Archive for July, 2010

Gangwon FC v Jeonbuk Motors, Saturday 24th July 2010, 7pm

July 26, 2010

After last weeks away win for Jeonbuk at Daejeon Citizen I thought I’d go along to see them again, this time at second from bottom Gangwon. Gangwon play over on the east coast and because of the mountain ranges between there and Seoul it isn’t really feasible to go by train. There isn’t a direct route and the journey would take about six and a half hours. Fortunately there is a fantastic bus network in Korea and so I decided to travel by road for a change.

There’s a silver lining to most things and the same mountains that were causing problems for the trains meant that I had a chance to combine a bit of walking with the match. The game didnt kick off until 7pm on the Saturday, so if I got up early enough I would be able to nip up a hill or two before the game. And thats what I did.

When my alarm went off at 5am, I felt like I’d just gone to bed. Which is probably because I had. Still, I’m not too bad at getting up early in the morning and by quarter to six I was at the subway. It wasn’t quite fully light at that time and in the area around my apartment there were still people who weren’t prepared to call it a night sat at the tables of the street vendors, finishing off their soju. The subway was surprisingly busy with a mixture of people who had finally decided to head for home mingling with those who were on their way out to work. There were plenty of people in hiking gear too, looking to get an early start on the hills before the crowds arrived.

My bus left from Dong Seoul Terminal at half past six for the two and a quarter hour journey to Jinbu. It was only 11,900 won, about six quid, and the bus was about half full. As we headed east the rain started to fall and I looked out of the bus window wondering about the wisdom of leaving my waterproof trousers at home. On the face of it, it did seem a little bit stupid. I was hiking up a 1500m high mountain in the middle of the rainy season, so I suppose waterproofs would be on most peoples lists of things to pack. Thing was though, the fact that I was doing a bigger mountain than normal and that I would have to carry not only my hiking stuff, but also all my gear for the rest of the weekend too, meant that I was trying to be ruthless in what I took with me. In the end I left them out and gambled that in the event of rain my normal trousers would dry out quickly in the heat.

I arrived at Jinbu at a quarter to nine. There were connecting buses to the start of the hiking trail at Sangwonsa in the Odaesan National Park, but they didnt leave for another hour. If I waited at the bus station for an hour, it would cut down the amount of time that I would have to get up and down the mountain and then make my way the thirty miles or so to Gangneung for the match. I decided to save the time and got a taxi. It took half an hours driving through the National Park to get there, with quite a significant height gain as we did so. In fact, the temple where I got out was at almost 500m, so my 1563m peak was made a whole lot easier at a stroke.

Apparently there was a big bell at Sangwonsa Temple, a thousand years old and pretty famous. I didnt see it though. Not that I was too bothered. I’d seen the bell at Suwon a couple of months ago and you were allowed to ring that one. Just looking at a bell didn’t seem anything like as much fun. I did see a couple of monks practising their baseball pitching. They weren’t too impressive either, spending more time running after the ball than successfully catching it. Perhaps they were dogs in a previous incarnation and had retained some of the characteristics.

I set off for Birobong peak at half past nine and reached the top, three kilometres away, two hours later. There was a temple halfway up where I stopped for a while and listened to the chanting. There were also a lot of tame stripey squirrels which were brave enough to eat peanut cookies from my hand. I don’t know if peanut cookies normally form part of their natural diet in the wild but they seemed to like them.

 The path up the hillside was well maintained, but it got quite steep towards the summit. It didnt rain, but there was a constant moisture in the air that meant I was soaked through anyway. I dont think the waterproof trousers would have made any difference if I’d brought them, the humidity was such that I was as wet from sweat as from the dampness in the air.

Because of all the trees, there wasn’t much of a view on the way up and when I got to the top the mist meant that it was no better there. I posed for a photo at the top as this is possibly the highest mountain I’ve ever walked up, even if I did get a taxi for the first third of it.

After feeding some more cookies to the squirrels I moved on to the next peak, Sangwangbong (1493m), which was about forty minutes away along an overgrown path. The route dropped down a bit more than the sixty metre height difference, so I had a fair stint of uphill stuff to contend with again. After posing for another photo at the top I headed back down in a looped route that added up to about twelve or thirteen kilometres altogether, getting back to the Sangwonsa Temple where I’d started almost five hours earlier.

