Archive for December, 2011

Jeonbuk Motors v Ulsan, Sunday 4th December 2011, 2pm

December 31, 2011

Nine months earlier I’d watched Jeonbuk kick off their K-League campaign with a home defeat to Chunnam Dragons. At that time it looked as if they might be in for a tough season but it didn‘t work out that way. They’ve been the best team by far in Korea this year and had been unlucky to lose the Champions League final to Al Sadd a month earlier.

The way the Korean League works is that the top six teams at the end of the season have a series of play-offs to determine the champions. Jeonbuk finished top of the table and so went straight into the two-legged final. Ulsan finished sixth and therefore had to get past Seoul, Suwon and Pohang to earn their game with Jeonbuk. The teams had met earlier in the week at Ulsan’s Munsu Stadium where a couple of goals from Eninho had given Jeonbuk a 2-1 lead to bring into the second leg.

Jen had caught an earlier train back to Seoul to avoid frostbite and so I was at this one by myself. I bought a ticket for ten thousand won and got myself some cans of Hite. It wasn’t really the weather for drinking beer but with it being the last game of the season it seemed a bit late to change my regular matchday routine.

I took a seat in the east stand, close to the half-way line. There was quite a party atmosphere with food and drink stalls in the concourse and kids competing for prizes by scoring into an oversized inflatable goal. As the teams were announced Lee Dong Gook got the biggest cheer from the home supporters.

Not quite as popular as scoring in an inflatable goal.

Jeonbuk were on top in the early stages with Luiz breaking up the Ulsan play whenever they looked threatening. After twenty-five minutes Lee Dong Gook was brought down just inside the box. He took the  penalty himself and if he had scored it would surely have been game over. The Ulsan keeper dived to his left though and made a decent save to keep his side in it.

Not quite.

We got to half-time without any further incident and as there were big queues for beer I nipped out of the main entrance and bought a couple of cans from a granny outside. I didn’t need a ‘pass out’ and nobody questioned me as I walked back in. It seemed that if you couldn’t afford the ten thousand won ticket price (£5.50), then you could just turn up at half time and watch the second half for free. I’m not sure if it’s officially condoned but I like it. I remember that when the Holgate gates opened ten minutes before the end of matches to let out those who liked to ‘beat the traffic’ there were always kids waiting to come in for the closing stages, a whole second half for free would have been fantastic.

Ten minutes into the second half Ulsan scored. That made the aggregate score two each, but I had no idea what the story was with away goals. I did wonder at that point if Jeonbuk were going to finish the season with nothing. Fortunately for the home side they quickly got the opportunity to restore their advantage when they were awarded their second penalty of the game. Once again Lee Dong Gook picked the ball up, but on this occasion Eninho went over and had a quiet word before taking it off him and calmly slotting home to put Jeonbuk 3-2 ahead on aggregate.

The Jeonbuk fans celebrate Eninho taking the ball from Lee Dong Gook.

Another ten minutes on and it was all over. Luiz picked up the ball on the right and turned two players before crashing the ball home at the keeper’s near post. It was a fantastic strike and I was up on my feet celebrating with the rest of the supporters. Well, those that weren’t from Ulsan anyway. Luiz was booked for taking his shirt off, but if there was ever a goal that you had a right to celebrate in whatever way you fancied then that was it.

Jeonbuk just ran the clock out in the last twenty minutes, Lee Dong Gook getting a great reception as he made his way to the bench five minutes from time. The crowd was announced as thirty-three thousand, but I’d have estimated it as maybe twenty-two thousand or so. Whilst the East and North stands were pretty full, the West and South were probably only at ten per cent of their capacity.

The Lion King awaits the final whistle.

I hung about for the fireworks and initial celebrations but got away before the trophy presentation as I had a train to catch. A few days later Lee Dong Gook was announced as the K-League MVP for 2011. Together with his Asian Champions League MVP award and his recall to the national team it had been a pretty good season for him again.

It had been a good season for me too. I had watched thirty-three games in Korea at twenty-three different grounds, ranging from internationals to local games between blokes who looked in worse shape than I am. With the game I saw in Hong Kong and the seven in England that’s just one short of a full traditional forty-two match season. Or exactly right for a season’s total when you don’t turn up for Blackburn away after being misled by the Premier League. I’m not still bitter about the three points, honest.

