Day one in Korea

We arrived in Daegu at about 3am last night. We were exhausted, but we had to go out for a meal — I don’t know what you call a 3am meal, though. Dinfast? So we popped into a little all night restaurant, took off our shoes, and sat on mats, and ordered something mysterious off a menu in Korean from a woman who only spoke Korean. It turned out to be what can only be called pig spine soup. There was a big bowl, with cabbage and a savory soup, and big lumpy bones, which were vertebrae nicely sawed in half on the saggital plane. Not vegetarian. Oh, well. So we picked off little slivers of meat off the bones with chopsticks and spoons. I also ate the spinal cord, which was a first for a guy who studied spinal cords for so many years. It was tasty. So was the kimchee and pickled vegetables on the side.

Then we got a cheap hotel–25,000 Korean won per night, which was nothing, since once we’d done the currency exchange at the airport, we were millionaires. Big bonus, too–when we checked in, they gave us a bag of special items for our stay, which included condoms. Score! I don’t think we are the usual kinds of customers here.

We did a little sight seeing in Daegu today, but not much, because once we finally checked into the hotel, we slept until 2 in the afternoon.

That’s my excitement so far. We’re talking about going up some nearby mountain or hitting some museums in the next few days, so stay tuned for more thrilling adventures.


  1. Athywren - not the moon you're looking for says

    Dinfast sounds like one of those horrifying prepackaged meals for fad diets: “Dinfast! For all your worryingly quick and distressingly short term weight-loss needs! ♫You’ll lose all hope with Dinfast!♪”

    I hope you’ll take pictures if you get the chance – everybody knows the best part of the holiday is the slideshow!
    Err… ok, that sounds snarky, but views of landscapes from mountains, and views of mountains are gorgeous, and museums are always interesting. Most of my local ones (museums, that is, not mountains) have a load of those creepy waxwork people that stare at you, glassy eyed, always half a moment away from waking up and wreaking havoc as Dr Who runs around the place, dressed as Celts, Romans & Anglo-Saxons. One has some horrifying depictions of slave ships (William Wilberforce (UK anti-slavery campaigner dude) was a local boy, so his old house was turned into a museum, partly to him and his family, but mostly to to slave trade) which is… well I appreciate that one very deeply, but I can’t go in it very often for emotional reasons.

    Aaaaaanyway, enjoy yourself!

  2. tobyw87 says

    Whoa so random, I live in Daegu! Of all the random places to show up at in South Korea. :D I hope you had the pleasure of taking KTX. Fastest way to travel in South Korea!!!! :D

  3. astro says

    i remember my first trip to korea, and announcing “we’re millionaires!” after exchanging USD for KRW at the airport. fun times! i hope to hear more about your trip and the wedding.

  4. serena says

    Ate the spinal cord… PZ, that is so metal. *raises devil horn finger gesture thingy*

  5. says

    @5 Yeah I was gonna say, CNS tissue is one of those things that’s Made of Disease Vector. And really bad diseases too. From a porcine. Of the mainland Asian population. Gulp.

  6. gruzum says

    @4: tried those. Actually tried one, soooo weird, not clear who’s eating who anymore.

  7. andyo says

    You sure it wasn’t 25,000 by the hour? Just sayin’

    A propos of nothing, here in LA, some Japanese supermarkets have condoms at the checkout line, y’know, beside the mints, snickers and soda. While the CVS have them locked in.

  8. moarscienceplz says

    1190 Won to 1 USD!
    When I was in South Korea just before the 1988 Olympics, I believe it was about 800:1 and the largest denomination was a 10,000 Won note. At the time, not a lot of places took credit cards, so I was constantly having to fill my wallet with fistfuls of paper.

  9. moarscienceplz says

    andyo #10

    A propos of nothing, here in LA, some Japanese supermarkets have condoms at the checkout line, y’know, beside the mints, snickers and soda. While the CVS have them locked in.

    I suspect that’s an anti-theft measure, not a stand against sex. My CVS in San Jose has the condoms out in the open, but they have a big metal gate to lock up the liquor aisle, and if you pause to look at anything in the makeup aisle a recorded voice announces that a store employee has been summoned to “help you”.

  10. Bruce says

    But PZ, don’t you always get offered condoms when you go to a hotel at 3 a.m. with your wife?

    I wouldn’t know, as I don’t normally check in at 3 a.m. Even in Minneapolis, who checks in to a hotel at 3 a.m.?

  11. Bruce says

    Whether in Minneapolis or in Daegu, most people who check in at 3 a.m. are not coming from an international flight. Most people are coming from a date.

  12. Siobhan says

    I wouldn’t know, as I don’t normally check in at 3 a.m. Even in Minneapolis, who checks in to a hotel at 3 a.m.?

