Archive for May, 2011

Hiking at Jogyesan, Sunday 24th April 2011.

May 6, 2011

After watching Chunnam Dragons lose at home to Sanju Sangmu the previous day I thought that I would take advantage of being down by the South coast to go and hike in Jogyesan Provincial Park. I’ve no idea what the difference is between a National Park and a Provincial Park, but Jogyesan has a couple of eight hundred metre high peaks and so I thought it would be worth a visit.

I’d spent the Saturday night in the BMW Motel in Suncheon where thirty thousand won had got me a room complete with sheets bearing the famous logo. I think it’s the cheapest hotel that I’ve stayed in over here and I did wonder for a moment whether I’d actually only rented the room for an hour. The main quirk was that the pillows seemed to be filled with gravel, but apart from that it was pretty good, certainly not the worst place I’ve stayed at by a long way.

Motel BMW, Suncheon

I slept in a bit longer than I’d intended to, possibly because the shutters on the window didn’t let any sunlight in whatsoever, but I still managed to be up and out by 8am. There are two quite well known temples at Jogyesan, Seonamsa and Songgwangsa, and my plan was to hike from one to the other, taking in the peaks of Jonggun (884m) and Yeonsan (851m). I could have taken a bus to Seonamsa temple but as it was only about twenty odd kilometres away and the bus takes an hour I got a taxi instead.

Half an hour and twenty four thousand won later I was at the entrance to the park. It wasn’t far to Seonamsa temple and since I was there I paused for a look around.

Seonamsa Temple, decorated for Buddha's birthday.

I had hoped that I’d be able to get something to eat as I hadn’t bothered picking any food up whilst in Suncheon but all they had were ice creams. That was fine with me though and a cornetto for breakfast it was.

Apparently this is something quite important in the monk world.

A couple of hours spent steadily walking uphill and I was at Jonggun peak. It was pretty crowded and I was a little surprised to discover the ice cakee salesman at the summit. Whilst I’m not convinced that a diet consisting exclusively of ice cream is necessarily the most appropriate for hill walking I had my second one of the day.

Ice cakee at the top.

There was a bit of a dip between Jonggun and the next peak of Yeonsan, but an hour or so later I was there.

No ice cakee this time.

After Yeonsan there was a reasonably flat stretch of trail for a while before the descent to Songgwangsa.  The path downwards seemed fairly steep but probably wasn’t much different to the gradient on the way up. There are a few small waterfalls and deepish pools as you get towards the bottom.

Stream near Songgwangsa

I had a look around Songgwangsa temple. They have a room with a few exhibits in, old monk bowls, printing blocks, that sort of thing. There are also plenty of photos of the monks taken over the last century or so including some during the Japanese occupation where they stand side by side with Japanese soldiers.

Songgwangsa Temple had been decorated as well.

I got a bus back to Suncheon at 3pm, a journey that took an hour and twenty minutes. There are buses back to Seoul from Suncheon every hour or so. It’s a long journey at four and a half hours and it was ten o’clock at night by the time I got back to the capital. The route I’d hiked probably totalled about seven or eight miles but if I hadn’t needed to leave so early to get back to Seoul I could have added another four miles to it by hiking back along the valley to my starting point of Seonamsa. That’s maybe one for next time.

Chunnam Dragons v Sanju Sangmu, Saturday 23rd April 2011, 5pm

May 4, 2011

For my football fix last weekend I thought I’d head down to Gwangyang to watch Chunnam Dragons take on the army team Sangju Sangmu. It’s a fair distance from Seoul, 329km, and the easiest way seemed to be the direct bus from Dong Seoul.

The bus terminal  was pretty crowded and as I hadn’t bothered to pre-book my ticket I did wonder if I was going to struggle to get the bus I wanted. It was okay though and I got a seat on the 10.30am luxury service to Donggwangyang, as that’s the terminal in Gwangyang that’s nearest to the stadium. I took the opportunity to catch up on my sleep for a lot of the journey and four hours and twenty minutes after leaving Seoul I was there.

