SK Wyverns v KIA Tigers, Sunday 1st August 2010, 5pm

I’d walked past the SK Wyverns baseball stadium at Munhak not long after I’d arrived in Korea, whilst on my way to an Incheon Korail game, but five months on I still hadn’t managed to get back there to see a game. The regular baseball season finishes this month so I thought I’d better make the effort to get there before it’s all over until next year.

I’d got back from my trip to Jeonju to see Jeonbuk Motors at around Sunday lunchtime and as the baseball game didn’t start until 5pm, I had a bit of spare time. Enough spare time to be able to ride down to the river on my bike. Sunday, as you would expect, is a much quieter day in Seoul than the other days of the week and so it was easy enough to cycle the twenty minutes or so from my apartment to the River Han. Streets that would normally be full of traffic and pedestrians are certainly a lot easier to negotiate on a Sunday lunchtime. Even so, I still spent most of my time riding on the pavements. Everyone does that over here, including the motorcyclists. Whether it’s kids on scooters or pizza delivery men, they all just ride on the pavement, venturing on to the road only when they want to use a pedestrian crossing or when the pavement is blocked by parked cars, fortune tellers, street vendors selling golf balls or sports socks and old blokes who have peaked too early on the soju and are sleeping it off.

Riding alongside the River Han is a lot simpler, there are dedicated cycled tracks along both banks and with very few uphill sections it’s easy to get into a bit of a rhythm. There’s usually something new to see as well, the on-going programme to install sporting equipment into just about every available space is progressing well and this time I noticed what I assume will be a temporary swimming area for the summer. Mind you, I don’t think there will have been much actual swimming going on. The place was full of families having a day out and the swimming pool had so many kids in it that it was strictly standing room only. There were that many of them packed together that I couldn’t be entirely certain that there was actually any water in there with them.

River Han

I rode westwards along the south side of the river for about half an hour before turning back. I knew the subway trip to Incheon would take a while and so I didn’t really want to be out on my bike for longer than about ninety minutes. Finding my way back to my apartment wasn’t as easy as you might think it would be. Firstly I have an absolutely terrible sense of direction and secondly, I can’t resist taking short cuts. Of course, if the short cut takes me off course, I can never quite seem to compensate properly and get back on route. Twenty minutes after leaving the riverbank I should really have been just about home. I wasn’t of course, but instead I found myself at a subway station that I recognised as one that I often visit for a haircut and which is at least a half hours walk away from where I live. Still, at least I know my way back from there.

When I first came out here I had long hair, it was dyed brown as I reckon that long grey hair makes you look as if you are one step away from sleeping in the gutter. With my dress sense I can’t afford to have too many other tramp like qualities, not if I want to get into bars and restaurants, that is. Unfortunately, the long brown hair was too much trouble to persevere with. If I cant express myself well enough to a taxi driver to have him take me to a landmark feature like a World Cup Stadium, there’s no way I could have explained to a hairdresser exactly what I wanted. So, to the disappointment of my colleagues, I had it all shaved off. I think that quite a few of them failed to recognise me at first and probably assumed that long haired waster who had previously sat at my desk had been sussed out and fired.

I tend now to visit the same barbers every three weeks or so, the one in the subway. It’s staffed by three Korean women who speak very little English, although they have managed to establish my age, job and whether or not I have a wife. As I already know what their jobs are and have little interest in how old they are or whether they have a husband, the conversations tend to be a bit one sided. I was in there last week for a number five cut, which is about the equivalent of a number three in England. I asked for a number three the first time I went in there and it was so closely cropped that my head squeaked when I rubbed it. So by trial and error, I’m now settled at a Korean number five.

The bloke in the chair before me wasn’t even getting his hair cut, he had just popped in to tell them his age and marital status before having his head massaged with an electrical contraption about the size of a house brick. I think I’d last seen something like it in a Victoriana museum, next to the stuffed kittens dressed up as a wedding party.  It was explained that in the olden days doctors used the brick-like vibrating device to cure `hysteria’ in their female patients. These days though it is apparently used to stimulate hair growth. An ideal piece of kit, I suppose, for a barber wanting to increase trade. The hairdresser pressed it against the head of the man ahead of me in the chair and vibrated his skull until I was convinced that his eyeballs would soon be hanging by their optic nerves, somewhere level with his chin.

You thought I'd made this up, didn't you?