 It must have been time for prayers as I couldn’t see the baseball monks anywhere. Although they could have been busy chasing cats or sniffing each others arses.

The difficulty now was that with four and a half hours to go until kick off there were no taxis to be seen and the next bus wasn’t due for a couple of hours. I stuck my thumb out and got two quick lifts that had me back at Jinbu bus station in not much more time than it had taken me to do the reverse journey in the taxi that morning. I hadn’t hitched for years, I used to do it all the time as a kid, Boro games, trips to the Lakes, back and forward to college in London and holidays in France, but it’s something you tend to grow out of. Still, if I can visit DVD rooms and fall off a bike at my age, I can stick out a thumb when I’m stranded in the middle of nowhere.

I got a bus from Jinbu to Gangneung and checked into a hotel across the road from the station. Unlike last weeks place, this one didnt have any horses above the door, but it was smart enough and with an hour to go to kick off I got a taxi to the ground.

 Actually I got a taxi to just about every football ground in Gangneung. I’d taken the precaution of asking the lady in the Tourist Information Office to write down the name of the stadium in Korean for me as I didn’t want the same arse crackery as I’d had trying to get a taxi to the Seoul Martyrs ground a couple of weeks earlier. Unfortunately she had written down the name of a stadium that Gangwon had occasionally played at but, as you might have guessed, weren’t playing at that evening. Not to worry, the taxi driver told me that he knew where the other stadium was and he confidently took me to a couple of artificial pitches belonging to a school up in the hills on the outskirts of town. Now I’ve never seen Gangwon’s stadium before, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t it either. Third time lucky, he dropped me at the real place twenty minutes before kick off with a big grin and a generous reduction on the metered fare.

I got a six thousand won ticket for the Jeonbuk end, which was the South stand behind the goal. The stadium was bowl shaped, with a roof on the West stand only and with a running track around the pitch. There only seemed to be about four thousand people in the stadium, with Jeonbuk contributing perhaps about a hundred or so. Gangwon were in orange shirts with white shorts, Jeonbuk in their away strip of all white with green trim.

The pitch was heavily waterlogged, particularly towards the edges, and you could see the water splashing up as the players ran through the worst parts. The referee, possibly regretting leaving his waterproof trousers at home too, rarely strayed from the centre of the pitch. Perhaps he feared getting his boots wet, or even drowning.

Gangwon started the better of the two teams, missing a good chance in the first few minutes. Jeonbuk had left out Krunoslav Lovrek and were playing Lee Dong Gook up front by himself where he did well enough winning free kicks but it wasn’t a formation that looked like producing a goal.

Towards the end of the first half Kim Young Hoo scored a direct free kick for Gangwon from about thirty yards, rocketing it in off the underside of the bar. Not long after the restart for the second half, Lee Chang Hoon got Gangwon’s second when he finished well after cutting inside from the left.

Jeonbuk made a change a few minutes later, bringing on Krunoslav Lovrek and switching to 4-4-2. It almost paid immediate dividends as the Croat sub got clear on goal and tried to play in Luiz Henrique when it would have been easier to score. Lovrek was combining well with Lee Dong Gook who set him up for a shot that the keeper did well to turn around the post.

The breakthrough for Jeonbuk almost came after seventy three minutes when they had a goal disallowed for offside. It didnt matter though as a couple of minutes later Henrique played a great ball out to his fellow Brazilian Enhino, whose cross was tapped in by Lovrek. A few minutes later Jeonbuk got their equaliser, again courtesy of the two South Americans, Henrique letting the ball run through his legs to Enhino who took it himself this time.

Both sides were pushing for a late winner and each had plenty of chances, Gangwon failing to convert a couple of quick breaks and Lee Dong Gook having a volley blocked.

A minute or two into stoppage time both Jeonbuk strikers chased after a through ball and Lovrek got the final touch, scoring a winner that had seemed unimaginable just a quarter of an hour earlier. The hundred or so Jeonbuk fans celebrated their unlikely victory with the players at the end as the Gangwon fans filed out, no doubt muttering never to return.

I got a taxi back to my hotel, calling into a nearby cafe where my technique of just pointing at someones food and gesturing that I would have the same backfired as I got a bowl of what appeared to be raw kidney soup. I made do with the rice and kimchi that came with it.

Jeonbuk’s win moved them up to fourth place in the table. Leaders Jeju United maintaining their three point lead courtesy of a similar injury time 3-2 win at Incheon. With only four points separating the top six teams at the halfway stage in the league it is promising to be an interesting second half of the season.

