Archive for the ‘Dead people and stuff’ Category

Gyeongju Citizen v Hongik University, Sunday 10th March 2013, 2pm

March 14, 2013

0 - gyeongju citizen

After watching the FA Cup game at Yeungnam University the plan was to take in another First Round game at Gyeongju the following day. As it’s only an hour or so from Daegu to Gyeongju we thought that we might as well stay in Daegu overnight and make the journey the next morning. We booked into the Zen Motel and were rewarded with what was possibly the best equipped room that we’ve stayed in over here. As well as two bathrooms and a sauna it also had a professional looking karaoke system (including microphone stands) and a second telly that was concealed in the ceiling and could be lowered via remote control.

Unfortunately it was probably the dirtiest room that we’ve ever stayed in. We ignored the variety of debris that we had chanced upon over the evening, but the clincher came the next morning when we found a used condom that had been discarded on to the floor next to the bed. I must have walked past it half a dozen times without noticing it. Had I stood on it then I might not have been so laid back about the situation.

We took a luxury bus to Gyeongju before lunch, the journey takes an hour and seems a bargain to me at three quid. Gyeongju is famous for barley bread and dead kings. You can’t walk more than ten yards without stumbling across one or the other. We ignored the barley bread shops but one of the many dead king parks proved ideal for a picnic lunch.

Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Sejeong

Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Sejong

It’s half an hours walk from the bus station to Gyeongju’s ground. The football stadium is part of a bigger complex with taekwondo and wrestling venues, plus half a dozen artificial pitches, all of which could easily have staged this game.

It was as well that we got there on-time as within forty seconds visitors Hongik University were a goal up. The ball had been swung in from the left and one of the students was waiting on the edge of the six yard box to angle the ball home.

It's on its way in.

It’s on its way in.

Fourth division Gyeongju were in their yellow shirts with a red and green central stripe and blue shorts. That’s too many colours for one team. Hongik wore a more restrained white kit with red trim.

I did wonder if that early goal would be the start of a landslide but the home team got their act together and held their own for the rest of the first half. They had as much possession as Hongik and managed to force the keeper into a couple of decent saves.

View from behind a goal.

View from behind a goal.

The stadium was a classic Korean bowl, with a small covered stand and open seating around the rest of the ground. Or at least it will have when the refurbishment is finished. A couple of blokes were bolting down new seats throughout the match, although at the speed they were going it may well be next season before the job is complete.

Looking towards the main stand.

Looking towards the main stand.

By half-time the crowd had reached around eighty. There weren’t any ‘proper’ away fans, the type that stand behind the goal and bang a drum, but a few of the student’s mothers were hovering around, dishing out food and drink to any squad members who weren’t getting a game this week.

Note the stacking chairs.

Note the stacking chairs.

There were a few more chances in the second half and Gyeongju really should have equalised on the hour when a free-kick flashed across the goalmouth without anyone getting a touch.

Ten minutes later and it was Hongik’s turn to go close with a shot that was stopped on the line by a home defender. The poor fella got the ball trapped between his feet for what seemed like an eternity before he dug it out like a week old bogey and hoofed it clear.

Random action shot. Or maybe a spot of kung fu.

Random action shot. Or maybe a spot of kung fu.

Gyeongju nearly got their equaliser a minute from time when a sloppy backpass let one of their strikers in. Fortunately for Hongik their keeper was a bit more on the ball than the defender had been and he was able to dash out quickly enough to get a foot in.

Another view of the main stand.

Another view of the main stand.

There were three minutes of injury time added but that wasn’t sufficient for Gyeongju to get an equaliser. Hongik were able to hang on for their victory having defended their lead for more than ninety-two of the ninety-three minutes played.

Jen and I got a cab back to the station and had to spend a fair bit of time searching for food that wasn’t barley bread. In the end we settled for a restaurant that looked as if it had been around since the days when most of the dead kings will still have been alive.

Pig soup.

Pig soup.

There wasn’t much of a menu and we ended up with pig soup. It needed plenty of pepper and a suspension of any thought as to what the bits of meat were. I ate most of it but left stuff that may have been eyelids, goolies or windpipes. Still better than barley bread though.

Kia Tigers v Lotte Giants, Sunday May 29th 2011, 5pm

June 2, 2011

The second sporting experience of the weekend in Gwangju was a trip to the baseball and a chance to visit the only stadium in the Korean baseball league that I hadn’t yet been to. First though, Jen and I paid a visit the May 18th Cemetery.

You might be aware that there was an uprising in Gwangju against the military dictatorship during May 1980 and that over two hundred protestors were killed as troops were sent in to re-establish their authority. The bodies were hastily buried in the Magwol-dong cemetery and then a few years later when democracy had been restored the bodies were exhumed and re-buried in the new National 18th May Cemetery.

18th May Cemetery

In addition to those who were killed at the time, anyone who survived the protests can choose to be buried in the cemetery when their time is up. Most of the graves have a photo of their occupant as well as their dates of birth and death. Some were small children, others old men, but most were students.

Most of the graves were similarly decorated.

The old cemetery where the bodies had originally been buried has been kept just as it was in 1980 despite the exhumations. As the old and the new places are only ten minutes walk apart we were able to have a look at both of them and then also the exhibition hall that details what went on.

The original burial site.

If you like cemeteries or want a bit of an insight into the events of May 1980, it’s well worth a visit. You can catch the 518 bus there and back from just about all over Gwangju, including the bus and train station.

We got back into town at about quarter to four and after stocking up with a few cans we hopped into a taxi at the bus station. There was already a large crowd outside of the baseball stadium and it soon became apparent that the game had already sold out.

We struggled a bit at first to find a tout but ended up with two 8,000 won outfield tickets for a total price of 30,000 won. Despite there still being an hour to go to the start a lot of the areas inside were filling up. We managed to find a couple of seats just to the right of the scoreboard where we didn’t have to watch through a fence.

View to the left.

The stadium was smaller than I’d imagined and we didn’t see any Lotte fans at all. Strange really, as they seem to have travelled in large numbers to other places I’ve been.

Ryan Sadowski was the starting pitcher for Lotte. We’d watched him warming up near to us and Jen had identified him from the Japanese handbook the bloke next to us was using to shield his eyes from the sun. Ryan looked better warming up than he did when he was playing though and when the game started he didn’t have a particularly easy time. He was pulled early in the fourth innings after having been whacked all over the stadium for seven runs.

Ryan Sadowski - Lotte Giants

The opening pitcher for Kia, Son Yeong Min, didn’t do a lot better. At least not in terms of sticking around and was also replaced after three innings. At least by that stage he had only conceded a single run. It was the seventh innings before Kia conceded their second run and I reckon that by that time he will have been showered, changed and down the pub.

Son Yeong Min - Kia Tigers

The player who really got the home crowd going though was first baseman ‘Big Choi.’ At Gunsan the previous week the fans had a song for him to the tune of YMCA. Here they seemed to have a different chant every time he appeared. He’s one of those players that always seems to be up to something and a natural centre of attention. He managed to make his way around for a run and got the sort of reception that couldn’t have been any better had he stopped halfway to put out a fire at an orphanage.

Big Choi rounds third base.

Jen and I left at quarter past seven to catch our train. We could probably have squeezed another fifteen minutes in, but three hours in the hot sun was enough. We got the KTX back to Yongsan whilst Kia held off a late Lotte fightback to take the game 7-5.

Jeonbuk Motors v Chunnam Dragons, Sunday 6th March 2011, 3pm

March 9, 2011

 

After kicking off the 2011 season with a visit to third division Seoul United, I thought I’d take in Jeonbuk’s first league game the following day, at home to Chunnam Dragons. 

