Archive for September, 2011

Doosan Bears v Lotte Giants, Sunday 18th September 2011, 5pm

September 29, 2011

After missing out on the baseball game in Chuncheon earlier in the day I decided that when we got back to Seoul I would pop along to Jamsil Stadium for the visit of Lotte Giants. Lotte always bring a lot of fans with them, probably because there are plenty of ex-Busan residents now living or working in Seoul, and so it is usually a decent occasion.

I was at the box office a good fifteen minutes before the start and all that were left in the main stand were a few single seats in the blue section close to the action. I thought, as usual, that I would take my chance in the outfield section instead.  As expected, it was packed and I wandered around for a good five minutes before a bloke begrudgingly moved his can of beer from the seat next to him so that I could sit down.

The starting pitcher for Doosan was Yang Hyeon. He has only just turned nineteen and has a really odd throwing action, releasing the ball from very low down, not far above the ground. He started well enough though with his first five pitches being either strikes or resulting in someone being caught out.

Yang Hyeong - Doosan Bears

Jang Won Jun started for Lotte and he did even better, conceding just three hits and one run in the six innings that he was on the field for.

Jang Won Jun - Lotte Giants

In the third innings Lotte outfielder Son Ah Seop hit a home run that scored two to put the visitors into the lead. Doosan pitcher Yang Hyeon didn’t last much longer after that, getting the tap on the shoulder at the end of the third. He had just been struck on the ankle with the ball though so that may have played some part in the decision. His replacement threw a lot more conventionally.

Son Ah Seop is congratulated by his Lotte Giants team mates.

There were still lots of people coming into the stadium at that time even though play had been underway for an hour. As so many of the seats were ‘reserved for a friend who hadn’t yet arrived’ very few of the latecomers seemed to be finding seats. Most chose to stand at the back whilst others sat in the aisles. One old biddie was made of sterner stuff than most and she insisted that people picked up their bags and moved along. She and her husband had been sat on tiny camping stools in the aisle until she had decided enough was enough.

It was mostly Lotte fans in the outfield seats.

It was good to see the stadium full for a change as it meant the return of the blokes who sell beer from the big packs on their backs. There was also someone selling bottles of soju from a carrier bag.

I decided to skip the soju and draft beer and nipped downstairs to pick up a few cans at the end of the fourth. On the way back I was almost hit by a Lotte home run. As I stood facing away from the pitch at the bottom of the steps on the way back to my seat, I saw the people around me either flinching or putting their hands up to catch the ball. I turned, but couldn’t pick up the flight and could do nothing more than put my free hand over my head and hope the ball didn’t knock my teeth out. It didnt. 3-0 Lotte.

The orange supermarket bags made an appearance in the fifth innings with most of the Lotte fans taking part and wearing them on their heads. One kid didn’t seem to get the hang of it and despite his Mam being sat next to him he just put his head inside it and tied it tighter than a Tory MP with an orange in his mouth would.

I bet he sticks his fingers into electrical sockets too.

Doosan had a chance to get back into the game in the fifth when Lotte deliberately walked Choi Joon Seok leaving batters on all three bases. The tactic paid off though with them all left stranded when they got the next bloke, Son Si Hyun, out without much difficulty

Lotte increased their lead in the seventh with a solo home run that once again landed not too far from me, before Doosan finally opened their account to make it 4-1. The game seemed over though and the visiting fans were enjoying themselves with Mexican Waves.

One of these days I'll bring a Tesco bag and join in.

Both sides scored a couple of runs apiece in the eighth to take it to 6-3 and that was how it eventually finished. The result didn’t matter much to Doosan Bears, but it was a valuable win for Lotte Giants as they try to secure second place in the standings.

Gangneung Shinwoo v Odaesan Whatevers, Sunday 18th September 2011, 11am

September 28, 2011

On the way into the football game at Chuncheon Stadium the previous day, Jen and I decided to have a look around the baseball stadium next door. When we got close we were surprised to hear a game going on inside and so we went in through the main entrance to see what was happening.

It turns out that we had arrived on the penultimate day of  sixty-four team tournament for Gangwon baseball teams. We picked up a programme and it looked as if most of them were of a similar standard to the fellas that I’ve seen playing on a Sunday morning down by the Han River.

We watched for a while from the VIP lounge and then from the players dugout.

Gangneung Shinwoo players waiting their turn to bat.

It was a smallest baseball stadium that I’ve seen so far, with no seats in the outfield and a ten thousand capacity main stand. Gangneung Shinwoo were winning their semi-final against a team in blue and we decided to return the next day to watch them in the final. The programme reckoned that the closing ceremony was at 4pm so we concluded that the final would probably start sometime between one and two o’clock.

We had just about doubled the attendance.

The next day we woke early on the floor of the shed we were staying in on Jungdo Island. It was advertised as a cabin but, as I may have mentioned in a previous post, cabins have beds. This place just had a floor. It hadn’t been the most comfortable of nights and the state of my back was what any orthopedic consultant worth his salt would no doubt have described as ‘knacked’.

After breakfast we hired a modified golf cart and rode around the island looking for wildlife. We soon  spotted a few black squirrels, although they weren’t interested in the peanuts that we threw for them.

It was like a red squirrel, but blacker.

Later we found some yellow spiders, most of which didn’t seem that much smaller than the squirrels.

Despite its size I was confident that a single swipe with a Gazette would be sufficient.

The driving around looking for wildlife reminded me of being on safari in South Africa the previous summer, although without the undoubted thrill of being able to wave a rifle around. Coincidently I’ve just been informed by email that the mounted head of the blesbok that I shot during the World Cup will finally be finished this month. All I have to do now is work out where I’m going to put it.

