When you walk 2.5 miles to work through town every day, you start counting things, or at least gathering the impression that “there sure are a lot of (insert item here) in Daegu.” I’m no social scientist, but I think you can begin to draw some general conclusions about a culture from how it spends its time and money.
In Daegu, you’ll find a lot of:
1. Cellphone Stores: I’ve stopped trying to count the number of brands, and you literally can’t walk 100 yards in any direction without encountering at least one store, and probably three. South Korea is one of the most wired countries in the world. Everybody has a cellphone, everybody has easy access to a high-speed internet connection, and in general, they know how to use them better than we do. I suspect the ambient temperature in Daegu is a couple of degrees warmer from all the microwave energy zipping through the atmosphere.
2. Restaurants: Koreans like to eat. Who doesn’t? They love their native cuisine, and they love to sample food from other cultures. If you have a craving for just about anything, you can satisfy it within a short walk of your lodgings. Meals are very social times, and you don’t see too many Koreans eating a solo burger or whatever on the run. They sit, they eat, they drink, and they converse.
3. English Schools: They’re everywhere. Koreans see mastery of English as the key to success in business and their means of access to global society. Kids are pushed to learn English early, and the government recently issued a warning about the proliferation of unlicensed English schools, especially English-only kindergartens, which it sees as a threat to the proper cultural development of Korean youth. “Learn English, but learn Korean first.” Makes sense. I wish America had a similar passion for teaching our children to master the native languages of our international partners.
4. Churches: Daegu is churched about as thoroughly as any American Bible Belt city of my acquaintance. There are quite a few Buddhist temples and shrines sprinkled through the city, but Christian churches of various flavors dominate. Daegu is dotted with steepled cathedrals, and little storefront churches like one I saw yesterday, one floor upstairs from a pool hall. Many businesses are closed on Sunday. The current president of South Korea is a professed Christian, and the world’s largest Christian congregation, the Yoido Full Gospel Assembly, is in Seoul–it’s become something akin to a pilgrimage destination for evangelical Christians visiting the Far East.
5. Medical Clinics: I have no idea what the doctor-to-patient ratio in South Korea is, but there is at least one medical provider of some sort on every block along my walk to work. General practitioners, specialists, primary care clinics, women’s clinics, acupressure therapists, university hospitals…the list goes on, and that’s not counting the pharmacies.
6. Coffee Shops and Bakeries: It’s never difficult to find a good cup of coffee or a decadently flaky pastry in Daegu. The number of coffee shops compares favorably to Seattle or San Francisco. There are so many of these, I’ve seriously considered doing a “coffee crawl” sometime to find the smoothest brew within walking distance of my hotel. Perhaps next time I’m here. They have interesting names like “Bless U,” “Seven Monkeys,” and “Sweet Dreams,” which features all sorts of sweet items to go along with your coffee, including, in the spirit of Homer Simpson, “sweet bottled beer.”
7. Outdoor Stores: Korea is a mountainous country, and Koreans never met a mountain they didn’t want to climb. Hiking and backpacking are very popular among all ages, and there are lots of stores offering the latest outerwear, shoes, and climbing gear.
I could go on, adding venues like Tae Kwan Do schools, PC Bangs, and Karaoke bars, but this is probably enough for now. Besides, it’s time for a cup of coffee, maybe with a flaky pastry on the side. Oh, look…there’s a shop right here…