We spent the weekend in Daegu with Rob, Jeane, and Blake, all friends from Peace Corps that have been transplanted to Korea. Daegu is Korea's third largest city and about an hour West of Pohang. In spite of its size (pop: 2.5 mil) it has a nice community feel to it, like a mid-size town. It is famed for its herbal medicine market, where shops are packed floor to ceiling with pungent, sweet-smelling bags of dried herbs, sticks, and berries that each have their own distinct purported health benefit.
We visited the market on Saturday, apparently a slow day for the shops, most of whose owners leaned lazily in their doorways to watch the few passersby. When we entered one of the shops, the owner ran to greet us with cups of freshly brewed tea; a dark, very aromatic blend of 7 different herbs and spices, it tasted rich and healthy. No idea what was in it, but it was good. Afterwards he gave us what seemed to be mushy chocolate balls but tasted like crap and got stuck in my teeth. It was probably pretty good for you, though. Hopefully it solved some major ailment I didn't even know I had.
A lot of the shops had dead animals mounted on the wall - a turtle here, a tiny deer head there, a stuffed rabbit, etc. My co-teacher tells me it's a sign that the owner makes medicine using the animal. Snapping turtle soup apparently boosts "stamina," though they say that about everything here.
In the afternoon we headed to the park to drink and play cards. The weather was really nice, if a bit hot (82 degrees!), and everyone and their mom was out, quite literally. We were surrounded by little kids waddling about and falling down and jumping on things while their parents and grandparents lazed on blankets by the pond. No one else was drinking, but no one seemed to mind that we were.
On Friday night Blake got in late and we were looking for something to do. We got in a cab and told him to take us somewhere to dance. I think someone might have said "night club." First mistake. He drives us around the corner and drops us off in front of a seedy-looking nightclub on a seedy-looking street, hands us two 20,000 won vouchers to the place and drives off. Well, you don't get free vouchers from a Korean cabbie everyday, so we decided to see what it was all about. Mistake number two. The bouncer, or manager, or customer service representative (still not sure what he was, really. sort of our butler.) coralled us through the doors into a dark dungeon of a room with a DJ and dance floor at the other end of the place, strobe light spinning, trance music blaring and everything. Total number of tables between us and the DJ: about 82. Total number of people between us and the DJ: 3. "Really crowded before," the manager tells us. There were half-empty beer bottles and fruit plates on EVERY table. It looked like a set up. So we sat down. Mistake number three. Lisa and Jeane ran off to the dance floor and the manager comes up and tells us it's 20,000 won per table. Perfect, I think, and hand him the vouchers. "Ahh...no. Those are only for gmmmmmph." I never really understood what he said - I asked him multiple times - but I think he was saying we could use them to cover part of the cost of renting a girl for a private karaoke room, which can cost upwards of 150,000 won and comes with your very own stripper. We declined, and forked over the cash. Don't ask me why. The price of the tables included 6 beers and two sparse fruit plates, which must have sounded like a good deal to us. So we drank the beer, ate the fruit, and joined the 3 other people on the dance floor for a few songs before Blake headbutted Lisa and we had to go.
Saturday night we decided to stay away from the night clubs, opting instead for three hours in a karaoke room, during which we ruined every song in the book. Well, I did anyway. Luckily all Korean mics have a reverb feature that automatically makes you sound 3x better than normal.
Daegu's a cool town, and the long brick-lined, pedestrian shopping street running through its center is dotted with lots of little coffee shops, bistros and boutiques that give it a hip, cosmopolitan feel. It never stopped bustling throughout the weekend, and it served as a noisy, modern contrast to the history of the serene herbal medicine market.
We only seemed to scratch the surface this weekend. Luckily we only live an hour away. I've talked to other former teachers who lived in Pohang who told me that they would spend almost every weekend in Daegu. I don't know if it was THAT much better, but I'm sure we'll be back soon enough. Cool place.