Archive for February, 2011

Jeju Horseracing, Saturday 22nd January 2011

February 27, 2011

I’d planned to take a trip to Jeju during the last football season, even going as far as booking flights to coincide with the play-off final. Unfortunately Jeju United faltered in the run in and the match that had seemed likely to coincide with our visit ended up being played in Seoul. Turning up in Jeju for a game that was being played three hundred miles away didn’t seem the most sensible thing to do and so I changed the flights and Jen and I went in January instead.

Getting there was quite easy. We flew Korean Air from Gimpo airport and it took about an hour. There are quite a few airlines covering the route but a lot of them will only accept online bookings and their websites are in Korean. They tend to sell out quite quickly too whereas Korean Air usually has seats available up until a few weeks before. Our flight was late on Friday evening so Gimpo was deserted. So was Jeju come to think of it and for a while it looked as if we might have been stuck there as the taxis seemed to have given up for a night.

We got one eventually though and it dropped us outside of a hotel near the harbour in Jeju City. Next morning we had been planning a walk on the Jeju Olle Trail. It’s a route that skirts around most of the island, following the coast for a lot of the way. As we were at the seaside already though we just followed the first path alongside the beach that we came too.

I thought that this photo might make a nice jigsaw

We passed quite a famous rock that is supposed to resemble a dragon‘s head. There’s a lot of this type of nonsense in Korea. It was just a rock with a few jagged bits. Not that any lack of realism was stopping it being lit up with floodlights and being photographed by every visitor to the island. Almost every visitor anyway, I didn’t bother unfortunately so unless you want to google ‘Jeju rock that looks nothing like a dragon‘ you will have to take my word for it.

We did see one of those Jeju diving women though. They are pretty famous, or at least they get a mention in all of the guide books. Apparently it all started off as a bit of a tax dodge about a hundred years ago. The women dived for shellfish whilst their husbands stayed at home and discussed which rocks best resembled mythical creatures. This time I did get a photo.

It's probably more fun in the summer.

They used to dive wearing just a flimsy cotton dress according to the guidebook, but it seemed a bit chilly for that. Anyway,  the remaining divers are all approaching pensionable age so it’s probably for the best that they dress a bit more modestly these days.

Definitely more fun in summer.

After lunch we’d seem enough of the seaside and we got a taxi to the racetrack. The racing had already started by the time we got there but there is usually a lengthy card in Korea so that’s not such a big deal. There are only three racetracks in the country, Seoul, Busan and Jeju. In addition to the live racing a few races from one of the other tracks are generally shown on the big screen to fill in the odd gap.

It was eight hundred Won to get in and we were just in time for the fourth race. The best thing about Jeju racing is that they don’t use real racehorses. They have some special inter-bred Jeju horses that either, depending upon the legend you read, are descended from horses imported by Genghis Khan, were discovered at the bottom of a well by a long dead King or are the result of letting an over-enthusiastic Shetland pony loose at the stud farm.

Whatever their background, it just looks wrong. The jockeys here are amongst the smallest I’ve seen anywhere outside of YouTube clips of monkeys riding greyhounds and yet they still towered over their mounts. I reckon that when the jockeys wanted to slow their horses down they wouldn’t need to pull on the reins, it would be easier for them just to put their boots to the floor.

Maybe the bloke is a giant.

I can‘t actually remember now how long the races were, but I’m pretty sure they were over a kilometre. That seems mean to me. Donkeys on Blackpool beach do about fifty yards at a fairly sedate pace. If you galloped them full tilt the entire length of the seafront then I doubt they would stay out of the glue factory for very long.

At least it's not far to fall.

Being foreigners, all we had to do was look a bit lost and we were soon escorted to a special lounge where a couple of girls found us a table and took our bets. There isn‘t much of a market in Korea for backing horses to win, almost all of the money goes on reverse forecasts. We were betting less than a tenner a race between us but it still accounted for about ten percent of the Tote receipts for some of the races.

Twenty minutes and ten thousand strides later..

As the afternoon went on the horses in each race seemed to get bigger. I did wonder if by the time of the final race we would get to see something that the Trojans would have been proud of, but they didn’t ever quite reach full-size. We got a taxi back to Jeju City and on the way back to our hotel had a wander around the local market where amongst other stuff I bought some cactus flavoured chocolate and some pheasant toffee. Yes really.

Much better than a pie.

I’d recommend Jeju. It was a fair bit warmer than the sub-zero Seoul and there‘s enough to fill a couple of days even without any hiking. The next day we popped into a natural history museum where some of the exhibits looked like they had been stuffed by a kid on a field trip, we visited Loveland where you can pose for photos with statues of naked people or copulating dogs and we called into a large underground cave that I reckon would be a perfect place to cool down in the summer. We’ll probably go back for a football game later in the season and maybe some of the Olle Trail as well.

Samsung Thunders v SK Knights, Thursday 20th Jan 2011, 7pm

February 7, 2011

Another basketball game, Samsung Thunders this time. Yes, Thunders not Thunder. Perhaps they are named after the late New York Doll. I saw him, you know,  in 1984 supporting Hanoi Rocks at Newcastle Mayfair. At least I’m told I did. I can remember Hanoi Rocks but I can’t remember Johnny Thunders. It’s possible therefore that I might have spent the support set in a nearby pub, although with the layout of the Mayfair it’s slightly more likely that I did watch him whilst stood at a bar. Whatever. It’s probably a bit early for digression or else I’d go on to mention seeing Hanoi Rocks twenty five years later at one of their farewell gigs in Helsinki. Although I suppose I have now.

