After the previous days failure to see the game at Chungju and to even get to the foot of Woraksan I was quite determined to see some sport and do a bit of hiking. The sport was easy, LG Twins had a home fixture against Nexen Heroes at Jamsil that evening and picking that baseball game would give me plenty of time to get up into the hills first. I didn’t want to risk even the slightest chance of getting lost and so I played it safe and took the subway to Dokwabi where I could hike the same route on Bukhansan that I’d done almost six months earlier soon after arriving in Seoul.
My main recollection of that first hike was that it had been incredibly slippy underfoot. There had been a layer of snow and ice on a lot of the ground then and if I hadn’t been generously lent a crampon by one of the other walkers in the group I doubt I would have got around. This time though, any difficulty was likely to come from the extreme heat. The newspapers were warning against any outdoor activity whatsoever and I hoped that would cut down the numbers of other hikers on the route.
I left my apartment just before nine and by ten o’clock I was at Dokwabi. The subway journey, despite being twenty one stops, was easy enough as I got a seat early on. Once again I was entertained by someone taking advantage of the captive audience and giving a sales pitch. The product this time looked to be a couple of small elastic bands which the purchaser could slip over the ends of the arms of a pair of glasses and which would prevent their glasses from falling off no matter what the situation. The salesman demonstrated their effectiveness by fitting them on to his own glasses and then violently shaking his head. It worked well and he sold a few packets of them to the short sighted for a thousand won each. I like watching these demonstrations, mainly to try and work out what the product is supposed to be. This one was quite straightforward though and it helped the journey pass a little quicker.
Once at Dokwabi, I noticed that the number of hikers leaving the subway didn‘t seem to be any less than the last time I’d been here. Obviously I wasn’t the only one to assume that the heatwave warnings were meant for other people only.
I hadn’t bothered packing anything to eat, working on the basis that there are always plenty of food stalls at the foot of any hiking trail over here and I would be able to pick up some gimbap or dumplings, maybe even a bowl of roast potatoes. Not this time though and I was reduced to calling into a small and not very well stocked convenience store where the best I could manage was a peanut butter sandwich and a packet of custard creams. Hopefully I wouldn’t need rescuing at any point as I’d be a bit embarrassed trying to explain away my poor preparation.
It took me three quarters of an hour to reach the first peak, Jokduribong. It is only 370 metres high but it was quite steep and the heat made it hard going.
I sat at the top for about half an hour, appreciating the cooling breeze and the views across Seoul. It was a little misty though and whilst I could see the World Cup Stadium I couldn’t pick up my office block south of the river.
There were a few pigeons wandering around and I thought I’d share my peanut butter sandwich with them. They seemed to have a much higher opinion of it than I did and before long there were about twenty of them at my feet, fighting over the crumbs as I tried to feed them all. It reminded me of a trip to Wembley with my junior school to see a schoolboy international thirty five years earlier. We’d arrived by train in London in the morning, popped into Downing Street to have a gawp at the front door of Number 10 (in those days it wasn’t closed off to the public) and then we’d gone along to Trafalgar Square to feed the pigeons before going to the match. I can remember having at least one pigeon on each arm eating out of my hands and another on my head, no doubt feasting on my nits.
Anyway, none of these pigeons sat on my head, they just ate the bits of sandwich as quickly as I could throw them to the ground.
I retraced my steps for a while and dropped down in to the valley before making my way up Hyangnobong. At 535 metres this was a bit higher than Jokduribong and just as steep. There were a few sections that were scrambles rather than trails, some of them with railing or ropes to make it a bit easier. The route upwards provided good views of Jokduribong and in particular of the climbers who were making their way down. I couldn’t work out whether they had brought their own ropes to abseil with or whether they were making use of permanent fixtures. It made for an interesting break though as I watched them from across the valley.
I got to the top of Hyangnobong at about noon. Or rather I got as close as I was allowed to get, with the actual peak being barriered off. At this point I had to decide whether or not to carry on to the next peak, Bibong, or to descend towards Tangchundae. Last time I’d been here we’d continued to Bibong but it had been a lot cooler then and I’d had more in my backpack than a packet of custard creams. I decided to head downwards.
It took me about an hour and a half to reach the bottom, passing some raised platforms on the way that were occupied by groups of blokes drinking soju and makkgeolli. I also saw a few butterflies too, none of which were familiar to me. Once at the bottom I just hopped onto the nearest bus and waited until it stopped outside one of the subway stations before getting off. The system here makes doing things like that easy. I have a transport card, pre-loaded with money, that I just have to touch against a pad as I get on and off a bus. It means I don’t have to tell the driver where I want to go to, which is particularly useful for occasions like this where I don’t know where I want to go to until I see it out of the window.