Daejeon Citizen v Jeonbuk Motors, Saturday 17th July 2010, 7pm

July 21, 2010

It was about time that I got along to see Lee Dong Gook play for Jeonbuk again and as they were playing at Daejeon which is only an hour away from Seoul, I had the ideal opportunity. I’d been to Daejeon last month when I’d seen the National League side Daejeon Hydro and Nuclear clinch the first stage of their league and then I’d popped into the Hanwha Eagles baseball game with the Doosan Bears. This time though, it was going to be the top division stuff, in another of the 2002 World Cup stadiums. In fact, if you can remember, it was at Daejeon where South Korea knocked Italy out in the quarter finals.

The game didnt kick off until 7pm Saturday and I’d been wondering for a few days how best to fill my weekend. I quite fancied doing a bit of hiking in the hills around Daejeon and toyed with the idea of heading down there on the Friday evening or early Saturday morning and getting my miles in before the game rather than on the Sunday. However,  I’ve recently been seeing an American girl and on Friday evening we found ourselves at a dvd bang instead.

Bang means room. So, thats another Korean word I know. Perhaps the language is slowly beginning to sink in without me realising. I can now say hello, thank you, count as far as two and I know the word for a silver fish used in the context of taking the mickey out of someone wearing a shiny suit. Not bad for nearly five months. Anyway, the dvd bang. It’s another one of those popular Korean things that I doubt would really catch on in the UK. Its just like a video shop, except after selecting your film you dont take it home, you give it to the bloke behind the counter and then you watch it in a private room. It’s a bit like the Noraebang karaoke places but without the requirement to sing quite so many Celine Dion ballads. The dvd bang  tend to be a bit smarter as well, small rooms with a big screen, big settee and a big amount of embarrassment for your schoolteacher date when she bumps into a former pupil on the way in. Apparently these places have a bit of a reputation as being somewhere for courting couples to spend an hour or two alone. Of course, as a film buff I wouldnt know anything about that sort of thing.

Saturday morning and it was pouring down in Seoul.That was a bit disappointing as I’d been planning on going for a ride on my bike. I’m aware that this is starting to sound like the blog of a fifteen year old boy, but it’s an age thats not far below the surface in most of us. I’d walked alongside the Han River a few weeks back, saw the cyclists and thinking that it might be a pleasant way to spend an afternoon I’d been to a bike shop last Sunday and got myself sorted.

The bike shop was north of the river and it took me a while to get there on the subway from my apartment in the south. My plan was to cycle to the river on my new machine, ride alongside it for a while and then head back home after about an hours pleasant meandering around. It didn’t quite go to plan, as I got lost on the way to the river and found myself heading in the wrong direction on a dual carriageway. By the time I’d found the river I was starting to feel the pace a bit. I got a bit of a second wind though and had a very enjoyable ride alongside the other cyclists, hikers, old biddies playing bowls, old blokes working out on the gym equipment and families having picnics. I passed a couple of football games where I was tempted to pull over and see if I could join in and a cafe where I stopped for a drink. It was all going pretty well until I started to  pick up the pace a bit,  my chain slipped off and my momentum hurled me sideways off my bike onto the tarmac.

Ouch. As they say.

I’d taken the skin off my elbow and given myself a few scrapes on my legs and feet. What was odd though was that nobody stopped to see if I was okay. Whilst I sat on the ground there must have been another twenty or thirty cyclists who passed by and did nothing more than generously swerve around me rather than ride straight over the top of me. I set off again a few minutes later, leaving a mixture of skin and dignity on the tarmac and rode on for about another half an hour or so before realising that if I wanted to cross the river I’d have to turn back to a bridge I’d passed before my crash. So, after about three hours of pedalling and dripping blood I eventually got back to my apartment, a little more tired and battered than I’d intended to be. Still, I’m sure it’s doing me good.

With no bike riding on the Saturday due to the rain I set off for Daejeon on the KTX train mid-afternoon and less than an hour later I was there. Fortunately the rain had stopped within about twenty minutes of me leaving Seoul.The last time I’d been in Daejeon I’d stayed in a hotel in the south east of the city, close to the station and the baseball ground. This time I decided that I would be better off in the Yusong Spa area in the north west, close to the World Cup stadium and the hills where I was planning to hike the following day. Daejeon has a subway that consists of just a single line, bless them, and I used it to make my way up to Yusong Spa. There were plenty of motels in the area around the subway station, with names ranging from the Cosy Motel to the Rich Motel. I settled on one called the Luxury Motel.