I had two hours to spare before kick-off and as the stadium was marked on the map that I’d picked up from Tourist Information, I thought I’d see if I could walk there. There was a basic flaw in my plan, however. The maps that most of the Tourist Offices give away in Korea aren’t drawn to scale. There seems to be a desire to include as many landmarks as possible, without giving too much consideration to geographical accuracy. If you imagine a map of the Lake District with Edinburgh shown just behind Skiddaw, and with Ireland looking close enough to reach on a pedalo, you wouldn’t be too far away. Until you tried to get there, that is.

By the time I’d messed about trying to reconcile what I could see with what was shown on the map I’d already used an hour up. I spotted the floodlights in the distance but it looked as if I’d either have to walk in a different direction to cross a river or else I’d be walking alongside a dual carriageway with no path. I took a taxi.

It's over there.

The taxi journey wasn’t without its difficulties either. You’d think that even if two people speak very little of each others language, but one of them had a map and was able to point at the only football stadium in town, then that would be enough. But no, it was as if the driver had never seen a map before and seemed convinced that the drawing of the ground was actually the local steelworks. Eventually he got it and ten minutes later we were there. If he did take the most direct route then I’m glad that I didn’t walk it.

Gwangyang Stadium - The steelworks looks very similar apparently.

It was seven thousand won to get in and you could sit anywhere you fancied. The only player that I recognised was the Chunnam goalie and captain, the former national team keeper Lee Woon Jae. It seemed a bit of a surprise when he turned up at Chunnam this season rather than taking a coaching role somewhere, but the move seems to have given him a new lease of life. Both teams had begun the season well, with ten points from their first six games. It was an especially impressive start for the army team who were still unbeaten after their relocation fron Gwangju to Sangju.

We had a bit of confusion before kick-off when the national anthem was played. Everyone traditionally turns to face the Korean flag but unfortunately you couldn’t see it from where I was sat in the East Stand as it was above us and behind the press box. Those who knew of its location turned in the approximate direction, other non-regulars made do with facing the large screen in the hope that the flag might appear there.

So where's the flag?

 The crowd had barely re-orientated themselves and sat down before Sangju continued their good start to the season by going ahead with a goal from Kim Jung Woo after three minutes.

This cross led to the goal.

Both sides settled down a bit after that with a lot of Chunnam’s best moves coming when  Brazilian Weslley and Columbian Javier Reina were involved. Weslley  had a decent chance just before half time but the Sangju keeper managed it block it with his legs.

After the interval I noticed these two fellas combining a bit of childcare with knocking back the soju. Let’s hope they remembered that the kid was in the box when it was time to go.

Family day out.

A Chunnam equaliser always seemed on the cards in the second half, but it just didn’t come and the army team held on for a victory that moved them up into third place. I got a taxi back to the bus terminal and then a bus to Suncheon where I intended to do some hiking the next day.

View from the North-West corner.

For those of you keeping up with the progress of Lee Dong Gook, Jeonbuk won 2-1 away at Daejeon, but he didn’t score. The win kept Jeonbuk in contention in second place, ahead of Sangju on goal difference.

FC Seoul v Nagoya Grampus, Tuesday 19th April 2011, 8pm

May 2, 2011

There was an Asian Champions League match at Sangam Stadium last Tuesday between Korean champions FC Seoul and their Japanese counterparts Nagoya Grampus. As you may know, there’s a bit of rivalry between the two countries and so I thought I’d go along and see how it went.

I don’t know very much about Japanese football, but I had heard of Nagoya Grampus. They are the club that Gary Lineker wound down his career with in the days when they were known as Grampus Eight. They are also the club that Arsene Wenger managed before moving to Arsenal. It’s hard to imagine that a club in Arsenal’s position would pluck a relatively unknown manager from an Asian club these days.

