The City and Alex Finds a Bar
Daegu (or Taegu. One is the new spelling, the other is the old, not sure which is which) is the third largest city in Korea, and looks like what would happen if Joseph Stalin got drunk one night and let his mildly handicapped nephew design a shining new Soviet metropolis, then sobered up and stopped the project halfway through. There are two kinds of streets, large, four-lane main roads and side streets, which are like alleys, only it’s possible to walk through an alley without getting run over by a mid-sized Kia. The side streets are straight, narrow, and arranged seemingly at random. Sometimes, you can detect the faintest trace of a grid, only to have it interrupted by a street cutting through at an oblique diagonal. Koreans also maintain a strong cultural taboo against street signs, agreeing only to name, number or label the most major roads, and probably not even those without a lot of polite but insistent complaining.
It is an ugly city by day. Everything (except the coffee shops) is marred by corrosion, and the bright colors of the storefronts are faded, like cake frosting without enough food coloring. The architecture really does look Soviet. Most of the buildings are squat, square and concrete, with the occasional gleaming skyscraper only serving to make its neighbors even less impressive by comparison.
At night, though, it becomes something else entirely. If you are standing outside at just the right time, you can see the neon lights flick on one by one all up and down the street, and you almost expect the cars to start flashing their headlights in solidarity with their suddenly beautiful city. In an instant, the drab, sun-starved tangle of thoroughfares and alleyways transforms into a Technicolor retro-futurist acid trip. And the people change, too.
During the day, most Koreans dress like they spent the previous night studying mismatched scraps from an LL Bean catalogue. There are sports coats, there is tweed, and by god there are sweater vests, none of which do a particularly good job of matching anything else a person might be wearing. But at night, like vampires, the freaks come out to play: K-pop wannabes with androgynous clothes and faces, hair bleached and teased into elaborately impractical polygons, girls in shiny white thigh-high boots and mini-dresses, showing off the specific stretch of thigh for which Korean men have a particular affinity (there’s a name for it, but it escapes me), and couples walking and holding hands in matched sailor costumes (I know). It’s spectacular.
It may be early, and I usually try to avoid this type of commitment, but I think I found my favorite bar. Two nights ago, I went out to dinner with Molly (southern bell, sad she went home), Nicole (engaged to a local boy, apparently difficult to pry away from him), and Eliza (a wonderful blend of fun aunt and kindly grandma, a surrogate for whichever female relative you happen to miss the most at that moment) as a sort of farewell party for Molly. After dinner we went to a place called Commune’s. I’ll try to describe it.
The bartender, Hen-Shi, speaks fluent English, though Commune’s isn’t like Traveler’s, which primarily caters to expats and has a website where you can vote on which football game they’ll show on tape delay that night. Commune’s attracts a nice mix of locals, Americanos, and, for whatever reason, Slovakians, all of whom coexist in peace and drunken harmony. The décor would make a Brooklyn dive proud—thousands of old records line the bar, and the walls are covered with vintage posters of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and all their friends. That night Hen-Shi played great music and showed us pictures of his trip to China, everything from the Great Wall to skewers of spiders and scorpions sold by street vendors as delicacies (EWGROSSEWGROSSEWEWEWWWWW). We talked, we laughed, we drank, and even made some abortive attempts at dancing. It didn’t quite feel like home, but that would defeat the purpose of leaving. Ill just give it the best compliment you can give a bar, and drink there again tonight.
Bye for now, and more to come