 Luxury sounds better than Cosy or Rich, and besides, it had four lifesize horses above its door.

I paid the forty thousand won (about twenty two quid) and was given my key. No forms to fill in, no credit card swipe, it’s all very easy. My room was pretty good even if luxurious was pushing it slightly. It had a bed, which I mention just because not all Korean rooms do. In a lot of places you sleep on the floor which no matter how much of a spin you put on it is an experience that I’d struggle to describe as luxurious. As well as the bed I got air conditioning, a computer, a fridge, a water cooler and a big flat screen television. A big flat screen television that turned on as I inserted my key into the slot by the door and was tuned to a porn channel.

There wasnt much of a plot but the happy couple certainly seemed to get around a bit, managing to get their kit off and snatch a moment or two of fun everywhere from a field to a shop changing room. And all without bumping into former pupils too. It was getting on a bit though so after a while I thought I’d better leave them to it and get a taxi up to the stadium.

I got to the ground about an hour before kick off and bought a ticket for ten thousand won. It looked as if you could sit wherever you liked as the ticket didnt seem to specify a particular stand. With plenty of time in hand I joined a few fans sat outside a 7-Eleven convenience store and had  a beer whilst watching a line of people trying to win a vuvuzela by scoring a penalty past an inflatable goalkeeper. I was pleased to see that not many succeeded as whilst I enjoyed the novelty that the vuvuzelas brought to the World Cup I’d rather they didnt catch on elsewhere.

As kickoff approached I took my place in the North Stand with the Jeonbuk supporters. There were probably a few hundred of them there in a crowd that I’d estimate to be about five thousand. The stadium was well designed, with no running track and steep slopes to the stands ensuring that the fans were close to the pitch. I got a couple of Hite beers to see me through the first half as the teams came out and was pleased to see that Lee Dong Gook was back in the starting eleven after his two goals as a substitute the previous week.

Jeonbuk were in their usual luminous green shirts with Daejeon in maroon. Just before kick off the Jeonbuk fans unfurled a variety of home made banners that looked like they had been made after, or perhaps during, a particularly heavy drinking session. Quite a few of the Daejeon fans were playing those little cymbals alongside their songs and so sounded a bit like a group of Buddhist monks. Even so, it’s still better than the vuvuzelas.

Jeonbuk started the better of the two teams with Lee Dong Gook twice going close in the first quarter of an hour with a volley from the edge of the box and a close range header that was very well saved. The first goal wasn’t far away for Jeonbuk though as Tae-Uk Choi beat the Daejeon keeper at his near post. Ten minutes before half time Jeonbuk made it two as Lee Dong Gook and his fellow striker Krunoslav Lovrek broke clear. Lee Dong Gook drew the keeper and generously rolled the ball across an open goal for the Croatian to tap it into an empty net. The Jeonbuk fans chanted Lee Dong Gook’s name in recognition of his unselfishness.

The game was over just before half time as in another quick break Eninho added a third for Jeonbuk to finish Daejeon off. I got another couple of Hites for the second half and as darkness fell the Jeonbuk fans made the most of one of those days when it all goes right.

 Jeonbuk had a song which I’m sure was in English and appeared to consist mainly of the words,

“Don’t forget you’re shite, don’t forget you’re shite, don’t forget you’re shite, woah woh”

Aimed at the Daejeon fans as a bit of constructive criticism on the performance of their team it seemed to make perfect sense. But then, remembering the Korean tendency to pick up every piece of their litter before leaving I did wonder if they were actually reminding each other to tidy up after themselves before going home,

“Don’t forget your shite, don’t forget your shite, don’t forget your shite, woah woh”

Jeonbuk rounded off the day with a fourth goal, a long range shot from Luiz Henrique, fifteen minutes from the end. Lee Dong Gook had a few late chances, but despite the Jeonbuk crowd willing him on to get a goal it never quite fell right for him.

 At the final whistle I got the subway back to my hotel, the four horses above the door making it easier than normal to find it

Next day I got a taxi to Sutunggol and hiked up Bingyesan and Geumsubing. The first of those two peaks was 358 metres high and it took just over an hour walking through thick forest to reach it. In fact the forest was so dense that there wasn’t much of a view, even at the top.

