Friday, October 14, 2005

A Sunday Stroll

I was extremely tired on Sunday. Sure, I may have skipped right over large portions of Saturday, but I experienced enough of it to make my grand total <15 hours of sleep in 4 days. Those are not pleasant numbers. HOWEVER, this savvy traveler sure knows that the best (only?) way to combat jet lag is to get on the destination schedule immediately, and that meant staying awake through Sunday's daylight. I took a most welcome bath, allowed myself some lying around/relaxing/chatting with people in the U.S. time, and then strapped on my walking shoes to explore Daegu.

To say I had absolutely no clue where I was would be almost accurate. John had told me simply that my school was about two miles from there and that the building and lot across the street from the HQ there was the South Bus station. So I took my trusty Lonely Planet guidebook's map of Daegu and to my delight it had bus terminals noted, including a north, south, east, and west. Nambu (south) Intercity Bus Terminal must be me! God love Lonely Planet. Next, I used the sun to decide which way was east, and then I oriented myself on the map. Armed with no other knowledge whatsoever, I began walking toward central Daegu.

The noted Daegu National Museum was very close by, so I decided to take a long way around many blocks, thus seeing some of the area, and then end up back there. The streets and sights and sounds were amazing. I was bombarded with hangeul (the Korean alphabet) and after realizing it took me about a full minute to sound out any given sign I decided to abstain from deciphering and reading and just let it all sink in or pass by as it would. I felt like I was in a place both strange and secure, jarring and comforting, fast-paced and Zen. Down the block -- and by the way these blocks are major huge city blocks -- I passed a wedding chapel where a ceremony was just ending and people decked out in brilliant reds and other traditional costume were spilling out into the street. Across the way there was a 7-11. The occasional English word cropped up, namely in web site addresses, the adidas store, and "telecom" this or "digital" that.

Around then I remembered I was starving.

I popped into a small grocery where the woman in front of the bakery greeted me enthusiastically. I responded, "I'm sorry, I only speak English" and she smiled and nodded. As I meandered through the aisles (of which there were four, at about six feet long), I heard her talking in amused but tender tones with her friend the cashier. When I had selected some crackers and a cornbread-looking item, I placed them on the counter and the woman who rang me up said what was presumably the total in Korean, pointing at each number on the screen for me as she said them: 1160 won. Then she said to her friend in English, "One hundred sixty!" with unmasked pride. I smiled. Big thumbs up to the forty-something grocery women who were nice to the clueless American on her first day.

I turned off this main drag of bustling business and shopping activity onto another huge boulevard when I reached the Taegu Grand Hotel. Careful readers may note that I have just spelled the name of my city differently. The 't' and 'd' sounds are roughly interchangeable in Korean (points to anyone who knows what I'm alluding to there) and in recent years the government or some government offshoot (not quite like an Academie Francaise) revamped the romanisation of the hangeul sounds, standardizing but also changing some traditional ways of spelling things in a Roman alphabet. The preferred spelling now is Daegu.

While walking along this street, I realized I was not only still starving and exhausted but making myself progressively more so as I went along. I actually stepped into the Pizza Hut that reared its head just then, thinking maybe I could forgive myself for buying a slice. But she said, "no slice" and I didn't have the energy to pursue my options. I kept walking.

I was really, really enjoying walking through this city! It didn't feel anywhere near as strange as it should have to be walking around in another hemisphere. By the time I came back around to head north again, towards my home intersection, I passed the Daegu National Museum with little to no desire to actually visit it that day in my fatigued state. I rested on its steps for a moment. It was late in the afternoon by now anyway. Food loomed large in my mind. Food and sleep. I told myself I was allowed to go to bed as soon as the sun set.

Daegu is so modern! So big and bustling! So alive! My first impressions of Korea were decidedly fantastic. I felt incredibly at home, in awe of the beautiful mountains, and eager to see more.

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