Archive for the ‘Haircuts’ Category

Vietnam U21 v Singapore U21, Sunday 5th June 2016, 4.45pm

October 9, 2016

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I have to work Saturdays in my new job, although I’ve plans to change that. One of the drawbacks is that it tends to prevent us from going away for the weekend, unless it’s to somewhere close by. Fortunately Melaka is only about an hour and twenty minutes drive away from where we live and so we decided to spend a Saturday night there.

It was dark by the time we arrived and so there wasn’t much to see until the next morning. After breakfast we had a walk along the side of a river from our hotel to the main tourist area at Jonker Street.

That part of Melaka is a picturesque enough place, with a lot of multi-coloured buildings dating back to when the Portuguese were running the show. Jonker Street was busy, mainly with coachloads of Chinese tourists who all seemed determined to eat in the same café. Whilst the main street was bustling, all you had to do for some peace and quiet was to make your way one street back and if it wasn’t for the noise in the background you wouldn’t know that there was anyone around.

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It was a fair drive to the Hang Jebat Stadium on the outskirts of the city and as we had plenty of time in hand I called into a barbers. He did a decent job with the haircut before getting carried away with a head massage. I’m not sure heads ever need massaging and I’m certain that they don’t need the sort of massage that consists of violent slaps. As the barber had access to a cut-throat razor I just smiled politely as my brain rattled around in its cerebrospinal fluid.

We arrived at the Hang Jebat Stadium to find that it was as quiet as the areas off Jonker Street and it was apparent that the U21 Nations Cup hadn’t captured the public’s imagination. Cant see why, surely a double header featuring the youngsters from Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore was just the way to spend a Sunday evening?

I suppose it’s possible that everyone was staying away until the later game featuring the host country, but as we waited outside until ten minutes before kick-off in the first match it looked as if the crowd for the first game of the day might not reach double figures.

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We bought the posh twenty ringgit tickets that entitled us to a seat in the main stand and were quite a good deal at three quid, especially when you consider that we could have stayed for the second game too.

We also bought a yellow and black stripey Malaysia shirt for our grandson, Harry. It was less than a couple of quid, which is roughly the amount of change that you get from forty pounds when buying a Boro shirt  for a five-year old at the Riverside Stadium shop.

The ticket temporarily seemed less of a bargain when the stewards directed us into the section of open terracing behind the goal, but we eventually ended up in the upper tier of the main stand where we were able to find some shade.

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As the game kicked-off the crowd had swelled to about thirty, with just a couple of other people sharing our section. As the stadium has a capacity of over forty thousand that left plenty of room for stretching out.

Vietnam were in red, with Singapore in blue. Not a lot happened for most of the first half and whilst I like to think that I can appreciate teams keeping possession, it was all a bit tippy-tappy.

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Singapore took the lead just before half-time when a cross from the right was headed home from close range. There were some muted cheers from the section below us, suggesting that there might be some fans from Singapore in the ground. Although it’s probably more likely that it was one of the forty or so photographers and cameramen in attendance, grateful for something worth capturing.

When you added in the presence of the riot police, it did seem as if somebody, somewhere, had thought the Nations Cup to be an event that might just have been more popular than it turned out to be.

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Singapore increased their lead five minutes into the second half when a bit of skullduggery in a crowded box led to a penalty. It was slammed into the roof of the net, prompting  some chants of “Singer-pore, Singer-pore” from what sounded like six-year-old kids in the tier below.

Vietnam had a player who didn’t look much older than those fans. Maybe their kitman should have scoured the stalls outside for a two quid knock-off kit in the right size.

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A few minutes later we had a penalty at the other end and Vietnam pulled a goal back. This signaled the start of some impressive play-acting from Singapore to try to run down the clock. If ever there was an opportunity for the riot police to use their water cannon, then this was it.

It looked as though the time-wasting had been successful as Singapore were still in front as we started to make our way out on ninety minutes. I heard the shouts from the players and looked back to see Vietnam celebrating their equaliser.

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I wasn’t sure if they would play extra time or go straight to penalties, but either way I needed to be making tracks up the road. It’s busy on a Sunday evening, with people returning to Kuala Lumpur. I checked later and it turned out that the game went straight to penalties, although I can’t remember who won. Nor I suspect will anyone else.