And on that cheery note I’ll wish anyone who stumbles across the blog a Happy New Year. I’m looking forward to a bit of basketball and sub-zero temperature hiking in the weeks until the 2012 fixtures are published and I can start planning next season’s football trips.

Nosong v Withus, Sunday 4th December 2011, 11am

December 21, 2011

Baseball in December? There’s something not quite right there. It was way back in October when I’d watched Samsung Lions clinch the Korean Series to bring the KBO season to an end. Even then it felt as if it had all gone on for a bit too long. It’s a game for watching on sunny afternoons and balmy evenings with a few cans of ice-cold Asahi. Cricket weather, not football weather, that’s how it should be.

Jen and I were in Jeonju for the weekend and as we weren’t staying too far from the Jeonju Baseball stadium we had a wander past it on the way for some breakfast. You know, just in case there was something going on. We’d had a look inside a month or so ago and on that occasion had just missed seeing a game because it had been rained off. Well this time we got lucky, the local tournament that had been going on last time had overrun and we arrived just in time for the final day of  matches.

They had all of the kit.

The only seats that were available were behind the plate. They were probably the only seats that were useable as the remainder of the stands had more weeds in them than a cannabis farm. There weren’t too many other people there and those that were watching looked as if they were either playing in the next game themselves or had come to watch someone they knew in action.

No cheerleaders for this lot.

It was early in the fifth innings when we took our seats and the team in white, Withus, were leading the team in black, Nosong, by five runs to one. The standard wasn’t that great, even for this level and there were plenty of dropped catches and bases gained after wayward throws.

A Withus batter prepares to face another 50kmph ball.

Withus looked to be the more talented team and over the next couple of innings increased their lead to eleven-one.

This fella rattled through his pitches, probably keen to get back in the warm.

We didn’t hang about for too long, half an hour or so was enough in the cold and it wasn’t as if the game was a finely poised thriller. It was nice to have seen some actual baseball take place in the stadium though, even if it would have been that much better on a summer’s evening.

Daedunsan Hiking, Saturday 3rd December 2011.

December 14, 2011

The main event of this weekend was the second leg of the K-League play-off final between Jeonbuk and Ulsan. Jen and I had travelled down to Jeonju to watch it and with the game not taking place until the Sunday afternoon it meant that we could do some hiking the day before.

Jeonju is pretty well situated if you like spending time in the hills. We’d hiked in the nearby Moaksan Provincial Park a month earlier and Maisan Provincial Park isn’t too far east of the city. Maisan is famous for having a couple of peaks that are supposed to resemble horse ears. Rocks that are reputed to look like people, animals or bits of people or animals aren’t exactly uncommon over here but most of them just look like rocks to me. Still, rocks are good, even when they just look like rocks.

The other option was Daedunsan Provincial Park. It’s about an hour to the north of Jeonju and is probably somewhere that we could have tied in just as easily with a match in Daejeon as Jeonju.

Daedunsan map

Daedunsan’s advantage over Maisan though is that the hiking didn’t look as strenuous. Despite all of the walking that we’ve been doing on weekends I’ve gotten a little out of shape. I had a medical recently and from what I can gather too much of my body is made up of fat and not enough of it from muscles or bones. I’m not really sure what I can do to increase my bone content apart from maybe eat more chalk, but on this occasion the slightly easier hike seemed sensible.

We caught the bus from the Inter-City Bus Terminal at 9.40am. It was just as well that we didn’t miss it as the next one didn’t go until after 2pm. Daedunsan mustn’t be a particularly popular destination for people living in Jeonju as despite the fare being less than 6,000 won we were the only passengers on the bus. We picked up a couple of people on the way and arrived at Daedunsan, as expected, just over an hour later.

Daedunsan High Street

There are  a few hotels at the bottom of the hill and a row of shops selling mainly hiking gear and crappy souvenirs. There are also plenty of restaurants and food stalls, plus what appeared to be a couple of nightclubs. We bought a pair of cooked quail at one of the stalls to go with our lunch. You know as soon as you look at them that they will be more effort than they are worth to eat, but at 2,500 won a go I find it hard to walk past things like that.

