Friday, January 8, 2010

Feelin' the Christmas Spirit in Daejon

Korean Santa. Cartoon father time meets Foo-man-chu striking a Christ healing pose.

Christmas morning I awoke for a Christmas Eve Skype chat. With all present, communication got dicey a few times. It was more than a little strange for Christmas to come for me before it did for everyone back home. It was the first Christmas morning that I woke up on my own terms (wink wink Kourtney).

The chat was unfortunately cut short because I had a train to catch. With a Christmas kick of the heels I hopped the subway to Dongdaegu station where I was accosted by Korean Jehovah's Witnesses that I wished "Merry Christmas" without really thinking. They sort of awkwardly smiled and carried on with their pamphlets. While waiting for the others to turn up, I grabbed a coffee at Dunkin' Donuts. That's right, Korea's got Dunkie's. I think its much classier here, though it of course has some peculiarities, such as the green tea latte and the sausage bread sandwich which is, by all indications, a hot dog.

Once Diana (New Zealand kiwi), Joanne (German from Wales), and James (a cheeky ass Brit from Leeds that says things like "you know what really boils my piss?") arrived we were ready to enter the time warp that is the KTX. The top speed of the KTX is 350km/hr (~220mph). It moves.
Daegu to Daejon is probably 2 hours or so. We arrived in under 45 minutes. Silly.
We were totally "winging" the trip so we basically arrived and proceeded to wander in search of shelter.
Joanne struggles under the weight of her ridiculous luggage for a weekend trip. I jest, she was actually meeting up with her father on one of the islands off the southern coast that weekend. A likely story.

All we came across in the neighborhood of the station was the Beer House. Useful find, but not the ideal accommodation.
I'm told that Daejon was a planned city built for its central location on the peninsula, but some reason it has two separate "downtown" areas. We resolved to try the other.
Daejon city hall. This find led to me repeatedly make jokes with some variation of: "I'm taking this to city hall!"

Through more wandering (taking yet another blurry picture: At first, cocktail kept me alert, then it kept me awake, now it keeps me alive)
and assistance from a cheery Brit we met on the street, we found the SM Motel. While it was not the S&M motel, it did classify as one of the more fascinating gems of Asian society: the Love Motel.

Love motels are basically establishments for the stated purpose. I think its quite eastern to just be blunt about these things. Why skirt the issue? We run a shag palace. Hourly rates subject to change.

"Entrances are discreet and interaction with staff is minimized, with rooms often selected from a panel of buttons and the bill settled by pnuematic tube, automatic cash machines, or a pair of hands behind a pane of frosted glass. Although cheaper hotels are often quite utilitarian, higher-end hotels may feature fanciful rooms decorated with anime characters, equipped with rotating beds, ceiling mirrors, or karaoke machines, strange lighting or styled similarly to dungeons, sometimes including S&M gear." (Wikipedia)

Hang around outside one and you'll see shady businessmen with their heads down hopping out of cabs and scurrying in. You wouldn't think so, but for travelers, an overnight stay is actually quite cheap. Our room was only 40,000 won ($35USD) and it came furnished with a 40" flatscreen, a computer with internet access and of course plentiful protection. Shampoo and soap is wonderful and theft encouraged. Europe has the hostel, Asia, the love motel.
So there I found myself lounging with Diana, Joanne, and James listening to hits from the 80s and 90s on YouTube, James listing the various things that boil his piss (can't you just say it bothers you man?). It made for a non-traditional Christmas day. We were waiting on others to arrive so we decided to postpone the springs until the following day.
Diana in the spirit.

Christmas dinner was subpar Vietnamese. I was definitely missing the reduced for quick sale roast beef. I also traded my Sam Adams for Hite and Brandy Alexander for soju. Poor.
James and Joanne.
Joanne and Diana ham it with a handmade pilsner we discovered at a German-themed place.

Later on, we found our way to Boston Bar. Some very cute Korean bartenders aside, I found it to be a great disappointment to beantown. Alas.


Boxing day began with soju headaches and promises of hot spring serenity. We kickstarted the day with more Dunkin' Donuts. DD international, baby.

During the TEFL course, Terry told us the story of the Dunkies they opened in Saudi Arabia that forgot a rather crucial "u." The huge sign across the front read "Dunkin' Donts." Wuh oh.

A hungover trip to Dunkin' Donuts begs the question: Is this lifestyle and the experience all that different? Well, actually yes, and in unexpected ways. An extraordinarily cordial Korean lady employee that did not screw up a single order made me think about all the times at DD drivethrus across Massachusetts that something as simple as a sesame bagel with cream cheese somehow was delivered as a blueberry muffin. Order accuracy rates are really abysmal and I know there are native English speakers in there somewhere.

America runs on Dunkin' but Korea actually runs Dunkin' well.

Click here to check out the Korean Dunkie's website and watch an awesome commerical. "Coffee, donut, coffee, donut!"


Daejon has a district known for its springs and spas. When we arrived, we discovered that the co-ed, bathing suited, mini bar experience we envisioned wasn't exactly what they had to offer. Separated by sex, no booze, and no clothes. Puritanical indeed. The girls were hardly keen.

James and I hadn't come all this way to back out. As for cultural experience, this most certainly has to rank up there. James and I had to mentally prepare ourselves. We were set to embark on a journey to the famed Korean Jjimjilbang to disrobe and unwind with loads of our nearest and dearest Korean brothers.

Now I'm used to getting stared at here, I don't mind at all. There's not much that can be done to blend in. I sometimes go for days without seeing another non-Korean. Children approach me on the street and say "hello, I love you." I'm amused.

James and I got off to an expectedly conspicuous start. The locker room had a confusing policy that called for separate lockers for shoes and for clothes/possessions. A friendly Korean stopped to help us along and we were stark naked in no time.

Procedure called for a shower before jumping into the tub. Unfortunately, when we strolled in, all the showers were in use, leaving James and I standing around in the open sort of searching for something to do with ourselves.


I reached to put my hands in my pockets to stop the awkward underhand swing clap but found none.

For the sake of hyperbole, I want to say hundreds (maybe 100) but really dozens of nude Korean men stood, sat, walked, and pranced in every direction you could see. My attempt to barter for a Morocco rug was confusing but goodness gracious I got to do it with my pants on.

Okay, you got me. I'm drumming all this up for your entertainment. It really wasn't bad. The bizarre feeling lasted about 15 minutes before it all seemed pretty normal. The relaxing element helped as it was hard to feel that uncomfortable in a hot tub with jets blasting medicinal salts, even if we were rubbing shoulders with wrinkly old Korean men.