Icheon Citizen v Busan Transportation, Sunday 14th April 2013, 2pm

April 25, 2013

icheon citizen

Jen and I had been over to Gangneung the previous day for some hiking and football. On the Sunday morning she caught the bus back to Seoul whilst I got one to Icheon to watch the FA Cup second round tie between fourth division Icheon Citizen and third division Busan Transportation.

I can’t help but be impressed by the bus system in Korea. The fares are cheap, the seats comfortable and best of all the network covers a remarkable variety of direct routes between places that I can’t see why people would ever want to go from one to the other. If only the passengers could avoid shouting at each other all the way through the journey it would be pretty much perfect.

Two hours after setting off I was in Icheon and with a further two hours to spare until kick-off I decided to walk to the stadium. I’d found it on the map on my phone and so just used the blue dot GPS thing to get myself there. I had to cross a few fields where I watched farmers doing all the stuff that farmers do and I was barked at by half a dozen dogs or so. Once I got back into civilisation I picked up a few cans of beer before squeezing in an eight minute haircut at a salon that seemed more like a social club for the town’s pensioners than a place where much actual barbering went on.

Navigating with the blue dot.

Navigating with the blue dot.

It got even better at the end of the hour and a half walk as I stumbled across games taking place on the two Icheon practice pitches next to the stadium and I had a look at those for a while before making my way in through the main entrance.

The match had already kicked off by the time I took my seat, with Icheon in blue and Busan in their away kit of red and black stripes. I had a quick tot up of the crowd and estimated that there were about a hundred there. It didn’t surprise me that there were more fans watching the games outside as those local tournaments always seem to attract a decent following.

Icheon's stadium.

Icheon’s stadium.

Icheon took the lead from a penalty inside the opening ten minutes. I missed the foul but the home players seemed pissed off that the Busan defender responsible escaped with just a yellow card.

One- Nil

One- Nil

The rest of the first half was fairly scrappy, with both teams happy enough to lump the ball forward and fight for possession. Busan drew level bang on half time with a glancing header. There wasn’t even time for Icheon to kick-off again.

Yet another running track.

Yet another running track.

In the second half both teams continued to miss chances. One in particular from a Busan striker almost had my beer coming out of my nose as he somehow contrived to put his shot over the bar from close range.

Ten minutes from time, Icheon nicked the win and the place in the third round when a decent through ball was finally capitalised upon and blasted home.

The main stand.

The main stand.

I got lucky on the way out and managed to flag a bus down for the ride back to the terminal where it was easy enough to pick up a bus for Dong Seoul.

Chungju Hummel v Changwon City, Saturday 4th August 2012, 7pm

August 16, 2012

This was my second attempt to see a Chungju Hummel home game. I’d turned up for their fixture with Yongin City two years ago and despite the grass being cut, the nets being up and a large banner outside the ground advertising the match, it had been moved at the last minute to someone‘s back garden on the outskirts of the town.

That sort of thing is fairly common in Korean football, particularly in the lower divisions. All you can do is check as many sources as possible and hope it works out. If it doesn’t, so be it. Jen and I had quite ambitious plans for the weekend, including hiking in the nearby Sobaeksan National Park, but it’s usually better if we see the game as well rather than stare through the gates of an empty stadium.

The intention was to use Danyang as a base, visit the Gosu Caves on the Saturday and then hike the following day, after nipping in and out of Chungju for the match via the ferry that chugs up and down the lake between the two towns. Easy really.

At eight o’clock on Saturday morning we caught the bus from Dong Seoul to Danyang. It took a bit longer than it should have done, but it’s the holiday season and that’s how it works. Three hours later we were in Danyang and wandering around looking for a hotel.

It was ridiculously hot and after deciding  that I’d better buy myself a hat to try to cut down the chances of getting sunstroke we headed into an indoor market. Whilst most of the stalls sold the usual mix of tat, tat and more tat, one aisle sold nothing but garlic. I could probably describe it more thoroughly, but that’s what photos are for.

Garlic Street.

We found a barber’s shop that sold hats, which I suppose doesn‘t reflect all that well on their confidence in their haircutting abilities. Still, I was due a trim and so we went in. There was nobody around and just as it looked like I’d have to leave without a haircut or a hat, a woman came scurrying up from a shop a few doors along.

Sometimes I think it’s useful that I can‘t understand Korean and that was probably the case on this occasion. Jen told me afterwards that it wasn‘t the woman’s shop but after a brief shouted conversation with someone further along the street, she had volunteered to cut my hair anyway. Wonderful.