 I had hoped that carrying on to the next peak, Geumsubong, which was listed at 532 metres, would mean a leisurely 150 metre stroll up a ridge. It didn’t. In a snakes and ladderesque disappointment there were a series of stairways downwards off the peak that meant ten minutes after being sat on the top of Bingyesan, I was down in the valley between the two hills with it all to do again.

An hour or so later I was at the top of Geumsubing sharing Makkeoli and food with three Korean lads I’d got talking to on the way up. Unusually, they werent kitted out for hiking as seems to be almost compulsory here, but were wearing quite smart shoes and trousers. Two of them were in the Korean Army and appeared to have just decided on a whim to have a quick jaunt up a couple of hills.

On the way down we stopped at a river where, as customary, everyone removed their footwear and cooled their feet down.

At the bottom of the hill we nipped into a restaurant for some duck and what was possibly the spiciest pepper I’d had since getting here. We had a couple of kettles of makkeoli and one of the lads went through a litre of soju in about half an hour. Thats the equivalent of drinking two thirds of a bottle of vodka with your tea.

It was still early and with the makkeoli kicking in we headed back into town in their pickup truck, fortunately not driven by the soju drinker. He did come close to falling out of the door a couple of times though. We rounded the afternoon off at a billiard club where, to my relief, they agreed to play pool or ‘pocketball’ as they call it here, rather than billiards on the tables without any pockets. After a pleasant hour or so, I got the train back up to Seoul where it had eventually stopped raining.

Jeonbuk’s win had kept them in sixth place, but narrowed the gap to top of the table Jeju United to three points. Next week Jeonbuk are away to Gangwon and I think I’ll pop along to that one too.

Seoul Martyrs v Cheonan, Saturday 10th July, 5pm.

July 14, 2010

It was time for my first football match since the World Cup. If I’d wanted to I could have gone down to Jeonju to watch Jeonbuk play in a K-League game. They had got a bit behind in their fixtures due to their Asian Champions League run and so were starting up again a week before everyone else was due to resume after the break for the World Cup.

Whilst the prospect of seeing Lee Dong Gook and his mates get back on track in their championship challenge was quite appealing, I’d already been to Jeonju and so thought that I’d have a trip out to see Seoul Martyrs in the third division instead. I left the house at about half past three for the five o’clock kick off after first putting on a layer of sun cream. It’s getting pretty hot over here at the moment and now that I don’t have much hair my head seems to burn so much more easily.

I’d got a bit of an unwanted bronzing the previous Sunday when I’d spent a day rafting on the Hantan River, a couple of hours to the north east of Seoul. It was an enjoyable day in a very scenic valley, but I’d come home a lot redder than when I went out. I’d also come home with one knee bigger than the other, as whilst on one of those occasions when you get out of the boat to just drift along with the current, I’d whacked my legs on a rock hidden a couple of feet below the surface.  Still, I’m not going to complain too much as I count any day in the water as a success if I can manage not to drown. And speaking of successes, I’d doubled the number of Korean words that I know by the frequent use of  “One, Two” or “Hana, Dul” as we rowed. If the gas industry ever dips into recession I’m confident I could now make a reasonable living coxing Dragon boats.

I should really have allowed a bit more time to get to the match as I had to sit through twenty four stops on the subway before arriving at Soyu station in the north of Seoul about twenty minutes before the 5pm kickoff. I hopped into a taxi and asked the driver to take me to Gangbuk Soccer Stadium. Normally I like nothing better than putting people straight on the correct `Football v Soccer` terminology, but today I didnt have the time or the inclination to get involved and just took the easy option. Or what I thought was the easy option.. He looked at me as if my over-reddened face was due to the telephone ringing whilst I was ironing rather than the effects of the sun and he kept repeating in apparent disbelief,

“Gangbuk? Soccer Stadium?”

It was as if I’d asked him to take me to Harrods in Billingham town centre.

“Yes, Gangbuk Soccer Stadium” I confirmed.

He shook his head and started jabbering away in that aggressive way that a lot of Koreans do, even I imagine when they are reading their kids bedtime stories. I often listen to my colleagues at work talking and from the tone of their voices I am usually convinced that they are having a violent argument that will end in one of them being hurled out of the fourteenth floor window. More often than not it turns out to be nothing more sinister than one telling the other what he had eaten for lunch.