Jen and I got the KTX from Yongsan on the Saturday evening, getting off at Iksan and then taking a taxi to Jeonju. You can get a connecting train to Jeonju, but as  the taxi only takes about twenty minutes it wasn’t really worth sitting around waiting for the train.

Finding a hotel was a bit more difficult though and the first two that we tried were full. We got sorted before long though and sixty thousand won got us a room with a large bathtub in the middle of it and a circular bed.  Oddly though, there wasn’t a key or any sort of code to lock the door so when we went out we just had to hope that no-one would want to steal either the bed or the bath.

Next morning we had a bit of spare time before the game so we went along to the Jeonju National Museum. It was a pleasant enough place to spend an hour or so, the grounds had some re-built tombs that would have benefited from a few bones scattered around in them whilst the main building housed the usual assortment of cracked pottery and Bronze Age ash trays.

You weren't allowed in.

What did impress me though was that on the floor of one of the rooms was a map of the region that was maybe about five metres by three metres. It was a large enough scale to enable us to pick out landmarks like the football stadiums. It made me think that I’d like to see a map of the whole country like that, maybe even slightly larger in scale for those of us whose eyesight is starting to deteriorate. Even better, I’d like to see one of the world, perhaps housed in something as big as a few football pitches. I’d happily spend a day looking at the UK,  following the route of the A19 and looking out for places that I’d been. It’s the sort of place that would make an ideal theme park in my opinion, Mapworld or Mapland. Old blokes could be dropped off by their wives and collected in the evening after spending a day pointing out motorway junctions to each other.

Jeonju National Museum

We had some bulgogi for lunch at a restaurant near to the museum and then got a taxi to the World Cup Stadium. Jen must have got the pronunciation spot-on as the driver knew what she was talking about first time. I generally have to mangle the name and try saying it in about a dozen different ways before I get lucky and it’s recognised.

We got to the stadium with about three-quarters of an hour to go before kick-off and bought ten thousand Won tickets for the North Stand which is the bit behind the goal for home fans. There was a decent turnout, maybe eight or ten thousand, with the East Stand Lower looking fuller than normal and with enough soldiers in there to declare Martial Law if they were that way inclined.

East Stand

Jeonbuk has a new slogan for this season, Green Shouting 2011. I’m not really sure why they bothered, but it was emblazoned around the ground and the subject of a large banner hung from the East Stand.

That bloke looks familiar.

Lee Dong Gook started for Jeonbuk, with new signing Jeong Seong Hoon alongside him, whilst Chinese midfielder Huang Bowen also made his league debut. Luiz Henrique missed out though and together with Krunoslav Lovrek, had to settle for a place on the bench.

The main point of interest in the Chunnam team was their goalie and captain, Lee Woon Jae. I’d watched the thirty seven year old make his farewell appearance for the National team against Nigeria back in August when his final act before being substituted after less than half an hour was to pick the ball out of the back of the net. He only played a couple of times after that for Suwon before losing his place and then rarely even appeared on the bench. It was a bit of a surprise to me therefore when I read that rather than move into coaching he had signed for Chunnam Dragons.

Lee Woon Jae

Jeonbuk had a new goalie too, Yeom Dong Gyun, who had been signed from today’s opponents during the close season. I try not to prematurely judge a new player, but he looked crap in the warm-up. My doubts were confirmed when after about twenty minutes he didn’t even bother diving for a low shot from Gong Young Sun which I’m sure that he could have stopped had he just stuck a foot out to his left. His new team mates stood and glared at him in disbelief, pretty much as the Boro defenders would do with Brad Jones whenever he decided that a goal-bound shot wasn’t worth getting his knees dirty for.

Neither team had many chances, Lee Dong Gook put a half volley wide from distance just before half time and whilst Jeonbuk had a few free-kicks within shooting distance, I don’t think Lee Woon Jae had a save to make all game.

Eninho hits the wall.

Jeonbuk pressed a bit more in the second half with the introduction of Luiz Henrique and  Krunoslav Lovrek adding a bit of urgency to their play. Lovrek and Eninho failed to hit the target though when really they should have been testing Lee Woon Jae’s ageing reflexes.

At the final whistle we didn’t wait for the bowing but cleared off sharpish instead to make sure of being able to get a taxi to the station at Iksan. Our driver filled us in on the scores from the other games and speculated upon how costly the military call up of Jeonbuk’s regular keeper would be to their chances this season. There’s a long way to go yet though  and I’d expect Jeonbuk to finish the season somewhere near the top.

Samcheok v Gyeongju Citizen, Saturday 13th November 2010, 2pm

November 18, 2010

I haven’t seen very much of the third division whilst I’ve been here which surprises me a bit. If I’d had to forecast at the start of the season what I’d get up to I’d have thought my trips to matches would have been fairly equally spread amongst the divisions. But it hasn’t worked out that way and whilst I’ve been to almost all of the top division stadiums I’ve only managed to get to a single K3 game so far.

I had an opportunity to double my tally for the season last Saturday though as it was the first leg of the K3 Play-off final, with Samcheok hosting Gyeongju Citizen. Samcheok is quite a trek from Seoul and I remembered it from spending an hour or so there a few months ago when I changed buses on the way to the Hwanseon Cave.

Hwanseon Cave

But, you have to be somewhere, and whilst a four and a half hour journey each way to watch two poor teams contest a match where I had little interest in the outcome seems a bit of an odd way to spend a day, it does have its plus points.

Apart from enjoying watching live football, I quite like the traveling. The buses are comfortable with wide single seats and I tend to alternate between reading a book and looking at some fantastic scenery. This journey went through the mountains, where I saw plenty of graves in the hillsides and as I got close to Samcheok, which is on the east coast of Korea, I had some decent views of the sea.

As we drove along the seafront I did think that maybe I should have made this a weekend trip and seen a bit more of the area, but I’d already arranged to do a bit of hiking with Jen the next day. We’d walked the first fifteen kilometres of the Bukhansan Dullegil the week before and I was looking forward to doing the next fifteen or so. Actually, I’ll fill you in on how the hike went now and then get back to the football. I think these things read a bit better if they finish off with the match.

So, on the previous week’s hike we had ended up north of Sangbangjong, where the path turns to the east in the direction of Gangbuk-gu.

Bukhansan Dullegil

Our plan for the second leg had been to get the 704 bus from Gupabal subway station back to where we had left the trail and then hike through the valley towards Gangbuk –gu. We would then carry on beyond the Information Centre until we found a convenient point to leave the trail having done somewhere around fifteen kilometres.  This would mean that we could complete the 44km trail on a third visit. Unfortunately plenty of other hikers had the same plan and the buses all seemed too full to even bother trying to get into them. We took a taxi instead and beat the crowds.

It was fortunate that we did get there before the buses as when we passed the Park Ranger Post we were stopped and told it was reservations only to go beyond that point. Again we were in luck as that day’s quota hadn’t been reached and we were given a slip of paper and waived through. Fifty yards up the road we reached another checkpoint, this time manned by a couple of soldiers complete with tin hats. They seemed content to let the Rangers do all the work and didn’t even come out of their sentry hut.

Some of the peaks that we saw from the valley were spectacular, with rocks on the top that looked likely to fall if given the slightest touch. Perhaps that was why we couldn’t see anyone on those hills.

Bukhansan rocks.

As far as wildlife went, we didnt see much. There were plenty of signs telling us of the various species that lived in the area, but all that we spotted were a couple of dogs that weren’t very wild at all.

Bukhansan wildlife

The section of the trail where entrance was restricted was a very pleasant walk, with far fewer hikers than we’d seen on the rest of the trail. The woods were close to a couple of military bases and it looks as if they had used the area for training. We passed a watchtower and a small parade ground and at one point along the route there were anti-tank defences.

