Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Being Touristy: Palgongsan


True confession time: I once stood in line for almost an hour just to get a seven-layer burrito from Taco Bell.

This is (obviously) not a sponsored post.  I've just had quite the longstanding relationship with Taco Bell ever since my college days when I was mostly sustained daily by two bean burritos and a Mountain Dew.  So when the first Taco Bell in Spain opened while we were living there, it was only natural that I would be one of the first customers, and that I would wait an inordinately long time for my burrito.  

And, well, some things never change.  Now that I live in Korea, it's not weird at all, in my opinion, that one or two Saturdays a month, when we make the two-hour drive to the Daegu commissary, it is naturally assumed that we will stop at Taco Bell too.  It's something the whole family looks forward to.  But for most of the school year, the older two girls were so busy with their schoolwork, even the promise of a cheesy bean burrito was not enough to get them to come with us.

As the school year wound down, though, we started to see a little more of the older girls.  The Saturday before school ended, we made our drive to the commissary, and Jayna and Skyler actually wanted to go with us!  We all piled into the car, got to Daegu, purchased the groceries and had our burritos.  It's all about the little things, so I was already quite pleased with how the day had gone.  

But when I got back into the car to go home and Matt said, "Want to go exploring?", my answer was a resounding, "Yes!  Of course!  Always!"  I feel like I've hardly seen this country because so much "real life" has to happen, so I jump at the chance to go somewhere.  And it got better.  He had found something that sounded truly intriguing: an interactive museum where you can practice what you would do in a variety of emergency situations.  Since Matt is an actual owner of the book The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook, we felt like this was an obvious win. As fast as we could, we drove several kilometers out of town into the surrounding hills to a little town called Palgongsan, and sure enough, there was the museum.

Unfortunately, we soon learned that while the museum was indeed free and open, we would need a reservation to experience it with an English-speaking guide.  We asked if we could just guide ourselves through but were told that would not be possible.  They did, however, provide us with a guide who could give a partial tour.

Well... why not?

The young man apologized for his English skills (which we thought were actually excellent) as he led us to the first display.  In February 2003, an arsonist set a terrible, devastating fire in a Daegu subway, which left 192 dead and 151 more injured.  Our guide took us to a room made to look like a subway, where the actual charred cars from the incident were.  There was an eerie soundtrack of a roaring fire and screams, and on the walls we could see handprints in the soot. The terror the victims must have felt was almost palpable, and we were all relieved to move on to the rest of the museum.  We didn't take any pictures because it was so haunting.

Fortunately, the rest of the museum was focused on safety with a good dose of fun.  We didn't get to do most of it due to our lack of a reservation, but I'm sure we could have spent several hours there.  One room had several practice dummies for CPR. In another, you could try out the emergency harness used to escape tall buildings in case of fires.  There was even an earthquake simulator where we practiced covering our heads while unplugging appliances and lamps and turning off the stove.  It would have been great if we'd known about this place before our dramatic move-in to our apartment a year ago!  Another room had simulated fires to practice spraying with a real fire hose.  (Sorry the quality is not better -- technical difficulties -- this is a screen shot from a little movie I made for my Instagram story as for some reason I could not upload the actual film clip.)
The kids loved what we got to do!

Our abbreviated tour did not take very long, and on our way into Palgongsan, we'd seen signs for a "natural park" and gondola.  We headed back to explore a little more.  Calling Palgongsan a town might be a bit generous.  Really, it mostly consists of a few small hotels and restaurants, with at least three convenience stores (Koreans loooooove their convenience stores) (and actually, so do I now), but it was picturesque and nestled against hills that were covered by dense forest and winding streams with outcroppings of granite.

We followed the signs to the gondola and found that acquiring tickets was very easy to navigate even with our lack of the Korean language.  There was also the option to hike one way or both, but since it was getting late in the day, we decided to take the gondola up and down the mountain.  

All seven of us were squeezed into one gondola.  
There were wonderful expansive views of the city of Daegu and far beyond.   
We found a couple walking trails and chose one but decided to turn around because of time constraints.  In the distance, against the base of a further, more remote mountain, there was a monastery which, according to a sign, held significance to Buddhists, Confucianists, and Christians.  

There was also a "love garden" with a bench (see the top picture) for cheesy photo-ops, and a place for love locks.  
The restaurant had food that looked and smelled delicious, and it was packed with people (which is why we didn't stop at that point). But we lingered a while, taking pictures and being a little silly.
It was the golden hour as we descended the mountain, so the view was almost even prettier.  The whole family had fun, and we didn't even get to explore the "natural park" yet -- which, given the way I've seen Koreans do parks, I'm sure it's great.  Now that the weather is cooling off and the fall colors are starting to show, we're all hoping to make a repeat trip!


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