Monday, September 23, 2013

Daegu to Pohang

Our next major destination after Haeinsa was to be the island of Ulleungdo, but we decided to make a stop on the way in Daegu to check out its famous herbal medicine market. As usual, our first task upon arrival was to secure lodging for the night. We had no reservation, but our trusty travel guide informed us that one hostel in particular was the best value in town, so naturally we set out in search. The hunt proved to be more difficult than usual, and we misjudged the scale of the map, causing us to walk a long way in the heat with all of our bags, in a neighbourhood that didn't appear at first to have any hotels at all. It didn't help that there was no English signage, and we had to carefully scan the Hangul (Korean characters) for something that looked like the right name ("okay, we're looking for one that starts with the circle with a hat, and then the one that looks like a TV" - oh dear, we are ignorant tourists sometimes!).

Just before giving up, we finally found the correct building, with the circle and the TV and everything.   We were so relieved that it took us awhile to figure out why the nice lady at the front desk was asking us whether we wanted to sleep overnight or whether we needed the room for only an hour. Our inspection of the room confirmed that we had indeed stumbled upon one of Korea's famous "love motels." But it was surprisingly clean and nice and inexpensive, and perhaps our overheated exhaustion played a role in the decision, but we decided to stay.

We then ventured out for lunch, and we are ashamed to say that we headed straight for a Pizza Hut that we had spotted on the way to the motel. Yann and Emilie were much better travellers and ventured elsewhere to get authentic Korean food. But we were at a breaking point over cold bibimbap. The pizza was exactly like Canadian Pizza Hut pizza, except even more delicious because it came with a garlic butter dipping sauce. We quite enjoyed it.

We were ready to be more adventurous by dinner time, and we all headed out to find something among what we now realized, in the darkness that had descended by evening, was a neighbourhood full of love motels and bars all lit up in neon.
(This wasn't our motel - we would have been able to find this one.)
We avoided the dark alleys. We managed to find a little hole-in-the-wall that agreed to make us a vegetarian bibimbap, and this turned out to be one of the better ones, with lots of spicy red pepper sauce and, since we were now out of the mountains, lettuce, spinach and bean sprouts instead of those hearty "mountain vegetables."

After dinner, we were feeling adventurous enough to try to find our way to a movie theatre that played English movies. We piled into a taxi, taking advantage of the fact that taxis in Korea are very affordable - it cost about $6 to get all of us all the way across town. We could never have afforded to take a taxi anywhere in Japan. The only English movie playing was Spiderman, so that is what we saw.

The next morning we headed to the herbal medicine market early so that we would be able to see it before we had to check out of the motel. The market had been closed the day before, so this was our last chance. 

We peered into dozens of little shops with curiosities mostly in the categories of twigs, roots, and bark, plus lots of ginseng and reindeer antlers.

Since Antonia loves old and interesting (or not so interesting, in James' view) tins, she decided that she had to have one of the neat tins used to sell ginseng. She was willing to buy some ginseng just to get the tin, even though ginseng is not cheap. She and Emilie entered the store with the best tin display, and when the owner saw that they were primarily concerned with picking out their favourite tins, he offered an empty tin to each of them for free!

We then bid adieu to our love motel and headed to the bus station for the city of Pohang, which was the site of the ferry terminal that we needed to use to get to the island of Ulleungo. This time we headed straight for the ferry terminal before looking for a hostel because we needed to reserve tickets for the ferry the next day. The terminal was quite empty and we waited awhile before anyone came to the ticket counter to help us. When someone finally did, he took one look at the foreigners, exclaimed, "oh!," and promptly turned around and went straight back into the back room. It seems he had gone to find someone capable of speaking English. The second guy came out to greet us and Yann, Emilie and Antonia began asking about ferry tickets while James decided to sit this one out a short distance away. The poor ticket guy interrupted them and pointed at James and asked, "wait, do you speak Korean?" He had taken James for a Korean who was lazily letting his English-speaking friends do all the work. But he was out of luck, and he had to dust off his English. This was one in a long line of incidents in our travels that confirm that James would make an excellent international spy - wherever we go, locals assume that he is one of them, often with hilarious results.

Next we had to find a place to sleep, and the process was much like that in Daegu, because once again we got very turned around and had trouble matching the characters of the signs around us to the one of the Manstar Hotel, recommended by our guide. And once again, it turned out that this was a love motel, but by now we didn't even bat an eye. They are a decent and affordable option in Korea. The Manstar even offered us an upgrade to a room on the 7th floor with a view of the beach.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in our air-conditioned hotel rooms trying to escape the intense heat, and we ventured down to the lively beach and boardwalk area in the evening when it started to cool off. 

Our survey of restaurants along the beach yielded nothing suitable, at least for the vegetarians, because most restaurants specialized in fresh seafood, and one even had a moat running around the counter containing all kinds of sea creatures that patrons could just scoop out with their own little nets and plunk down to be fried up on the spot - Antonia's absolute nightmare! So we bought some ramen from the 7-11 and we ate at a picnic table on the boardwalk. As the sun set, everything around us became very neon. 

The buildings down the boardwalk and across the bay were all equipped with blinking neon lights, and the world's first ocean fountain, which we had admired in the daylight, was of course illuminated. 

We finished the evening with a lovely stroll down the boardwalk to take in all of the lights and people on the beautiful summer night.

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