South Korea v Ecuador, 16th May

This was looking as if it was going to be an even busier weekend than normal as different events kept cropping up as it got closer and I tried my best to fit them all in. Friday night was a ‘teambuilding’ dinner after work where about fifty of us went to a local Korean barbecue restaurant. I’d been here a few times before and the food is always pretty good. A charcoal barbecue is set into a hole in the middle of your table and you cook your own beef and pork, cutting it into small pieces with scissors and then eating it with spicy paste and wrapped in a lettuce leaf. You wash it down with beer and frequent shots of soju. This time we were in the room upstairs where you sit on cushions on the floor beside low tables. As a foreigner, and a not particularly supple foreigner at that, I was given about eight of the thin cushions to sit on. It was quite a precarious seat, especially as the empty soju bottles stated to mount up. I made my excuses at about ten o’clock, pretty much the worse for wear and leaving most of them still at it. There is quite a big after work drinking culture in Korea. As I’m not looking to build a career, just dropping in for a single project, there’s no need for me to adopt any of the customs that I’m not keen on and if I had a young family as a lot of them do, I would probably resent the time spent drinking with the same people that I’d just spent all day with. However, as I don’t have too many other commitments and I find my colleagues to be good company, I quite enjoy ‘teambuilding’ events like these. Although I doubt my liver would agree.

Saturdays have developed into hiking days, with a regular group of walkers. This week’s walk was due to start from Hoeryong and was a fair distance by subway from my apartment. Fortunately we weren’t due to meet up until 12.30pm which allowed my hangover to settle a little. I set off just before eleven and after some poor choices of subway line and some unusually long waits for trains, at noon I was still a change of line and seventeen stops away from the meeting place. They would no doubt have waited for me if I’d asked, but I didn’t want to be selfish and so phoned ahead to let them know that I wouldn’t be able to join them this week. As I had my hiking boots on I thought I might as well have a bit of a walk anyway and got off the train at the next station. It was Eungbong, over to the east of the city and just north of the Han River that runs through Seoul. As there was a path alongside the river I decided just to follow it until I got bored. It was quite an interesting walk. There wasn’t much happening on the river itself, a little bit of dragon boat training and the odd jet ski, a few fishermen, generally with four or five rods each, but every few hundred yards there would be permanent outdoor gym equipment, basketball courts, five a side pitches and badminton nets. I even passed a croquet pitch where a few pensioners were having a quite fiercely contested game. It was all free to use and seemed well taken care of and very popular. A cycle path ran alongside the path I was walking along and was also very popular with a mix of cyclists ranging from those on top of the range bikes and kitted out as if they were setting off to the Tour de France, to students on hired tandems and families with small children on bikes with stabilizers.

I walked for about three and a half hours, covering about ten miles and ending up on the other side of the city. It wasn’t the hike I’d planned for, but I saw parts of Seoul that up until now I’d only glimpsed from train windows, so it was a worthwhile day.

My plan for Sunday had initially revolved around the South Korea v Ecuador match in the evening. It was the only home ‘warm-up’ game for South Korea and I’d suspected that the Seoul World Cup Stadium would be close to its 65,000 capacity as the Korean fans gave their team a bit of a send off. Park Ji Sung, who is a superstar out here and appears in adverts in just about every media possible, would be playing and I was anticipating a bit of a party atmosphere.

Then I found out that the Korean Derby was taking place on the Sunday too. I’d been to the racetrack at Seoul a few weeks previously for a normal race meeting and it had been pretty busy. Whilst I didn’t care which horse won the Derby, I was quite keen to see if the spectacle differed much from the regular races day. The American girl I’ve been seeing isn’t much of a sports fan but has quite an inquisitive nature and so was happy to tag along to the races and the match. Then she mentioned that there was also a big lantern festival going on that day too, no doubt as part of the build up to Buddha’s birthday in a few days time.

Well, I’m all for festivals, even more so if there are naked flames involved, and so we thought we would try and squeeze that in too. First stop was the races. The crowds coming out of the subway were bigger than the last time I was here, which given that it was Derby Day wasn’t much of a surprise. The silkworm pupa on sale outside the station didn’t seem any more popular mind, despite the extra crowds. I was wondering if the 800 won admission charge would change with it being Derby Day, and it did. We were just waved through the turnstiles without having to pay.

After that though, it was all pretty much the same as the last time I was here. There was maybe a slightly larger crowd but no other indication that it was any different to a normal race day. I picked up an English form guide and discovered that the Derby itself wouldn’t be run until five o’clock. Well that didn’t really fit in with our plans so we hung about for about two hours, watching only three races due to the way that the races are so well spaced out around lunchtime and then cleared off to the Lantern Festival. There were still people coming in as we left about three o’clock and maybe that was the best way to do it. If I’m here next year on Derby Day, I’ll saunter up about half an hour before the big race, stick my bet on, collect my winnings and then celebrate with a tub of silkworms on the way out a few minutes later.

So next up was the Lantern Festival. My plan had been to spend a couple of hours there and then head off to the match. When we got there the streets were packed with people. There were stalls along the roadside offering various lantern making activities, insights into various different types of Buddhism and selling a variety of food. I had some sort of beans from Nepal that looked like peas, some of those clear noodles and some spicy dumpling that might have been pork. We were given lanterns with candles in for the parade later that evening and I thought that rather than dash off I’d rather miss the football on this occasion and stay at the festival. I might not get another chance to experience it all again, whilst I’d be watching South Korea play Argentina in the World Cup in a months time, that would probably be a bit better than a friendly against Ecuador. Apologies to those who read this far hoping for a match report, but that’s a risk you take with this blog. Still, if you keep reading I might tell you the score.

Anyway, it got dark and there was a lantern parade, which whilst it was quite impressive, wasn’t as much fun as I’d hoped it would be as we didn’t manage to find the place where everyone lined up. Instead of marching down the High Street brandishing flaming torches we ended up watching the parade from behind a barrier manned by policemen that looked no older than twelve years old. I didn’t even get to light my lantern. After an hour or so of floats and lanterns, we cleared off to a bar for beer and raw tuna.

Meanwhile South Korea won 2-0. Lee Dong Gook played just over an hour before being subbed with an injury that puts his World Cup participation in doubt. Interestingly, the match was reported as being a sellout, although attendances do get exaggerated here. It’s possible then that had we left the festival before the parade to get to the match we might not have got in, meaning that in the same day we would have turned up for, but failed to see the Derby, the Lantern Parade and the South Korea v Ecuador game. That would have been some hat trick.

5 Responses to “South Korea v Ecuador, 16th May”

  1. cogstar Says:

    U are such a tosser. Nothing to see on the river OTHER than dragon boats!! Oh and no pic of girlie mate and laterns vs footy? Oh I,m in keswick 5 ciders in and ready for an epic tomorrow its 27c really

    • onthetrailofthelionking Says:

      They are not real dragons you know, just canoeists with just the one paddle. The lantern festival v the football was a difficult one. In hindsight I should have gone to the match, but it all seemed very promising when they started handing out the candles.

  2. Antony Swarr Says:

    Korea has gotten lucky and I think will be done quite soon.

  3. Khao Sok National Park Says:

    Nice site 🙂 I would like to visit Korea…

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