Archive for May, 2010

Doosan Bears v LG Twins, 11th April

May 25, 2010

On Sunday evening I watched my first ever baseball game. I’d watched bits of games on the telly before, usually in a bar with one eye on the match and the other on whatever else was going on and that’s how it had been on Saturday night. I chatted away on autopilot to a work colleague about the merits of the various waitresses and how well they were managing to fill their jeans, whilst watching Doosan Bears take on the LG Twins on the not so big screen. The names don’t really help you much in identifying where the teams are from, just who owns or sponsors them and are perhaps a little more misleading as the LG Twins appeared to have more than two players and there was nothing particularly ursine about the other lot. However, I knew that the LG team was based in Seoul because I’d seen posters at work advertising their matches. A little more digging and it turned out that Doosan Bears were also from Seoul. Not only from Seoul, but they actually shared a stadium. As baseball is the biggest sport out here that meant that the one eye that wasn’t following the waitress was actually watching the Korean equivalent of Roma v Lazio.

 Whilst I struggled to work out what was actually going on I did manage to notice that the next game between the two was the following evening. Baseball is a bit like that apparently. I’m pretty sure in America the season runs for about a hundred and sixty games or so over a period of a few months. Note the vagueness there. I’m never particularly precise in these things but with baseball I have even less idea than normal. Anyway, as far as I know they play each other a lot of times and quite often for three or four nights in a row. I suppose it’s not a lot different from cricket, but with each match being a one-day game in its own right rather than part of a four or five day game.

 So, as the next game was going to be on the following day and only a few stops on the subway from me I thought I might as well go along. I had been intending to go for a hike but I’d played my first game of football for a few weeks earlier that morning and my knees were starting to stiffen up. An evening at the baseball was probably better for them.

 The baseball stadium is next door to the Olympic Stadium, you know, the one where Ben Johnson won and then lost his Olympic gold in 1988 and Linford Christie came close to losing his bronze for a positive test that he successfully blamed on ginseng. If ginseng does make you run faster the Koreans should be picking up more medals than they currently manage as it is pretty popular stuff here. They sell the roots on street corners and add to it just about everything from soup to medicine. I wouldn’t be surprised if they stick a bit of it in an ice cream instead of a flake.

Ginseng Chicken

I had ginseng chicken the other day for lunch. In a rare deviation from my normal lunchtime routine of taking pot luck in the canteen, blindly joining the shortest queue with Mr. Park, I was accosted by my boss and dragged off to a local restaurant with a couple of other colleagues. I’m not sure what the occasion was, but it made a pleasant change. I’d seen photos of ginseng chicken before and it’s a whole chicken in a pot, so I thought that it was something to share. Perhaps my presence was needed to justify ordering two chickens between four people rather than the awkward choice of deciding between one chicken or two when there are three people. To my surprise we got one each, but they were quite small. They were stuffed with rice and there were sections of ginseng root, half chestnuts and onions in the water with them. I’m getting better with the metal chopsticks these days but dissecting a whole floating chicken wasn’t the easiest task. There were a few side dishes including some quite mild whole green chillies, radish in a spicy red sauce that made it resemble patatas bravas and some other unidentifiable pickle stuff. It was pretty good, although it didn’t encourage me to take the stairs back to my office on the fourteenth floor rather than the lift.

 Next time, apparently, we are going to have baby octopus legs, sliced off whilst the creatures are still alive to give a sensation similar in your mouth to that of Space Dust I imagine. My boss warned me to chew them carefully when we do have them as there have been cases of the octopus exacting revenge in some way. I’m not too sure what they could do apart from maybe give your tonsils a bit of a squeeze on the way past but I nodded solemnly as I tend to do these days.

 Anyway, back to the baseball. Whilst I knew what day the game was on I didn’t know what time and as the websites for Korean Baseball tend to be in Korean I nipped along on the morning to find out and have a look around. I established that the game started at 5pm and with a bit of difficulty chatted to a couple of food sellers who were already setting up their stalls six hours before kick off. Throw off? Pitch off? Whatever. One of them, a girl of about twenty, knew enough English to let me know that the ticket office opened at three. The other was a bloke of about fifty and he had clearly decided that I was a bit slow in the head and the best way to help me out was to keep saying the same thing in Korean over and over again until its meaning suddenly became clear to me. After a while, I used the knowledge I obtained from the girl and held up three fingers. He smiled indulgently, obviously pleased that his efforts to get the information into my thick skull via repetition had succeeded. With a few hours to spare I left them to it and headed off to buy an ironing board before returning later that afternoon. The ironing board doesn’t have any relevance, so don’t think you’ve missed something. I’m not going to come back to it later either so you can forget all about it if you want. It was just where I went and another of those bits of kit that you need to buy when you are working away and this was my time to do that. Every week I seem to discover something that I don’t have, but need. Like a colander or a bedside lamp  By the time I fill my apartment it will no doubt be time to move on and do it all again.