It's no wonder the Jungdo squirrels didn't get too close.

We got the ferry off the island later that morning and took a taxi to Dak Galbi Street for an early lunch. No surprise what they served there. We couldn’t see a restaurant with an endorsement from comedian Kang Ho Dong, which is pretty much the equivalent of a Kitemark over here and so we just picked the first one that had chairs instead. Kang has recently been in the news over here after his tax affairs were announced as being under investigation. No doubt we will shortly be seeing his cardboard cut-out giving us a cheesy thumbs-up outside of every accountant’s office in town.

Kang Ho Dong

Another short taxi ride to the stadium where there were dozens of cars parked alongside the road and a couple of hundred people milling about. Unfortunately they were there for a cycle race and not for the baseball. We went into the stadium via the players entrance again and watched a couple of balls from the dugout. The team in pink, Gangneung Shinwoo were playing and so must have closed out yesterday’s semi-final as expected.

We made our way upstairs and were just selecting a VIP seat with a table when both teams ran towards the centre of pitch, lined up and shook hands. Game over. Hmmm. So, what next? Nothing apparently, apart from the players celebrating with their families, fringe players taking the opportunity to throw a few balls on the pitch and the dozen or so spectators packing their picnic lunches away. It turns out that the game had actually started at eleven o’clock and that was it for the day.

That's all folks.

We loitered for a few minutes and then walked back to the Jungdo ferry terminal where we got a taxi to the intercity bus terminal for the ride back to Dong Seoul. I couldn’t resist taking a picture of this fella waiting for his bus.

I think discovering that Blackadder 5 is currently being filmed in Korea was well worth the glare he gave me.

Chuncheon Citizen v Pocheon, Saturday 17th September 2011, 3pm

September 26, 2011

Chuncheon is another one of those places that is miles away from Seoul, but you can get there on the subway. When it’s possible I can’t resist travelling that way rather than getting a quicker train or luxury bus. I suspect it’s because I’m tight with money.

Anyway, Jen and I set off from Yeoksam at quarter to nine in the morning and after changing to the Line Seven and then the Jungang Line we were at Chuncheon a couple of hours later. I thought the journey wasn’t too bad. Most of it was above ground and we had seats for almost all of it. Besides, what do you expect for 2,600 won?

It's a popular destination for old people.

Kick-off in the third division game between Chuncheon Citizen and league leaders Pocheon wasn’t until 3pm so we had time to sort out our accommodation first. We got a cab to Jungdo ferry terminal and then the ferry across to Jungdo Island. It’s a small island in the middle of a river, the ferry runs every half an hour between 9am and 6pm and it takes about five minutes to make the crossing. The island is quite famous as the location for a Korean soap, Winter Sonata, and there were photographs of the stars wherever you looked.

That's the ferry with Jungdo in the background.

I’d read somewhere on the internet that there were ‘cabins’ for rent on Jungdo and it seemed like it would make an interesting change from a hotel. It turns out that they do have ‘cabins’. They also have a pre-booking system as they are extremely popular on Saturday nights. Luckily someone had just cancelled and we got the last one for 55,000 won.

It was spacious enough, it had a bathroom, a cooker, sink, fridge, television and air-conditioning. Everything you could ask for really. Everything apart from a bed. Where the bed should have been there was just a floor. At first I thought we might have been burgled, but it seems that beds just haven’t caught on in Chuncheon yet. In my view then, it wasn’t a cabin. Cabins have beds. What we had rented was actually a shed.

Our shed.

There were a couple of duvets and a pair of quilts in a cupboard though. That was sufficient for me to be able to put the prospect of sleeping on a shed floor to the back of my mind for a few hours as we caught the ferry back across to Chuncheon and a Dak Galbi lunch.

Chuncheon likes to think it is famous for Dak Galbi. Perhaps it is, just not in the circles I mix in. In my circles Chuncheon is more rightly famous for people sleeping on shed floors. The Dak Galbi was good, not as spicy as the ones you get in Seoul, possibly because they used less oil, possibly because they tone it down for people from out of town. It was fine though.

Dak Galbi - It's mainly chicken and cabbage.

After lunch we took a five minute taxi ride to nearby Songam Sports Town. Not only was there a twenty five thousand seater football ground, but there was a baseball stadium, a speed skating track complete with grandstands and a skateboarding/BMX arena that was bigger than anything I’d imagine exists in the UK. It shows what it’s possible to achieve when you don’t have a bed to laze around in on a morning.

We didn’t have to look for the proper entrance to the stadium as we were able just to walk in through the ambulance entrance, make our way along the running track and then up to the main stand where we sat as far from the Tannoy speakers as possible.

Looking along the main stand at Chuncheon

Chuncheon were wearing bee costumes, Pocheon a more traditional white shirt and black shorts combination. They spoiled it a bit by letting their keeper wear his QPR shirt. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with a bee costume.

Nothing wrong as long as you don't value your dignity.

There was a bloke sat in front of us who spent the entire game secretly talking into a hidden microphone. Honestly. It looked as if he was on the phone to someone but was concealing the fact that he was talking into a microphone hidden inside his shirt. Every time something happened on the pitch he would pretend to cough or rub his chin and then relay the information as discreetly as possible. The only explanation I can think of is that he was working for a bookie or that he had a mate using the betting exchanges. If the fella on the other end of the line had instant notice of a goal or a penalty a couple of seconds before everyone else then he could back or lay at advantageous odds.

