Living or Visiting Daegu: An Oxymoron Wrapped Up in Itself
There are many people in South Korea and outside of the nation that have tried to characterize the city of Daegu. It has been labeled as the center of the textile industry in the country and the city itself has also tried to define itself as the fashion capital of Korea. There are a vast array of differing opinions when it comes to what Daegu has to offer and it seems that no one can really agree. The reason for that is simple. Daegu is indefinable. The city can best be described as an absolute oxymoron. Around each corner you will see different people doing different things and different sights and different sounds. The minute you think you know what to expect or that you have a grasp of the culture in the city, something will happen to prove that you don’t really know what is going on.
Many people recognize citizens of Daegu as the most brash, rude, and obnoxious people in Korea. On the other hand many people praise the kindness, softness and laid back attitude of the people of Daegu. Some people say it is too polluted, some people love the smell of the mountain air. Some people say it is dirty, others say they have never lived in a cleaner city. What you need to know when visiting or living in Daegu is that you have to expect the unexpected. One moment you will have the experience of a lifetime and praise the city and everything it has to offer, then seemingly the very next minute something happens and you find yourself questioning how much you love it. You will come across some of the most soft-spoken and kind people in the world and then turn the corner and run into an older man who has been drinking and is cursing out foreigners. It is nothing to be worried about, just a way of life in the ever changing city of Daegu.
One thing that is constant in the city that is firmly planted in the middle of South Korea is the beauty of the mountains. Daegu can almost be described as a city craved into the mountains. The sun rises later and the sun sets earlier. The weather is different here than anywhere else in the country thanks to the shelter and warmth the mountains provide. That guided shelter does come with another little snag though, which is the abundance of mosquitoes in the city. One somewhat surprising theme seems to be that there tend to be more mosquitoes in the major, busy areas than in the rural, off the path communities. A night spent in Suseong-Gu, an urban and affluent area of Daegu, without bug spray is like packing for the beach without a swimsuit. Yup up north in an area such as Chilgok, which is literally built right into the mountains, people leave their windows and screens open all night without much of a worry.
While Seoul does get all of the attention when it comes to being westernized, shopping, restaurants and generally things to do, Daegu proves to not be much of a slouch either. There are a number of western restaurants and more than enough clubs and foreigner bars in the heart of downtown. Little basement dwellings such as Commune’s Rock Club and the Organ Bar attract a good mix of foreigners from all over the world. If you have had your fair share of Korean culture then these are the types of places to head. The incredible part is that within a 10 minute span you will run into foreigners from all over the world, 99% of whom are English teachers. Shocking in a way considering how little English is spoken here. Hagwons, or English academies, are present on every single block of the city even in the most rural of areas yet there is still not much English to be found. People will scream Hello, you will get an occasional thank you, but for the most part that is about it unless you run into a businessman, a Korean English teacher or a fellow foreigner. For the amount of money that is constantly plugged into English, it seems to go in one ear and out the other.
Hiking is one of the main attractions in Daegu and what the Koreans here do best. Mountains are dotted around the area in every direction and you can easily access Gondolas and hiking trails via almost any bus route or by hopping on the Subway. DongDaegu station offers a number of buses that come in handy for full day trips to areas such as GyeongJu, Andong and even other cities like Pohang and Ulsan. The subway is incredibly easy to master and comes in handy if you happen to live on one of the two lines. If not, then it really serves no purpose as both of the lines run from east to west and that is it. The good news is that taxis are pretty cheap compare to other countries such as Japan.
For the most part the roads in Daegu are more than hectic and you tend not to be safe as a pedestrian on the sidewalk either. This is something you will understand when delivery boys go flying down the sidewalk on their mopeds, cars hop up on the street an bicycles swerve in and out of traffic. It is all something that you will get used to though and can even help sharpen your reactions.
While it seems everyone has differing opinions on what Daegu is like and what it has to offer, there is one thing that remains constant. If you are a foreigner you are going to have to get used to the staring, the screaming of “Hello” and the general shock of you actually existing. It almost seems like a number of the Koreans in the city only read about people from other countries in fairy tales and do not believe they exist until the see one. Yet you can walk by the same person everyday for years and they still get that shocked and surprised look. In the end though, it is just one of those character habits of the city and what makes this city truly unique. One thing is for sure, there is no city like Daegu and it is an experience you have to take part in to truly understand.