March 31st, 2012
Daegu is fine by us
We awoke 5 or 6 miles from the city center in the inland city of Daegu, in South Korea. It was somewhat of a late rise, for asiawheeling at least, and by the time we had take a refreshing dip in the blazing Internet connection at our love hotel, it was nearly traditional lunchtime. Progress was further hampered by the fact that the internet connection here (an Ethernet cable we’d removed from the complementary in-room gaming machine) refused to be shared by two machines.
As you no doubt remember, dear reader, Scott and I had at this point in the Korea section of the trip fallen deeply in love with the prevalent and hyper-affordable automated coffee machine. They all operated in the same basic principal: put 10 or 15 american cents in and out pops a paper cup which is then robotically filled with an ebbing jet of unremarkable instant coffee/sugar/cream product. These little buggers were positively doing wonders for our lucidity in this country, and our current love hotel had taken the entire game up to the next level by installing one in the hotel lobby that was free. You heard me.
So it was well caffeinated and nearly half past that place in the morning where our bodies would run uncomplainingly on just sticky instant coffee drinks that we mounted the cycles and headed out for a meal. We selected a small restaurant not far from the hotel, overlooking a somewhat sullen concrete walled canal and were handed a totally incomprehensible menu. Lacking a common language with our server, we did the usual, which was to pantomine to the associate indicating we would like them to recommend some dishes. This maneuver appeared to work like a charm, and I sat down on the floor while Scott headed over to this cafe’s coffee machine to get us a little pick me up. Here is what they brought us.
It was a rather large plate of cold ice cold salty pork, accompanied by a rather dizzying assortment of sides. We were instructed to take pieces of the pork and mix them up with bunches of different condiments and then eat them with similarly cold sticky rice. I guess it was a cold things restaurant. The coffee was hot, though, and we left feeling energized.
Back on the streets, we were feeling good. Scott’s bike seemed back to it’s old self, and the sun was blazing.
We headed the opposite direction from downtown, and after crossing a few canals, made short work of getting into a more rural area. The cars seemed bigger here in Daegu, much like the increase in vehicle size as one experiences as they head towards the center of America. The landscape was lush, full of lakes and rivers, marshes and forests, but also engineered. Smooth new looking roads wound amidst the plants and water, and huge concrete towers were sprinkled about.
The diversity of scenery in even a small portion of the wheel was stunning. At one moment, we would be wheeling through an imposing, almost communist feeling high-rise housing block,
then on a causeway crossing over marshy rivulets
then through strange junkyards and flea markets, the sort of stuff that would not have been so out of place in Urumqi,
then into what looked sort of like Ohio or Pennsylvania farmland.
Soon stands selling vegetables and flowers began to dot the road, and one by one the lanes fell off on either side of us until there were just two rather narrow ones left. When we hit a snarl of traffic, which appeared to have been caused by a lack of parking for one of the larger vegetable selling operations (aggravated by recent lane reduction), we pulled off the road we’d been taking and started riding a smaller, single lane farm road.
We were really out there now, and began to feel it as the narrow paved rode on which we rode dissolved into gravel, and then into more of a foot path than anything else. The footpath eventually terminated at a dam crossing consisting of large cubic concrete “stepping stones”. So we hoisted our bikes and headed across, stopping to exchange waves with an old man fishing just downstream.
We were on a new road now, bigger than our farm path, but small enough that we felt confident it lead somewhere interestingly remote. We rode on, as the narrow lane hair-pinned it’s way between two large forested hills, roughly following the same river we’d just walked across.
Sure enough, the road did lead somewhere interesting. About a half hour of riding later, we arrived in a new blocky development. The stream which we’d crossed earlier, now more of a babbling crystal clear brook, bisected the development, and we followed it’s course noodling through apartment complexes and grade schools full of screaming children.
There was a love hotel district in this town too, some of them positively dripped with character.
There was a sleeping beauty to this landscape that we just couldn’t get over. We were feeling amazing. The air was cleaner than anything we’d breathed since Siberia; the sun was blazing, and this little river just kept leading us to ever more exciting places.
We were rather sad when finally forced to abandon the stream that had taken us on such an amazing wheel, but it seemed to be heading up into giant walled military compound, into which we would almost certainly be denied access, likely with force. Ever since the AsiaWheeling Middle East Cultural Liaison and I incited the wrath of the Syrian military while wheeling, I’d felt wary of wheeling army bases.
And so we let the river go on without us. We still had one of those delightfully empty and smooth Korean country roads to ride, and it was taking us one of our favorite places, the unknown. We pedaled on, sweating and grunting our way up a seriously grueling hill, happy that the Speed TRs had so many gears. We paused at the top, drinking water and preparing of the cool thrill of decent. When a strange black sedan pulled up behind us and just idled ominously, staring at us, we thought briefly of that strange facility which had stolen our river, and decided it was time to head downhill again.It was a beautiful long downhill through thick and bright green forest. We leaned hard into the turns and savored the rush of wind against our sweaty bodies. We were spit forth at the bottom of the hill, into a large agricultural valley.
The farms down here were so orderly and mechanized, as compared to china or india, and there were so fewer people. Of course, the GDP per capita here was 4 times that of China and over 10 times that of India. Korean labor is not cheap. When we rode past Chinese farms, they would relatively packed full of people working on all kinds of things. Here we saw more dogs than people.
We spotted a particularly come hither one and hopped onto a tiny single lane farm road. We headed out at a lazy-ish pace, riding between crops, past greenhouses sheds and silos, and sleeping farm dogs. It was so beautiful out here. I was perhaps touched more than Scott, having been raised in rural Iowa. Lo and behold, not too far down the farm path we found our beloved stream again, looking gorgeous as always.
We stopped there, laying the speed TRs down in the sandy soil near the river and took a moment to just bathe in the sun soaked emptiness of the landscape. AsiaWheeling was a study of the Urban experience, and as such of course we spent most of our time in cities. Usually these were, huge smog belching, packed to the gills, filth ridden, logistically challenging cities. All that madness could not have felt more distant, just staring into this tiny bifurcating stream. Were we mad to be living in such packed clusters? Maybe all AsiaWheeling really needed was sunny days like this and a sprig of grass to clutch between our teeth. I could rock on the front porch, playing ukulele, maybe get into fixing up old pickup trucks…The feeling began to wear off, however, replaced mostly buy a hunger for pork and internet.
In surprising stroke of luck, we managed to make our trip somewhat of a loop, riding a good chunk of the way back on a packed sand road, which follow our river and continued to feel just rustic enough to scratch the aforementioned itch.
Eventually, we were forced to get back onto on a busy highway, which got our previously relaxed back of the neck hairs into city mode again. As we were riding in terrifyingly dense traffic, which whipped by menacingly at least five times our speed, we spotted a bike path below us, which followed one of Daegu’s canals. We jumped at the opportunity to get off the highway and portaged down a muddy slope to the path.
The path was such a relief from the noise and the fear associated with highway riding (outside of China that is) that we nearly missed this giant yellow and black spider, speculation as to the species of which is invited in the comments.
As we neared the city proper, Daegu continued to pull off a soothing combination of marshy river ecosystem and brutal modern city.
Our bike path grew walls and nestled itself up against a highway as we pedaled through the sun and breeze. The bike path was essentially empty, and for much of it we could ride two abreast.
These places just refused to quit being delicious.