Adventures in the Twilight Zone

Adventures in the Twilight Zone

There is a neighborhood on the near south side of Milwaukee that my parents call the "Twilight Zone." They can't go anywhere near it without having a baffling and unpleasant experience. For example, they were running late for an appointment one day, and made the mistake of stopping there at a Burger King to get some food. While waiting in the drive thru, they got rear-ended by a shirtless, shoeless, wildly intoxicated man in a rusty pickup. When he finally staggered out of his car, he explained that he only ran into them because he didn't have any brakes, and he thanked them for helping him stop. Then he asked if they'd hurry up with their order, since he really wanted a Whopper. I tell you this, because I want you to understand me when I say that Erin and I recently took a trip to Daegu, and I'm pretty sure we found our local "Twilight Zone." Daegu is the fourth largest city in Korea, situated in the south-east. It has a population of 2.5 million, sprawling across an area more than four times the size of Milwaukee. And I think it hates us.

We were doomed from the start. The intercity bus dropped us at a station that seemed purposely designed to be inconvenient. The Daegu subways refused to come anywhere near the place, almost as if they were allergic. The local buses did run there, but with routes that were indecipherable if you weren't fluent in Korean. This left us with taxis, and while these are normally cheap in Korea, we quickly discovered that we were forty-five minutes from downtown. In a cab, no matter how inexpensive, that kind of time adds up.

The rest of the day seemed okay, once I got over the sticker shock from the fare. We got a motel, met with some friends in the area, and had dinner at a Mr. Pizza. Then we retired to our room and watched a movie until we fell asleep. Well... fell asleep isn't accurate. What we actually did was turn off the lights, lie down, and stare at the ceiling, while the startlingly thin walls vibrated to a chorus of very, very lively neighbors. As soon as one set wore themselves out, another would start. And these were some athletic people, let me just say.

The next morning, we were sleep deprived, but determined to get some brunch. We'd heard of a place called JJ's that everyone raved about, though no one could tell us where it was. It was always vaguely "downtown" or "over by this one club, down this one street." We consulted several online sources for directions and set off.

After an hour of walking, we realized that our online guides had either been very drunk when writing their directions, or had simply never bothered to consult reality. In the end, we only found the place by fumbling our way through a search in Naver, which is the Korean equivalent of Google. We don't use Naver a lot since it requires a working knowledge of the Korean language. But it gave us a map to the place, which turned out to be nowhere close to where we were looking. We stomped up the stairs to the door, mouths watering, and were dismayed to discover JJ's was closed. No, not "CLOSED FOR REPAIRS" or "OUT OF BUSINESS." Just... closed. It opened at 11:00, we arrived well after that, and the place looked abandoned.

Ultimately, it may have been a blessing in disguise that we were unable to have our feast. My bowels were announcing that that Mr. Pizza from the night before had been a bad idea. And in a country not known for public bathrooms, this was an acute kind of problem. I'm not going to go into a lot of details here. Let's just say Daegu and I had an unpleasant few hours together. Erin still had a meeting with a few teacher friends again that afternoon, but after that, we were free and clear to head for home. I worked out a temporary truce with my stomach and we soldiered through the rest of the day.

Finally, it was time to return to the bus depot. We went to hail a cab and became suddenly reminded that we were big and strange looking. We got a lot of uncomfortable looks, shaking heads, and drivers who inexplicably chose the moment we walked up to take a cigarette break (and coincidentally lost the ability to perceive us standing in front of them). When we finally found someone willing to take us back across the city, he stiffed us on our change. Unlike in America, you don't tip in Korea. So when I gave the driver several bills, I was expecting money back. When he turned around to (I thought) fumble for the coins, I moved out of Erin's way so she could climb out of the car. And then suddenly our driver was zooming off with the rest of my money.


Oh well... at least we were back at the bus depot, and early enough that we could potentially be back in Chungju in time for dinner. We headed in to buy our tickets and learned that Daegu wasn't quite done with us yet. It would let us leave, but only on the very last bus of the day, many, many hours later. Which was awesome since we were now once again forty-five expensive minutes removed from anything even remotely interesting. We spent the time sitting in the bus station's Lotteria, staving off boredom with a deck of cards and some greasy food. And then we resolved that though some people may like it (the teachers posted to the city really do speak highly of it), Daegu was not a place we were going to visit often.


P.S. I have to admit that the psychotic bunny in our picture is not actually in Daegu. He's a fixture in a subway stop in Sinchon, Seoul. Unfortunately, we forgot our camera on this trip so he's standing in.