Friday, August 20, 2010

Instant Classic*

I started my recent vacation by taking a bullet train from here to Daegu, Korea’s 3rd largest city. While waiting at Seoul Station for my train, I purchased a Korea Times. The Korea Times is a horrible paper, even worse than the Korea Herald. However, the Times has a better crossword than the Herald (which I think gets their crossword from TV Guide or People. I’m no master cruciverbalist, but I can finish the brain-dead Herald puzzle in minutes). I wanted to peruse the paper a bit, but mostly I bought it for the crossword.

An hour later, on the train, I took out my paper, planning to read the front page and then do the crossword. When it came to crossword time, I realized that I had no ink in my pen. Nowhere to get a pen on the train either. Drat. Fortunately, I had packed beer and my DS as a contingency plan.

I had hoped to steal a pen from my hotel in Daegu, but the room was pen-free. As penance, I stole a towel to use as a sweat rag on the 8 minute walk from the hotel to the bar district. Seoul is hot in the summer. Daegu is brutal.

The next day. I ultimately ended up on a bus to Jinju. I hoped to purchase a pen at the bus station, but sadly no pen was available for purchase. I asked around at all the makeshift bodega/lunch counters. Pen is an easy word in Korean - Boll-pen. West Daegu Intercity Bus Terminal, sadly, has no pens for purchase.

That night during dinner, I simply took my newspaper with me. I still hadn’t read most of it. Before leaving for dinner, I tore out the crossword and left it in my hotel room, so that I could trash the paper upon leaving the restaurant. On the road, you have to think like a rocket, always ready to jettison previous stages. Since the road this time only lead me about 350 miles from home, previous stages are fairly minimal.

The following day, I did my Hadong - Cheonghak dong - Samsung gung trip. At the Hakdong bus station on my way back to Jinju, I finally found a pen. Woohoo!. Sadly, I’d left my crossword in Jinju, but I would see it soon. I looked forward to a bowl of Jinju Bibimbab (superior to the Jeonju variety IMO) over a nice crossword.

Of course. when I returned to my hotel, I found it was gone. Yar. In my continuing (still continuing) quest to quit smoking, I’ve been chewing straws a lot. especially on vacation. For whatever reason, the maid at my hotel deemed the chewed up straws I’d left all over my room to hold some sort of value to me, but the meticulously removed crossword to be trash. In Seoul, this would not be an issue - I could walk down the street and buy another Times or Herald. Jinju, on the other hand, was likely at least 100 miles away from the nearest English newspaper for sale.

*or not.

If everything goes according to plan, that should be the most boring story to ever make this page.

I passed a store the other day called “Happy Time.” What a strange, cliche Asian name for a store, I thought to myself. I looked below the sign. Turned out it was a clock store. Fair enough.

While in Daegu on vacation, I discovered 3 gems. I happened across the bar that I imbibed at during my first Daegu trip, my first Korean road trip, way back in 2006. I didn’t recognize the name of the bar “Old Skool,” and it is entirely possible that the bar could have changed names in the intervening years. Rather, I recognized the stairwell inside. It looked the same as every other stairwell leading to a non-ground level bar in this country, yet I was sure the bar was the same.

Later, I found a bar that was dedicated to Sonic Youth. In fact, the bar’s sign was in the shape of Sonic Youth’s iconic laundry machine album cover. The bar did not disappoint. The interior was filled with all kinds of 90s alt decorations, and the clientele, both Korean and foreign, seemed to legitimately care about rock and roll. Far too establishments, here in Korea and elsewhere, care about rock and roll enough these days. I liked it considerably more than Old Skool. I liked it enough to bum a smoke, something that I’ve done only 4 or 5 times since I quit. I made it count, of course, and bummed a Red.

Finally, while searching for lunch, I stumbled upon a place called Warung Indonesia. It was up 3 flights of stairs, but it was the real deal. I was shocked, as I don’t think there are any Indonesian places here in the big city, I didn’t expect to find one in the provinces. Amazingly, it was cheap. Most non-Korean non-McDonald’s places in this country are steeply overpriced. This restaurant also featured a large store of Indonesian goods. I happily nabbed some instant mie goreng to take home.

In conclusion, Daegu is a land of contrasts.

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