Fortunately I had the address of the stadium written down and I handed it over with a smug look on my face. He read it, shook his head again and went back to his routine of;

“Gangbuk? Soccer Stadium?”

Now I know the third division doesn’t have big crowds, but as far as I was aware I was within a couple of miles of the stadium and he was a taxi driver who makes his living driving people to places in Seoul, so it shouldn’t really have been beyond him.

Anyway, he set off, still chuntering away. I was tempted to use my newfound knowledge and give him a quick burst of “Hana, Dul, Hana, Dul” to hurry him along but on reflection felt that it might not necessarily help. A hundred yards or so later, he pulled up at a taxi rank and got out to ask for directions, taking with him my piece of paper with the address on.

A minute or two later he got back into the taxi and picked up where he left off, like an Action Man with a jammed voice cord.

“Soccer Stadium?”

“Yes, but Gangbuk Soccer Stadium” I replied, not wanting him to try and solve his dilemma by taking me to the World Cup Stadium a few miles away instead. That was enough to set him off again.

“Gangbuk? Soccer Stadium?”

I think he sensed from me hitting my forehead with the palm of my hand that I was ready to get out and so he set off again, but with a bit more decisiveness this time. He cut across two lanes of traffic and swung the car into what looked like a school. Perhaps he thought that they would have a pitch there that he could pass off as the Gangbuk Soccer Stadium.  A few minutes later he was back on the main road and stopped to ask a woman stood at the traffic lights. He barked at her in the same way he had been doing at me and she, after giving him what appeared to be a mouthful back,  pointed  in the direction that we had just come from and gave him a few directions. A quick U turn and a couple of minutes later we were there.

I still don’t think he could believe that someone would choose to watch a game there, if indeed he had any idea that there was a match taking place. I’m pretty sure that he was expecting me to admit my mistake and to then sheepishly ask him to drive on to the World Cup Stadium or somewhere. But I didnt, I paid him as gracefully as my mood allowed, which wasnt very gracefully at all as it happens, and got out.

The stadium was at the top of a short incline and I could see through the bars of the large gate to the terracing at the far end. I went through a smaller gate to the right and was inside. Nobody appeared to be collecting any money, which wasnt surprising really as the six or seven step terracing was surrounded on the other three sides by woodland. A path ran all the way around the pitch and there seemed to be almost as many walkers taking a bit of exercise as there were spectators at the match. It was all very picturesque, although I imagine that had anyone been taking a walk through the woods, it would have been quite an odd sight to stumble across as you came to a clearing.

The teams were on the pitch and about to kick off. Seoul Martyrs, who were struggling towards the bottom of the table, were in red shirts, with black shorts and white socks. Their opponents, Cheonan, had the same shorts and socks combo, but were wearing white shirts.

The home team had the advantage of five fans behind the goal who were making as much noise as they could, with a drum, loudhailer and one who had made the unusual choice of banging two empty plastic drinks bottles together. Perhaps it will be the craze of the next World Cup.  I didnt see any away fans although if their taxi experience had been anything like mine, they could still have been travelling around Seoul trying to convince their driver that they really didnt want to be at the Olympic Stadium ten miles away.

There were maybe another hundred or so people watching, spread around the pitch, some in the small covered stand at the halfway line, others sat on benches and looking like they were just taking a short break from a stroll in the park.

The game was fairly even for the first twenty minutes or so, Cheonan looked marginally the better team and were passing the ball well. Seoul probably had the best couple of chances though before Cheonan took the lead with a well struck shot. There was polite applause from most of the crowd, so it looked as if they were neutrals who had just nipped out for a bit of fresh air.

I wondered if the first goal would open the floodgates. When the two teams had met last in October, Cheonan had won 12-0 and whilst I don’t like a game to be too one-sided, a score like that would more than make up for any lack of tension over where the points were going. By half time though, there was still just the single goal in it. I popped into the small convenience store just outside the main gate for a drink, only to find a couple of the Cheonan subs in there, one of them keeping his blood sugar levels up with an ice cream, the other taking on board a little extra energy by way of a Pot Noodle.