Ticket Office

Anyway, back to the baseball again.  The area around the stadium was completely different at four o’clock to what it had been earlier that day, with thousands of people milling around, queuing for tickets, buying food and throwing baseballs to each other. Eating seems to be a big thing at baseball games with dozens of small stalls outside the stadium encouraging people to stock up before going in. Most of them sold exactly the same products, dried squid and octopus, sometimes flat, sometimes tentacles sticking out of a cup like MacDonald’s fries, bottles of water, beer and soju. Once you got beyond the stalls you got all the burger and fried chicken franchises and the small convenience stores that were built into the stadium. No one need ever go hungry at a baseball game.


I’d had a look at the prices of the tickets that morning. You could get a VIP one for 50,000 that got you a seat straight behind the catcher. He is the wicketkeeper bloke. They then had a variety of prices for the main curvy stand that covered the 90 degree angle where play took place, 30,000, 15,000, 12,000 and 9,000 won depending upon how far away you got from the VIP bit. You could also sit around the other side of the stadium for 5,000 won, but you were at least 120m away from the action there. I should have taken the advice of the old bloke who suspected that I wasn’t all there and got back for 3pm because the ticket offices all had large queues. Luckily there were some touts. One offered me a ticket for 25,000 but I turned him down because I couldn’t see the face value price. I’d didn’t want to be sat miles away looking at tiny figures in the distance. After a while the same tout came back with a 9,000 won ticket which he sold me for 10,000. It was in the main stand but high up, which wasn’t a bad place to be I reckoned, if I was to get an overview of what was going on.

 The ticket details were quite good. In amongst all the Korean stuff I could work out the gate number, the block number and my seat and row. That’s better than the usual football ones where I tend to only know the stand I’m supposed to be in. I went through the turnstile where my ticket wasn’t scanned, just checked by a bloke who didn’t seem to pay it much attention. Inside the concourse were more food stalls and plenty of merchandising shops, it was as if the game was taking place in a shopping mall. I went up another tier to find the entrance for my seat and within ten yards of my block were a KFC, a Burger king and a convenience store. I bought a couple of cans of beer from the convenience store and went up to my seat. There was still half an hour to go to kickoff and the stadium looked to be about a third full. My seat was pretty good, it was maybe ten rows from the back and just far enough around for me to be able to watch the action without looking through the protective net that spans the area directly behind the batsman. A nice touch was a drinks holder on the back of the seat in front, perfectly sized for a can of beer. The pre-match entertainment consisted of a few couples taking turns to run around the bases holding a Doosan Bears flag. For the first three bases the bloke would piggyback his girlfriend and then for the run from third to fourth base, they would swap over and she would try to piggyback him or else they would do that wheelbarrow thing where she walked on her hands while he held her legs. Invariably they would end up in a heap in the dirt. I can just imagine the conversation the next day.

Slightly gratuitous, but they are twins.

“How did your date go last night, Dong Bong?”

“Not bad mate, she was really game, I got to third base in about thirty seconds. Thought we were going to go all of the way but the tease cried off with a broken back.”

 As the start time neared the place started to fill up. It turned out that I was in amongst the Doosan Bears fans, with the LG Twins fans being in the other half of the curve. The woman in the seat next to me was telling me that she was a Lotte fan but would be supporting Doosan today. Me too then. She went on to explain how everything worked with a lot more patience than I might have had if I’d tried to explain cricket to her. The game was preceded by a popstar singing the Korean national anthem and then a famous female skater threw the first pitch.

 Both sets of fans made far more noise than I can ever recall at a football match, although they were helped by songs being played through loudspeakers and most of them having those inflatable sticks to bang together. Tunes that I recognized included Dancing Queen, Land of Hope and Glory and that Small World song from the Disney ride. There was also a Mexican wave that didn’t really take off and then a slow motion Mexican wave which I’d never seen anywhere before.