He was wearing a wire, just like on The Sopranos.

Pocheon took the lead after twelve minutes when someone seized on a goalmouth scramble and planted the ball high into the corner of the net. There were one or two away fans in the crowd and they celebrated as the lad in front quietly cleared his throat and mumbled away into his mike.

As far as home fans went, there were five behind the goal with a drum and a horn which is not a bad ratio of fans to musical instruments. There were maybe eighty spectators in total in the ground.

A drum, a horn and a loud hailer. Not bad between five.

Mind you, what we lacked in numbers of fans was more than made up for by the substitutes. Pocheon had thirteen blokes togged up and sat on the bench, Chuncheon looked to have more, although I think one might have been a mascot and the other someone who had got lost on the way to a fancy dress party.

At half-time when they were all warming up they should have just had a fifteen minute eleven a side game between themselves. Although it would have been a bit rough on anyone who would have to sit on the bench for the half-time substitutes game too. Maybe that’s the time when you look to move on.

The Pocheon bench.

It didn’t take long in the second half for Chuncheon to equalise. The big centre back with the dodgy perm met a free kick from the left to head home the equaliser from close range. It was fortunate that I saw it as I’d been temporarily distracted by a takeaway delivery arriving for someone a few seats further along. The bloke in front with the hidden mike caught it all though and was relaying the information before the ball hit the back of the net.


Pocheon were the better team and their number seventeen headed them back in front with about twenty minutes left. The same lad made the game safe in injury time by finishing well after Chuncheon failed to clear a ball that had been bouncing around the penalty area for just that bit too long.


At full time we could have stayed for a raffle and the chance to win a bike or a sack of rice. Instead we left them to it and got a taxi back to the ferry. The island was still pretty busy after the day trippers had gone home as there was a camp site near to the sheds.

I think we must have had the lowest occupancy rate with just the two of us in our shed. A few yards away there was a hut that wasn’t much bigger but was housing ten old blokes. Their wives were all in the hut next to them. They looked to be having a great old time with the men barbecuing stuff and knocking back the soju before letting their wives do the washing and tidying up.

Some of the wives clearing up the mess their husbands had made.

We called it a night at about nine. If you are going to have a crap night’s sleep then you might as well make it long enough for the odd periods where you aren’t awake to cumulatively amount to something worthwhile. Fortunately it started to rain shortly afterwards and the partying pensioners knocked it on the head too.

South China v Tuen Mun, Saturday 10th September 2011, 5.30pm

September 25, 2011

We’ve just had the Chuseok holiday in Korea. It’s the one where people head back to the town of their ancestors and pay their respects to the dead. That’s all well and good but with only three days off work, it didn’t seem worth trying to get to Sunderland Crematorium and back. And so free from graveside obligations, Jen and I went to Hong Kong instead.

It’s an interesting place. We did touristy stuff on the first day, taking the tram up to The Peak where we sat in the breeze looking down upon the city and then a taxi to Stanley where we wandered around along the seafront and pier.

Hazy looking view from The Peak.

The next day we went to Macau. Like Hong Kong it’s one of those places that was previously owned by someone else but now belongs to the Chinese. There are still a fair few of the old Portuguese style buildings to see, although the rain in the afternoon meant that we spent more time in a restaurant than we did sightseeing.

Not much left of this place

One of the main attractions of Macau for the visiting Chinese is the quantity of casinos, at least thirty odd of them in what is quite a compact place. We weren’t tempted, which is just as well as in shorts we wouldn’t have got in anyway, but plenty of other visitors were. So many in fact that it took us over an hour to clear immigration on the way in. Still, it’s worth a visit, although I’d recommend a mid-week out of season trip.

This was one of the quieter streets in Macau.

On the third day we went to Peng Chau. It’s a tiny island near Lantau. When I say tiny I mean it, maybe 500m x 600m. There aren’t any motor vehicles apart from fire engines.  Going there was a bit of a bonus as we hadn’t intended to, we’d planned on hiking up a couple of big hills on Lantau. Being the  responsible people that we are, we’d even visited the council offices to buy a proper map. Unfortunately the map didn’t cover the ferry terminal and we got on the wrong boat. We only realised our mistake as the ferry disappeared into the distance after dropping us at Peng Chau whilst we gazed at a map of the island that wasn’t far off being actual sized.

Not the busiest of fishing ports.

Still, Peng Chau was worth a visit. We climbed the 95m Finger Hill and covered just about every path on the island before getting a mid-afternoon ferry back to Hong Kong Island.

On the way down from Finger Hill, Peng Chau.

As you might expect Hong Kong was a strange mix of English and Chinese culture, typified by the food. One evening we ate in a British-influenced place where I had chips with curry sauce and a deep-fried mars bar, whilst somewhere else I had deep-fried baby pigeons complete with their heads.

I didn't bother photographing the deep-fried Mars Bar.

Anyway, this blog isn’t supposed to be a ‘what I did on my holidays’ sort of place, despite my life appearing at times to be one long holiday. It’s meant to be a Korean sporting blog and so I’d better tell you about the match. I know that it’s not Korean football but it’s as close as you are going to get this week.

I’d got lucky really as this was the opening weekend of the season. Hong Kong isn’t very big but it has ten First Division teams and another twelve in the second tier of its league.

The game that we went along to was at South China’s Hong Kong Stadium. It’s by far and away Hong Kong’s biggest stadium with a forty thousand capacity. The other eight top division grounds hold about twenty-five thousand people in total between the lot of them. Not surprisingly South China is historically Hong Kong’s most successful team.