Doctors would be impressed by the ratio of bones to everything else.

Despite our bus having been almost empty, the area around the shops was fairly busy. One of the attractions of Daedunsan is that it has a cable car that goes about three-quarters of the way to the top and so it’s a popular day out for people who don’t fancy hiking but are keen to combine quail and nightclubs with a trip up a hill. Despite my low ratio of muscles and bones to fat we didn’t bother with the cable car, at least not on the way up. I don’t mind saving my knees on the way down a hill but you don’t really get that sense of achievement if you’ve only done half the ascent by yourself. Besides, we’d just spent an hour on a bus, it was time for some fresh air.

Our route wasn’t too far away from the cable car, just closer to the ground and after about an hour we reached the point that the old grannies and small children had got to with a lot less effort. To give them something to see without the need for them to hike to the top, a suspension bridge had been built together with what I suppose you could describe as a ‘suspension staircase’.

The bridge enabled you to get near to where you had been 20 minutes earlier.

Neither of them were necessary, but had been built to allow people to go up in the cable car, cross the bridge, climb the steps and loop back to the cable car again. Fair enough I suppose.

Luckily it's one-way only.

After working our way around the single direction bridge and staircase we pushed on towards the 878m Macheondae peak. It was a lot steeper than I’d expected, so maybe I’d got this place and the horse ear park mixed up. Whilst most people seemed happy to return to the cable car without reaching the top, there were plenty who had decided to hike the final stage. They were rewarded at the summit with a shiny metal tower that looked as out of place as, well, a cable car and a couple of superfluous suspension bridges. I suppose that if your rocks don’t resemble equine extremities you have to jazz them somehow.

It blends in so well.

It was quite misty, so once again there wasn’t much of a view, although we were able to spot a couple who had found somewhere quiet to eat their lunch.

You can find the odd quiet spot if you try hard enough.

It took a while for us to get down to the cable car station. The rocks were slippery and after I had whacked my knee against a railing due to losing my footing I was more than happy to take the easy option of a ride down to the bottom. As part of my healthy eating regime we had some fried battered ginseng when we got there. It was ok, better than we expected and judging by the number of places selling it, pretty popular in Daedunsan. The area at the foot of the hill was just as busy as when we’d set off, this time with people selling acorns, chestnuts and mushrooms to the visitors who had built up appetites riding the cable car.

The lady on the right offered us what she said was a good deal on acorns.

Like a lot of places, Daedunsan is somewhere that we’ll probably go back to. There’s a route that misses out the bridge and staircase completely by following the ridge up one side to the peak and then continuing down the other side. I suspect that at the right time of year that trail would be virtually deserted.

South Korea v Saudi Arabia, Sunday 27th November 2011, 2pm

December 13, 2011

I probably would have missed this game if I hadn’t seen it advertised on a banner near to where I live a couple of weeks earlier. It was under twenty-three level and a qualifier for the London Olympics.  I took the tube to the Sangam Stadium and paid one of the granny touts the ten thousand won face value price for a ticket as I left the station.

Usually in Korea you can take whatever you fancy into a stadium. At one match that I attended here earlier in the year people had shopping trolleys full of beer that they had just walked in with. Today though, there was a clampdown at the gates and the security staff were confiscating items as if we were boarding a flight rather than going into a football game.

They were quite considerate in the way they went about it, attaching a numbered label to each item so that it could be re-claimed after the game. Quite how many people would go back for a bottle of Gatorade I’m not sure, but as I watched the footballs, flags and vuvuzelas piling up it reminded me of a tombola stall at a particularly crap Summer Fete.

Roll up, win a second-hand football.

Maybe some of the people planning to attend had turned around and gone home in a huff when faced with the prospect of being parted from their picnic basket, as the crowd seemed smaller than normal for an international match. Maybe it was only my street that had an advertising banner. I was in the east stand where the lower section was about two-thirds full, whilst the north stand lower had roughly half its seats occupied. Everywhere else was virtually empty. I’d estimate that there were about twelve thousand people there in total, with the official figure of twenty-seven thousand being a somewhat wild exaggeration.