Anti-tank defences. Or something.

Once we got to the other side of the valley the route skirted the edges of the city. Whilst I’m happier being up in the hills this did have its advantages, mainly that I could forget about the roll of gimbap that I’d packed for lunch and get something a little better. We went into a restaurant that specialised in mutton and had barbecued lamb chops instead. I can’t think of a single hike I’ve ever done that wouldnt have been improved by stumbling across a restaurant that allows you to barbecue lamb chops at lunchtime.

We did pass a few other restaurants along the route, quite a few of them having signs outside informing passers-by that they specialised in the combination of dog and duck. As The Dog and Duck is quite a popular name for a pub in the UK, I was amused by the prospect of a Korean visitor to the UK seeing the pub sign and popping in for some familiar food.

In the afternoon we walked on for about another three hours, passing a cemetery dedicated to the victims of the 19th April 1960 massacre of protesters by soldiers.

April 19th Cemetery

We couldn‘t get into the cemetery from the trail, but there was an observation point that gave us a good view of it from up on the hillside. I’m not quite sure exactly where we left the trail later in the day, but hopefully we will manage to find our way back to complete the final section.

Right, back to the football. I’d left the Seoul Express Bus Terminal at half past nine in the morning and I didn’t get to Samcheok until ten to two in the afternoon. The bus had about ten passengers on it to start with, but then dropped most of them off at Donghae, which is a town just along the coast from Samcheok and as it has a beach and a harbour it looks like somewhere worth visiting. Mind you, after four hours on a bus, even  places like Billingham start to look like they are tourist hotspots.

As we approached Samcheok I spotted the football ground on the outskirts of the town. A little further along the route I also noticed a banner advertising the game. The good news was that I’d got the date right. However I hadn’t been quite so precise with my understanding of the kick-off time. I was under the impression that it was a three o’clock start, whilst the banner had it down as 2pm. As it was already ten to two and I wasn’t yet at the bus terminal that wasn’t the best development.

It worked out ok though. When I got off the bus I was fortunate enough to get into a taxi whose driver knew where the football stadium was and I arrived at the ground a couple of minutes after kick-off.

Samcheok Football Stadium

It was free to get in and you just sat where you liked. Mind you, as the total attendance in the fifteen thousand capacity stadium was no more than about one hundred and fifty people, it wasn’t a fixture where much stewarding was required.

One of the teams was wearing a red strip, the other was in white. I had no idea which team was which and as the half went on I didn’t really get any wiser. I think that I was sat with the Samcheok fans, although as they weren’t wearing any colours and with most of them seeming to cheer everything that was going on regardless of who did it, I couldn’t be absolutely certain.

The chants were led by a bloke with a drum who appeared to have brought a class or two of schoolkids with him.As he banged the drum they would chant each players name in turn. Occasionally he would vary the routine by giving the drum a rest and by hitting an iron railing with a saucepan instead.

Samcheok supporters.

The stadium was quite typical of older Korean grounds. It was oval shaped, with a running track and with a small covered stand along part of one side. The remainder of the oval was uncovered terracing. Where it did differ from other places was the playing surface. It was grass, which isn’t too unusual, but it was yellow grass, which tends to be a bit rarer. Particularly as we are only a few weeks past an uncommonly lengthy rainy season.

Maybe a little watering might be an idea.

It was a fairly typical first leg, with both sides not wanting to give too much away. There were a few running personal battles between the players which were making the play a bit niggly and the number nine for the white team was spoken to a couple of times for not disguising the sly digs at his marker a bit more professionally.

At half time I nipped outside and after being given a free coffee I bought a hot dog in a bun that had been inserted onto a stick and then deep fried. It tasted as bad as you would expect it to. I decided I would watch the second half from the other side of the covered stand and so I made my way past the main entrance. I was surprised to see eleven brand new bikes lined up by the front door, hopefully they would be the prize for the winning team. I’m sure that they would be a lot more use than a medal. Back in the nineteen seventies I can remember the winners of the League Cup getting a tankard each rather than a medal, but a bike would be even better, although I’m not sure about the practicalities of doling them out from the Royal Box and then having to manhandle them back down the Wembley steps again. It would make the lap of honour that bit quicker though.

Bikes outside the main entrance.

As I took my seat for the second half I noticed that I was now sat with the other set of fans. I was fairly sure that this lot were supporting Gyeongju, who by now I had concluded were the team in white. Gyeongju is a town from a lot further down the coast. I was there a couple of months ago with Jen, after we had been to a barbecue out in the countryside nearby. It has some old tombs in a park that looks like teletubbyland and every second shop sells nothing but barley bread.

Gyeongju

The Gyeongju fans were as noisy as the Samcheok ones that I’d sat near in the first half. There were probably about thirty of them, although I did wonder if they had been expecting more when I saw the supplies that they had brought with them. Even though we were into the second half they still had cases of food and drink unopened. They looked a lot rougher than their Samcheok counterparts. Perhaps it’s a harder life in tellytubbyland. One of them, who I’ll call Tinky Winky, was leading the chanting. He didn’t have a drum or a saucepan, which is probably just as well, as judging from his looks I suspected that he was prone to smacking himself in the chops with a saucepan rather than banging it on the railings.

Gyeongju supporters

They had a chant that might have been “Gyeongju“, but it actually sounded more like “Dog Dirt“. I really hope that it was one of their players names.

Both sides had their chances, although I dont really remember either keeper making a save of note and the game finished up at 0-0.

View from the other side.

By this time I’d made a circuit of the terracing and ended up back where I’d started. In addition to the usual bowing I was treated to a salute from the Samcheok players.

Attenshuuun.

After the players had left the pitch most people wandered down onto the yellow grass for a raffle where just about everyone seemed to win a scarf, ball or a bike.

Everyone's a winner.

After a while I left them to it and walked back into town. It took me about half an hour to reach the bus terminal and ten minutes after that I was on my way back to Seoul.

Incheon United v Jeonbuk Motors, Sunday 26th September 2010, 3pm

October 3, 2010

My friend Paul had been over here for a week or so and after hiking up Cheongwangbong in Jirisan earlier in the week we’d been doing a bit of sightseeing. Despite having been here for seven months now and having travelled all over the country, there are still lots of areas of Seoul that I’m not too familiar with. When you have a visitor staying though, it provides a little bit of motivation to get out and have a look at some of the tourist attractions.

There are a couple of famous markets, Dongdaemun and Namdaemun,  and we had a bit of a wander around those. You could pretty much buy anything you wanted in these places with whole streets devoted to single items such as power tools, broiled fish or ginseng roots in bottles.

One of the markets.

We didn’t bother with the power tools or the ginseng, but we did chance the broiled fish soup. Very nice it was too once you got the hang of removing the bones with chopsticks.

We also visited what was described as a folk museum, but there wasn’t much  music going on. It seemed to concentrate on preserving household items from the 1970’s which I quite like in a museum. After that we stumbled upon a recently refurbished gate that was quite impressive.

As good as new.

Seodaemun prison was next on our itinerary. I’m starting to wonder if the ’daemun’ suffix is Korean for tourist attraction. Probably not. I’m used to seeing signs over here pointing out some injustice or another perpetrated by the Japanese during one of their occupations, generally the destruction of a national treasure or two. The prison though was the real deal and a thought-provoking place, particularly the execution chamber.

Seodaemun prison.

With the sightseeing done and with my legs too sore from the Jirisan hike to do any more walking we turned our attention to watching a bit of sport. We had planned to go to the horse races on the Sunday, but it wasn’t on because of the Chuseok holiday, so that left the football. Paul is a Middlesbrough fan too, although a bit of a lapsed one these days, so what better than a game involving Middlesbrough’s most famous Korean ex-player, Lee Dong Gook? Actually he is our only Korean ex-player, but that’s beside the point. His team, Jeonbuk, were playing at Incheon whose stadium is only about an hour and a half away from my apartment and so that’s where we went.