It was sixty Hong Kong Dollars to get in, that’s about a fiver and you could sit anywhere you liked on the lower tiers. The previous game here had been between Chelsea and Aston Villa in a pre-season tournament and prices for that ranged from about a tenner to forty quid. It seems that watching people off the telly is more popular than watching your own team.

Hong Kong Stadium

We weren’t allowed to take any cans or bottles into the stadium, not even plastic bottles of water. That wasn’t much of a hardship though as they did sell pints of  Carlsberg inside as well as proper looking pies. Neither team had any players that I knew although last season South China had that Kezman bloke who used to be at Chelsea playing for them. Nicky Butt turned out for them a few times last year too, adding a Hong Kong League Cup winners medal to a collection that I suspect he had thought complete.

The home team wore an Arsenal style strip whilst Tuen Mun were dressed up as Chelsea. The crowd totalled about three thousand including the five hundred or so fans that the visitors had brought with them. Mind you, it’s hardly a long trip. I’d be surprised if anybody didn’t follow their team home and away in a place as small as Hong Kong.

Arsenal v Chelsea

South China had most of the early play but didn’t manage to get any shots on target and it was Tuen Mun who opened the scoring, a glancing header from Milutin Trnavac sneaking inside the post.

It was quite a physical game with a few crunching tackles and a fair bit of posturing from one or two of the players. Chan Hin Kwong picked up a booking after half an hour for hanging on to an opponents leg like a particularly clingy child being dropped off by his Mam for his first day at school. The visiting keeper made a decent save from the resulting South China free kick.

Vekjc Nemad palms it past the post

It got worse for South China a few minutes later when the South African Makhosonke Bhengu put Tuen Mun further into the lead, much to the delight of his scruffy looking manager Dejan Antonic. South China finished the half resorting to long range shots and they got a bit of stick from their fans as they left the field.

We moved seats at half time and I took my seventy Hong Kong dollar litre of Carlsberg behind the goal.

The view from the other end.

South China had a couple of decent chances early on in the second half and on the hour had a goal disallowed for climbing. They finally pulled a goal back with a quarter of an hour to go when Brazillian defender Wellingsson de Souza headed home.

The goal just increased the determination of Tuen Mun to timewaste, resulting in a further seven minutes being added on. They held on to frustrate South China and in particular their coach who was sent off for getting in a paddy and booting a bottle of water into the air. Perhaps that’s why they don’t allow you to take them into the ground.

All in all it was a pleasant couple of hours. The stadium has a nice backdrop of hills behind one goal, the beer was cold and the football pretty competitive. Much more enjoyable than a Chuseok visit to a graveyard.

LG Twins v Doosan Bears, Wednesday 7th September 2011, 6.30pm

September 22, 2011

Wednesday night and it was time for another dose of end of season fifth plays sixth baseball. I know that sounds like I’m less than enthusiastic about it all, but I’m not. The main attraction for me is just sitting outside on a warmish evening and watching a bit of sport, so I don’t need a game where the result matters or where there is a lively atmosphere to enhance the occasion. I’d be just as happy if the stadium was virtually empty, I think.

This game promised to have a decent crowd however and as it was between local rivals Doosan Bears and LG Twins, it was likely to have a competitive edge to it that their lowly respective positions in the standings wouldn’t normally bring about. For what it’s worth, Doosan had won their last four games and were closing in on LG for the fifth spot. That didn’t mean a lot though as neither team had any realistic prospect of finishing fourth and earning a play-off place.

Jen and I walked there, getting to the Jamsil stadium at twenty past seven, fifty minutes after the start. We were offered blue section seats near the action by a granny tout for less than their face value of 12,000 won but I fancied having a bit of distance between us and the fans banging their inflatable sticks so we just got a couple of 7,000 won outfield tickets from the box office instead.

Despite it being a derby, the stadium was half empty as we took our seats towards the end of the third innings. The score was level at a run each. It was a lot cooler than it had been at the previous week’s visit, hopefully a sign that Autumn had finally arrived. As you might expect Spring and Autumn are the best times to be in Korea.

Koreans often rattle on about Korea having four seasons as if it’s more than every other country has. What next? They have day and night? What they usually fail to mention though is the relative shortness of Spring and Autumn. This year I reckon that Spring lasted for a total of three days. At least that was the length of time between me having to have the heating on in my apartment and me needing to start-up the air-conditioning. Three days. I might have missed Spring altogether if I’d gone for a decent shit.

Lee Sang Yeol  was the starting pitcher for LG and he conceded again in the fourth when Kim Dong Joo hit a home run to make it two-one to the notional visitors. I’d normally post a photo of both starting pitchers, but unfortunately I’ve mistakenly deleted all my pictures from this game so you’ll just have to imagine what Mr. Lee looks like. Doosan were wearing their black away strip as they were the away team, but here’s one I’d taken at a previous game of home run scorer Kim Dong Joo.

Kim Dong Joo - Pretend he has his black away shirt on.

The lad who had started last weeks game against Nexen, Kim Seung Hoi, was pitching for the Bears. LG equalised in their fourth innings but I missed it as I was concentrating on my brie and crackers.

Kim Seung Hoi - Doosan Bears

At half time there was some game that seemed to involve trying to make your opponent move his or her feet whilst doing your best not to move your own. It was a bit confusing but apparently someone did enough to win a trip to the Philippines.

The 'Don't Move Your Feet' game

In the seventh innings Kim Hyun Soo managed to crack one to third allowing Jung Soo Bin to get around for the run and put Doosan back in front. Someone else got home in the seventh as well, extending the lead to 4-2.