Bear cubs doing karate

Every now and again the ball would be hit into the crowd, usually by mistake after ballooning over the protective fence. There would be murmurs of concern from those around me and a concerted effort to catch the ball from those nearby. Perhaps this would explain why grown men take baseball gloves with them. It reminded me of when I was a kid and I would wear my shorts and socks under my clothes when I went to the match just in case they were a man short and Jack Charlton needed me. I didn’t have a Boro shirt, but I reckoned they probably had spares of those. They always had sufficient players though, so I never got the call.

 The game lasted for four hours with the LG Twins winning 8-5 and with the help of the girl next to me I’d just about grasped what was going on by the end. They score a point every time a batsman gets all the way around the bases and back to the dugout. You don’t score any more for a ‘home run’ where you whack it into the crowd and get all the way around in one, but it might bring you three points if you had team mates on, say, second and third bases and they were able to run home too. Batsman are out if they miss three balls deemed to be within hitting range and they get a free walk to first base if the pitcher throws four ‘wides’ to them. Each team has nine innings and an inning is over when three of the batsmen are out, either caught or ran out. It seemed as if you could be ran out if the fielder on the base you were running to caught the ball anywhere near the base. He didn’t seem to have to touch the base with the ball or even his foot. I don’t know how many players make up a team or whether the pitchers were allowed to have a bat. I don’t think it would have suffered as a spectacle if the game had been played over five innings rather than nine and had finished in about two hours. As a cricket fan, I’d rather watch test cricket over five days than the shortened form, but I can see now why someone without much of an interest would enjoy a game of 20/20 more than a one day or five day game.

 There was a lot more rubbish left in the seats at the end than you would see at a football match in Korea, although enough had been brought down to the concourses to mean that large piles appeared every ten yards or so. The tube coped very well with the crowds and I was back in my apartment in time to catch the end of the Wolves v Stoke game on the telly.

 Meanwhile, whilst all this was going on, Jeonbuk were maintaining their unbeaten league record with a 3-3 draw away to Pohang Steelers. It was a close run thing though as they were 3-1 down with time running out. Lee Dong Gook is on a bit of a roll at the moment though and with his fifth goal in four games he pulled one back with four minutes to go.  The Brazilian Eninho then got the equalizer for Jeonbuk with an injury time penalty. The draw left Jeonbuk in fifth place in the table with 12 points from 6 games, four points behind leaders Ulsan Horang-i, but with a game in hand.

Jeonbuk Motors v Incheon, Sunday 4th April

May 25, 2010

Saturday morning and I thought that it was about time that I headed down to Jeonju to see Lee Dong Gook and his team Jeonbuk Motors play at their home ground. The Jeonbuk match wasn’t until the Sunday afternoon but I decided to make a weekend of it and have a look around Jeonju whilst I was there. After the previous weeks trek on the subway to Incheon it was a pleasure to get back on the KTX and travel the 230km to Jeonju in comfort and in not much longer than it had taken me to reach the suburbs of Seoul.

The train was 42,000 won each way for first class which works out at about fifty quid return for a two hour journey to Iksan and then a thirty minute trip on the regional commuter train to Jeonju. Not too bad I thought for a last minute booking. I’m starting to get the hang of buying tickets now and just used the ticket machine rather than joining the queue at the ticket office. The journey was pleasant enough again, I like the way that the ticket collectors bow as they enter and leave the carriages, although I’m not so impressed with the people pushing the trolleys with the drinks and food. They seem to regard it as a time trial in trying to go from one end of the carriage to the other without stopping or catching the eye of the passengers.

The view from the window was mainly of the Korean countryside, although I suppose that’s what you’d expect in Korea. The Canadian Rockies would have been a bit of a turn-up. A lot of the villages reminded me of Bulgaria or Kazakhstan, single storey buildings, lots of mud and with coloured plastic roofs, the sort of houses that didn’t look as if they would take more than a week to put up, even if you had spent the first six days of the week waiting for the builders to arrive.