    1) Travelers
    2) Escorts
    3) Customers of escorts
    4) Domestic violence survivors

  13. Holms says

    1190 Won to 1 USD!

    One thousand, one hundred and ninety one what to the US dollar? Jeez, spit it out!

  14. cmutter says

    I have a vague memory of reading that “love hotels” were both popular and somewhat cheaper than non-love hotels, but I also think that was about Japan.

  15. says

    You didn’t plan hotels ahead of time? I would have recommended looking for a go shi won. Go shi wons are everywhere in South Korea; I once lived in one for a few months.

    If you want safe and fast food or take out, ask for kimbap. I lost count of how many times I ate it when there was nothing else to eat or I was too tired or lazy to cook. But avoid bbundaegi and bo shin tang for multiple reasons. And while you may be fascinated with octopi and squid, even money says you will turn your nose up at dried ojingeo. The smell is so bad that Koreans won’t allow or serve it in some enclosed spaces. The live, cut up squirming squid is called sannakji. Other sea animals get cut up and served raw – if someone offers you the conical white/orange creatures, avoid the sweet parts, those are the intestines.

    moarscienceplz (#11) –
    I know all about envelopes full of currency, and bank “cheques” for 100,000 and 1,000,000. Some stores and banks would take them, some wouldn’t. In 2009, South Korea finally added a 50,000 won note which solved a lot of cash carrying problems. I wonder if the ATMs still close at 9PM. They do in Japan, but they operate 24 hours here.

  16. Lady Mondegreen says

    Have a great time, PZ!

    @andyo, the 99¢/dollar stores here in L.A. have ’em in the checkout aisle.

  17. doctorb says

    “…the currency exchange…”

    What, the local AAA was out of traveler’s checks?

    Use credit cards whenever possible and only take out cash from ATMs as you need it. Carrying around all that cash is dangerous. Imagine yourself walking down the street naked except that you are covered in 10,000 won notes taped to your body. As a tourist, that’s what you look like to anyone who might be looking to induce someone to unwittingly or unwillingly part ways with their liquid assets. And there’s always someone on the hotel staff who can access your room safe. Credit cards are protected against theft and fraud. Cash isn’t. Travel smarter, my friend.

  18. rorschach says

    I’ll be in Seoul next month actually. Lightning fast internet, lightning fast public transport and trains, engaged democracy with a high amount of personal freedoms and hardly any journalistic censorship, but have to be circumspect with the food, some of the stuff kills you if not spice-proof.
    South Korea is one of those countries that is showing the old powers what the future holds. And at least Australia is totally missing the boat.

  19. JohnnieCanuck says

    The targeted ads for this posting are rather interesting: K-Y Silk lube, Best Western Hotels and very expensive biological lab supplies made from bovine fetal serum by Gibco.

    Rather interesting pigeon-hole I find myself in.

  20. Petal to the Medal says

    Cool! I was near Daegu once, many years ago. Got there by a very different mode of transport: drove an Army truck over the roughest roads I’ve ever seen from Pyongtaek (probably spelled differently these days). I remember some spectacular mountain scenery from that trip. If you’re going to eat the local ramen, you may want to note that the Korean version is significantly spicier that what we get in the US, or at least it was when I was there.

  21. says

    @22- Not every business here accepts foreign cards. Most of the mom & pop restaurants are cash only. Taxis are almost exclusively cash though some do have transit card readers (Which need cash to set up anyway) and they’re notorious for charging a hell of a lot more than they should if they do happen to have a portable card reader in the cab.

    Korea has moved a lot towards being cashless, but it’s not at the chip in the back of the hand stage yet like in Eastern Canada. Money is still needed.

    @27- Almost the same. They just added an e: Pyeongtaek.

    @PZ- Your son probably told you this already, but knocking three zeroes off of the prices will put you in the ballpark on how much you’re spending in American and/or Canadian dollars. Obviously not anywhere near exact, but it helps give you an idea.

  22. aquavid says

    I’ve followed your blog for a number of years. This is my first comment. I’m a Canadian expat living in Ulsan, Korea.

    A couple of dishes that you can order that would be more to your liking might be bi bim bop (mixed vegetables and rice with red pepper paste) or soondubu chiggae (soft tofu stew). You can order the bi bim bop without a fried egg by saying, “Bi bim bop gareum obshi jusayeo.” The soft tofu stew will sometimes have small shrimp or clams in it, so it may not be ideal, but I’m sure you can ask to have it prepared without the shellfish. One last dish you might find appealing is kong namul gook bap (bean sprout soup with rice).

    Enjoy your stay in Korea!