Kim Hyun Soo - Doosan Bears

There had been quite a lot of small kids in the crowd, but most of them started to drift off at this point. I suppose 9pm is late enough on a school night. One of them had a gadget consisting of a plastic finger on a telescopic stick. It looked ideal for gesturing at fans and players or for poking his contemporaries in the eye. I was impressed. I could do with one of those at work.

It’s getting harder to invent things these days as most of the good stuff has already been thought of. In the past I’d came up with ideas such as a spoon with a hole in it for people who don’t like too much milk on their cornflakes and the ‘Ryanair coat’ which looked a bit like one of those puffa jackets but instead of it coming pre-filled with insulation you stuffed your socks and underpants into the lining instead to reduce your luggage weight. Sadly I was a bit slow off the mark in both cases and someone else is now hawking them around the appropriate trade fairs.

The good news about drinking at the baseball though is it allows my mind to wander as to what the world really needs and sometime in the seventh innings I had a bit of a brainwave. Baby wigs. As good as a hat for keeping the kid’s head warm but also serving the purpose of stopping baldy babies from being bullied at Mother and Toddler group.

Sadly, I was too slow again.

You can barely tell it's not natural.

I did think afterwards about adapting the idea for dogs, but someone had been there before me too.

I'm not sure about the tie though.

In the ninth, someone else got around for Doosan to make it 5-2. I didn’t notice who it was as I was too busy planning my baby wig empire whilst eating fake Ferraro Rocher chocolates. That’s the way it finished with Doosan creeping slowly towards to LG’s fifth place in the standings and me wondering just how long I’d have before I’d need to put the heating on.

World Athletics Championships, Daegu, Sunday 4th September 2011.

September 19, 2011

After Usain Bolt’s triumph the previous night Jen and I were back on the train from Gumi to Daegu the next morning for a bit more athletics. We managed to dump our backpacks in the lockers at the subway station and with the first event not starting until just after six we had plenty of time to have a wander around the town.

First stop was the zoo. I’m always happy to have a look around these places. I don’t even bother to take a small kid nowadays and pretend it’s for their pleasure rather than mine. Daegu Zoo is free to get into, which must be great for the local families who can pop along every weekend if they fancy, but it does mean that their animal buying budget isn’t quite what it could be.

They had a decent variety of animals, it’s just that most of them looked like either the runt of their litter or else not far from death’s door. None of them seemed to be prime specimens. The badger looked faker than a ten quid Louis Vuitton handbag and the tiger may very well have been dead.

The vultures were circling.

The elephant looked to be in reasonable nick, although it did have half a tusk missing which probably affected its value. It was as if the place was populated with other zoo’s cast-offs.

It didn't look too bad from its good side.

One of the benefits of zoos being a bit strapped for cash though is that they don’t mind you feeding the animals. It saves them a few quid and makes it all a bit more interesting for the people wandering around. Everybody wins really. Apart, I suppose, from the psychotic bear that was getting Cheesy Wotsits bounced off its skull.

You can see one on the floor.

After the zoo we had a walk around a market. I quite enjoy this sort of thing too, depending I suppose on the amount of animals, dead or alive. I’m not really one for shopping but if there are a few rabbits or dogs to have a gawp at then I’m happy enough. This place had plenty of livestock, with kittens, puppies, rabbits and chickens competing for space. I’m not sure which, if any, of them were intended to be pets rather than lunch but they looked in better condition than most of the inhabitants of the zoo.

You weren't allowed to feed these ones corn-based snacks.

With a couple of hours to go before the athletics started we got the subway to Daegu Grand Park. I wanted to be there early as our section was free seating and I was keen to be as close to the sandpit for the triple jump final as possible. It took about half an hour to walk from the station to the stadium and once there we were quickly inside.

Daegu Stadium

We were able to sneak across a few blocks from our section near to the start of the run up to somewhere much closer to where the jumpers would be landing. I did feel a little guilty initially but after seeing the way that so many of the Koreans behaved I soon put it out of my mind. The event was a sell-out officially. That doesn’t mean much over here where attendances are often announced in excess of the stadium capacity despite the place being no more than half-full. This time though it was probably correct. However, so many of the people coming in seemed to be saving seats for non-existent friends or using them to balance their bags or food on. The stewards were trying to get people to shift along, but were pretty much being ignored. The problem was compounded by a lot of athletes and coaches who had  ‘access all areas’ passes trying to find somewhere to sit. I was pleased that we had got there early or else we’d have been stood at the back.

There was still more than an hour to go before the first event.

The events started off with the women’s hammer throw. We were at the wrong end of the stadium for this one but quite handily placed to see some of the better throws land. Next we got the women’s 4x100m relay semi-finals where the Chinese team managed to get disqualified for a false-start. How rubbish must that have been for the runners on the later legs? If they hadn’t ran in the individual event then their Championship will have consisted of limbering up on the track and then being told to clear off without even getting to run.

The triple jump got underway and Phillip Idowu made a good start, leading through the first three rounds. There were a lot of coaches sat near us and it was amusing to watch them being ignored by their athletes when they were trying to give them a bollocking. Every now and then one of the jumpers would make the mistake of catching his coaches eye and he’d have to come over and be reminded of how to leap into a sandpit.

"Just jump further Sonny"

Next up we got Mo Farah in the 5000m. We’d watched him just miss out on gold a week earlier on the taxi driver’s sat nav coming back from the airport. This time though he went one better with a well-paced run that saw him drop to the back of the pack early on and then take it on in the last couple of laps.