I was surprised that hardly any of the crowd stood for the Saudi national anthem, despite being requested to by the announcer. A little childishly I showed my disapproval at the lack of respect by sitting down when the Korean ditty was played. I resisted the urge to accompany it with that underarm farting noise though.

The Saudis were in all green with Korea in traditional red and white. It was a fairly open game and the home keeper made a couple of good stops early on. After twenty-five minutes the Koreans thought that they had taken the lead when the ball was headed across the face of the goal, then onto the bar before eventually being bundled home. The flag was up though, so the celebrations from the home fans were in vain.

How did he get that past security?

There were a couple of kids a few rows down from me, maybe five or six years old and I doubt that they or their mothers saw any of the game. The mothers chose to sit in the two seats directly in front of their offspring, so it’s unlikely that the kids would have been able to watch much of the action even if they had wanted to and unless the women had eyes in the backs of their heads then they won’t have seen anything either. They spent the entire time facing their children and hand feeding them. It was like watching birds passing worms to their chicks. If they had chewed the food for them before handing it over I wouldn’t have been surprised.

During the feeding session they were missing Cho Young Cheol being pretty influential for Korea, with most of his teams best moves coming through him on the left-wing.

That's him, in the red.

Korea took the lead after half an hour when they won a penalty for what looked like it might have been holding at a corner. It’s not often that those are given so I suppose the Saudis could consider themselves a little unlucky. And whilst the Mothers were moving on to sticking funnels in their kids mouths and force feeding them fois gras style, Cho Young Cheol sent the keeper the wrong way to make it one-nil.

Korea takes the lead.

At half time I moved to the south stand for a change of scenery and was asked by a Korean couple if I was an Arab. When I replied that I wasn’t, they didn’t seem inclined to believe me and told me that I looked like an Arab. I was tempted to ask them if they were Haruki Murakami and the Dowager Empress of Japan, but I didn’t. I’d have thought the can of Hite in my hand might have been sufficient to cast doubts on any Arabian heritage.

The south stand.

The second half was fairly even with Korea having a few chances and Saudi Arabia putting a bit of pressure on towards the end. They could have had a penalty when one of their blokes was nudged off the ball after a mazy run into the box. The highlight of the second half though was probably the appearance of a player with a mask on. I  didn’t  recognise him, but I suppose that’s the whole point of wearing a disguise. Perhaps he was supposed to be suspended. Or maybe he’d been out robbing a bank.

Who was that masked man?

Korea held on for the victory which takes them close to qualification for the London Olympics. I reclaimed my camel from the entrance gate and trotted off home.

Ulsan Hyundai Mipo Dockyard Dolphins v Goyang KB, Sunday 20th November 2011, 4pm

December 7, 2011

The previous day had been fairly warm in Ulsan and I’d hiked in Gajisan Provincial Park in shorts. Today though, it was absolutely freezing. So much so that Jen and I had to go and buy warm clothes from a local department store. I rarely bother going shopping in Korea. Actually I rarely bother going shopping anywhere, but in Korea there just aren’t that many items of clothing that will fit me. Shoes are a waste of time, shop assistants just laugh when I tell them the size. I’ve never seen any trousers that would fit me either. On this occasion though I got away with a tightly fitting zip up hoodie and a thermal vest. Luckily my head and hands are a similar size to those of the locals and so I could get a hat and some gloves. Even so, I was still feeling the chill despite the extra layers.

We were braving the cold so that we could see the second leg of the National League Play-off final between Ulsan Mipo and Goyang KB. It wasn’t due to start until four in the afternoon though and so after my annual visit to the shops we took a taxi to Jangsaengpo where there is a whale museum. Ulsan used to be the main location for the whaling industry in Korea, so it seemed as good a place as anywhere to spend an hour or two. Especially as it was indoors.

