Archive for August, 2011

Hiking at Gwanaksan, Saturday 6th August 2011.

August 25, 2011

I had big plans for this weekend, well big plans if you like watching lower level football I suppose. In addition to the National League game at Chungju on the Saturday, Jen and I had been planning on going to the Challengers League Cup tournament on Sunday. It’s a competition for the third tier teams played over the space of a week in the one town, Jecheon on this occasion. There were seven games scheduled for the Sunday, spread over two stadiums. The winners of each match staying on until mid-week for the next round whilst the losers presumably clear off back to their holidays.

My job doesn’t usually interfere too much with my hobbies, not outside of normal office hours anyway, but unfortunately I had to go to a meeting in Oman and my flight departed just before midnight on the Saturday evening. That meant if we were going to do anything on the Saturday then it had to be Seoul-based and there wasn’t any football going on.

There are plenty of hills within the city though and so we decided to have a walk up Gwanaksan. There are a few different trails and a highest peak of 629m. Best of all, it’s only five subway stops from our apartment. If you are going for a walk though, you might as well just go for a walk and so to get there we followed the route of Line Two of the subway above ground from Yeoksam to Sadang. It took us about an hour and forty minutes to walk the subway line and then another twenty minutes or so to find the start of the trail once we’d got to Exit 6 of Sadang station.

It was worth avoiding the subway, mainly because we walked past some baseball cages where if you put a couple of five hundred won coins into a slot a machine fired baseballs at you at speeds varying from 100km/hr to 140km/hr. As I’d never played baseball before I naturally selected the fastest cage. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? After all, my first ever curry as a teenager was a Phal and whilst my mates cried with laughter, my eyes streamed with tears as the heat of the spices prevented me eating more than a quarter of it. For those of you who don’t know, a Phal is a like a Vindaloo, but with two tablespoons of extra gunpowder.

Another one flies past.

I’m not really one for learning lessons though and the first 140km/hr ball passed me before I’d even started my swing. As did the next few. I adjusted a little and eventually hit some of them, the best of which would probably have been caught somewhere near first base whilst the rest varied between being knocked into the ground near my feet or glancing off my bat into the fence behind. Fortunately none of them smacked me in the chops as I don’t think I’d have fancied arriving in Muscat the next day minus a few teeth. Whenever I’ve seen people in these cages they are usually half-pissed after a post-work drink with their colleagues, so maybe it’s one of those sports like pool and darts where a few beers improves your skills.

At Sadang station there was a line of old blokes awaiting the arrival of free food organised by a charity. As I stood around I was twice asked by locals if I’d like to join the queue. Perhaps it’s my age, maybe the way I dress, but I obviously looked a bit like a worthy recipient. We’d packed a bit of a picnic though, so I left them to it.

When we got to Gwanaksan, we followed the signs for Yeonjudae. It was a bit of a slog at first with very few sections were you could walk on the level. There’s an area about half an hour into the hike where you can replenish your water bottles, lift a few weights or hang upside down from a bar like a bat. It was a warm day so we settled for a drink of water.

There's plenty to do for those not tired enough by the hiking

We continued upwards for another hour and a half or so, stopping to look down on Seoul every time there was a decent view. It’s amazing how close we were to the heart of the city. The trail was very crowded, probably I suspect, more with people just happy to get out in the hills on a day when it wasn’t raining rather than with those who were prevented by work commitments from going to obscure football games in even more obscure towns.

My office is out there somewhere.

We didn’t get to the top. It’s one of those where the actual peak is fenced off because it sites some sort of communication tower and there didn’t seem a lot of fun in hauling ourselves up ropes and chain ladders in the final stages just to be able to reach a fence. We took a different route down, slightly longer at about four kilometres and one that mainly follows a river. There were plenty of people taking advantage of the cold water to cool down and I did the same.

I could have done with this during the Phal all those years ago.

We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife, a couple of cats and a dog with bright pink feet. I suppose for all it’s a hill, it’s still in the city. As we approached the end of the trail it got even busier with lots of families picnicking by the water. One couple were actually sat in the river whilst playing some sort of board game.

It's your birthday. Collect £10 from each player.

We emerged near to Gwacheon subway station and after initially hopping on a bus going in the wrong direction ended up taking a taxi back to Yeoksam. Overall we probably did about thirteen kilometres in six and a half hours. That doesn’t seem like much of a pace, but when you stop to play baseball or dangle your feet into a river that’s how long it takes.