It was an exceptionally slow race, the winning time of 13:23 being forty-six seconds off the world record of 12:37. Not that it matters in a championship race. I was amazed when I saw that world record time, by the way. One of the best athletic events that I’ve been to was the Bislett Games in Olso in 1985. We travelled up on the train from somewhere in Italy mainly to watch Steve Cram try to break the world mile record. He did, making the forty-eight hour journey and the subsequent night sleeping rough more than worthwhile. As a bit of a bonus we also saw Said Aouita lower the 5,000m mark to a fraction over thirteen minutes. The current record of 12:37 shows just how much athletes have improved at that distance over the last quarter of a century.

Even better, he did his lap of honour with our MFC union jack.

In round four of the triple jump, Idowu’s luck ran out as a lifetime best from the American, Christian Taylor, relegated him to second place. He improved upon his own mark with another consistent leap but it wasn’t enough and he had to settle for silver.

We needed to get away to catch our train and so would have to miss the closing relays. That meant that our final event was the women’s 800m. There has been a fair bit of controversy over some of the South African athletes competing at these games, specifically Oscar Pistorius and Caster Semenya. Whilst Pistorius would on the face of it seem to be disadvantaged in the 400m by being short of a couple of  legs, the fact that his carbon fibre replacements don’t get tired like legs do and uniquely allow him to accelerate in the closing stages when everyone else is slowing down makes me a little uneasy.

Likewise, Semenya running in the women’s races also seems a bit unfair. I appreciate that she’s grown her hair to try to look more feminine, but she’d have been better off  getting rid of the biceps and the bulge in the front of her shorts. If she is going to compete in the women’s races I think the IAAF should insist that she runs with her arms by her sides, palm facing downwards. It’s the only way to dispel the doubts.

Anyway, it looked like her mind wandered as she hit the home straight, perhaps because she was thinking ahead as to what she was going to cook her fella for his tea and she was overtaken by the Russian girl

Savinova takes the gold.

That was it for us and we headed out to find the area around the stadium crowded by people waiting for the closing fireworks. After the chaos of the previous evening we were able to hop into a taxi straightaway and were at Dongdaegu station in sufficient time to watch the relays on the telly before catching our train back to Seoul.

In a country that often gets a bit of flak for its organisation of sporting events, I thought the Championships went very well on the days that we were there. The place was full, the beer was free and we had minimal hassle. Just like it should be.

World Athletics Championships, Daegu, Saturday 3rd September 2011.

September 18, 2011

I like watching athletics meetings as there always seems to be something going on. It’s usually organised so that the races have very little time between them and the field events tend to fill in any gaps that do occur. When my son was small we would often nip up to Gateshead Stadium, usually to watch one of his heroes, Linford Christie. We tend not to bother these days, partly because I’m not in the UK very often, but mainly because Linford must be about sixty these days and is probably supplementing his diet with Werthers Originals rather than anabolic steroids.

When I saw that the World Athletics Championships were coming to Daegu I thought that it might be difficult to get to see it. Fortunately they didn’t follow the shambolic approach opted by London for the Olympic tickets where the system encouraged people to apply for thousands of pounds worth of tickets in a lottery, resulting in some people getting, well, thousands of pounds worth of tickets whilst the majority failed to get any.

Seb Coe is the figurehead for London 2012 and so I’ll blame him for it. I used to like him as a runner. Not as much as Ovett obviously, but he did have a burst of acceleration similar to that of Ekbalco or Dancing Brave and a running style where his feet barely seemed to touch the track. I remember listening to his 800m Moscow defeat on a radio whilst sat at the top of some hill in the Lake District and then making sure that a few days later we got down to Keswick town centre in time to watch him take the 1500m gold on the tellies in the Rediffusion shop window.

Cheer up Seb, if you roll about enough on a judo mat with Billy Hague you might get a peerage.

Afterwards in his new role as a Tory politician, I never really had any time for him. I love the story about him being refused entry to a hospitality lounge at a Chelsea game though. I suspect it might be made up but I’ll tell it anyway. Apparently he was told that although his name appeared on the guest list he would have to walk around to the ticket office on the other side of the ground to collect a pass. When he kicked up a fuss and pointed out “But I’m Seb Coe, surely you must recognise me?“ the bloke that he was dealing with replied “Well, it shouldn’t take you long to get there then, should it?”

Luckily Lord Coe and his team weren’t heading up the Daegu ticketing operation and so a few months earlier I’d simply logged on to the World Athletics website and bought tickets for each of the last two days. The Saturday tickets were fifty quid each and I chose seats on the bend of the 200m so that we would hopefully get a decent view of Usain Bolt pulling away from the field. For the Sunday we got twenty-odd quid tickets next to the sand pit in the hope of seeing Philip Idowu take triple-jump gold. It couldn’t have been easier, select your seats, pay by credit card and collect the tickets from a box office near the main entrance. Hopefully without being then directed to the other side of the stadium as it would take me considerably longer than a former Olympic athlete.

Jen and I were staying in nearby Gumi and we’d hiked up a big hill in the Geumosan Provincial Park that morning. It’s only half an hour away by train though and despite me falling asleep, waking up in a panic and getting us off the train at Daegu rather than Dongdaegu, our taxi still got to the stadium in plenty of time.

It was fairly busy, but with half a dozen ticket offices we had our tickets in a few minutes. We were also given wristbands because it turned out that the fifty quid tickets we had for that day also entitled us to free food and drink. Nice. After a cursory search, we were inside and soon into the hospitality tent. I couldn’t fault it at all, plenty of food and a couple of fridges full of free beer. My sort of event really.

