Saturday, April 23, 2011

A day in Daejeon...

At the Moon handbook of South Korea (and probably any other travel guide will tell you), there isn't much to see in Daejeon. As I mentioned before, it's a city of of 1.4 million people, but then again every other South Korean city seems to have at least twice that much. There is the fact that Daejeon is "sister cities" with Calgary, so that's something. There is also an aging fair ground from a World Expo in 1993 that might be worth checking out for those who like rusting things. Our host, himself, lamented that here there are few interesting local places to take his foreign visitors who appear with some regularity in his line of work.

Anyway, despite the lack of "tourist attractions", Daejeon is second only to Seoul in terms of recent population growth. The reasons being that there has long been an initiative to move a number of government and corporate headquarters to the West/Central city - partly to slow the out of control density in the capital city as there is much more land available for development in Daejeon. Daejeon is mostly new, and chock-full of people who would survive in an Atlas Shrugged world. Here live the intellectual elite - the people who went to university for 10+ years in order to be exponentially smarter than you or I. The next time one of my apple products breaks-down, I'll drive down to Daejeon and ask any dude on the street corner to help me out. Chance are he'll speak perfect English and will be able to rebuild a hard-drive with any pen drawn from his pocket-protector.

Basically, Daejeon is kind of the Brasilia of Korea.

Anyway, we had a lovely time in Daejeon and it was because we were there to visit the rabbit's older sister and her family. We were treated to a delicious homemade lunch of Vietnamese wraps. In-mook, the rabbit's brother-in-law, had just returned from a business trip to Vietnam and had brought back with him not only a hankering for some SE Asian yummage, but also brough back a bag of "cat poo coffee". I hadn't heard of this before, but basically, cat's (or civets if we're being technical) eating coffee berries, sharting out the seeds and then offering them up for collection, roasting and brewing is a great way to add that extra something to your cup of morning joe. It was a bit of challenge to make out exactly what was going on, but he did have a shrink wrapped bag with him. They told me they had served me Starbucks, but what do I know? They were all a-giggle.

From there, it was off to my first Korean-style variety concert. In-mook had been given tickets through his company to the concert through his work, and was happy to take all of us, four adults and two wee tots, to the afternoon show.

Variety is indeed the spice of life, and you couldn't ask for much more musical variety than was on display here. The Daejeon Mentor Orchestra offered 4 numbers ranging from Beethoven's 5th to a Louis Prima arrangement of "Sing, Sing, Sing" and scattered among the two halves of the program were some very impressive vocal performances as well - the most notable among them being...

1) Louis Choi - a counter-tenor (male who sings in the soprano range) who was as dramatic as hell and nailed every note. I tried in vein for about an hour to think who he looked like, and it finally came to me: Michelle Brandenburg. So there you are, Michelle. There is an extremely effeminate and Korean version of yourself nailing the high notes right here on the peninsula.

2) Choi Jeong-won - One of the most prominent musical stage performers in Korea. She's played leads in the Korean versions of Chicago, RENT, The Producers, and Mama Mia!. She won the crowd over easily and was a clear example of someone doing exactly what she should be doing. Inspiring to watch someone enjoy her life so much.

3) Park Kang-seong (whom I've had trouble finding information about on this here internet - probably because he's since been eclipsed by 4 or 5 other Park Kang-seong's in the Korean entertainment industry since he debuted... in 1982) wowed the purple-hairs in the crowd by covering a few Korean pop standards and roaming the audience to bring people out of their seats. When he shifted into Tom Jones' 1968 "Delilah", the ajuma directly in front of me nearly leaped out of her seat. If Mr. Park had run through that chorus one more time, there would have been panties on stage and quite a scene in the row in front of me. I'm assuming she wasn't able to hear that the song was about a man who slaughters his girlfriend with a knife in a jealous rage.

All in all, it was a fun experience. The rabbit's sister's family is incredibly warm and welcoming and her two nieces are non-stop giggly fun. Daejeon struck me as a pretty decent place to live - really. I was only really there for the better part of a day, and a city's quality can't really be accurately commented on by a foreign tourist after a three hour Korean transit adventure. Having lived in Calgary for most of my life, I know it doesn't seem like much to overnight visitors from Toronto, but I know better.

Anyway, I do see a few trips to Daejeon in my future, so I'll be hoping to get to know the city (and its surroundings) a bit better. This is such a small country, and it's so cheap and easy to get around. In many ways, a place is only as good as its people, and I know a few good people in Daejeon.

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