One other notable item in the barbers is the machine where you pay. Instead of just giving your six thousand won (about three quid) to one of the women, you are supposed to feed it into a machine. As a foreigner, I’m not expected to be capable of carrying out this task and so I give my money to my hairdresser, she feeds it in to the machine for me and then when no change comes out she gets a key, opens up the front panel and manually extracts my change from inside. It all seems a little pointless and strikes me as not much more advanced than when we were in junior school and built a computer which consisted of a large cardboard box with one of the cleverer kids sat inside. You would write `6 + 3’ on a piece of paper, post it through the letterbox and he or she would return the answer in no more time than it took to find the bit of card with `9’ written on it. It was cutting edge technology in 1974.

I left my apartment for the baseball just after three o’clock. I’d remembered that last time I’d been to Incheon it had taken me an hour and a half to get there and so this should have been sufficient for a five o’clock start. As you might have guessed though, if you have been reading this stuff for a while, it wasn’t enough. One of the subway lines that I had to use went to more than one destination. Not just right or left, but different locations in the same direction. I wasn’t paying attention, got on the wrong train and by the time I’d retraced my steps and got to Munhak, I’d spent two hours, twenty minutes on the subway. To put that into perspective, thats about the same time that it takes to reach the far south of Korea on the KTX express train.

Wyverns fans at first base, Tigers at third.

Fortunately baseball games last for a long time and getting in to the stadium half an hour late wasn’t much of a hardship. I bought a ticket from a tout outside for face value, saving me a trip to the ticket office and ridding him of a ticket that I’m pretty sure that he thought he would have been stuck with.  I was very impressed with the Munhak Stadium, it has a capacity of 28,500 and for today’s visit of Kia Tigers it was near enough full, with some people even sitting in the aisles. I was allowed to go just about anywhere for my 7,000 won ticket, except for the really posh area behind the batsman. If I’d got there early enough I could have had a barbecue as there was an area dedicated to those who wished to cook their own food.

Barbecue area.

They also had standing areas, smoking areas and for those who like to stretch out a bit, they had a grassy section where people were having picnics, pitching tents or just sleeping in the late afternoon sun.

Munhak, better than Wigan.

A couple of years ago I went to watch LA Galaxy and they had a similar grassed area as the the upper tier behind one of the goals. It was a lot less crowded than today at Munhak, but the same principle and a pleasant way to stretch out and watch a bit of sport in the sunshine.

Los Angeles, better than Wigan too.

I can remember going to Wigan back in 1986 with the Boro and standing on what would have been a grassy bank behind the goal if the weather had been a bit better. Instead, on a day memorable for us seeing the floodlights of a stadium and nipping into a nearby pub only to emerge at ten to three to find ourselves outside the rugby league ground, we watched the game on that occasion from a mud heap behind the goal. No picnics, tents or barbecues back then.

I watched the baseball from a variety of vantage points, trying out the different parts of the stadium. Confusingly, the SK Wyverns fans waved red inflatable sticks, the colour worn by the KIA Tiger’s players. The SK Wyverns players wore white, whilst the KIA Tiger’s fans brandished yellow sticks. I soon got used to it though.

SK Wyverns fans

SK are top of the league with KIA down in sixth place. If SK can maintain their position until the end of the season it will give them an automatic place in the play-off final, a sort of Korean World Series. As for KIA Tigers, they would have to move up to fifth place to qualify for the post-season games and then play the team that finishes fourth. The winner of fourth vs fifth then plays the third placed team and so on. League position seemed to be counting for little though as KIA Tigers had taken an early lead by the time I arrived, a couple of home runs within the space of five minutes later in the game took them out of reach of SK Wyverns and gave the away supporters cause for celebration. 

After two home runs in a row.

As the game drew to a close at eight o’clock the visiting KIA Tigers led 7-0, which must have been quite a surprise for the table-topping Wyverns. 

Final score.

I got myself a tray of deep fried pork dumplings on the way out which were well worth the undoubted clogging of my arteries and they were certainly a lot easier to eat than the dried squid I’d had the previous evening. Fortunately I managed to select the right trains on the way back and by resisting the urge to attempt any short cuts I was back in my apartment no more than an hour and a half after leaving the stadium.

5 Responses to “SK Wyverns v KIA Tigers, Sunday 1st August 2010, 5pm”

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