When I got to Iksan I changed trains onto a smaller commuter train. The interesting thing about this one was that the seats rotated so that you could face whatever direction you fancied. I don’t just mean that the seat back could be moved, but the entire two seat unit rotated 180 degrees. I was sat next to a bloke who was returning home for a wedding and he quizzed me about the UK and what I was doing in Korea. He did seem a little surprised when I told him that I was making the trip from Seoul to see Lee Dong Gook play for Jeonbuk. I thought to myself that it was fortunate that I wasn’t making this trip to see a third division game, he’d probably have nervously moved seats and swiveled it to face away from me.

On arrival at Jeonju I came out of the station and looked for the bus stop mentioned in my guidebook, but couldn’t see it. I did see a sign for the Hanok Village though, four and a half kilometres away. The Hanok village is a place with traditional Korean single storey housing, a few temples and a bit of an attraction for tourists. It’s supposed to be one of the best examples in Korea. Four and a half kilometres isn’t much and as I only had a small backpack with me I decided just to walk it. It was an extremely sunny day and the road was long and straight, with small shops, bars and cafes lining the route.

Not quite Champions League

After about half an hour I saw a football stadium. I was pretty sure that it wasn’t Jeonbuk’s ground as I’d read that they played in an out of town stadium built for the 2002 World Cup, but I thought that it might have been one used by the team from Jeonju that plays in the division below, the National League. As I tend to do, I went and had a look around. As I approached the ground I heard a whistle and a bit of shouting so assumed that there must be a game going on inside. I couldn’t see any turnstiles or gates open, but there was a door that opened when I tried it. I wandered down a corridor and past a kitchen where the staff were shouting at each other and I could smell something cooking that was reminiscent of school dinners. Further up the corridor I could see daylight and hoping that it would lead to the pitch I headed for that. It was the pitch and there was what looked like a training game going on between teams in green and orange bibs. Trying to look like someone who was supposed to be there, I quietly took a seat in the main stand and watched.

The standard was very poor, so I doubted that it was proper players training, more like a bunch of mates having booked the pitch for a kickaround. There weren’t any linesman and the ref seemed very strict with his offside decisions, possibly to keep the score respectable but more likely because he rarely moved from the centre circle. The players were fairly equally split between those wearing shorts and those in tracky bottoms, although I wouldn’t have been surprised if one or two were wearing jeans. Oddly and despite the heat, a lot of them were wearing gloves. It was a good natured game, with plenty of laughter when someone managed an air shot or missed an easy opportunity. After about twenty minutes I left them to it, leaving via the main entrance this time and avoiding having to walk past the kitchen again just in case the arguments between the cooks had escalated into something involving meat cleavers. I resumed my walk toward the Hanok village although I hadn’t seen another sign since I left the station.

Possibly the reason that I hadn’t seen any signs for the Hanok village was that I was lost. After about another hour and an encounter with a couple of giggling teenage girls who seemed to find it amazing that someone would choose to walk to the village from wherever we were I admitted defeat and got a taxi. Wise move as after a good ninety minutes walk I must have been further away from it than the original four and a half kilometres. It was interesting enough, to the extent that a village of single storey houses can be, but I soon headed into town via a market with lots of dried fish to find a hotel.

Just like Peterlee

As I walked through the market, I got a plenty of attention with people saying hello to me and asking where I was from. One bloke came up to me, stroked the hairs on my arm and laughed. I felt like a dog with a flat head from too much patting, but they were all friendly enough. Kids greeted me with a kind of sing song that they seemed to have learned off by heart…

“Hello, how are you? My name is Kim, pleased to meet you, goodbye”

All of it trotted out before I could get a word in edgeways. I think Westerners must be a lot scarcer in Jeonju than they are in the big city. I found a hotel that set me back about twenty quid. It had free juice in the fridge and a vibrating bed that I couldn’t work out how to turn on.

Old blokes playing cards by the river

That evening I went into the town and watched Man Utd play Chelsea on the telly. The main interest for the Koreans was Park Ji Sung. The build up was all about him and the half time highlights consisted of showing his every touch and little else. It was as if he had taken on Chelsea single handed.

The next morning I went for a walk along the river. Every hundred yards or so there was gym equipment set up for passers by to use. Quite a clever idea I reckon, there must be loads of people who would never join a gym but who would be happy to have a play on stuff set up next to the river. I watched quite a few old folk have a bit of a work out on one of the machines and then walk on for a hundred yards and use a different one, perhaps with a break at a bench for a sit down and a chat. Add in a moan or two about how all this used to be fields and it’s circuit training for the elderly.

