Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Adventure Time: Part 1

This past month has been insane in all sorts of ways, which I'll use to excuse my lack of blog posts. Here are some of the highlights from my first month in Daegu: 

1) Hiking Apsan Mountain 

While this mountain certainly isn't the largest I could've picked in Daegu—the city is in a valley so it's surrounded by them—it was a good start since I'm not especially experienced in hiking...and I could still fit it in before my afternoon classes. The weather was great and the view from the top was beautiful, aside from the hundreds of tall, concrete apartment buildings that blanket the city. Since 70% of Korea is covered by mountains, Koreans have necessarily grown adept at maximizing their living space. 

2) Seomun Market

One of Daegu's main attractions, Seomun Market is a huge indoor/outdoor marketplace in the center of the city where you can find anything from fruits, vegetables, and grains to clothing to all sorts of weird fish, many of which are dried and laid out in impressive displays. I have yet to figure out how you can make use of the dried jellyfish or stingrays that I saw offered at one place. (Are those even edible?) There are also dozens of fresh octopi arranged with their legs curled and bottoms up—or still alive in a tank. The market can go on forever and it's definitely overwhelming. Still, it's an experience worth having at least once, and the produce there is almost certainly cheaper than what you'd buy in a normal supermarket.

Mmm, crunchy stingray....

3) Daegu International Bodypainting Festival

Taking place in Duryu Park, Daegu's largest park among many, I ended up at this two-day festival by following the foreigner crowd. I'd thought from the name that it would mostly involve artists in little booths offering to paint your face or hands. And while I did see some of those, the main event involved 25 topless modelsall but two of them Koreanbeing painted from head to toe in full view of the public for up to 6 hours straight. They then paraded around on a large stage one by one, showing off some dance moves and then being introduced by an MC and their respective artist. ("This design is meant to represent Chinese culture," etc.). There were certainly some odd designs, including several large faces painted in questionable places (like one face on each breast). Also, the model who supposedly represented American culture had a zebra painted on her back. As far as I know, there aren't any zebras in America apart from what you see in the zoo. Regardless, many designs were truly magnificent and had astounding attention to detail. 

4) Happy Chuseok!

Chuseok (추석), the Korean version of Thanksgiving, took place on Monday, September 8 and offered many Koreans the longest of their very few vacations. My school system was offering free admission to Lotte World, the largest indoor theme park in Korea, so my coworkers and I made use of the occasion to spend a few days back in the nation's capital.  

A summary of our trip:

-We stayed in Seoul's foreigner hub of Itaewon, where the majority of people were not Korean, which was rather jolting after coming from the much less touristy city of Daegu. The foreigner influence was very clear, from the three shops (with real Turks!) offering Turkish ice cream on one block to the relatively large gay/transgender district near our hostel. Needless to say, Itaewon is also a popular foreigner destination for partying. The first night we explored the downtown scene, went to my first "norabang" (karaoke place), had dinner with some random friendly locals, and then spent the night chatting with new friends on our hostel's roof until we saw the sunrise. 

 -The second day was slow (we were all exhausted), so we took it easy, walked around, and visited a random shrine. Most cities are relatively empty on Chuseok because, like Christmas in America, many Koreans use it as a reason to go home and visit their parents or grandparents—which was fine with us.

I wasn't really sure what an indoor theme
 park looked like, but here you go.

A total ripoff of the Disney castle.
-The third day was the long-awaited trip to Lotte World, which was fun enough. Although the indoor part was geared mostly towards kids, I went on some of the outdoor rides that I’d sworn I’d never ride before....and then stayed up all night again with more new friends. Suffice it to say that I didn't get much sleep that weekend—but it was so, so worth it. 

A last note about our hostel:

Let me start by saying I’d never even seen the inside of a hostel before this trip, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect. We stayed at IS@K in Itaewon, and I can easily say I wouldn’t hesitate to go back. The atmosphere was very friendly, partly due to the owner, who regularly interacted with his guests and pulled out the traditional Korean board game Yut Nori (which reminded me a lot of the children's game Trouble) on our first night in honor of the holiday. (My coworker and I earned a free future night at the hostel for winning.) I met all sorts of awesome travelers and fellow teachers just by hanging around in the hostel's common room, each of them from a different part of the world and with an endless number of stories to tell. Over and over I've seen how much travel can expand a person’s worldview and just make him or her a better-rounded, more open, and more interesting person. Of course there will always be exceptions, but meeting so many people who have traveled the world and are eager to do it again has only reinforced this idea in my mind. 

My advice for the day: Go travel your heart out. You won't regret it.