The season is starting to draw to a close now with only a handful of games left before the play-offs. Jeonbuk should be able to remain in the play-off spots as Suwon’s recent resurgence seems to have fizzled out a bit, whilst Incheon are well adrift but have nothing to worry about as the K-League doesn’t have relegation.

It had been a bad week for Jeonbuk though, they had been knocked out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage by Saudi Arabian club Al Shabab. A one-nil away win for the Koreans being insufficient to overturn the two goal deficit from the first leg. Things were going better for Incheon though. A run of bad results that had seen them without a win in the league since May had been ended the previous week with a 4-1 away win at Daegu.

As we had arrived quite close to kickoff we got tickets for the East stand, which was the nearest to the subway. They were ten thousand won each, which seemed quite expensive compared to the four thousand won that it cost to go behind the goal. Still, it saved a three minute walk and with the state of my legs after the Jirisan hike it was well worth it.

The Munhak stadium had been quite badly damaged in the recent storms and a lot of the roof was missing. The upper tier in the East stand was closed, presumably because of the damage, so we found ourselves some seats in the back row of the lower tier, the only place where we wouldn’t have the sun in our eyes. There were a couple of hundred Incheon fans behind the goal to our right, but not much more than thirty or so travelling supporters from Jeonbuk at the other end. Perhaps the rest were still making their way back from Saudi Arabia. I reckon the total attendance was no more than a thousand, despite it being officially put at over six thousand.

Jeonbuk fans

The big shock of the day was that Lee Dong Gook wasn’t playing. Were they not aware that Paul had travelled six thousand miles to see him? And what about this blog? It’s supposed to be about the Lion King. There’s a limit to how long I can waffle on about silkworms, baseball and death by electric fan, you know.  Or perhaps not. Not only was Lee Dong Gook nowhere to be seen, but Eninho, Luiz Henrique and Krunoslav Lovrek were also missing, ‘rested’ after the trip to Saudi Arabia during the week.  It was hard to see where the goals were going to come from.

Jeonbuk, who were playing a 5-3-2 system for a change, started the better of the two teams and after twenty minutes their left wing back Kim Min Hak was fouled as he shaped to shoot. From where we were I thought the ball had just bobbled as he went to hit it, but the ref was a lot closer than us, possibly almost two hundred yards closer, so I won’t question the decision too much.

Kim Min Hak, a young lad who was making only his third appearance, got to take the penalty himself in the absence of the big guns and he put it away very confidently for 1-0.

1-0

Incheon were coming back into it more though as the game went on and their Bosnian- Herzegovinan striker, Samir Bekric, sidefooted a good opportunity past the post after half an hour. A few minutes later Lee Jun Young escaped the attentions of the covering defenders, megged Lee Kwang Hyun and then passed it though the legs of  Jeonbuk captain Kim Sang Sik for Yoo Byung Soo to tap home his 16th goal of the season for Incheon.

That was it for the first half and as we got ourselves a beer we had a look across to the adjacent SK Wyverns baseball stadium where some fans had already began to arrive. They had a game starting at five o’clock which, in a rare example of Korean fixture co-ordination, meant that we could pop into the baseball after the football match had finished.

The baseball stadium

I was quite pleased about that as the food is much better at the baseball than the football. Paul, having declined the dried squid, had got himself some gimbap. I decided to wait though until the SK Wyverns game and have some pork dumplings instead.

It’s probably worth reflecting on the fact that we were able to sit at our seats and drink a can of Max each. If we had done that in the UK it is almost certain that we would have been arrested, fined and banned from every ground in the country for three years. It seems a bit excessive for a couple of middle-aged blokes having a quiet beer.

Not long into the second half Yoo Byung Soo took his total to seventeen for the season when his shot took a wicked deflection to wrongfoot the Jeonbuk goalie. He didn’t seem too embarrassed though, choosing to celebrate by making that overhead heart-shaped sign that is surprisingly popular in Korea.

Incheon fans celebrating and hoping that it doesn't rain.

That second goal was the signal for Jeonbuk to abandon their wing back experiment and after a double substitution that brought two debutants on, they switched to 4-4-2.

The home team went further ahead on the hour as Lee Jun Young skinned Kim Min Hak and sent over a perfect cross that Kim Young Bin finished off not quite so perfectly with his shin for 3-1.

Jeonbuk pressed forward in the final stages, but they didn’t ever look convincing without their experienced strikers. They did pull one back though towards the end with a second penalty of the game when their final substitute Kim Hyung Bum claimed his first goal of the season.

3-2

I’ve seen Jeonbuk come back from the dead a few times this season and they almost salvaged a point in the final moments when one of the new lads broke clear but hit it over the bar. I’d have fully expected Eninho or Lovrek to have put that one away. It wasn’t to be though and we made our way out towards the baseball and the pork dumplings.

The defeat left Jeonbuk in the sixth and final play-off position, ten points behind leaders Jeju United but with a game in hand. Play-off rivals Suwon could only draw and are six points behind Jeonbuk in seventh place, but they have played two games more. I think the play-off spot is fairly safe for Jeonbuk, but they will need to improve a fair bit on their current form if they want to realise their ambitions of retaining their title.

Doosan Bears v Kia Tigers, Sunday 5th September, 5.30pm

September 16, 2010

I find it very difficult not to watch live sport if the opportunity is there. Apart from it being an enjoyable way to spend some time, I’m always convinced that if I don‘t go I’ll miss something worthwhile. You know,  like the Boro scoring eight. I was halfway up Great Gable when we did that. Actually, just us scoring these days would probably do me. 

May 2008, as we were beating Man City 8-1. Hard to believe really.

 This baseball game was something that I’d had no intention of going to see up until a few seconds before I leapt off the subway. I’d been returning from a trip to Jeonju where I’d watched Jeonbuk beat Pohang Steelers the day before and the subway route from the bus station back to my apartment goes past the Jamsil baseball stadium. 

Whilst I suspected that there might be a game on I didn’t know for certain as it’s the stage in the season where previously cancelled games are squeezed in here and there and so it was quite possible that the Doosan Bears and the LG Twins could both had been given an away fixture that afternoon. 

I was also quite tired. I’d got through a fair few beers before, during and after the match, followed by a morning spent sightseeing in Jeonju and then four hours stuck in traffic on the bus. If anything, I was looking forward to a bit of a lie down. 

We’d been wandering around the old Hanok village area in Jeonju that morning, marvelling at the recently erected ’historical’ features, a lot of which were revealed to be replicas when you read the small print on the signs nearby. We’d seen a Taesil, which was a stone structure which had once contained the umbilical cord of King Yejong. It didn‘t any more though because, as the accompanying sign pointed out, the pot containing His Majesty’s surgical waste had been stolen in 1928 by the occupying Japanese army, possibly to keep their loose change in. 

Not the King's umbilical cord.

 Then we saw a replica of the building that had once housed the Sillok, a multi-volume book set that recorded daily life in the royal court in the fifteenth century. This too, we were informed, had been destroyed by the Japanese, this time in 1592, no doubt because they were out of toilet paper and couldn’t be bothered to nip down to the 7-Eleven. 

Not a load of rare old books.

 Around the corner were a load of copies of paintings of the various Korean monarchs. No prizes for guessing who had used the originals for sledging down hills on snowy days. 

Apparently it's his head that's the funny shape, not the hat.

 One thing that had survived intact in the Hanok Village was a tree that was reputed to be six hundred years old. I can only presume that the Japanese didn’t realise its significance at any point or else they would no doubt have whittled it down to a pair of chopsticks. 

