After my exploration of the city of Seoul it was time for my journey to Daejeon, where I’ll be spending the next 4 months. My friend and I both needed to bring all of our bags to school, so to make life easier my friend’s father hired us a truck to drive us and our stuff to our school. I thought this was a very nice solution, and imagined a small U-Haul truck or van pulling up to the door and we would pile our bags in and be off. I did not expect a very small old Korean man and a dirty pickup truck, but who am I to complain? This looked like how I imagine a guy would appear if you hired a “man with a van” from Craigslist. He certainly wasn’t sketchy, but it absolutely looked like some dude running a “business” from his garage. I was wrong. Apparently he was working for a real company, and judging from the faces of everybody around me, this was a perfectly normal activity in Korea. The man piled our bags in the truck bed, threw a blue tarp over them, and lashed them down with a long elastic band that was clearly made of smaller elastic bands tied together end-to-end. All three of us then crammed into the cab and drove off to Daejeon.
The drive from Seoul to Daejeon takes about 2 hours. The first hour is spent making your way out of Seoul. I expected the rest of the trip to meander through suburbs and countryside vistas. Again, I was wrong. First, it is worth noting that this part of South Korea does not have scenes that would be described as “vistas” during the winter. I am assured that it really gets quite beautiful during the spring, but the lack of evergreen trees here leaves the distinct impression that somebody has been waging a very successful defoliation campaign. The scenery would best be described as “bleak,” “depressing,” or perhaps “butt ugly.” Importantly, there isn’t actually much of the gloomy landscapes as, just like in Seoul, you come across apartment mega-complexes very frequently. It is like the exact opposite of driving across the fly-over states. When driving across Nebraska you see nothing but fields occasionally punctuated with a tree or small hamlet. Driving from Seoul to Daejeon you see nothing but towering apartment buildings occasionally punctuated with a tiny tract for growing rice or leafless hill.
Arriving in Daejeon is interesting. You drive by the Expo Science Park which is essentially a science themed amusement park built in 1993 as part of the Daejeon Expo. To the best of my understanding, this was simply a huge attempt by the Korean government to develop Daejeon into at technological hub. It also worked fantastically. The Korean government is unlike the US government in that when it decides to do something huge, like drastically changing one of its cities, it just goes out and does it. In the US, a congressman would introduce a bill called something like “The McCaskill-Reid Small City Technoligization Bill” which would then sit in committee for a few months before being passed in two different forms by both chambers of congress before eventually being altered in a conference committee and finally being passed despite only offering to build five parks over a ten year period in upscale neighborhoods. In Korea they make laws that enable cities designated as Special Cities to take land from the surrounding cities so that they may grow in size. Basically, they get a ballsy idea like turning a small backwater city into the Silicon Valley of the country and then make it happen. However, this impressive display of grand thinking does not necessarily mean a well thought out plan on every front. Take for instance Daejeon’s city catchphrase.
Across the river from the Expo Science Park you see a big sign displaying Daejeon’s captivating slogan “It’s Daejeon.” What it lacks in creativity and inspirational quality it makes up for in factual accuracy, because clearly nobody can claim that it is not, in fact, Daejeon. In an effort to give the best impression of their city this sign was placed directly across the street from the beautiful Daejeon wastewater processing facility. At the very least, this seems to be a fair representation of the city. Daejeon is not a city that would ever be described as “beautiful” or even “pleasant.” If pushed, I would describe Daejeon as “a city.” For some reason bleak cityscapes surrounded by even more bleak landscapes just don’t do it for me. The dreary winters and smoggy curtain that tends to hang over the city doesn’t help matters either. It was under these wonderful conditions that I arrived at the place I’ll be calling home for the next 4 months. On the plus side, I imagine it’s a good sight better than Nebraska this time of year.