We have found ourselves, on most weekends, exploring tiny pieces of our new home. A few weekends ago it was our first subway trip to downtown Daegu, just a few stops away from our hotel. We bought a Toppass which was easy enough. What was confusing was figuring out how to add money to our subway pass. Based on drawings of a phone and card on the fare machine we deduced that we should put our card in a tiny cubby hole at the bottom of the machine, figuring that doing so would somehow activate the screen or prompt some kind of noise. Nothing happened. We flipped our cards around. Nothing. I became increasingly more confused by the drawing of the phone — was this right? Why would a phone and a card go in the same place? (I found out later there is a chip in phones here that allows you to add money/scan just like a subway card. I must be behind on the times.) Luckily a nice girl who had been watching us blunder the whole thing asked — in perfect English — if we needed help. We nodded in unison.
With our subway passes in hand we were free to explore!
A few notes on the subways here: they are really clean, they usually have bathrooms — that are open — and clean, and fare is about $1 or so each way. Oftentimes there are stores and shops and food in the subway tunnels.
Banwoldang station is where the subway lines cross. It’s also where there is a huge, multi-story, underground mall. We exited here and explored the maze of stalls, mostly selling clothes, shoes, and socks (lots of socks!) cell phone cases, knick knacks, makeup and costume jewelry. The merchandise was more or less the same from store to store and targeted the Forever21 crowd — cute and cheap, though of questionable quality. My favorite store, named “Time,” had the tagline, “for the middle-aged woman.” Somehow I don’t think this store would go over too well in the states.
My true favorite store was called Dollhouse or Playhouse or something similar, though I’m really terrible at remembering names so it could be something totally different. The store’s specialty was miniatures, but not necessarily for dollhouses. I think the concept was that you could go in and create your own little diorama / mini house using the materials and mini items they had on hand – OR – maybe they created it for you? I wasn’t exactly sure and I was too nervous to go inside and ask after creepily staring through the window for about 15 minutes staring at all the mini worlds they created. One mini house contained a (real!) mini wedding photo on a mini wall surrounded by a mini picture frame and mini photo album of the same wedding photo with mini cups, also with the wedding photo. Another contained mini LV bags and shoes in a mini shop. But my favorite was the little hobbit-like house, covered on the outside with moss and lit so realistically on the inside that the mini table of mini food totally looked as if it were lit by mini candles and the mini fireplace.
After winding our way through the underground stores we took an escalator up to the basement level of the Donga department store. The basement level consisted of a huge food court — Baskin Robbins! Beard Papas! — with a small, gourmet grocery store where we found a $35 dollar watermelon and a $17 cantaloupe. We just ended up buying yogurt and tea.
One more escalator up took us to street level, where, hours later, we finally emerged in the real downtown. Unsure of exactly where we were, Sly picked a street and we walked down, getting lost in the old narrow curving alleyways and the newer, bigger wider shop-lined streets. As darkness settled, the downtown became crowded with more and more people. Street performers — some better than others — drew huge crowds of cell phone ready spectators. Oddly enough, the performer with the largest crowd was a guy playing the guitar and singing very quietly (it seemed) into his mic while a guy — who I’m not sure was part of the act — danced out of time nearby.
We warmed up with some (organic!) coffee and popped into Uniqlo and Zara for a look. Mostly we just walked around transfixed by all the huge blinking lights. By the cars that tentatively share the same streets as the pedestrians and motorbikes. By all the scents and noises that emanated from the buildings around us. The shops didn’t stop at street level — every building seemed to have stairs leading up or down to even more intriguing and mysterious places. I wanted to explore them all.
When we tired of walking we walked back to Donga, ate a few bites from the sushi-go-round before realizing that no new sushi was going to come out, then went back up to street level to find more things to eat. We mostly relied on memory to get around and hit up the places where we recalled a line. First stop: takoyaki from Toyokomi — half regular, half spicy. We picked up the doughy balls with toothpicks and popped them into our mouths, taking turns to chew and allow the cool air in to cool down the hot insides. Next stop: a place we refer to as “master.go” though we aren’t exactly sure the real name. They only sold one thing: hot crispy croquettes made fresh by two guys in the back. Sly couldn’t quite read the Korean so we ordered by pointing to the croquettes we wanted — all marked with cute little drawings depicting what was inside. We more or less figured it out, though still aren’t quite sure about the drawing of the sausage in a sombrero. Maybe a Mexican or taco croquette? Of the ones we ordered — crab and corn, veggie, a spoon holding a ball (which turned out to be almond cream cheese), and cheese, cheese was hands-down the winner. Golden brown and with a crispy tater tot texture on the outside — gooey melty goodness on the inside — served with a squirt of sweet and sour sauce that came with the croquette. It was heaven. One of the best bites I have ever eaten. I have been dreaming about it ever since.