Archive for January, 2011

Anyang KGC v Wonju Dongbu Promy, Sun 16th Jan 2011, 3pm

January 31, 2011

Yesterday I went to the basketball again. It’s a poor substitute for going to a football match but you have to be somewhere.  And anyway, I had a plan to make it a bit more interesting.

Do you remember when I was rattling on recently about teams relocating?  Probably not if you’ve arrived at the blog after Googling ’Basketball in Seoul’ in the hope of finding something informative or interesting. The Korean football fans amongst you though will be familiar with the way teams get moved around the country at a whim, usually with a new name and a fresh relaunch. In my write-up on the Play-Off Final between FC Seoul and Jeju United, I posted photos of two of Jeju United’s previous homes, abandoned before their move three hundred miles south to take up residence in an empty World Cup stadium. Their opponents in the Play-Off Final, FC Seoul, are generally seen as an even bigger bunch of gits.  After seven years building up a fanbase in Anyang they moved to Seoul in 2004 for a new home in the Sangam World Cup Stadium.

So, what does all that have to do with the basketball? Nothing really, apart from the stadium that was abandoned in Anyang is right next door to where the Anyang basketball team plays and in the absence of any actual football matches I’d at least have the opportunity of having a nose around an empty ground. Sad, I know, but as that’s the sort of thing that I get up to these days I took the subway to Anyang and then a taxi to the stadium.

Anyang Stadium

I did think that I might be limited to wandering around outside the ground but the main entrance was unlocked and there was nobody to stop me just walking straight in. It was difficult to tell if the pitch is used by anyone these days as it was covered in snow.

No goalposts, but it is close-season

It seemed as if the main users of the stadium at the moment are old biddies who walk around the running track. With the outside streets being covered in snow and ice it made perfect sense. I didn’t see any of them break into anything even resembling a trot though.

Ovett tracks Coe and makes his move.

The stadium itself seemed in good nick and with it being quite a small capacity I imagine that there used to be a decent atmosphere for some of the games, particularly the derbies with Suwon.

Anyang Stadium, scoreboard end.

I spent about twenty minutes strolling around before leaving the walkers to their laps of the track and heading off to the basketball. I bought a 9000 won ticket for close to the front of the upper of two tiers at about the mid-court area. When I took my seat I noticed a cheerleading platform right in front of me. Sometimes life just works out nice like that. Except on this occasion it didn’t and rather than having the experience enhanced by a few pretty girls in short skirts I had my view obscured by some idiot bloke who insisted on standing right in front of me and blocking my line of vision with a cardboard sign that I suspect read ‘Tough Shit’.

That's him at the front. I was sat directly behind him before I moved.

I put up with him for the first quarter and then moved around to the other side of the stadium. There were plenty of empty seats so it was easy enough to do. The game was pretty competitive with Anyang building up an early lead that peaked at about eight points before the visitors Wonju pegged it back before going on to take a lead of their own in the final quarter.

Anyang were doing pretty well at this stage.

Each team has a couple of American players but it looks as if the regulations restrict them to only having one of them on the court at a time. This meant an interesting personal battle between the two foreign starters and then to a lesser extent between the back-up pairing.

Google them yourself if you care who they are.

 I felt a bit sorry for the two Americans that didn’t get much of a game. It’s a long way to travel for five minutes actual time on the court and it must be a little more frustrating to have to watch when you know that you are the second best player on your team.

I had to be quick to get a photo of these two, they only played for a few minutes.

The crowd was made up mainly of families and in direct contrast to most sporting events in Korea I didn’t see any drinking going on. Perhaps the winter weather meant that chugging cold cans of Cass wasn’t as appealing as it is at the football or baseball.

Gratuitous cheerleader photo.

Wonju held on to their late lead for a 66-60 victory and after buying a woolly hat to keep my head warm I gambled on getting back to Yeoksam by hopping on the nearest bus. The buses are far harder to work out than the subway trains, but I wasn’t in a rush.  It took me to the subway station, which whilst seeming to be a good result, was actually the wrong way. A second bus destined for Dong Seoul then took me back in roughly the right direction and after getting off at Jamsil I eventually gave in and got the subway for the remainder of the journey.

Chiaksan Hiking, Sunday 9th January 2011

January 28, 2011

I had a bit of time off over Christmas and managed to get back to the UK. It was fairly eventful with amongst other stuff a couple of Boro away games, a Paul McCartney gig at Liverpool, my son’s twenty-first birthday and the birth of my first grandchild.  With all that going on I didn’t manage to get any hiking in, so on my first weekend back in Korea I thought I’d have a walk up a hill.