So, after all of that I had plans for a quiet evening. The schedule changed though as the train drew into the Sports Complex subway station and I saw the KIA Tigers fans get up from their seats and head towards the door. Initially I didn‘t give it much of a thought, then I wondered if I should go as well. I began to think that I was missing out on something and by the time the train had come to a standstill I was stood at the door too. 

Even as I walked towards the stadium, I was still weighing it up. On one hand, I was worn out and had been on my way home. Not only that, but it was an end of season game where the result wasn’t likely to affect anyones play-off position. In its favour, it was live sport, it was a sunny evening and I could get a box of those weird shaped chicken wings from the Burger King stand for my tea. The chicken wings swung it and I picked up a ticket from a tout for a couple of thousand won below face value and headed in. 

Did I mention that we'd had a typhoon?

 Sometimes I do stuff because I can, rather than because I really want to do it. It’s a bit like when you eat a whole packet of chocolate chip cookies just because you have them in the house and even though you aren’t remotely hungry. Still, enough of the inner turmoil and more about the match. 

It was Doosan Bears against KIA Tigers. They are both reasonable teams. Doosan are looking as if they will finish third in the table, whilst KIA will probably finish fifth, just outside of the play-off positions. There was a decent crowd too, certainly a lot more people than there were at the LG Twins v Nexen game I’d been to at this stadium the previous week. 

 

Doosan looked to be starting the game a bit more positively, with one of the Tigers getting out after three strikes in successive balls. It happened again shortly afterwards although I wasn’t too surprised as the lad who was swinging at fresh air had a batting average of about 0.1. 

It turned around in the fourth innings as KIA Tigers hit a couple of homers in quick succession, each was to the furthest part of the ground, just in front of the scoreboard and each one was worth two runs. It meant that by the end of the fourth, KIA had a 4-1 lead. 

Cheerleaders for the Doosan Bears.

 That was where I left it. I’d eaten the odd-shaped chicken wings for my tea and I’d seen about an hour and a quarter which on this occasion was enough. Besides, I probably had a couple of packets of chocolate chip cookies in the cupboard that had been there longer than could reasonably have been expected. 

And you know that whole thing about having to go to the match in case I missed something exciting? Well, I checked the score the next day and with two already out in the final Doosan innings, the Tigers were hanging on at 4-3. The Bears brought their pinch hitter on and he whacked a two-run homer for a last gasp 5-4 victory. 

Bugger.

Samsung Lions v Hanwha Eagles, Sunday 15th August 2010, 5pm.

August 22, 2010

The regular baseball season is drawing to a close and so I thought that whilst there’s still time I would try and get to see a game at a stadium that I hadn’t yet visited. There are eight baseball teams in the league, but as Doosan Bears and LG Twins share the Jamsil Stadium there are only seven different ball parks. Actually that may not be true as I’ve a suspicion that one of the teams from the south might play their home games at more than one stadium. Anyway, I’ve been to four of the stadiums so far and as Lotte Giants were playing away I was left with a choice of Samsung Lions or KIA Tigers.

Samsung Lions play in Daegu and when I found that the Daegu K-League team were also at home on the same day it was an easy choice to make. The football was listed as kicking off at four in the afternoon, with the baseball starting an hour later. I’d been to watch Daegu before and their stadium is only about thirty yards from the baseball park, so it seemed a pretty good piece of scheduling. I could watch their match against Pohang Steelers and then call into the baseball game which by that time should be no more than a couple of innings old.

Jen asked me if I’d like to accompany her to a barbecue that a friend of hers was having near Gyeongju on the Saturday and as Gyeongju is only an hour away from Daegu it all fitted together very nicely.

We got the bus from Seoul to Gyeongju late on Saturday morning. It was meant to be early on Saturday morning but when we turned up to get the tickets it was two and a half hours until the next departure. The silver lining was that it enabled me to get an overdue haircut. It’s probably thirty five years since I’ve been for a haircut with someone else and in those days I used to go with my Dad. To my frustration the barber would invariably direct his questions to him rather than me. In that mid-seventies era when it was a major source of embarrassment at school to have even the lobes of your ears exposed, you did not want the barber checking with your oblivious to fashion father as to whether he had taken enough off yet.

Generally over here, I get by in the barbers with a combination of mime and gesture and I’ve tended to survive. However, once the hairdresser realised that Jen could speak Korean, it was as if I was six years old.

“Does he want it grading at the back?” and “Should I shampoo it for him?” were asked and answered without any reference whatsoever to me. I half expected to be told to visit the toilet before I left and to be given a lollipop for sitting still. The shampooing was very enjoyable though, with my head being rinsed for a couple of minutes with cold water. The temperatures in Seoul seemed to have taken another step upwards lately and I could quite happily have foregone the barbecue, the football and the baseball and just remained in the barber’s chair all weekend with the cold water washing over my head.

The bus to Gyeongju took four hours and then we had another short connection to get to Doug’s house out in the countryside. Unfortunately our late arrival meant that the original barbecue had finished and the guests departed. Doug was a great host though and we spent a few hours with him and his girlfriend, eating and drinking in his front garden miles from anywhere, with a backdrop of the hills and his dog at our feet. Doug grows his own vegetables, makes his own cheese and had apple makkgeolli to supplement the beer. Whilst I love my life, every now and again I get a glimpse of someone elses and can’t help but feel that I’m missing out somehow.

The view from Doug's front garden.

At about ten o’clock we got a lift back to Gyeongju and checked into the nearest hotel to the bus station. This was quite a fortuitous choice as it’s the best hotel I’ve stayed in over here so far. For the connoisseurs of the idiosyncrasies of Korean love motels our room was on the top floor and had a six foot wide circular skylight above the bed so that we could look at the stars if there wasn’t much on telly. It opened and closed with a remote control and seemed a little like the sort of gadget that a villain in a James Bond film might use to launch missiles from an island hideaway. The room had disco lights in the bathroom and a small dance floor that also came complete with its own multi-coloured light show. We couldn’t quite work out how to switch off the flashing dance floor lights and so had to resort to covering it with a towel to diminish the effect. It had the usual love motel staples of a big flat screen telly and computer, plus the added bonus of a complementary bottle of red wine. I searched in vain for a humidor full of havana cigars but had I found them they would not have seemed out of place.

The dancefloor.

The next morning we went for a look around Gyeongju. It’s a town that seems to have a predilection for barley bread, with a shop selling it every five yards or so. We were going to look at the tombs rather than visit the bakers though, and in particular Cheonmachong, or the Heavenly Horse Tomb. This was the grave of some unknown royal from Silla kingdom and it had been excavated a few years previously giving visitors the opportunity to have a wander about inside. Disappointingly all the artifacts inside were replicas which made the sign stating that visitors should show respect towards what was an empty fake coffin a little bemusing. On the plus side, however, it was air-conditioned and so well worth the visit regardless of the authenticity of the artifacts.

The real stuff is in a museum somewhere.

We had a wander aroound the rest of the park, which resembled tellytubbyland, and looked at the other unexcavated tombs before getting the bus to Daegu where I had spicy tuna bibimbap for lunch.

Tinkywinky, La La, Poe and whatever the other one was called.

 This version of the rice dish was different to those I’ve had before as it’s eaten hot. It’s known as dolsot bibimbap and served in a red hot stone pot that I did my best not to burn myself on. Its an interesting variation and I quite like the way that the rice gets a bit crusty where it’s been in contact with the hot stone bowl.