We’d taken that long getting kitted out in our new clobber that it was lunchtime by the time we arrived at Jangsaengpo. On the opposite side of the road to the museum there are a dozen or so restaurants that specialise in whale meat. That seems a bit strange, with commercial whaling being banned but whilst it is illegal to intentionally catch whales, it’s apparently hunky dory if you don’t really mean to catch one. If, say, a Blue Whale or two accidentally take your bait whilst you are fishing for mackerel or if you happen to trip over one on the beach whilst you are walking your dog, then that’s fine. There must be an awful lot of surprise catches or early morning discoveries at low tide though to keep that many restaurants in business.

Just like the Wetherby Whaler, except they don't do chips. Or fish.

We picked a place to eat on the basis that it had chairs and ordered some sort of set menu. To start with we got some cold thinly sliced cooked whale meat. It had the texture of beef and wasn’t too dissimilar in appearance. Apart, that is from the inch wide layer of blubber and the thick skin on the edge.

The skin was a bit chewy.

We also got some strips of raw whale meat, served with apple. It was just standard sort of sushi stuff really, you wouldn’t have known it was whale if it hadn’t been for the photos in the restaurant  window of a couple of Minkes on the deck of a boat with their throats cut. It tasted pretty good though.

I did wonder just how big their fridge must be.

Next we got some spicy whale soup that was just like any other spicy soup over here. If they had fobbed us off with pieces of shark or dolphin, I wouldn’t have been any the wiser. After that we had some lumps of hot meat, but I found it harder work with too much fat. It looked like beef but had a mild fishy taste. Not surprising I suppose. I was fairly full by then so it was no hardship to limit myself to eating only the best bits.

Fourth course.

After lunch we had a look around the whaling museum where there were some interesting old photos and plenty of skeletons. The whole tone of the place seemed to be ‘Whale watching is good, but proper whaling is better’.

At around three o’clock we got a taxi to Ulsan Mipo’s ground. It’s over in the east of the city and quite handy for the bus stations and the Jangsaengpo whale restaurants. We decided that we would sit in the sun as it  meant the difference between mild and severe frostbite. Before we took our seats we had a walk around the outside of the stadium and then I took a stroll through the main entrance and joined the pre-match pitch inspection. The players were as well wrapped up as we were and I suspect that those who had been named as subs wouldn’t have been too upset about it.

No white Spice Boy suits for these lads.

It was a decent turnout for a National League game, albeit the final one of the season. I’d estimate that there were around five hundred spectators there, including forty or so from Goyang, most of them seeking out the last of the sunshine in the stand that we were in.

I think that Jen and I were the only people who had eaten before the match as everyone else was stuffing their face all the way through the game. One bloke had his back to the game for most of the first half as he demolished the box of food on the seat behind him. It’s as if the game just provides an excuse for a picnic.

The alternative to eating a whale before you set off.

The game was finely poised at one all after the first leg. Neither Ulsan in blue or Goyang in yellow settled well and it was a scrappy opening half hour with the players on both sides making frequent mistakes.

Sometimes it got a little congested.

Ulsan took the lead in the thirty-third minute when a cross from the right was swept home by Kim Hyo Gi. They held on until the interval, as did Jen. At that point though she called it a day and cleared off to a nearby supermarket before her eyeballs froze solid. I braved the second half from the opposite stand, the move being as much about getting my circulation going as the change of scenery.

The view from the other side

Goyang had the odd chance after the break, but Ulsan were definitely the better team and they could have made the game safe with better finishing or less inspired keeping from the visiting goalie. There were no more goals though and Ulsan took the championship two-one on aggregate.

The Ulsan subs celebrate getting through ninety minutes with their coats on.

I stayed for the fireworks and the presentations, making my way down to the side of the pitch and joining the press photographers. I think I may have been the only person without a two foot long lens of the front of my camera. As we were only stood about five yards from the celebrations I don’t think it made too much of a difference.

It was time to play that Queen song.

That’s it then for the National League. I’ve seen a bit more of it this year than last and have enjoyed watching the season unfold. It’s a reasonable standard, you generally get in for free and there are usually a few hundred fans at most games who will generate a decent atmosphere. 

In addition to getting whale meat for lunch before this game, other highlights of Korea’s second tier league have included a plague of frogs in the toilets at Changwon and getting to take a shot at goal from the centre circle during half time at Goyang. Hopefully next season will bring more of the same.

