Already our season in Daegu is coming to a close, and it’s almost hard to imagine. Actually, no, it’s pretty easy to imagine. We’ve been here now for a month and a half, roughly the span of the entire Taiwan season, and Sydney seems fuzzy and far away, and New York a sepia-toned nostalgic postcard at this point. Instead, my life has become attuned to a strange show schedule – I sleep in most days, as there is not too much to do here, and then if I’m feeling motivated maybe do a yoga video, then invariably eat breakfast in a towel simultaneously emailing and watching ‘Men in Trees’, one of the totally random Western shows that pops up on Korean television. In the afternoon, I usually venture out for a wander or maybe start the two-hour walk to work, or I just putter about until it’s time to get on the infamous Cats bus, then work during the show, then maybe a round of delicious Korean BBQ or some wine and the best fried chicken in the world in one of the company’s rooms, then sleep at usually around two. Could definitely be worse, could also definitely be better. I’m thinking Seoul, where our hotel is a little more central, will get me out of my rut.
This is not to say that there aren’t some fantastic things that I have really enjoyed while here. I have learned to make the best of my one day off a week, Monday, and actually do something adventurous. A few weeks ago, this meant hiking up the mountain behind our hotel, which seemed a simple task until I had to stop halfway up the trail because my heart felt like it was about to re-enact that scene from Alien. This was rather embarrassing in itself, as I like to think of myself as fairly fit, but what made it worse was that while I sat there a fleet of old Koreans dressed in track suits to their necks and ankles, complete with giant visors covering their faces and germ masks covering their mouths (this is the standard outfit of many Korean speed-walkers; I suspect it’s a shield against the sun, but it also looks like they would be well equipped for an outbreak of Ebola) passed right by me with nary a heavy breath. But I persisted, and made it to the top, and was rewarded with a view of Daegu in all its glory, which was an interesting sight.
Although the city is surrounded by mountains and divided by two rivers (which, depending on the section, are either lovely well-tended parks or deserving of the title ‘River of Wee’, given by our head Mechanist Bob), which would normally make finding your location in a city fairly easy, every effort seems to have been made to make any point in the city look like any other point. Most of the roads maintain a quasi-suburban feel, with individual buildings on either side filled with stores, offices, or restaurants. Almost everyone seems to live in large white apartment buildings, all the same height and each complex containing three or four buildings, each of these numbered. There seem to be many more of these in the process of being built, although the fences marking the lots feature renderings of red-brick Restoration buildings or variations of Chateaus that wouldn’t be amiss in a French historical theme park. And though these buildings are clearly a promise of what’s to come when the cranes go away, if the rest of the city is any indication these ambitious plans at some point morph into three tall white apartment buildings, numbered. I do wonder when this must happen – do the builders and designers sit around and argue? “Two turrets or three? Hmm. The crimson brick or the burnt sienna? To hell with it – lets just make it tall, rectangular, and white.”
I have also found that, if Taiwan was the land of the Engrish, Korea seems to be the country of the knock-off. I would have expected this in some form in terms of clothing and accessories, but what I didn’t expect but how prevalent they are everywhere else. On our bus trip to the venue alone we pass a Tiffany’s store (with red lettering), a Bulgari club, The Bellagio, Hotel Hermes, Club Dior, and a set of those tall rectangular white buildings which gleam with a giant sign announcing they are the Trump Towers (which you know they’re not, because if they were they’d probably be gold). In stores, the reverse is almost the case – everything will be copied but the name (there’s an Abercrombie clone, complete with semi-nude surfer boys lit sultrily in the window ads, and one that duplicates Polo Ralph Lauren down to that stupid be-sweatered teddy bear that I’ll always remember as my horrible co-worker Ellis’ sweater logo on the day he came in to say he had just punched a mentally challenged friend of his and could he be arrested for that?) In department stores it’s tricky to tell what’s what – makeshift stalls are set up with what you assume must be knock-offs, but seem to be close to original prices. My local presenter said that they are real, but from past seasons, but I’m not sure I buy that. It seems to me that if you want to buy designer goods, even if it’s a season or two old and at a discount, you don’t want to buy them off milk crates, especially if you’ve gone to a department store to get them.
But I digress. (A momentary digression from my digression – I tend to do this a lot, digress. It’s honestly one of the things that keeps me from blogging as much as I should – ideally each post would have a coherent theme and structure, and be little self-contained nuggets of informative yet witty glimpses into the world of an Assistant Company Manager on an Asian tour of Cats. This, needless to say, is not the case with most of my posts, which turn out more like a frolic in the messy junk attic of my head.) Anyhoo, back to the day trips.
The next Monday, the Korean presenters had organized a trip to a local ‘historical folk village’ (or, according to the sign, a ‘historical fork village’) that had been preserved when a dam was built nearby. We actually went to two locations – the first was a small Confucian school built into the side of a mountain, and overlooking a clear freshwater river. The school, though it was a few empty buildings, was so peaceful that I felt my shoulders loosen, my muscles untense. The first building through the gate was nothing but a roof and floor with beams between, but the amazing thing was that the wood was so worn that it felt like silk under your bare feet. By the time we were through, I decided to risk scandalizing the Koreans, and walked down to the edge of the river, threw off my shoes, and waded in up as far as decency and my dress would allow. It was heavenly – the water was cold and absolutely clear, and in the middle of the river, with only the noise of the currents around my legs and the mountains rising right up next to me, I completely forgot about the existence of itineraries. Well, almost.