We walked to the stadiums only to discover that the time of the football game had been changed and both matches now started at 5pm. Bugger. There was a large banner advertising the football and you could see where a patch saying `5pm’ had been stuck over the previous `4pm’. Quite why they couldnt coordinate the start times to accommodate fans who would like to see both games baffled me. The last time I’d watched Daegu, the conclusion of the baseball game coincided with half time in the football and the Daegu commercial staff were trying to entice the baseball fans into the football match for free. This time though, it was one or the other and as I’d seen Daegu play in their stadium before I decided that I’d rather watch the baseball.

After the previous weeks visit to the outfield at the Jamsil Stadium I thought it would be quite good to be a bit closer to the action and we got seats in the posh bit right behind the catcher for twenty thousand won each. They were front row and with a table in front of us for food and drink. The only downside was that it looked as if the roof didn‘t quite extend far enough to protect the first couple of rows if it rained. However, it was hot and sunny so I wasn’t too concerned.

On the way in we were given a bottle of chocolate water each. Yes, chocolate water. I’d heard of chocolate milk before, but this was a variation on those bottles of water that are usually flavoured with fruit or possibly more likely just sugar. I tried it, out of curiosity, and it was terrible. I like chocolate and I like water, but together, I dont think it will catch on. Fortunately there was another freebie, apple juice, to take away the taste and if that didn‘t work there was plenty of beer for sale.

The stadium was probably the smallest capacity of all those I’ve been to and there were plenty of empty seats. Samsung Lions are pretty much certain of their play-off place and perhaps Hanwha Eagles aren’t much of a draw. The home fans were loud enough, singing along at one point to Slade’s `Cum On Feel The Noize‘.

Like a lot of the games I’ve been to recently, the innings were being rattled through at a fair pace and within three quarters of an hour we had already seen the first three of them. It would have been even quicker had it not been for a lengthy delay for treatment after the batter had mistaken the catcher’s hand for the ball and tried to hit it out of the stadium.

Hanwha had the best of the early play including picking up a run when successive hits deep into the outfield that were both caught were in the air long enough to allow the bloke on first base to eventually make it all the way home. By the fourth innings though a Samsung home run had put the home side into a 3-2 lead.

At six o’clock it started to pour down with absolutely torrential rain that had the players running for the dugout and Jen and I scurrying to the back of the stand. Ground staff were quickly out with tarpaulins but the water was lying in pools around each of the bases. After a while I managed to get a glimpse of the Daegu game in the football stadium next door. The players were still out there, but it looked as if all of the fans were in the concourse.

I was waiting for the announcement that the match would be abandoned when the rain started to ease off and within a few minutes a combination of the drainage and blokes with brushes had cleared most of the water away. At seven o’clock we were off again. The only problem for us was that our front row seats were still ankle deep in water. Again the staff did the business and the excess was soon swept away and the seats and table dried off. We got another forty five minutes of action before the next thunderstorm arrived with the scores level at four apiece. We moved further back again, this time taking the seats of some people who had decided that enough was enough. A tramp had come in off the streets, more for a bit of shelter than the prospect of seeing the remaining innings I imagine, and he occupied his time by collecting up the uneaten fried chicken that people had left in their hurry to get away. He didnt seemed too interested in the chocolate water though.

We waited for the next lull in the rain and at half past eight we headed off to get the KTX not knowing if the game would be completed or abandoned. As we neared Seoul the baseball scores came up on the screen in the carriage and one of them had won 5-4. I don‘t remember which team won, but then I didn‘t really care. It’s still all about the occasion with baseball for me at the moment, rather than the result.

Yesan v Goyang KB, Saturday 29th May 2010

June 7, 2010

It had been over three weeks since I’d been to a football match and with the K-League shut down for the World Cup, I thought I’d take the opportunity to go to another National League game. Most of the matches were taking place on the Friday night though and as I don’t finish work until after 6pm they are quite difficult to get to in time.

Not Yesan though, they had a more traditional Saturday three o’clock kick off and so that’s where I went. I had a bit of a mishap on the subway though where I got on the train going in the opposite direction. I didn’t realize until I’d traveled three stops out of my way and so I didn’t get to Yongsan railway station until 10am. There were plenty of trains to Yesan, but they were all booked solid for the next two hours. Fortunately you can buy a standing ticket and so that’s what I did. I paid 6,900 won (less than four quid) for a ticket on the 10.35am train, which got to Yesan an hour and three quarters later. It was quite a slow train, with plenty of stops, but it was direct so I wouldn’t have to change.

The train was starting from Yongsan station and so it was completely empty as it pulled into the platform. I noticed that it had a buffet carriage and so I got into that one, hoping there would be some unallocated seats in there. It was better than that though, as it had internet terminals, so I was able to sit at a computer and surf the net for the duration of the journey. It was just like being at work, but without the pesky interruptions for meetings or writing letters.

Anyway, in the hour and three quarters that I spent on the train I discovered that Yesan is famous for its apples and that Yesan FC, who are bottom of the National League, moved to Yesan two years ago. A move that was no doubt influenced by the prospect of all those apples. As I read about them I recognised their name and remembered that they were the team that I’d seen get beat at Incheon Korail on the opening day of the National League season.

Yesan turned out to be a quiet town, not really a place for tourists. In fact, it didn’t even get a mention in any of my guide books. Surprising really, particularly when they seem to make such a fuss about those apples. All of the shops appeared to be for practical things, like car maintenance, industrial equipment or trade places that sold stuff like light switches and sockets. I managed to get hold of a map from their town hall and discovered that I wasn’t too far from the football ground. I asked about hotels and was told by a girl with an extremely short skirt that showed off a pretty much perfect pair of legs they didn’t have any. Tourists all stayed at a spa town that you could get to in about twenty minutes in a taxi.

With plenty of time to spare I walked back into town and had a pizza for lunch before getting a taxi to the ground. The stadium didn’t look too busy. In fact, apart from a team bus outside there was no real sign that a match would be taking place. I walked through the main entrance and was stopped by a bloke at a desk. I was expecting him to tell me that I needed to buy a ticket from a kiosk on the other side of the ground. But, no, he had stopped me to hand me a paper bag with a sandwich and a carton of juice in. I thanked him whilst secretly wishing that I hadn’t just scoffed a whole pizza.

I took a left turn and went up some stairs, emerging as seems commonplace now, in the director’s box. I thought I’d adopt a lower profile at this game though and so I moved upwards a bit to a place more suitable for a lowlife with a couple of cans in his backpack. The stadium was oval shaped, with just the centre of the main stand above me having a roof. It had an artificial pitch inside a running track. Just before kick off club officials came up into the stand and shook hands with us. I have to say that they really seem to appreciate a bit of support here. Free admission, free food and a personal welcome from a club official. If I’d had my boots with me I’d have asked him if I could come on for the final twenty minutes.

In a further show of hospitality, both captains and the ref were presented with flowers before the start and then we all stood for the national anthem. Yesan, who were wearing an Italy strip last time I saw them, were dressed up as Chelsea today. Goyang, their opponents from the northern suburbs of Seoul were wearing white shirts with maroon shorts that looked like they had been washed a few times too often.

Within twenty seconds Goyang had taken the lead. The game was back underway again before the stadium clock had moved on from 15:00. As I settled back in my seat with a beer, I noticed how badly patched the artificial pitch was. It didn’t seem to affect the game though. To my left, just beyond the main stand were a small band of Yesan supporters, most of them with drums or tambourines. They kept the noise level up throughout the game. If there were any Goyang supporters in the crowd of maybe a hundred, I didn’t see them. Despite it being free to get in, there were quite a few people watching through the fence, having parked their cars on the road passing the stadium. 

Goyang were the better team, playing some very clever through balls, whilst Yesan tried to play on the break but were fairly easily contained. There weren’t any more goals before the interval and at half time I went for a slash only to meet one of the Yesan players coming out of the toilets as I went in. You don’t often see that at the Boro.