Champions League games kick off at 8pm so I had plenty of time to make my way to the World Cup Stadium. There weren’t as many people milling around outside as usual, suggesting that the visit of the Japanese champions wasn’t quite the attraction that I’d thought it would have been. I paid fourteen thousand won for an East stand ticket and another thousand for a programme in the hope that Grampus might have a player or two that I knew of. They didn’t.

Not much of a crowd.

I hadn’t had my tea so I got myself a six inch pizza from the Pizza Hut stall. They only sell one type, the toppings being sweet potato, pineapple and meat that I couldn’t identify. Possibly pork. It was as good as you’d imagine it to be.

It’s free seating in the East Stand and I found a place in the lower tier about eight rows up. The small kid in front of me, recognizing that I might not have been born and bred in Seoul, spent the build up to the game quizzing me on my knowledge of English football.

“Do you know Manchester United?”

“Yes”

“Do you know Park Ji Sung?”

“Yes”

“Do you know Rooney?”

“Yes. He is my friend, sometimes he drives me to the shops in his car.”

“Really?”

“No”

“Do you know Lee Chung Yong?”

“Yes”

“Do you know Chelsea?”

“Yes”

“Do you know Drogba?”

“Yes. He has a horse and he rides it past my house on his way to Starbucks.”

“Really?”

“No”

I thought that I would have a turn at asking the questions.

“Do you know Middlesbrough?”

“No.”

“Do you know Lee Dong Gook?”

“No.”

“Do you know Phil Stamp?”

“No.”

How could he not know of this fella?

Fortunately the teams came out at that point and we could call a halt to the cultural exchange. There was a minute’s silence for the victims of the recent earthquake and those of the not so recent killing of anti-government protesters by the Korean police on April 19th 1960. I’m not sure if the anniversary of the massacre is remembered with a minute’s silence every year or whether it was included because we were having one anyway.

If the intention was to give the Koreans something of their own to pay their respects to, it didn’t work. I didn’t see anyone bother to stand up and the vast majority of people around me ignored it and carried on chatting amongst themselves.

As the game kicked off a few of the couple of hundred Grampus fans behind the goal lit their flares. It was an impressive sight, albeit something that would get you a three year banning order in the UK.

Grampus fans

FC Seoul had most of the early possession, putting a bit of pressure on the Grampus defence. It was Grampus that opened the scoring though with a scrambled effort against the run of play after twenty six minutes.  Seoul, with all four of their non-Korean players on the pitch, had plenty of opportunities in the remainder of the first half but went off at the interval a goal behind.

Seoul go close just before half time.

Seoul continued to press after the break and it seemed likely that they would equalize before long. The Grampus keeper had a tendency to palm the ball away and it just looked like a matter of time before someone would take advantage. Irritatingly, the 2010 World Cup craze for vuvuzelas shows no sign of fading in Seoul and whenever Grampus had possession the home fans would recreate the sound of the previous summer.

Another dodgy FC Seoul haircut

As the second half progressed the Seoul players got increasingly frustrated with the Grampus timewasting. Molina, in particular, was taking every opportunity to complain to the officials whilst Yeo Hyo Jin gave one Japanese player something legitimate to writhe about by hacking him down in the centre circle.

Molina takes a break from moaning at the ref.

The home team continued to press as time started to run out with Molina curling one a fraction wide from the angle of the box with about twenty minutes remaining. Just as I was looking forward to a frantic last ten minutes Grampus hit Seoul on the break and killed the game stone dead with their second goal of the evening. The two goal victory took Grampus to the top of the four team group ahead of Seoul on goal difference.

LG Twins v Lotte Giants, Sunday 17th April 2011, 5pm

May 1, 2011

After watching last weeks game between LG Twins and Samsung Lions I was back at the Jamsil Stadium on Sunday afternoon to see the Twins take on Lotte Giants. First though Jen and I went to the circus. It wasn’t, as I’d mentioned previously, a real circus with elephants and lions but that Cirque du Soleil thing, where the focus is more on acrobats. That’s fine with me though. I can watch girls in leotards demonstrating their flexibility for a couple of hours if I have to.