I knew none of this as I settled into the chair and after I’d mimed having my head shaved, she got to work. Usually I’ll be asked which guard should go on the clippers and I’ll generally go for the 3mm one. This time though, the fake barberess just got stuck straight in with the unguarded clippers. Once you’ve got that first strip of baldness then you just have to go with it. I bought a hat on the way out, as I imagine most of her customers do.

Afterwards she washed and polished my head.

We eventually found a hotel that didn‘t mind us checking in at lunchtime, but abandoned our plan to visit the Gosu caves as it was just too hot to be walking around. We did visit them the next day and they were crap. Nowhere near as cold as you want caves to be in the summer and despite going early in the morning we slowly shuffled along in lines like people filing past the Queen Mother’s coffin.

Gosu Caves

The next part of the plan was to get the ferry to Chungju and it sort of went ok. We spent twenty minutes in a taxi getting to the ferry terminal and then just before we arrived we spotted a road sign stating that Chungju was a further 52km away. It had only been about an inch on the map. A map that I now recognise as having a scale of about 70km to the inch.

Someone else’s boat.

The boat trip was worth doing though despite us being behind glass. It took an hour and twenty minutes to get to Chungju and we passed through some spectacular scenery. I think most of the people on the boat had probably arrived at the ferry terminal in their own cars and were doing a round trip that didn’t necessarily involve visiting either Danyang or Chungju.

Some passengers caught up on their sleep.

On arrival at Chungju Ferry Terminal we shared a taxi into town with an elderly Korean couple. The meter fare came to 16,000 won and the robber of a taxi driver took 13,000 won from both them and us.

Chungju Ferry Terminal

All of the changes to the plans meant that we arrived at the stadium a couple of hours before kick-off. No problem, we had a couple of bottles of wine with us and there is a park next door to Chungju’s ground that I’d drank in last time I’d been there. Or at least I’d thought it was a park. Jen helpfully pointed out that it was actually a school for ten to fourteen year old girls and maybe not the best place to sit slugging back cabernet sauvignon.  You’ve got to be somewhere though and with it having benches it was worth the risk of arrest.

As kick-off approached we headed into the stadium. Chungju were wearing Jeonbuk strips and Changwon were near enough AC Milan. The pretend Jeonbuk even had a number twenty, Lee Gon Hue, playing up front for them.

“Tonight Matthew, we are going to be Lee Dong Gook and Paulo Maldini”

There were about two hundred fans watching. There are nearly always two hundred fans. Perhaps it’s a National League rule. I saw some that might have been from Changwon but then again they might just have wandered in for a sit-down and a fag.

Some people at the match.

Changwon looked the better side early on but as we reached half-time it was still goalless. Jen went for more drink and some fried chicken and came back with a selection of things on sticks, most of which the local kids seemed happy to take off our hands.

They ate more than we did.

There was more good defending in the second half and the game finished goalless. As we were far too late for a return ferry journey or a bus, we took an hour long taxi ride back to our hotel in Danyang. On reflection, I think that if you are going to watch a game in Chungju then it’s probably best to stay slightly closer than seventy kilometres away.

Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma v FC Seoul, Wednesday 3rd November 2010, 7.30pm

November 10, 2010

On Wednesday I went along to Seongnam in the hope that they would get at least a draw against Seoul and help Jeju to finish top of the table. I wouldn’t normally care who finishes top but I’ve got a weekend booked to Jeju that coincides with the date of the play-off final. If Seoul overtake Jeju at the top then Seoul will be hosting the game instead whilst I’ll be three hundred miles south watching a match on telly that’s taking place about five miles from where I live.

It doesn’t take me long to get to Seongnam, in fact I even had time to nip back to my apartment after work and pick up a coat, hat and gloves. It’s pretty cold at this time of year and so my usual work attire of a short-sleeved shirt wouldn’t have been much use. I know short-sleeved shirts aren’t particularly stylish, but it was ridiculously hot in the summer. Besides, they take a lot less ironing than a normal shirt, although with winter approaching I’ll soon be able to get away with my usual approach of wearing my shirts unironed, underneath a jumper.

The north east corner

I arrived at the ground well before kick off, bought a nine thousand won ticket for the east stand and got a couple of beers, although I wasn’t wholly convinced that chilled Cass was the most appropriate drink with the temperature dropping rapidly. Seongnam’s forward from Montenegro, Dzenan Radoncic was wearing tights and gloves as if the cold was a bit of a shock to him, although I wouldn’t have thought that the winters were much milder in his home country.

