Monday, August 9, 2021

Happy Anniversary to Us!

We popped over to Daejeon (대전) for a weekend trip to celebrate our anniversary! Daejeon was where my parents met and fell in love all those decades ago, so it seemed like a romantic choice.

With the pandemic still raging in Korea, we wanted to get away from Seoul while doing things that minimized the risk of spreading COVID-19. Many of the things we would have otherwise done (like the famous Yuseong Foot Baths, a free public foot bath drawing water from hot springs, pictured above) were completely shut down for now for public health reasons. Daejeon is known for its STEM research and education, so another stop that was closed down this time was the Geological Museum. Maybe next time!

We took a bit of a detour on our way to Daejeon to drive to Donghaksa (동학사) Temple. My mom mentioned she brought me there when I was really little, but I was so young I don't remember. It was easy to picture what my little family must have looked like, though, because plenty of parents with small kids brought them there to play in the shallow streams alongside the Temple walking path. Strangely, we saw almost no non-Asian people this entire trip, so several people stared at us and a few older men even asked us where we were from (and seemed satisfied when we said "U.S.A."). Anyway, the forest path was so tranquil, and given how hot it was we were grateful for the shade.

The next day, we explored the city of Daejeon a bit. We were thrilled to find the hotel where my dad was living when he first came to Korea still standing! My dad was working for a private telecommunications company in those days, doing some small part to help Korea become the most connected country in the world today. Where he stayed was called the Yousung Hotel, it was located right by the river, and it has been in operation for over 100 years! We dropped by the hotel lobby and stumbled upon a beautiful display of copies of Korean artifacts, including the world's oldest movable metal type (predating Gutenberg by 78 years). (You can read more about Korea's history of movable type innovation on the UNESCO website if you're interested.)

After that, we even found a nightclub that my parents went to called Casanova (카사노바)! We swung by during the day and they were closed, but I was amazed to see it was still there and seemed like it would be pretty popular during normal, non-pandemic times.

Then, we got out of the city a bit and went to a park called Gyejoksan (계족산) to walk its famous red clay trail (황톳길) barefoot. They have a regular walking path next to the clay path, so I honestly wasn't sure if I'd be able to convince M. But at the last minute he decided to get the full experience, so we took off our socks and shoes and plowed right onto the trail. There are shoe cubbies at the entrance, but we (and some of the other hikers) preferred to carry our shoes with us.

Some parts of the red clay were firmer and others were muddier, but our favorite parts felt like Play-Doh under our feet. Once we got to the end of where we wanted to walk, we cleaned our feet at a foot washing station, waited for them to dry, put our socks and shoes back on, and walked back on the normal path.

There was also an acupressure section where you could walk on hard, smooth rocks, but I was too scared to try it on my insufficiently calloused feet.

That night, we took the local metro to the other side of town to see the Daejeon Skyroad, an outdoor shopping area with enormous screens suspended above the walking area. It was such a great date night spot clearly targeting a young couple audience. There were karaoke bars, dessert cafes, arcades and game rooms, photo stations, and everything one might need for a memorable night on the town.

For food, we went traditional and got some of Daejeon's well-known 바지락 칼국수 (clam and knife-cut noodle soup) and rounded off the evening with a trip to Daejeon's most famous bakery, Sung Sim Dang (성심당). Of course, I had to try their signature pastry, a fried soboro bread filled with sweet red bean paste. It was delicious: crunchy on the outside and silky smooth on the inside!

We returned to Seoul at the end of the weekend with hearts (and bellies) full. We had one last anniversary celebration feast at a Mediterranean restaurant in Seoul called Cleo (클레오). Our three-course dinner was awesome. And that's another year in the books! I'm looking forward to many, many, many more.

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