Yesterday we left Daejeon, South Korea, for a mountain resort in Gongwon-do, in the northeast of South Korea. Daejeon was an interesting place to start our time in South Korea, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it compares to our stay in the mountains this weekend and in Seoul next week.
We were in Deajeon for one of C’s major robotics conferences. Daejeon markets itself as a tech-hub. The city’s slogan is “It’s Deajeon!” with the “It’s” standing for Interesting, Tradition and Culture, Science and Technology. They pulled out all of the stops for the conference, including blocking off a bridge on the penultimate night of the meeting for appetizers and dragon boat races.
Outside of the conference, though, we were some of a very, very small handful of foreigners. This meant lots of hand motions and signaling at restaurants and shops where there was little English spoken. (Sadly, my Korean vocabulary only consists of “please” and “thank you” and my knowledge of Hangul is non-existent.) This also meant that the girls got a lot of attention from passersby, especially from middle-school kids practicing their English and well-intentioned grandmas worried that they were not wearing warm enough coats. This, apparently, is a worry for grandmas the world over, my own included.
Being among such a small group of foreigners and being consistently recognized as such helped us to acknowledge our privilege. All of our interactions with people were generally positive, but still, some of the attention felt overwhelming at times. I can’t even imagine how it would feel if that attention where both overwhelming and negative. Privilege acknowledged.
What to Do in Daejeon
We arrived in Daejeon later in the day on Sunday, leaving us with just enough time to get settled in our hotel and go out to grab some yummy noodles. Then, bed.
The following day was Monday, and all of the museums were closed, so we took advantage of a quiet day and wandered around the city, seeing everything from a glittery, twelve-story high department store to, my favorite, the Dunsan Prehistorical Settlement Site. This site, which is situated right in the middle of Daejeon, is comprised of three ruins, one each from the Old Stone Age, New Stone and Bronze Age. It was a brief, but interesting glimpse into how our ancestors lived.
On Tuesday, C took off early for his conference, so the girls and I decided to go to the South Korean National Science Museum. Getting there was a learning experience in itself. The museum was clear across the city, so we needed to take the bus. We waited very patiently at the bus stop, but when we tried to get on, the driver told us that we couldn’t buy tickets on board. In fact, we had no idea where to buy tickets. So, off the bus we went and we decided to try the subway instead, even though it wouldn’t take us all the way to the museum. At the subway station, we found an agent that spoke some English, and he helped us to buy a subway and bus card and told us how to use it. Hurrah! We took the subway one stop and transferred to the bus. So far, so good. But then we missed our stop, by a lot. Rather than try the bus again, I made the girls walk the mile back to the museum on an industrial-type road (there were sidewalks and crosswalks so it was safe, just not very nice).
When we arrived at the museum, or what we thought was the museum, we were definitely underwhelmed. We visited a small greenhouse with some snakes and reptiles. Interesting, but after 10 minutes we had seen it all. After 90 minutes of transport problems and 20 minutes of walking along a not-so-nice industrial road, the girls were pretty frustrated at this point, both with the situation and with me. And so was I. Luckily, though, I asked on our way out of the greenhouse if there was any more, and it turns out there was a TON more. A state-of-the-art, really amazing, inventive museum plus planetarium more. Moreover, since it took us so long to get started, C was able to wrap up his morning conference-going and meet us.
All four of us had a great time at the museum. There was an emphasis on robotics and technology, which the girls and C really enjoyed. They also had a set of exhibits on Korean anthropology and ancient Greek technology, both of which I could have explored for hours. We also went to the planetarium for a show and the girls played around in the outside water sculpture garden. They also got to snoop around some South Korean fighter jets and rockets. All in all, a good day, even if it started off on the wrong foot.
On Wednesday, the girls and I spent the morning doing schoolwork. After they were done with their work, I let them have some screen time while I desperately tried to catch up on emails and to get comments back to colleagues and students on papers that I was behind on reading. (If, dear reader, you are one of those colleagues or students—my apologies!)
In the afternoon we headed to the Daejeon Art Complex and the Daejeon Museum of Art. The Complex is enormous, consisting of a theater, two art museums, sculpture garden and stand-alone café. Our first stop was the café, since our secret to traveling with children is basically to just pump them with hot chocolate and/or strawberry smoothies.
After we’d satisfied our sweet tooth, we went over to the Daejeon Museum of Art. They were showing a special exhibit called “Cosmos,” which was a lot to take in for a 3 and 6 year old. And a 34 year old if we are being honest. Many of the installations were in pitch-black rooms and involved loud, repetitive noises and flashing lights. If any of you happen to have noise-sensitive kids, you know that this is not always a winning combination. The girls did ok, though, and we made it through the exhibit, but our visit was short.
The museum’s regular collection was closed and it was clear that the girls needed some time to run and play, so we walked through the sculpture garden toward the Hanbat Arboretum. It wasn’t originally on our agenda for the day, but it was hands-down the best thing we did in Daejeon. There was an enormous playscape—the only one we saw all week—and miles of paths through rose gardens, prairie landscapes, wildflowers and more. The weather was perfect and we spent a delightful few hours there.
When the day was starting to draw to a close, we walked over toward the Expo Bridge to meet C for the aforementioned cocktails and dragoon boat races.
Thursday was our last full day in Daejeon, and since we have been asking a lot of the girls (in addition to just being away from home and their friends, we’ve been asking them to eat new foods, spend lots of time on public transport, move from hotel to hotel, do homework, etc., and all while being on their best behavior), we wanted to treat them to a kid-centered, all-fun, no-stress day at an amusement park.
O World is an amusement park/zoo/botantical garden all rolled into one at the southern tip of Daejeon. We took a cab there first thing in the morning, and spent all day going on rides, strolling through the zoo, taking a trip on the safari bus, and going on more rides. C was able to join us in the morning, but the girls and I stayed until dusk. O World wasn’t particularly large or new or really even noteworthy but we had fun, and it was a nice way to end our stay in Daejeon.
We are learning a lot about South Korean culture, but one little tidbit really surprised us: marble beds! We had a really lovely room in our hotel, but the bed was made of marble. Literally marble. It was a beautiful piece of furniture with a dark wood headboard and trimmed in leather, but it was, pun definitely intended, hard as a rock. We had a very thin blanket to lay on, but it didn’t really provide any padding to speak of. The girls’ traditional-style mats on the floor were pretty comfy in comparison, and when W woke up in the middle of the night asking me to sleep with her, I did not object.