That's very kind of you.

The stadium itself was pretty impressive too. A lot of the third tier seats had been blanked off to allow the installation of a third big screen and to give the media more camera positions. We were in the bottom tier, but the slope was good enough to give us a decent view. We were at the end where the women’s high jump final was taking place and with all due respect to the male javelin throwers at the other end, we were at the right end of the arena.

Most of the high jumpers could have been catwalk models, although because of the nature of the event they tend not to wear much in the way of  haute couture. Gradually most of them were eliminated until we were down to a battle for the gold between Anna Chicherova and Blanka Vlašić. I usually just root for the best looking one, but in this event I was spoilt for choice. Eventually they both failed to clear 2.05m and the Russian took the gold on the countback.

Blanka Vlašić

After watching the Kenyans dominate the men’s 1500m it was time for the women’s 100m hurdles where Tiffany Porter came fourth for Great Britain. She used to run for America but competition for places is a bit stronger over there so now she runs for us. She demonstrated how quickly she has adapted to the ways of her new country though by clipping the final hurdle and graciously allowing someone else to take home a medal instead.

In between all that we had a couple of exhibition wheelchair races, included I suspect so that South Korea could have some athletes taking part on a finals day. It backfired in the first race though, the women’s 800m. The Korean competitor was so far behind the rest of the field, you’d think she was weighed down with her shopping. She managed to avoid being lapped but by the time she had completed her race to sympathetic applause the rest of the competitors were showered, changed and down the pub.

With two Koreans in the men’s 400m race I hoped that the shorter distance would provide less opportunity for embarrassment. I needn’t have worried though as Yung Byung Hoon and Jung Dong Ho took silver and bronze respectively.

After the Men's 400m wheelchair race.

The highlight of the evening was kept back as the final event. Usain Bolt had ballsed up the 100m final a week earlier by jumping the gun and tonight was his chance to make up for it in the 200m final. I couldn’t really see another mishap as he’s that much better than the opposition in the longer sprint that he has time to wait for the gun, have a look around, re-tie his shoelaces and still get to the finishing line first.

And after putting on a bit of a pre-race show for the crowd, that’s what he did. Possibly even with a double knot in the laces to play it safe. By the time he reached us at the bend the race was won and he accelerated away up the home straight.

It's all over now.

His lap of honour must have taken ten minutes to complete, a bit of a contrast to the 19.4 seconds that he’d needed in the 200m. He seemed a popular fella and I don’t think the crowd could have enjoyed it any more had he actually been Korean.

I think he enjoyed himself.

One downside was getting away afterwards. As we’d arrived by taxi we weren’t familiar with the way to the subway and the shuttle buses seemed badly organised. The police were preventing taxis from picking people up so we had a long walk before we could eventually get one to stop. Fortunately he was as good at his job as Usain Bolt is at his and after some manic driving we were at the station in time to catch the train back to Gumi.

Hiking at Geumosan, Sat 3rd September 2011.

September 14, 2011

The World Athletics Championships have been going on in Daegu for the past week and Jen and I had tickets for the final two days. There’s a handy Provincial Park with some decent hiking just outside of Daegu at Palgongsan, but we had already been there a few months back. There’s another Provincial Park, Geumosan, about half an hour away on the train though and as the athletics took place in the evenings we decided that we might as well stay near to Geumosan and do some hiking there during the day.

We took the KTX from Seoul to Daejeon on the Friday night and then switched to a Saemaul train for the remainder of the journey to Gumi. Saemaul is the first step down from the high-speed KTX. They are a bit slower but still quite posh with velvet seats and plenty of room. I was quite impressed, although I had been drinking and stuff often seems better then.

I have a suspicion that a reasonable proportion of the readers of this blog who visit here intentionally rather than those who stumble across it after a search for ‘Penis fish’, ‘Gorilla autopsy’, ‘The Olsen Twins’ or the occasional combination of all three, may very well be the sort of people who have an interest in things like trains. With that in mind, I took a photo of the inside of the carriage.

One for the rolling stock enthusiasts.

We got to Gumi at about half past ten and checked into the Metro Motel which was pretty much the first place that we found. It was either the poshest place in Gumi or the most delusional as it had Won to Yen exchange rates displayed in its foyer to cater for Japanese tourists. I couldn’t help but wonder why on Earth someone would travel from Japan to holiday in Gumi. The most noteworthy thing I could find out about the town was that a fair bit of public money had been ploughed into the local industry at around the same time that a local boy became President.

For the benefit of any Japanese tourists, that's it. Behind the shops.

Mind you, I was back in Stockton recently and there were loads of people on holiday there which baffled me. Not many Japanese I suspect though. Not unless they were international Pound Shop aficionados.

Next morning we took a five minute taxi ride to Geumosan and walked along a trail which followed the road for a while. The path slowly gained height until we reached a sign that pointed out that the 976m summit was 3.3km away and from then on it became much steeper. It was a steady slog up stone steps for over a kilometre until we reached a temple with an odd looking Buddha.

Nice looking temple though.

Another hundred or so yards up some more steps and we reached a waterfall. It would have been a lot more spectacular in the rainy season, but at twenty seven metres high it was still worth pausing for a closer look.

It was worth pausing for a rest as well.

At this point there were still over two kilometres to go to the top and we resumed with a few flights of stairs. Whilst this was easier than the less uniform stone steps, it did, at times,  just feel like a trip to the gym rather than a walk in the hills. Not that I’m overly familiar with gyms. The steps soon gave way again to a more natural trail, but it was still a relentless grind uphill. We had one stretch of flat walking that lasted about twenty yards and that was it.