Old folks working out

I hadn’t had any breakfast so at about eleven nipped into a café for something to eat. Jeonju claims to be famous for its bibimbap, a rice based dish where you mix in a few veggies and then add a bit of spicy sauce and an egg. This one came with fourteen side dishes including beef in a sesame seed sauce, a couple of bowls of soup and various types of pickled vegetables and seaweed. Despite not speaking any English they showed me how to eat it, which bits to wrap in lettuce and which sauces to mix with which pickles. Then they charged me seven thousand won for it, which is about four quid. I can’t see how they could make much of a living at those prices.

I had a bit of time before the game and so wandered back to the Hanok village. There were a few bits that I’d missed the previous day as a consequence of having my map upside down. Once I’d got my bearings I went and had a look at a temple where they had the portraits of the formers Kings of Korea. There was a little write up about each one, ending with the lad who had the misfortune to be running the show when the Japanese invaded. That was the end of the monarchy and it seems that when the Japs were sent packing at the end of the Second World War, they didn’t bother to reinstate the monarchy. Just as well really, as there wasn’t enough room for many more portraits, although I’ve no idea if that figured much in their thinking.

Pair of Kings

Anyway, time for the match and I got a taxi to the stadium. Just as well really as it must have been a good ten miles out of town. As I walked around the stadium I spotted that Incheon had brought three coachloads of supporters with them, all of them appearing to be weighed down with banners, flags or drums including, I noticed later, their oddly worded banner ‘MEET YOU HALL! BOYS!’ I bought a ticket for the North Stand, which is the Jeonbuk singing end. It was six thousand won, with the most expensive West Stand being ten thousand won, half the price of Seoul FC.


The Jeonbuk fans were almost all wearing bright green shirts, often with a name on the back in English. I noticed a ‘Crazy Boy’’, an ‘Ultra Crazy Boy’, a ‘Greenholic’ and plenty with ‘Green Family’ on them. As kickoff approached we were entertained by previous Jeonbuk games on the big screen accompanied by an exuberant commentary that made Alistair Brownlee seem like Richard Dimbleby on state funeral duty.

The fun didn’t last for long though as Incheon took the lead after four minutes following a free kick from just outside of the box. Lee Dong Gook seemed popular with the crowd who were chanting his name. He was fouled a couple of times early on and then missed a good chance as he got on the end of a cross and put his shot wide from about a yard out. He was playing up front with a giant of a bloke who was absolutely useless. He wasn’t effective as a target man and he didn’t seem to have any real ball skills. If he had been wearing tracky bottoms he wouldn’t have looked out of place in the previous day’s game between the teams in the green and orange bibs. I wasn’t sure if it was just the two strikers in a 4-4-2 or if the left midfielder who often found himself alongside them was meant to be a third or if he was just too lazy to track back. After about half an hour the Jeonbuk keeper spilled a shot and Incheon followed up to make it two nil to the away team.

Green Army

Fortunately for Jeonbuk, they got straight back into it. Lee Dong Gook played his part by falling over the keeper after a corner and then prevented him from getting to his feet as the ball was lobbed into an unprotected net from outside of the box. Incheon were livid, whilst the Jeonbuk fans were torn between celebrating and laughing. A minute later and with Incheon still complaining Jeonbuk equalized as the ball fell to Lee Dong Gook about ten yards out and this time he contributed in more conventional style by picking his spot inside the near post. Jeonbuk could have gone in ahead at the break when the giant striker had an easy opportunity in injury time, but he chose to take a touch and his touch was crap. So, 2-2 it was at half time.

Lee Dong Gook celebrates the equaliser

In the second half I decided to watch from the upper tier. The stadium had four curvy stands which were joined at the lower tier but separate above that. It had been voted nicest looking stadium or something at the 2002 World Cup and you could see why. Eight years on it was starting to look at little shabby, with the seats getting a bit discoloured, but in a ‘MILF’ sort of way, it still had it.

After an hour the lanky striker got the hook to popular approval and then with fifteen minutes to go the Lion King latched on to a back pass, took it wide of the keeper and with two defenders closing in rolled it into the empty net  for the winner. At the final whistle I made a quick getaway so that I could grab a taxi, happy to miss the bowing as I knew I’d get enough of it on the train.

The win took Jeonbuk into fourth position, two points behind the leaders Ulsan, but with a game in hand.