It didnt take Cheonan long to score a second after the restart, with a breakaway goal that was very well finished. The Seoul Martyrs fans kept up the noise though and their team still didnt look out of it. I was hoping they would pull one back just so that I could tell a passerby the score with my new Korean words, but they didnt. Still, it was a big improvement from the last time they had met Cheonan. Unfortunately I had to leave after an hour as I had stuff planned for that evening and so I had to wait a couple of days to find out that Cheonan had added a third after I’d gone. Fortunately the taxi driver on the way out didn’t find it too unreasonable when I asked him to take me to the nearest subway station.

Further south, Jeonbuk Motors beat Daegu by four goals to nil with Lee Dong Gook coming on as a second half sub and scoring twice in the final few minutes. It moved them up to sixth place in the table, five points behind leaders Ulsan Horang-i but with a game in hand. I’ll probably go and see them next week when they visit Daejeon Citizen.

LG Twins v Lotte Giants, Saturday 3rd July, 5pm

July 7, 2010

There isn’t much football going on in Korea at the moment. The K League is suspended for the duration of the World Cup and the National League is on it’s mid season break. Just to  complicate matters the third division, K3, is having some sort of mid season tournament which I’m struggling to understand, never mind explain. To make things even more difficult, the fixtures website that I use listed all of the K3 games for this weekend as taking place on Friday evening. That didnt strike me as unusual, as the National League often play most of their games on a Friday night. It meant though, that I wouldnt see a match this weekend as it’s a bit of a rush to make any of the stadiums after finishing work an hour or so before kick off.

So with no games on the Saturday I decided to go hiking instead. The group that I usually go with had organised a walk along the Bugaksan skyway, which is a ridge to the north of Seoul, overlooking a valley and famous for crested newts. As it turned out the newts didn’t prove to be much of an attraction and instead of the usual dozen or so hikers, just two of us, Jeong-ho and myself showed up. I’m possibly being a bit hard on the amphibians, as I suspect a combination of hot weather, the rainy season and it being the university holidays probably had more to do with the lack of interest. Anyway, we changed our plan and went for a walk along the old Seoul fortress wall instead.

Baddies would have to climb over this.

I’d never heard of this particular wall before, there is a much more famous one at Suwon which I walked around a few weeks ago, but the old Seoul remains were news to me. It was built to stop the Chinese attacking from the north and the Japanese from the south. Just in case either of them unsportingly chose to pop in via the east or west, the wall wrapped around the city in a rough circle. We didnt walk around the full eighteen kilometres, partly because some stretches are no longer there, but mainly because we couldnt be arsed, it was just too hot. After walking on the outside of the wall for a while and ending up in someones garden, we called it a day at lunchtime and headed back into town to get some food.

We ended up in one of their gardens.

We took a short cut through a school that Jeong-ho informed me was famous as the location for a Korean soap. As I hadn’t seen the programme, being in the grounds didn’t quite make my day in the way it seemed to be doing for the groups of women who were stood around taking each others photos. I’ll keep an eye out for it now though.

After a lunch of bulgogi, which is probably best described as mince soup, Jeong-ho went home and I pondered what to do with the rest of my day. Baseball seemed the easy option and as both LG Twins and Doosan Bears play their home games at the Jamsil Stadium, three stops from my apartment, there was an exceptionally good chance that there would be a game taking place at 5pm.

First though, I nipped into an art gallery. Sorry if this is getting less and less sport orientated, but it’s not really my fault. Jeong-ho had a spare ticket to an exhibition that ended the next day. He asked me if I wanted it rather than throw it away and so I thought, ok, why not. I probably would have just stuck it in my pocket and forgotten about it, but then I realised that he would ask me what I thought of the exhibition on our next hike and so decided that I’d better have a quick look.

It was actually in a museum inside the Doeksugung Palace, which is where the Kings and Queens of Korea had lived for about four or five hundred years until the Japanese knocked all that monarchy stuff on the head about a hundred years ago. The grounds of the Palace were interesting enough, with a few old buildings, but the exhibition, `Moon is the oldest clock’ was a bit too arty for me. One of the exhibits was twelve tellies, each showing a moon at a different phase. I didnt even bother scratching my chin and pretending to understand it all and left after a quick dash around.

 I did get to see the changing of the guard on the way out though so it wasnt a complete waste of time.

Anyway, it meant I had plenty of time to get to the baseball. First though, I’m just going to quickly mention a date that I went on earlier in the week. I don’t normally write about stuff like that, partly because it’s not that sort of blog, but mainly in case any of the women concerned somehow get to read it. I’ll risk it this week though. I was meeting a Filipino girl in a part of town near to where she lived and as she knew the area better than me, I suggested that she might like to pick the bars and restaurants. Lazy I know, but why not if you can get away with it?