I’d read on the internet that there was an Ice Festival taking place in Hwacheon which is in the North East of the country.  I quite fancied going to that as well and reckoning that I should be able to combine the two I got the bus on Saturday morning from Dong Seoul bus station.

One of the things that attracted me to the Ice Festival was the prospect of doing a bit of ice fishing. I’d seen it done on the Ural river when I’d worked in Atyrau, Kazakhstan a few years ago but I’d never had a go myself.  There were too many stories going around of fishermen disappearing through the ice to make it seem a sensible way to spend an afternoon.

Ice fishing at Atyrau, Kazakhstan.

It was really cold as I left Seoul, maybe -10 degrees and the sort of day where it’s tempting not to go out at all, particularly when you’ve had your apartment underfloor heating cranked up to the level where you need to wear two pairs of socks just to prevent your feet blistering.  It was starting to snow as well, with the fresh new flakes adding to the dirtier older stuff that had been there for a couple of weeks.  With it being so cold, the snow hadn’t really been melting away and the other night I’d watched a JCB scraping a pavement and depositing the snow onto the back of a lorry. I’m told that they sell it to the ski resorts.

The Han River was frozen over in parts and as the bus drove alongside I watched some kids playing football in the snow next to it. When I was a kid we didn’t let the snow stop us getting the football out either.  The novelty of throwing snowballs at passing cars would wear off after a day or so and three inches of snow just meant that the tricky ballplayers were less effective than usual whilst the rest of us revelled in attempting diving headers at every opportunity.

I got to Hwacheon at ten to two and asked at the tourist information desk for directions on getting to the Ice Festival. The woman gave me the dreaded crossed arms response and sheepishly pointed to a small poster on the wall beside me.  The 8th of January start date for the festival had been written over in black felt tip and now read the 15th.  Great, I’d travelled for three hours on the bus and the festival had been rescheduled to start a week later.

I couldn’t see a lot of point hanging about in Hwacheon, particularly if I was going to return at a later date for the Ice Festival and so ten minutes after arriving I was back on the bus and making my way towards Chuncheon, where I caught a bus to Wonju. I could have then got another bus and looked for a hotel at the base of Chiaksan, but by the time I’d got to Wonju I’d had enough of being driven around. I had a wander about, bought myself a pair of crampons and then checked into a hotel close to the bus terminal.

Wonju Hotel

I slept in the next morning and thought that rather than waste time looking and waiting for a bus I’d just get a taxi to the start of the trail. Twenty minutes and twenty five thousand won later I was at the entrance to the National Park. It was a fairly easy start to the trail and I was soon at Guryongsa Temple.

Guryongsa Temple

I’m not too impressed with most of the temples out here. They all seem very similar and this one was no different, just another big shed really. What did catch my attention though was a white rabbit sat nearby.  I’ve no idea if it was wild or whether it was fed by the monks, but it didn’t seem scared as I approached it.  I got to within about three or four feet of it and even then it didn’t seem bothered.

It was quite well disguised, really.

A bit further along I came to the Suryeom Waterfall. It is probably a bit more spectacular in the summer when there is actually water falling, but it was worth the slight detour to see it in its frozen state.

Suryeom Waterfall, it's probably better in the rainy season.

The trail got a bit steeper from this point and with the snow and ice underfoot I had to put my newly acquired crampons on. There were a few tricky sections where I had to haul myself up a rope or a railing, but there were also a few sections of stairway that made life a bit easier. The trail was probably one of the quieter ones that I’ve walked on in Korea, possibly the sub-zero temperature was keeping some of the hikers at home.  Almost four hours after setting off I reached the 1288m Birobong summit.

It was noticeably chillier without the protection of the trees and when I sat down to eat my lunch I nearly cracked a tooth on a Snickers Bar that had frozen solid.  My bottles of water had iced up too and by the time I came to drink the third one I had to push a plug of ice into the bottle. Even after giving it a good shake it was probably only half liquid.  The views from the top made up for the cold though.

Because of all the trees, you don't see much until you reach the top.

Birobong is famous for having three stone pillars that were built by a local baker in the 1960’s. I can’t quite see why he bothered, but a bloke needs a hobby and I suppose hauling rocks up a mountain is no worse than spending all day riding around on buses attending non-existent Ice Festivals.