LG Twins v Hanwha Eagles, Friday 5th August 2011, 6.30pm

August 20, 2011

Friday night and it was time for a bit more baseball with Hanwha Eagles visiting Jamsil for the first of their three games with LG Twins. As usual Hanwha are having a pretty poor season with them currently sitting seventh of the eight teams in the rankings. LG are doing a little better in fifth, two wins behind local rivals Doosan Bears in the fight for the fourth play-off place.

As far as recent form goes, both teams were on the wrong end of a 9-1 stuffing the previous evening, LG away to SK Wyverns and Hanwha at home to Lotte Giants. That’s not really the standard of performance that will have the fans flocking to the ground and so Jen and I thought that we’d just take our time and walk there.

We got in at about twenty past seven with three innings gone and LG Twins already ahead by four runs to nil. The stadium was a lot busier than I’d imagined, with far more Hanwha fans than I’d have thought their position and current form would have warranted. Perhaps LG’s 9-1 defeat the previous evening had given them a bit of hope that they might pick up a win. It still took me ten minutes to get the beer in though due to a combination of queueing at the wrong level and then being stuck behind people paying for a packet of dried octopus with a debit card.

Ahn Seung Min was the starting pitcher for Hanwha and by the time he disappeared at the end of the fifth LG had increased their lead to 5-0.

Ahn Seung Min - Hanwha Eagles

The American Ben Jukich started for LG and was pretty impressive rattling through eight innings with barely a hit and no runs against him. The game was as good as over when with just the one innings remaining his boss gave him a ‘job and knock’ and he was allowed to nip off home early.

Ben Jukich - LG Twins

Other foreign interest came in the form of Karim Garcia, who seems to be the Robbie Savage of baseball. He picked up a seven game ban whilst playing with Lotte Giants last season for giving an umpire a bit more slaver than is apparently acceptable and despite scoring sixty six runs in Major League Baseball his main claim to fame in America seems to be a fight that he had with eight time All-Star Pedro Martinez.

"Karim Garcia, who's Karim Garcia?"

Garcia behaved himself on this occasion though and in the eighth he looked as if he had managed to belt one into next door’s garden. Unfortunately for the stroppy Mexican it was caught a foot or so from the top of the boundary wall, just in front of a couple of hundred office workers all sat together on some team-building bonding exercise.

"Stand up if you'd rather be at home with the family"

Hanwha’s fans kept up their support all evening despite their team dropping too many catches and missing more run outs than they would have been happy with. The game ended at about half past nine with LG eventually knocking up eight runs without reply, giving Hanwha their second eight run loss in twenty four hours and allowing LG to move a little closer to a play-off spot.

LG Twins v Samsung Lions, Friday 29th July 2011, 6.30pm

August 10, 2011

I don’t feel as if I’ve seen anything like as much baseball this season compared to last year, mainly because of the weather. We had intended to go along to Jamsil three days earlier but the worst rain in Seoul for years started falling an hour or two before the start and that was that.

We’d even got tickets in advance for a change as Jen had worked out how to buy them from the cash machine at the local GS25 convenience store. It seems a little insensitive though to complain about not being able to watch a baseball game when dozens of people died in the floods. So I won’t.

Luckily, we live at the top of a hill.

By Friday afternoon the rain had stopped and so we caught the subway at Yeoksam for the three stop journey to Sports Complex. It was rush-hour so the carriages were packed and we had to fight our way on and off. At the stadium we skipped the queue and picked up three tickets from a tout for the main stand at ten thousand won a go. That’s a thousand won over face value, but it saved us a few minutes waiting at the ticket office.

We’d missed the first half an hour or so and with two innings completed  the game was still scoreless. Radhames Liz, the Dominican who had started over twenty times for the Baltimore Orioles earlier in his career, was pitching for LG. He looked very good early on but faded a bit towards the end. He conceded two runs in the fifth and another in each of the sixth and seventh innings before getting the hook before the start of the eighth.

Radhames Liz - LG Twins

Cha Woo Chan was the starting pitcher for Samsung Lions, who have been making one or two changes lately, notably with their foreign players. First baseman Ryan Garko was sent back to America after scoring just a single home run all season and their Japanese pitcher Ken Kadokura has apparently been dropped to their minor league team. I’d actually no idea that there was a minor league in Korea, I’ve not seen anything between the top level KBO games and the blokes who play with their mates down by the river. Perhaps I’ll bump into Kenny Kadokura next time I go for a stroll alongside the Han.