Yesan missed a good chance in the opening minute of the second half before Goyang went straight up the other end and made it two nil. If Yesan had taken their chance, people would have praised their attitude in coming out for the second half fired up, the coaches half time team talk, even their professionalism in remembering to go for a piss. By conceding themselves a moment later though, they will have been branded sloppy and half asleep. It’s a small margin between failure and success.

And that was about it, as the game finished up two nil to Goyang. As I came down from my seat and left through the main entrance, both sets of players were getting on their respective buses. So probably no showers in the dressing rooms either.

I walked back into town and then got a taxi to Deoksan, the nearby spa town that I’d been advised was the place to stay. The taxi dropped me off at the hotel suggested by the girl at the Town Hall, but it turned out to be a resort hotel where you had to be a member. I walked down the road for ten minutes and checked into the Ducksan spa hotel. That’s not a spelling mistake by the way, not unless they also spelt it wrongly on the sign on their roof. It cost me eighty thousand won for the night, which is quite expensive by Korean prices. When I checked in they told me that the hot spring spa was on the second floor. I asked them if they sold swimming trunks and they gave me a bit of an odd look before advising me that you didn’t wear any.

Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life but that seemed a bit odd to me, lolloping about in the nudey in front of lots of other people, albeit blokes. Still, I thought I might as well give it a try. You put all your gear into a locker and then just moved about between pools of differing temperatures and saunas, hoping that your privates didn’t shrink too much with the extremes of temperature or even worse, start to twitch if your mind wandered back to the girl with the legs from the Town Hall. Some of the men in there were having a shave and you could even have a haircut if you wanted. It was ok for about half an hour but then it got a bit boring.

It’s all very well sweating out the impurities in a sauna, but all that lost fluid needs replacing and as the hotel didn’t seem to have a bar I wandered back up the road to where there were a few restaurants. The roadside had recently been planted with apple trees, perhaps to try and build upon the Yesan reputation for apples. I found a barbecue place that looked ok, but it was one of those without chairs and so I had to sit cross legged on the floor. I had the beef, but one beer was enough as I’m still not supple enough to get my legs under the table.

The next morning I decided against another sauna and got a taxi to Sudeoksa. It’s the oldest surviving original Buddhist temple in Korea, dating back about eight hundred years. I had a wander around before the coachloads of visitors got there and watched some monks chanting and praying.

I could have hiked to the top of Mount Sudeoksan, especially since the taxi had made it easier by dropping me about halfway up at the temple but decided not to bother and got a bus back to Yesan. It wound through all the little villages picking up people wherever they happened to be standing. There were lots of rice fields and people planting new crops. The bus driver watched out for my stop, told me when we had got there and then pointed out the right direction to walk. I booked a ticket for the train back to Seoul and went for some lunch. Since I was here I thought I’d better try one of their apples and bought an enormous one from a greengrocer for 1,500 won. That seemed a bit excessive; just wait until the trees at the side of the road start producing, that’ll cut the prices. I got the train back to Yongsan station, arriving back at ten to three.

Meanwhile, South Korea were taking on Belarus in their final warm up game before the World Cup squad was finalised. Lee Dong Gook was still with the squad of 26, but training by himself in an effort to show that he should be fit in time for their second game against Argentina.

Hiking on Dobongsan and a trip to Hongdo and Heuksando, 21st May 2010

June 7, 2010

View from the bottom

This weekend coincided with Buddha’s birthday and so I got the Friday off work. Excellent. Many happy returns, Bud, the extra days holiday is much appreciated.  So, what to do? I was going away the next day with my hiking group for a two day trip to a couple of islands off the South coast and since that was more of a partying trip by the look of it, I thought I might as well get my hiking fix on the Friday instead.

 I’d been re-reading one of my guidebooks and it mentioned a hike in Seoul that was supposed to be pretty good. It was at Dobongsan, about an hour north of me on the subway and looked ideal. One of the things that I’m not too keen on when I’m hiking in Korea are the crowds, I like to hike in the company of a small number of friends, not hundreds of strangers. However, if you are going alone and don’t have a map or much of a sense of direction, I can see the advantages of the hills being crowded with other people all on their way to the top.

 I got off the subway at Dobongsan and as expected just followed the swarms of hikers across the road towards the mountain. There were lots of stalls selling everything from hiking gear to food. I could probably have turned up completely unprepared and kitted myself out from scratch. As it was I limited myself to a bowl of potatoes and a neckerchief that was overprinted with a map of the National Park. Whilst I thought it might be useful for navigation, its main purpose was to keep the sun off my neck and to make me look like a twat.

Busy at the start

 I followed the crowd along the pavement until we left the road and entered the park. After a few minutes we came to a fork and almost everyone went left. I noticed a sign for something to the right, 350m away. It could have been a sewage works for all I knew, but I thought I might as well have a look anyway.  I wasn’t in a rush and one of the advantages of walking alone is you can go wherever you like. It turned out to be a temple, decorated with lanterns and with quite a few visitors milling about. I had a quick look and then had to decide between retracing my route to rejoin the throng of hikers or to press on up the path through the forest. I’d like to say it was a sense of adventure that kept me going along the unknown and much quieter route. But it wasn’t really, it was more an unwillingness to concede the gain in height that I’d already made. If I went back down to the main path I’d have to do all that uphill stuff for a second time.

A bit quieter here

 I pressed on upwards confident that the path must lead to somewhere and not too bothered which of the peaks that I got to the top of. There were a few other people heading the same way, but it was certainly the quietest I’d seen any route out here so far. After a while I came to a signpost that confirmed that I was still on the same mountain, although on a slightly less direct route which was fine by me. As I say, I wasn’t in a rush. About half way up there was a bit of a monument, although I’ve no idea what it was commemorating, and an hour or so later I reached the top. Some sections had been a bit strenuous and I’d had to haul myself up using the iron railings and rope thoughtfully provided, but overall it wasn’t too difficult.

Monument, about halfway up

 There were plenty of people at the peak, some in groups of a dozen or more, sat around elaborate picnics. There is a lot of effort goes into these picnics, with lots of different dishes, stools, blankets, even little napkins. A bit less effort from me though as I took my potatoes from my backpack. They aren’t too big on potatoes over here. As you may have guessed, it’s more a rice sort of place, and so they were just about the only ones I’d had since I got over here.

View from the top

 Now that I was back on track I could have a look at the guidebook again and it offered me a different option for getting down. I could walk a bit further along, nip up another peak and then descend via another Buddhist Temple at Mangwolsa. That seemed ok and that’s what I did.

 As I approached the temple there was quite a bit of noise, the usual drumming and bells. The path to the gate had been decorated with lanterns and there were more hung up inside. I stopped for a coffee and then went up the steps to a courtyard in front of the main temple. A group of Chinese girls were dancing in front of about a hundred people.

Happy Birthday Bud.

I watched for a while before they finished and the crowd dispersed.  I had a look around the temple and then made my way down the path and got the subway home.

I know, I know, but I didn't want my neck getting sunburnt.

 Next day was an early start. I had to meet my hiking group at 7.10am for the bus ride to Mokpo. The plan was to get a ferry there to an island about sixty miles away, Hongdo, stay overnight and then return the next day via a different island. We got there just before lunch and to my surprise it was pissing down. That was something that hadn’t entered my head. It had been so sunny the previous day that I hadn’t even brought a coat with me. It got worse, the organizer was informed by the ferry company that the conditions were marginally good enough to sail today, but the forecast was for rougher weather tomorrow and that if it materialized then the ferry wouldn’t sail. That would mean we would be stuck on the Korean version of Craggy Island on a day when I was supposed to be three hundred miles away at work.