Two of the three Chiaksan Pillars.

It took me about two and a half hours to get back down again, the crampons making it relatively easy. The rabbit had cleared off by the time I got to the bottom, but I suppose that it wasn’t really the weather for sitting about.

Seoul Horseracing, Sunday 12th December 2010

January 28, 2011

With Christmas approaching I decided it was about time for another visit to the horseracing at Seoul Racetrack. It had been about seven months since I’d last attended a meeting there and in the absence of any football I thought it would give me something to do. I wasn’t in any kind of rush to arrive as the racing goes on for about seven hours and my boredom threshold is more in tune with the English system of horseracing where you get six or seven races spread over about three and a half hours rather than a dozen or so taking up twice the time.

With that in mind I got there just after half past twelve, with the first three races on the card having already been completed. It was free to get in again and although a lot of people were still arriving there seemed to be quite a sizeable crowd already inside.

View towards the Grandstand

I’ve already explained how it all works at Seoul races in earlier posts, so I’ll just tell you the stuff that was different on this occasion. I’ll start with the temperature. It was bloody freezing, well below zero. I watched each of the races from outside, but I popped back into the Grandstand to warm up as soon as the horses passed the winning post.

Main Grandstand

Something I did notice during this visit that I hadn’t spotted before was a classroom where a couple of women explain how betting works to any racegoers who weren’t sure of the best way to get rid of their wages. I was surprised by how full the room was for the fifteen minute sessions as everyone at the track looked as if they had been calculating the return on an each-way treble since they were at primary school. It was cold outside though, so I could only assume that a few of them were in there purely because they fancied a sit-down in the warm.

"Back the horse that's just had a dump."

There was also what appeared to be a bit of a protest, although I’m not sure what it was against. A handful of young people were carrying banners and wearing horses heads. Maybe handful is the wrong term. Would the wearing of the horses heads make them a herd? Anyway, they were protesting about something, waving their banners in the parade ring and by the trackside railings. They did it all very politely though.

It was all a little bit odd.

I got to watch a couple of races under floodlights too. It gets dark at about five-ish this time of year and although I hadn’t planned to stay until the end, the prospect of the floodlights kept me there a bit longer than I would have stayed if it had been light. I did ok with the betting too, with five wins from the eight races that I watched live and the three from Busan that were shown on the big screen.

Night racing.

As I made my way out I passed the blokes who were picking up discarded betting tickets from the floor in the hope that they might just mitigate their losses. There is that much hawking up of phlegm in Korea, particularly somewhere like the races, that the throat clearing and spitting becomes a constant background noise. I don’t think I’d want to pick up a discarded ticket from the floor even if I could see at a glance that it was a winner. Further on at the subway, there was some sort of find the lady game taking place on a mat spread onto the floor. I watched it for a bit before catching my train and saw plenty of people stopping and making a pretty good effort to get rid of their remaining cash.

So, that was the races, but as this is quite a short write-up I’m going to tell you what I had for my tea a couple of days later. They have a dish over here called Sannakji and I’d been keen to try it for a while. It is sometimes described as live octopus but I think that’s pushing it a bit, although I’ve no medical training and wouldn’t really know what the form is for determining the exact time of death in cephalopods.

Anyway, what happens is, you go to a restaurant that serves Sannakji and immediately before your plate is set on the table an octopus is taken from the tank and cut up with a pair of scissors. When the plate arrives moments later the sections of leg, and lets be honest, an octopus is pretty much all leg, are still wriggling. They kept on wriggling when we ate them for the full three-quarters of an hour that it took us to clear the plate.

I didn’t take any photos but there are plenty on the internet, like the one below, although I suppose video would have been the best way to record the wriggling.

We got a bit more salad with our Sannakji.

It was a bit weird to be honest, as if the bits of leg knew what they were doing. Occasionally one of them would make a run for the edge of the plate, whilst others were quietly trying to sneak under the salad. When I put them in my mouth the suction cups would latch on to my tongue, the roof of my mouth or even the backs of my teeth. We were warned to chew them thoroughly to prevent them blocking an airway or organising a rave in your large intestine.

It was certainly an unusual sensation when they were wriggling inside my mouth. I don’t think I ever ate earthworms as a kid, but I imagine it would be quite similar. Worms would probably be a bit grittier though and you wouldn’t have the fun of the suction cups.  Anyway, if you like your seafood raw and you were partial to the odd packet of Space Dust as a kid, then I’d recommend having Sannakji for your tea.