Cha Woo Chan had a fairly ropey start with the ball and it looked at one point like he might get withdrawn as early as the third innings as he gave up a few hits.

Cha Woo Chan - Samsung Lions

It got even worse for him in the fourth when Park Yong Taik and Cho In Sung  smacked home runs off successive balls.

Cho In Sung - LG Twins

Cha picked up a bit after that though and didn’t concede another run for the rest of the evening, finally stepping aside in the eighth with his team 4-2 ahead. Both sets of relief pitchers did their jobs and there were no more runs.

My son Tom, who was watching his first ever game of baseball, was impressed with the whole experience. The crowd was far more enthusiastic than at any of the football games he had been to over here and he liked the way that the gaps in play were filled by cheerleaders or competitions where girls competed for a prize of a few cases of beer by seeing which of them could down a pitcher of the stuff the quickest.

It's almost as good as half time penalties.

We had a few beers ourselves afterwards in a bar called Beer Mart. The quirk being that you just select your own bottles of beer from the glass fronted fridges and then when it’s time to go, collect up the empties from your table in a shopping basket and take them to the till to pay. I know that sounds like we spent that part of the evening drinking in the beer section of Tesco, but it was a bar, honest.

Jeonbuk Motors v Seongnam Ilhlwa Chunma, Sunday 24th July 2011, 7pm.

August 4, 2011

There was no way that my son Tom could spend a fortnight in Korea and pass up the opportunity of seeing the Boro’s greatest ever Korean player, Lee Dong Gook. After all, he’d been there for half of the goals that the Lion King had scored for Middlesbrough. I, on the other hand, hadn’t seen either of them.

So, on a rainy Sunday morning, Tom, Jen and I caught the bus to Jeonju  from Seoul Central City station to see the Jeonbuk v Seongnam game. Tom was pretty impressed with the luxury bus. I don’t think we have buses with a two and one seating configuration in the UK. Certainly I don’t remember ever travelling anywhere over there and having such a large reclinable seat.

He was also quite taken with the service station and the bowls of roast potatoes that you can buy there. I’ve grown accustomed to a lot of the things that he’s seeing for the first time so it’s quite nice to get  the odd reminder of some of the differences.

We got to Jeonju at about two o’clock. As the match didn’t kick off for another five hours we had a wander around the Hanok Village. On the face of it, this is a bit of Jeonju’s history, a place where you can see the old fashioned single-storey houses that most folk lived in before apartment blocks took over. The reality though is that they are being constantly refurbished and upgraded. It’s only about eight months since Jen and I were last there and already since then there are a couple of new Italian restaurants, a Paris Baguette cafe and a few more art and craft places.

Just wait until someone invents 'upstairs'.

We followed up the Hanok Village visit with a wander along the market by the river. There wasn’t much in the way of livestock, a bucket or two of eels, but there were plenty of chicken carcasses displayed in the heat and attracting the flies. We watched a mouse scampering around the boxes of vegetables at one stall whilst the owner stretched out on a bench and caught up on her sleep.

With an hour to go to kick-off we caught a taxi up to the World Cup Stadium. It takes around fifteen minutes from Jeonju centre. After sorting the tickets for behind the goal we got some free beer at the Hite van.  Again, I’ve got used to stuff like that but it’s not something Tom encounters too often in the UK.

Free beer. Really.

We took our seats behind the goal where for the first time since the day before I was able to have a beer with my son whilst watching a football match. Why does it have to be like that? We used to go to rugby games a lot where drinking in your seat is seen as perfectly normal. At the cricket you’d be regarded as a bit odd if you didn’t have a drink in your hand. But football is different. Even once the game became fashionable after Euro 96 things still didn’t change.

Jeonbuk fans.

Fortunately Lee Dong Gook was in the starting line up. It would have been a bit rough if Tom had travelled six thousand miles to see him warm the bench. There was no place for Luiz Henrique but Croatian striker Krunoslav Lovrek was starting on the left side of midfield. It didn’t take Jeonbuk long to take the lead, an own goal from Jeong Ho Jeong putting the home team ahead.

Almost another one for Jeonbuk.