So, with the hiking out of the way I had the baseball to look forward to. Jamsil is only three stops from my apartment and I was able to leave in plenty of time. I picked up a ticket from a tout outside for ten thousand won which might have been just below face value. At those prices, it’s not so important. It was for the red zone though, which is the lower section, beyond first base, prime territory I reckoned for being knocked out cold with a stray baseball.
I was in my seat in time for the National Anthem. Everyone stands for it and most of the people, including the players, put their hand on their heart ’American style’. I couldn’t help but wonder whether that small minority of people who are born with their heart leaning more to the right than the left use the other hand or whether it’s more a symbolic thing. As I’ve no idea which side my heart is on I just stood politely with my hands by my side.
It’s probably about time that I shared a bit more of the knowledge that I’ve gained about how baseball works. I’d sussed the scoring fairly easily, as well as when the players are out, how ’strikes’ and ’balls’ work, and I’ve covered all that in an earlier report, but what I wasn‘t sure of at that time was what all of the players did. How many there were, whether they all batted, how the substitutions worked? Well, I think I’m getting to the bottom of it.
When a team fields, they have nine players, a pitcher, a catcher (wicket keeper for cricket aficionados), a fielder who covers first base, a fielder who covers third base and two fielders who hang around near second base. I think it depends upon whether or not the batter is right or left-handed as to which of them stands closer to the base. The other three players loiter in the outfield waiting for the big hits that evade the close in fielders. There are plenty of subs in the dugout in case any of them pick up an injury.
Of that fielding nine, only the pitcher pitches. If he turns out to be having a ’mare’, he will be replaced by a different specialist pitcher from the subs bench. Once a pitcher has been subbed he can‘t come back on again. Or so I believe. When it’s the fielding teams turn to bat, all of them apart from the pitcher get a turn. The pitcher is replaced by a ’pinch hitter’ who only has to bat, not field. Easy life for him then.
What surprised me is that the best batter doesn’t open each innings like in cricket, although I suppose the difference is that you only need three of them to be out for the innings to be over. Whichever of the nine batting players was due a turn next when the innings ends will get first turn in the next one. It all seems very fair really. I think the away team always bats first.
Something I noticed about the catchers is that they both wore number forty-four and that they were both a little sturdier than the other players. I don’t know if this was coincidence or if that’s how catchers are. A bit like the way that ice hockey goalies are bred to be about four-foot tall and a similar width.
The LG Twins starting pitcher, twenty year old Choi Seong Min, was actually playing as the starting pitcher for the first time and he did pretty well lasting until almost the end of the sixth innings before being substituted with only one Nexen run on the board. The Nexen starting pitcher didn’t do nearly as well and he was hauled out of the attack in the third innings with his team already 5-1 down. The big lead for the Twins meant that they could afford to experiment a bit in the last three innings and they tried a total of three relief pitchers, I suspect to give them all a bit of game time.
If I remember rightly, Sam Malone out of Cheers was a relief pitcher. It must be quite a daunting role as you tend to be called upon only if the other team is hitting your starting pitcher all over the park. And that reminds me, I once got refused a drink in the Cheers Bar in Boston, for not having any ID despite being twenty-three. It might have been different if any of them had known my name.
Thats enough of how the Korean baseball works for now. The stuff that goes on in the crowd is much more interesting. Between innings there is usually something to watch despite there only being a two minute turnaround. More often than not it’s couples being made to kiss on demand to their intense embarrassment. Occasionally though, like today, there’s a little gem. The entertainment on this occasion involved small children being lined up for a head shaking competition. Each had a digital monitor attached to his or her forehead and they then had to violently shake their skull from side to side whilst the monitor counted the number of times that their brain revolved in its cerebrospinal fluid. They did all take a small prize back to their seats where I imagine they sat quietly for the rest of the game contemplating a future selling elastic bands for spectacles in subway carriages.
It’s all made even better by the people who supply you with food and drink. Blokes with big containers of draught beer on their backs walk around keeping you topped up. Old biddies balance trays on their heads that contain cans of beer and a few snacks. It all makes life very easy.
And in a final score roundup, LG Twins finished up easy 6-2 winners. Whilst all this was going on an injury time goal gave Jeonbuk a 3-2 win over Daejeon Citizen leaving them in third place in the table, a point behind leaders Gyeongnam. Lee Dong Gook didn’t score and was subbed at about the same stage of the game as new pitcher Choi Seong Min had been for the Twins. Following their FA Cup quarter final exit last week Jeonbuk have a League Cup Final against Seoul to look forward to on Wednesday. Unfortunately for me it will be played in Jeonju and so I’ll not be able to get there.