 We went for lunch, before making a decision on whether to get on the ferry. It was crab soup, with crabs cut in half, shells and all, providing the flavour. In addition there were some small crabs as a side dish. They were about the size of a penny and you just ate them whole. I had a couple and it was just like eating a shell full of sea water. They were soft rather than crunchy and whilst they tasted very fresh, there wasn’t much to them.

 Of the nine of us on the trip, three felt we shouldn’t travel. I don’t like missing work when I’m supposed to be there and two of the others, both Americans, felt the same way. We let the other six get on the ferry and we cleared off to the pub. A few beers later we were on the train back to Seoul after an interesting but ultimately pointless day out. From what I saw of Mokpo, it’s a working fishing and ferry port. Most of the shops seemed to sell stuff like fishing nets, buoys, wooden legs, parrots, you know the sort of thing. We worked our way through wine, makgeolli and beer on the journey back and I was fairly merry by the time I got home. The next day I felt pretty rough, which I attributed to those two mini crabs full of seawater. I’d been fine before I had them.

 Meanwhile, Lee Dong Gook wasn’t doing very much, just waiting to see how quickly his injury would clear up and whether he would make the final squad of twenty three.

South Korea v Ecuador, 16th May

June 3, 2010

This was looking as if it was going to be an even busier weekend than normal as different events kept cropping up as it got closer and I tried my best to fit them all in. Friday night was a ‘teambuilding’ dinner after work where about fifty of us went to a local Korean barbecue restaurant. I’d been here a few times before and the food is always pretty good. A charcoal barbecue is set into a hole in the middle of your table and you cook your own beef and pork, cutting it into small pieces with scissors and then eating it with spicy paste and wrapped in a lettuce leaf. You wash it down with beer and frequent shots of soju. This time we were in the room upstairs where you sit on cushions on the floor beside low tables. As a foreigner, and a not particularly supple foreigner at that, I was given about eight of the thin cushions to sit on. It was quite a precarious seat, especially as the empty soju bottles stated to mount up. I made my excuses at about ten o’clock, pretty much the worse for wear and leaving most of them still at it. There is quite a big after work drinking culture in Korea. As I’m not looking to build a career, just dropping in for a single project, there’s no need for me to adopt any of the customs that I’m not keen on and if I had a young family as a lot of them do, I would probably resent the time spent drinking with the same people that I’d just spent all day with. However, as I don’t have too many other commitments and I find my colleagues to be good company, I quite enjoy ‘teambuilding’ events like these. Although I doubt my liver would agree.

Saturdays have developed into hiking days, with a regular group of walkers. This week’s walk was due to start from Hoeryong and was a fair distance by subway from my apartment. Fortunately we weren’t due to meet up until 12.30pm which allowed my hangover to settle a little. I set off just before eleven and after some poor choices of subway line and some unusually long waits for trains, at noon I was still a change of line and seventeen stops away from the meeting place. They would no doubt have waited for me if I’d asked, but I didn’t want to be selfish and so phoned ahead to let them know that I wouldn’t be able to join them this week. As I had my hiking boots on I thought I might as well have a bit of a walk anyway and got off the train at the next station. It was Eungbong, over to the east of the city and just north of the Han River that runs through Seoul. As there was a path alongside the river I decided just to follow it until I got bored. It was quite an interesting walk. There wasn’t much happening on the river itself, a little bit of dragon boat training and the odd jet ski, a few fishermen, generally with four or five rods each, but every few hundred yards there would be permanent outdoor gym equipment, basketball courts, five a side pitches and badminton nets. I even passed a croquet pitch where a few pensioners were having a quite fiercely contested game. It was all free to use and seemed well taken care of and very popular. A cycle path ran alongside the path I was walking along and was also very popular with a mix of cyclists ranging from those on top of the range bikes and kitted out as if they were setting off to the Tour de France, to students on hired tandems and families with small children on bikes with stabilizers.

I walked for about three and a half hours, covering about ten miles and ending up on the other side of the city. It wasn’t the hike I’d planned for, but I saw parts of Seoul that up until now I’d only glimpsed from train windows, so it was a worthwhile day.

My plan for Sunday had initially revolved around the South Korea v Ecuador match in the evening. It was the only home ‘warm-up’ game for South Korea and I’d suspected that the Seoul World Cup Stadium would be close to its 65,000 capacity as the Korean fans gave their team a bit of a send off. Park Ji Sung, who is a superstar out here and appears in adverts in just about every media possible, would be playing and I was anticipating a bit of a party atmosphere.

Then I found out that the Korean Derby was taking place on the Sunday too. I’d been to the racetrack at Seoul a few weeks previously for a normal race meeting and it had been pretty busy. Whilst I didn’t care which horse won the Derby, I was quite keen to see if the spectacle differed much from the regular races day. The American girl I’ve been seeing isn’t much of a sports fan but has quite an inquisitive nature and so was happy to tag along to the races and the match. Then she mentioned that there was also a big lantern festival going on that day too, no doubt as part of the build up to Buddha’s birthday in a few days time.

Well, I’m all for festivals, even more so if there are naked flames involved, and so we thought we would try and squeeze that in too. First stop was the races. The crowds coming out of the subway were bigger than the last time I was here, which given that it was Derby Day wasn’t much of a surprise. The silkworm pupa on sale outside the station didn’t seem any more popular mind, despite the extra crowds. I was wondering if the 800 won admission charge would change with it being Derby Day, and it did. We were just waved through the turnstiles without having to pay.

After that though, it was all pretty much the same as the last time I was here. There was maybe a slightly larger crowd but no other indication that it was any different to a normal race day. I picked up an English form guide and discovered that the Derby itself wouldn’t be run until five o’clock. Well that didn’t really fit in with our plans so we hung about for about two hours, watching only three races due to the way that the races are so well spaced out around lunchtime and then cleared off to the Lantern Festival. There were still people coming in as we left about three o’clock and maybe that was the best way to do it. If I’m here next year on Derby Day, I’ll saunter up about half an hour before the big race, stick my bet on, collect my winnings and then celebrate with a tub of silkworms on the way out a few minutes later.

So next up was the Lantern Festival. My plan had been to spend a couple of hours there and then head off to the match. When we got there the streets were packed with people. There were stalls along the roadside offering various lantern making activities, insights into various different types of Buddhism and selling a variety of food. I had some sort of beans from Nepal that looked like peas, some of those clear noodles and some spicy dumpling that might have been pork. We were given lanterns with candles in for the parade later that evening and I thought that rather than dash off I’d rather miss the football on this occasion and stay at the festival. I might not get another chance to experience it all again, whilst I’d be watching South Korea play Argentina in the World Cup in a months time, that would probably be a bit better than a friendly against Ecuador. Apologies to those who read this far hoping for a match report, but that’s a risk you take with this blog. Still, if you keep reading I might tell you the score.

Anyway, it got dark and there was a lantern parade, which whilst it was quite impressive, wasn’t as much fun as I’d hoped it would be as we didn’t manage to find the place where everyone lined up. Instead of marching down the High Street brandishing flaming torches we ended up watching the parade from behind a barrier manned by policemen that looked no older than twelve years old. I didn’t even get to light my lantern. After an hour or so of floats and lanterns, we cleared off to a bar for beer and raw tuna.

Meanwhile South Korea won 2-0. Lee Dong Gook played just over an hour before being subbed with an injury that puts his World Cup participation in doubt. Interestingly, the match was reported as being a sellout, although attendances do get exaggerated here. It’s possible then that had we left the festival before the parade to get to the match we might not have got in, meaning that in the same day we would have turned up for, but failed to see the Derby, the Lantern Parade and the South Korea v Ecuador game. That would have been some hat trick.