Twenty minutes into the second half Kim Dong Chan made it two with a well-taken finish after Lee Dong Gook had controlled the ball on the edge of the box and played him in. We cleared off five minutes before the final whistle in an attempt to get a taxi to Iksan station. It didn’t work though and we ended up having to walk for about fifteen minutes to the junction of the main road into Jeonju. We flagged one down before long though and got to the station with about ten minutes to spare before our train departed.

The win took Jeonbuk six points clear at the top of the table with eleven games to play whilst the defeat for last seasons Asian Champions League winners Seongnam dropped them to second from bottom.

Ansan Hallelujah v Incheon Korail, Saturday 23rd July 2011, 7pm

August 3, 2011

After watching the game between Suwon City and Mokpo in the afternoon, Tom and I decided that we would take in a second National League match. Ansan is only sixteen kilometres from Suwon and so we just hopped in a cab. We could have got the subway but there are fourteen stops between Suwon and Gojan stations and I suspected that it would have taken all of the hour that we had to spare between the games.

The taxi wasn’t much quicker mind, taking forty minutes, and it was certainly more expensive at twenty two thousand won. It did have the advantage of efficient air-conditioning though and there are times when I’d happily pay a lot more money than that for forty minutes in the cold. Conveniently there is an enormous Lotte supermarket underneath the Wa Stadium and we called in and picked up a couple of litre bottles of Cass each. The novel opportunity, for Tom at least, of being able to drink whilst watching a football match was one that couldn’t really be missed.

One day all supermarkets will be like this.

It was just after kick-off time when we got to one of the stadium entrances. It was locked. Nothing unusual there though, as there is often just a single gate open. What was a little more worrying was that we could see the pitch and there weren’t any players on it.  I did wonder if I’d got the time or the date mixed up. We’d already seen one game that afternoon, so with a couple of litres of beer in hand it didn’t seem like that big an issue.

We walked further around the stadium and as we got to the other side we could hear the sounds of a football match in progress. Players shouting, a ref’s whistle, the murmuring of the crowd and enough drums to start a marching jazz band. It seems that, like the Suwon Big Bird, the Wa Stadium has a practice pitch next to it. Just before we got there we noticed an open gate to the main stadium so we went in for a look around at the slightly more impressive neighbour.

Big, but not much going on.

It’s very nice really, although a little excessive for a National League team with a few hundred fans. Ten minutes or so after kick-off we made our way into the practice pitch and were directed around the running track to a stand that ran the length of the pitch. It was only about four seats deep but it probably held five or six hundred people. It was just about full and the only option for Tom and I was to stand at the back. It was all working out pretty well. If we could stand at the Boro and drink from litre bottles of beer whilst watching the game then you’d get no complaints from us.

The view as we came in. Hallelujah are in white.

We had five drummers to our right, just by the long jump sandpit that was keeping the younger fans busy. They kept up a steady beat throughout the game and led the chants. I joined in with “Hallelujah, Hallelujah” as due to me not being much of a church-goer, I don’t often get a chance to do that.

Five drummers drumming

Hallelujah was formed by Christian missionaries apparently and  like all good missionaries have been moving about a bit, spreading the word about the benefits of keeping faith in the big fella. Particularly if you have a decent winger putting the ball into the box for him. Ho-hum. They were booted out of Iksan by stroppy Buddhists and then had a spell in Gimpo before settling in the promised land of Ansan a few years ago.

The score was nil-nil as we arrived and it was still that way at half-time. The football was a lot better than we’d seen earlier in the day at Suwon, with a lot more movement off the ball. Surprising really as Hallelujah are struggling near the bottom of the table, whilst Korail aren’t a great deal better off. Perhaps both teams crapness made the other look good.

Not much brotherly love in that challenge.

Korail took the lead ten minutes into the second half as Lee In Kyu knocked the ball home at the back post. Hallelujah were never out of it though, or at least not until five minutes from time when Korail clinched the points with an Ahn Byung Gun header. At the final whistle the Hallelujah players dropped to their knees and had a collective prayer session. No doubt thanking the Lord that there isn’t any relegation from the National League to the Challengers League.

Thank you God for keeping the rain away. And the stroppy Iksan Buddhists.

Tom and I got  the subway from Gojan back to Yeoksam. It didn’t take much more than an hour and so I’ll probably nip back at some point to watch Hallelujah play in the main stadium. Maybe even combine it with getting a few groceries in.