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Monday, April 13, 2015

The Road Home: Daegu's Enchanting Kim Kwang-seok Walking Street

Like a musical rose poking its head up through the cement caverns of the city, Daegu's Kim Kwang-seok Road neighborhood intoxicates and surprises its guests. Sprouting between the Kyeungbuk University Hospital and Daegu Bank subway stops on the Green Line, the area is named in memory of one of Korea's most famous musicians, folk-singer, Kim Kwang-seok, a native of Daegu, whose songs are still highly popular with Koreans years after his tragic passing in 1996.

A visitor poses next to a likeness of musician and song writer
Kim Kwang-seok 

The area, approximately 25 or so square blocks, is undergoing an artistic and culinary renaissance in one of Daegu's older neighbor-hoods. Hip coffee shops, restaurants, art studios and other enterprises dot the landscape. Wanderers are rewarded at every turn along quaint side streets by sights, sounds and the smell of fresh food. The road ("kil" in Korean) is nestled between the river and an old Korean market and residential area. They melt seamlessly together to create a walking experience highly pleasing to the senses.

Having fun: interactive "stations" dot the neighborhood

We stumbled upon the neighborhood when friends told us about their new take-out joint, Chiliboy, located along a side street. Their bright red and white stall serves up great sandwiches and chili. We've been going back to the area on a regular basis for art shows and to discover things we may have missed on previous visits.

Pleasant surprises along the walking street

Entrances to the neighborhood use art to remind you of its namesake, Kim Kwang-seok (1964-96), whose guitar and harmonica playing found its way into the hearts of Koreans nationwide. Traversing along the area's main walking street you encounter a number of interactive exhibits that engage and entertain. At the center is a pleasant sun-filled amphitheater for performers. During our visits the sounds of guitar playing and singing could be heard drifting over the walls, filling nearby alleys and sitting areas.

Musician performing at the neighborhood's amphitheater

The smiles of the business vendors and the cheerful displays of art, ceramics and trinkets make strolling there a joyful experience. It's somewhat like a playful oasis in the midst of Daegu's more typical tenor of hustle and bustle.

Kim Kwang-seok Road is a special destination, a pleasant and celebratory reminder of the man and his music.

In memory of the man and his music

Getting there:

The Kim Kwang-seok Road neighborhood is located between the Kyungbook National University
Hospital and Daegu Bank subway stops on the Green Line and is a short walk from either.

Friday, April 3, 2015

After The Cherry Blossoms

As small as it may be (it's the size of Indiana), Korea is a land filled with countless contradictions. There's a high tech edge to the place, with its nearly universal wireless access on the one hand, and its inability to provide simple, basic safety for the hundreds of student victims of the Sewol Ferry Disaster, on the other. There's the remarkable and clearly delineated respect shown to elders, teachers and parents here, and then, there's the unbelievable anarchy and terror of its roads, where caution and sensibility are thrown to the wind.
Captivating cherry blossoms as far as the eye can see
Korea is also the setting for an extravaganza each spring when cherry blossoms do their magical, short lived dance.  Shades of pinks, drifting to near whites, mesmerize nearly all citizens here. I think everyone can find agreement on this topic; there is nothing quite as beguiling as cherry blossoms in spring. Yet their petals are soon set free, creating a glorious but fragile and fleeting light-colored carpet.

And then, the remains of the day reveal yet another Korean contradiction. In nearly every nook and cranny: piles of trash. Walking around an otherwise scenic lake? Empty coffee cups on benches. Turning a corner in a pleasant residential neighborhood? Small mountains of trash adorn every intersection. Watching dozens of kids playing in a park? Shards of broken glass and spent cups from last night's revelers abound. Sadly, and in spite of every modern technology tool, Korea's streets are awash in trash.

Cherry blossom petals surround a pile of trash
What pray tell is behind this offensive cultural phenomenon? Like the lag time between its technology prowess and its safety awareness, some might say that this highly developed country still hasn't given birth to a sense of environmental stewardship. Others would say that Korea infamously spoils its children, especially its sons, who have come to expect that their mothers will do everything for them. Got trash? Well then, just leave it there, someone else will come and clean up after you. Some observe, quite accurately, that there are few garbage containers to be found anywhere in this country. Communities have tried, Koreans claim, to place garbage receptacles in public places, but people overwhelm them with their own household trash as they seek to save money they would have to spend on their own surcharged garbage bags.

Discouraging, if not dangerous, pile of trash adjacent to children's park
As spring's cherished cherry blossoms come, and then, ever-too-quickly depart, we are left, sadly, with another, less glorious aspect of this country, its year-round, ubiquitous trash "bouquet." Korea, I think it's time to clean up your act.