Cirque du Soleil

The performers were certainly a lot more athletic than the acrobats that I remember seeing at the circus as a kid. Then you would tend to get an ageing husband and wife trapeze act where the main excitement came from wondering if they might have had an argument beforehand that would lessen their efforts to catch each other.

I remember going to see Robert Brothers Circus when I was about six. Mind you, they didn’t have elephants and lions either. They were a little more low-budget and had pigs that would run around the ring and jump through hoops. They did, however, have a boxing kangaroo that seemed quite prepared to take on and knock out all-comers. I tried to persuade my Dad to go down and lamp it but apparently he had just had his tea.

The most vivid memory of that day though is dropping my bar of Turkish Delight through a gap in the seats and on to the grass below. I’ve gone off Turkish Delight these days so got an ice cream at the Cirque du Soleil interval instead. I’ve learnt my lesson though and I kept a tight grip on it.

All this and pigs too.

The timing of the events worked in our favour and after emerging blinking into the sunlight from the big top at half past four we had half an hour to get ourselves baseball tickets, chicken and beer. Despite the sizeable crowd we managed it, opting for eight thousand won tickets in the outfield so that we could take full advantage of the sunshine.

Unfortunately a lot of other people had gone for the same idea and there were only single seats left. Or rather, anything other than single seats were occupied by bags, coats, boxes of chicken or strategically placed newspapers. All of the people that we asked were adamant that the seats were being used by an absent friend who would be returning at any moment.

We walked the length of the outfield without success. I was a little annoyed by this point, but thought ‘sod it’, the obvious solution being to forego a bit of sunshine and get seats in the main stand instead. The tickets are cheap enough for paying twice to not really matter and so we came back through the gate declining a handstamp for re-admission on the way through.

We queued for a couple of minutes at the ticket window before the women behind the glass informed us that every area of the ground apart from the outfield was sold out. At the risk of sounding like Victor Meldrew, I couldn’t believe it. The main stand was at best a quarter full, there was no way that it could be sold out. She insisted though and faced with not seeing the game and without the handstamps that would have re-admitted us, I was forced to buy another two tickets for the outfield. The bloke on the gate looked a bit surprised to see us back but probably knew better than to comment.

An outfield full of bags, coats and fried chicken boxes

Of course when we reached the top of the steps there were fewer empty seats than there had been five minutes earlier, some of them actually now occupied by people rather newspapers. The solution came to me a moment later and five minutes after it should have done. If the main stand was sold out but was still at least half empty it meant that a lot of the tickets would have been bought by touts.

We made our way back down the steps and through the exit gate again. I made sure that I didn’t catch the eye of the bloke with the handstamps. It was bad enough leaving the once before the start, but twice? I don’t imagine that has happened too often.

We made our way around to the area by the subway and sure enough, the touting grannies had an ample supply. We got a pair, paying a three thousand won premium on the face value of each twelve thousand won ticket.

It took us about twenty minutes to negotiate the queues at the gate and find our seats, which were actually quite good, directly above the plate. So, to recap. That was six tickets in total at an overall cost of sixty two thousand won. Whatever. As I cracked open the first can of the day it all seemed worthwhile.

Shim Soo Chang was the starting pitcher again for LG and he survived until the fifth innings before getting the hook after tiring a little and being twatted for three runs. Song Seung Joon started for the Giants and conceded just the one run before also being replaced toward the end of the fifth.

Song Seong Joon - Lotte Giants

The Lotte fans seemed to be enjoying themselves as usual and in addition to the supermarket carrier bags on their heads, they had a chant directed at the home fans that I’m pretty sure was along the lines of  “Shut Up Boy”.

Lotte Giants fans giving the opposition a bit of stick.

They enjoyed themselves even more as Lotte added another run in the seventh to make it 4-1 and that’s the way it finished.