Gajisan Hiking, Saturday 19th November 2011

December 1, 2011

There aren’t too many football games left this season, but the second leg of the National League Play-off Final was taking place in Ulsan on the Sunday and so Jen and I caught the KTX south on Friday night.

I’d only arrived back from Oman a few hours earlier. It had been a more interesting trip than normal as I’d had a spare day to have a look around Muscat. The area around the port is worth a wander, as is the old fortress. I’d nipped into the big mosque that they have as well.

Muscat Fortress

The highlight of my trip to the site in the middle of the desert was having camel for my tea. I’d mentioned to the Omanis on my last visit that I’d like to try it and they were surprisingly keen. Most of them hadn’t eaten camel meat since they were children, so I suspect that there was a bit of nostalgia on their part. They bought one that was fourteen months old, it cost about five hundred quid and it fed over forty of us. Some of it was cooked in a fire pit and as you would expect that had a smoky taste. Overall, the taste and texture weren’t too different from lamb, apart I assume from the hump. I was picking at pieces from a couple of plates, one of which had the skull and jawbone on it, the other a bit of leg, a couple of ribs and a gum, complete with holes where the teeth had passed through. I stuck to the ribs and leg, declining the gum and brains in order to leave room for a bit of cake afterwards.

There was more meat on the bones when it was first served.

The consequence of all the travelling (and possibly the Friday night red wine on the train) was that I didn’t wake up until ten o’clock on the Saturday morning in Ulsan. That’s a rare lie-in for me. As we had made plans to hike in the Gajisan Provincial Park that meant that we had to get a move on. We were staying near the bus station but struggled to find the stops for the buses 870 and 1713 that go to Gajisan. As time wore on we gave up and just got a taxi instead. It was a fair trek, taking half an hour and costing thirty thousand won. Gajisan is over to the south-west of Ulsan and it would have made more sense to have stayed in a hotel close to the out-of-town KTX station rather than heading into the city only to have to retrace our steps back to the countryside the next day.

The weather had been good in Ulsan, warm enough for me to put shorts on, but by the time we set off towards Seongnamsa Temple there was rain in the air and the temperature had started to drop.

Seongnamsa Temple

As we hadn’t started hiking until early afternoon we doubted that we would have time for the circular route that was shown on the map. Instead we decided to settle for the 1114m Sangunsan peak.

We went to the right.

We crossed a bridge just before the temple and made our way up a well-marked path that was a bit slippy underfoot. We discovered later that the route we had taken wasn’t the route that was shown on the map. Nevertheless, we gained height quite quickly. After an hour and three-quarters we joined a track that would take us to within a couple of hundred metres of the summit. This was easier going but it never seems as much fun to me if you are hiking on a track that cars can drive up. We reached the top another forty-five minutes or so later.

It was better weather when we set off.

Not many people had chosen to visit this peak, most of them had continued along the track towards some famous rock and the slightly higher Mt. Gaji. It was nice to get a summit area to ourselves for once in a while but the wind and the fog meant that there weren’t really any reasons to hang about for too long.

We took a different route back down, one which brought us out onto a road which wound its way down the mountainside. Whilst we were less likely to fall and it was a lot easier on the knees and ankles, it did add about seven kilometres to the hike. We passed a couple of restaurants that specialised in pheasant and rabbit and heard the howling from what were likely to be dog farms.

Pheasants upstairs, rabbits underneath.

Just before it got dark we made it back to the Seongnamsa area and stopped for a duck bulgogi. It was meant to serve four people I think, but the owner’s dog seemed happy to help us out by wolfing down as much raw duck meat as we’d feed him. He wasn’t quite as keen on the carrots.

Fewer jawbones than camel.

We might have struggled to get back to Ulsan afterwards but the fortunately the restaurant bloke called someone he knew to taxi us back to town. I think that if  we go back to hike the peak that we didn’t have time for, the sensible thing to do would be to just get a taxi straight from the KTX station to Seongnamsa. There are sufficient motels and spa hotels in the area to be reasonably sure of finding somewhere to stay.