It started off fairly much as normal with a visit to a Chinese restaurant where I think her intention was to check out my table manners and alcohol consumption. Then she took me on to an ice cream parlour. Not somewhere I’d have chosen myself, but I like ice cream so fair enough. I made a point of discreetly demonstrating my ability to get the ice cream out of the bottom of the cone with my tongue just in case she was still undecided about a second date.

`So, what’s next?’ I asked, anticipating a trip to a bar or two as we left the ice cream parlour.

`Norae bang’ she said. `Follow me.’

We went down a couple of flights of steps into quite a scruffy looking basement. It looked like the sort of place that often has internet cafes in them. No natural light and not much in the way of fresh air. We walked along a dimly lit corridor with a few doors leading off it. At the reception desk, she told the old bloke that we would like a room for an hour and I paid him the fifteen thousand won that he asked for. He told us which room was ours and we went in. It was quite small, maybe ten feet square, with a couple of vinyl covered sofas and a television screen on the wall. It smelt like an ashtray and lying on a small table in front of one of the sofas were two microphones and two books full of song titles.

Karaoke. Norae bang is karaoke, but private karaoke. I was beginning to regret my consumption of ice cream rather than alcohol.

My date was soon into her stride though, rattling out a selection of ballads, none of which I was familiar with, including one which she pointed out to me was a famous song from the film Titanic. Even after the explanation I must have still looked a bit blank.

`You know’ she said, `Movie about a big boat. Hits a block of ice and breaks in two.’

Which, as film reviews go, just about covers it.

As an uptight Englishman I struggled a bit, particularly without the relaxing effect of a few beers. I even had difficulty in making my selections, not wanting to pick anything where she might read any significance in the lyrics, before eventually mangling Green Day’s `Time of your Life’ and `Whatever’ by Oasis. The latter of which must have the longest fade out at the end of any song after the singing stops. I was stood there with the microphone in my hand for a good minute and a half wondering if Liam had gone for a piss and whether or not the words would suddenly reappear for a final rendition of the chorus.

It was quite enjoyable as a novel experience, albeit one that I won’t necessarily be in a hurry to repeat. As we left I could hear the sounds coming from other rooms and some of them seemed to have groups of maybe half a dozen blokes all singing, but sounding a little worse for wear than I was. I think that if the UK had Norae bang, the rooms would be full of teenagers drinking White Lightning or married couples looking to put a bit of spice back into their lives with a quickie in a different location. In Korea though, it seems that they just use them for singing, and judging by the smell, smoking a couple of packets of fags each.

Anyway, thats enough of that particular digression, back to Saturday nights baseball.

I was right in my assumption that there would be a game on, LG Twins were taking on the team from Busan, Lotte Giants. I bought a ticket in the upper tier for eight thousand won, right behind the batsman. Usually I like to sit further to the side, so that I can watch without having to look through the protective netting. Tonight though, I thought I’d start off a bit closer to the action.

The stadium wasn’t far off being full, with just odd seats available in most of the main curved stand, apart from a few together right in the corners. The seats in the outfield were probably about a quarter full. The odd thing was that there seemed to be as many fans supporting the Lotte Giants as were the LG Twins. Considering that Busan is a good three hours away on the fast train, that was an excellent turnout from the away team, although it is possible that a fair proportion of them may live in Seoul.

The game was high scoring which made for long innings and therefore a lengthy game. If you don’t know how long a match will go on for it’s difficult to pace yourself and I made up for a reasonably quiet week by knocking back enough beer to make even the prospect of trotting out a couple of Celine Dion tracks seem like a pleasurable experience.

Sitting in the sun, watching live sport is great, particularly when the first couple of cans kick in to just take the edge off the day. Keeping it up for over five hours though is probably a bit more than I want to be doing too often. We’ll see. The match itself was fairly even, with the lead changing hands, before eventually going to extra time after being all level at the end of nine innings. The fans were pretty evenly matched too, both taking turns to make plenty of noise, as is the custom, when it was their teams turn to bat. It was nice to see the Lotte fans incorporating the name of their city, Busan, into the songs too and well after ten o’clock they were finally rewarded with a 14-13 win.