The views were magnificent though. Normally the trees obscure just about everything until you reach the top of the hill. Sometimes they still block your view even then. We got a good look outwards towards and beyond Gumi from a couple of points two-thirds of the way up.

Gumi - It looks better from a distance.

With less than a kilometre to go we finally got a flattish stretch of a couple of hundred metres. It was soon back to the slog though for the final section where we were rewarded with a summit littered with mobile phone masts, tin huts and assorted military equipment. The views were crap too.

Time for another sit down.

A slight detour down a different route took us to a temple where the scenery was a lot better and gave us the opportunity to use the monk’s toilets. Oddly, there weren’t any wash basins which leads me to conclude that monks probably don’t wash their hands afterwards. That won’t get them into heaven even if they do get out of bed early to say their prayers. We went back down via the route that we had come up and it wasn’t much easier on the legs descending. Five and a half hours and eight kilometres after setting off we were at the bottom looking for a taxi to take us back into Gumi. My calves still ached four days later.

Doosan Bears v Nexen Heroes, Wednesday 31st August 2011, 6.30pm

September 8, 2011

If it looks like I’m slacking a bit with these posts, that’s probably because I have been. I’ve just got back from a fortnight in the UK where amongst other things, Jen and I walked forty odd miles along Hadrian’s Wall and embarked on a culture frenzy that included Macbeth at Stratford, British Sea Power at the Galtres Festival and, in what was a bit of an unexpected bonus, Paul Daniels pulling a rabbit from a hat in a lecture hall at Edinburgh.

If I tell you that what seemed like the only low points in the entire fortnight were The Wedding Present choosing not to play Kennedy in what was an otherwise excellent Town Hall gig and the majority of the nesting birds on the Farne Islands sodding off to The Congo or somewhere the day before our boat trip to see them, then you’ll get the idea of how good it all was. The Boro had even read the script and came from behind to beat Birmingham and maintain our unbeaten record.

This pair seem to have it too good at home to want to fly South

Still, I’m sure too much excitement can’t be good for you and so once we got back to Korea I thought that I’d restore the balance a little by taking a walk along to the Jamsil Stadium to see Doosan Bears battle it out with Nexen Heroes in a sixth plays eighth encounter in the Korean Baseball League. It’s the arse end of the regular season now and with five weeks to go, the play-off positions are just about settled. The closest that any of the players in this game will get to them will be if they happen to stumble across a game on the telly whilst on their holidays. Still, even when the result matters as little to the players as it usually does to me, it’s a pleasant way to spend an evening with a few cans and a bit of a picnic.

I got there forty minutes after the start and bought a ticket for the outfield. It was definitely the smallest crowd that I’d seen at a baseball fixture, if you exclude the games on a Sunday morning played between mates down by the river. The stadium was no more than a quarter full, with the turnout from the visitors being particularly poor. I’d estimate that only around a hundred fans had made made the short trip from nearby Mokdong. Perhaps Heroes fans all fly south at this time of year too.

Nexen fans - rarer than Farne Islands cormorants.

The third innings was just drawing to a close when I took my seat and it was still scoreless. I’ve no idea who the starting pitcher for Doosan was, but he did pretty well. By the time he got the nod to sit down early in the seventh he hadn’t conceded a run and had only given up four hits.

Kim Soo Kyung was pitching for Nexen and he had a good game too. The former Rookie of the Year and veteran of four Korean Series wins back when Nexen were Hyundai Unicorns didn’t even get hit until the fourth innings, although that might be more a reflection on the Doosan batting. It was the sixth innings before he conceded the opening run of the match.

Kim Soo Kyung - Nexen Heroes

 Doosan’s Jung Soo Bin cracked one far enough to get to second and then made it to third when the next bloke in did that tippy tappy sacrificial thing. The next two fellas both got walked meaning the Bears had batters on bases one, two and three. It was all set for Kim Dong Joo to be the hero but he got caught in the deep. Choi Joon Seok had the next opportunity and Kim Soo Kyung sent him down an atrocious delivery that bounced before it got to him, deceiving the catcher behind the plate who fumbled it and allowed Jung Soo Bin to scramble home in a play that didn’t reflect at all well on the fielding side.

Jung Soo Bin gets ready to make a dash for it.

Nexen bounced back in the seventh though as one of the Doosan relief pitchers had to watch what was only his second ball being hit high into the seats near to me for two home runs. The away fans celebrated as best they could, although in the absence of any cheerleaders they struggled a bit. Mind you, Doosan weren’t much better off, their usual complement of four girls had been reduced to just the two.

Still two more than Nexen had.

The visitors held their lead until the ninth innings when Doosan somehow managed to equalise and send the game into overtime at 2-2. I must admit, it took me a bit by surprise as I don’t imagine that anyone, apart from Choi Joon Seok who scored the home run, will have been too happy about staying late in a meaningless game.

Choi Joon Seok - Doosan Bears

Still, I’m sure the additional exercise will do the Bears some good as a few of their players looked somewhat out of condition to me. Have you ever seen the Tom and Jerry cartoon where one of them, probably Tom, gets into a bit of trouble whilst ten pin bowling and gets moulded into the shape of a skittle? Well, without naming individuals, there are a couple of Bears players that look like that.

I didn’t have to hang about for long though as Nexen notched another couple of runs in the tenth to seal a 4-2 away win and send their handful of fans away happy. A rare feat when you are bottom of the league.