't change my approach, Mr. Lee would have drank me out of house and home, and I depend on those things from him...

I also learned the finer points of soju drinking, "the cheapest alcohol in all Korea" according to Mr. Lee. I'm not sure what it's distilled from (I guessed rice incorrectly) but it weighs in at 20% alcohol, 40 proof, so it's not total high-test. When Mr. Lee said it was cheap, I didn't know how cheap. I've seen it priced around 1,000Won (less than a dollar) for a bottle. That prices Caldwell's (Somerville, MA's $10 vodka) like it's Grey Goose. Shit's cheap! I find this simultaneously horrifying and glorious.

Soju! Budget alcoholism at it's best!

Mr. Lee and I talked about family, fishing, travel, golf and other things. He's big on golfing and he's thrilled that I want to go with him. He also wants to take me traveling around Korea. The companionship is strong and the positive vibes I got from our Skype interview have exceeded all my expectations. It really knocked down the stern-nosed Korean school boss stereotype I'd read about online. His warmth has made adjusting so much easier.

We went out again on Wednesday after school for a pitcher and some hot wings. The man knows how to please this guy. Chatting about school for a bit, we got back on travel and golf. He has three young boys and his wife won't let him go anywhere, but he thinks I could be his ticket to escaping dad duties temporarily. "But honey, it's for the good of the hagwon [school]!"

He helps me, I help him, go team.


  1. Hey great post! i know you don't know me but i ran across this while searching Daegu on google (which you probably did before did be fore you went to daegu). I am from america and I am actually moving to daegu on the 28th to teach english! It sounds like you and I got lots in common (i get lost alot and i like wings! haha)Like you I am going solo, it would be nice to at least know someone (kinda) when i get there. What school are you at (where in daegu) and write another post about customs and etiquette! Hope all is well mate!

  2. what is kim-chi soup? is it the pig spine soup? free veggies...beccas on her way..