Mr. Monroe may just have aged a little better than we have.

 I don’t remember much about that performance either actually, although I do remember that I enjoyed it. I went with my friend Paul and we did a bit of salmon fishing on the same trip, not that we were too successful. We did get to cook our lunch on an open fire though, so it worked out fine.

It was just as well we had some sausages.

Right. The basketball. I’d tried to go and see Samsung Thunders the previous Friday but had got the venue mixed up. They actually play at Jamsil Gymnasium which part of the Sports Complex and next to the Olympic Stadium, the baseball stadium and confusingly, the Jamsil Students Gymnasium.  The SK Knights basketball team plays at the Jamsil Student Gymnasium and perhaps thats why I’d somehow got it into my head that Samsung Thunders were based a couple of miles away at the Gymnastics Hall in the Olympic Park.

Anyway, it had been a spur of the moment decision the previous Friday and I arrived at the Gymnastics Hall to find nothing more exciting going on than some rigging crew preparing for a concert. I did get to walk around the Olympic Park in sub-zero temperatures so I suppose the evening wasn’t entirely wasted.

Nice enough, but not really worth a traipse around the park.

By the time the following Thursday came around I’d done a little bit of research as to which team played where. The upshot is that no-one plays at the Gymnastics Hall, Samsung Thunders play at the Jamsil Gymnasium and SK Knights play at the Jamsil Students Gymnasium. It’s probably worth mentioning that the Jamsil Students Gymnasium is where the boxing was held at the 1988 Olympics, so those of you that know your pugilism will recognise it as the venue where Lennox Lewis won his gold medal and where Roy Jones Jnr was cheated out of his.

Right, so that’s the venues cleared up. Twice, in fact. But you can’t be too careful, someone might be reading this thinking that it’s Wikipedia.  Jen was back from America so I met her at the subway and we got floor seats for behind one of the baskets. The ticket office woman told us that the sides of the court were sold out, but if they were it was apparent that a lot of people hadn’t turned up. Perhaps they were all trekking around Olympic Park looking for the Gymnastics Hall.

It looks busy in the photo, but the top tier was virtually empty.

The Gymnasium has a capacity of about thirteen thousand, but I reckon that there were only a couple of thousand people in there. The upper tier had about a dozen people dotted around and there was plenty of space lower down.

There weren’t many fans supporting the visitors, SK Knights, despite the Jamsil Gymnasium being no more than a couple of hundred yards from their home venue the Jamsil Students Gymnasium. A bit surprising I suppose, how can you decide not to watch your team because it’s an extra two hundred yards? In fact, depending upon what side of the Sports Complex you live on it might even be two hundred yards closer.

The SK fans that did turn up seemed to enjoy themselves though.

One odd thing that I did notice was that when the stadium announcer started a chant, both sets of fans would join in. The cheerleaders were worth a comment too. They didn’t bother their (admittedly well shaped) arses until it was almost half time, then they disappeared and returned in what looked like dressing gowns.

Samsung Thunders Cheerleaders

At the interval we got a couple of songs from some American soldiers with guitars. Whilst I’m sure that they did their best and seemed to enjoy themselves, they had even less in common with Mr Thunders than the basketball team did. I reckon that if they were sent to play at the De-Militarised Zone then Kim Jong-il would soon be calling it a day.  There wasn’t a bar that would have allowed me to pretend that they were the support act either. There wasn’t any beer at all actually, a major omission at a Korean sporting event if you ask me.

I think they played the General Noriega gig too.

Now so far, none of the players have stood out at any of these basketball games. Until this time that is. Samsung Thunders had a centre that at first glance I’d have guessed was my age. I won’t reveal my age just in case he tends to Google his own name. But he’s actually only thirty. Still, he’s bigger than me and I wouldn’t like to mess with him. Quite a lot bigger actually, 6’9“ according to the Thunders website and 353lbs which is over twenty five stones in real money. Thats heavier than Shaquille O’Neal who I’m told is 7’1“. In yet one more wander from what went on, I’ll just mention that Shaquille O’Neal went to University with Jen. Ideal for when she needed a book from the top shelf of the library I imagine. Or the middle one, come to think of it.

This fella, Nigel Dixon, had, like Mr. O’Neal, been an American college star too. Although his brief spells at NBA teams hadn’t been quite as successful. It seems though that he has managed to make a pretty decent career for himself playing in a number of leagues around the world.

Nigel Dixon, aka 'The Big Jelly'.

The game was a bit one-sided with the Thunders getting ahead early on and never really being within SK’s reach.  One advantage of the result being decided long before the end was that the coaches didnt feel the need to use all of their  timeouts and the players didn’t need to try to either keep stopping the clock or to run it out. They just played end to end basketball right to the finish without having to pay much attention to the scoreboard

SK Knights attacking in the final quarter.

For what it’s worth the scoreboard read 84-65 to Samsung Thunders at the end, although SK did have the satisfaction of ’winning’ the final quarter by two points. I think I’ll probably pop along to see the ’Big Jelly’ again. I’ll take a couple of beers next time though and maybe some earplugs for half time.