The game was fairly open with both teams looking to get forward at every opportunity before Seoul opened the scoring after about ten minutes with a scrappy goal. Bollocks. It got better though when Seongnam equalised a few minutes later. I was actually out of my seat celebrating for the first time at a Korean football match. It’s so much better when you care about the result, whatever the reason. I know that I won’t ever develop the same feelings for a Korean team that I have for the Boro, so maybe what I need to do is introduce a reason to care, perhaps with a big enough bet on the result to give the match that element of tension.

First half action.

My joy at the equaliser didn’t last long though as Seoul regained their lead just before the half hour. Double bollocks. They managed to stay ahead until the interval when despite having to drink them with my gloves on, I got another couple of beers from the chiller cabinet.

With it being half time I’m going to break off from the football to tell you about my most recent haircut. The actual clipping itself was just as you might have expected it to be, but afterwards the barber produced the sort of attachment that you see at garage forecourts for vacuuming the interior of cars and he gave my freshly cropped bonce a thorough hoovering. I’ve been to this barbers two or three times before and not had this particular treat. Perhaps they save it for regular customers and I’ve now been deemed worthy of the special attention. Whatever, I’d highly recommend it as a way of getting rid of the rogue clippings that a dusting with a brush or towel might miss and I’m sure it would work pretty well at getting rid of an infestation of head lice too.

Whilst I’m away from the subject of football I’m going to get on to the Olsen twins again, so to speak. A gratuitous photo in my last match report certainly seems to have increased the traffic to the blog. So much so, that I’m going to do it again. As I’ve never met Mary-Kate and Ashley, I don’t have any photos that I’ve taken myself, so I’ll have to ’borrow’ one from the internet. Not that it will be difficult, it looks as if there are one or two of them out there.

Olsen twins in a topless car

Mind you, it isn’t people mixing up the Olsen twins with the LG Twins that brings most visitors here, no, it’s people looking for bears. I know, you would think they would just try the woods. I’d like to believe that it was people searching for the bears that live in Jirisan National Park or the bear that sometimes appears at British Sea Power gigs, but I don’t really think it is. I think its more likely that people arrive here looking for big gay beardy blokes in checky shirts, only to come across a selection of relief pitchers for the Doosan Bears instead. Make your own joke up there, I’ve given you enough permutations.

Well, it’s a broad church here so if your interest is in bears, I’m happy to oblige. We can start with a shot of the British Sea Power Bear, Ursine Ultra, that I also found on the internet. And without any clothes on.

Nude bear

We can go back to the football now. The second half was just as end to end as the first had been with Seongnam pushing for an equaliser in front of their relatively small crowd. I’d been here a couple of weeks earlier for the Champions League semi final and the east and north stands had been fairly full that night. This game was played out in front of an almost empty stadium though. There were a few hundred visiting supporters who made plenty of noise, but I reckon the total attendance was probably no more than a couple of thousand people.

FC Seoul fans.

The Seoul manager, Nelo Vingada, didn’t seem too happy, despite his team hanging onto their lead. I can’t help but look at him and think of Alf Garnett. Stick a West Ham scarf around his neck and he would be a dead ringer.

FC Seoul manager Nelo Vingada

With Alf’s exhortations ringing in their ears, Seoul managed to hang on for the victory, a win which took them a point clear of Jeju at the top of the table with just one match left to play. The defeat for Seongnam prevented them from overtaking Jeonbuk, who remained in third place despite losing to Busan. That meant that I was likely to miss the final three play-off games if the placings remained unchanged. I had been hoping that Seongnam could pip Jeonbuk to gain themselves a home midweek tie in the battle between the third to sixth placed clubs. Without that though, it’s beginning to look as if the football season could be over a little earlier than expected for me and you’ll have a quieter winter to look forward too.  Still, I’ll no doubt be able to find a picture of a couple of bears indulging in a bit of snowballing or the Olsen twins in their stockings to keep the interest levels up.

Ulsan Horang-i v Jeonbuk Motors, Saturday 9th October 2010, 5pm

October 13, 2010

On Saturday I travelled down to the south of the country for the second weekend in a row. This time though it was to Ulsan where the home side Ulsan Horang-i were taking on Lee Dong Gook’s Jeonbuk Motors.

I was up early and by about quarter to eight I was already at Seoul Express Bus Terminal where I bought a ticket to Ulsan on the 8am ‘Deluxe’ bus for 29,300 won.

Seoul Express Bus Terminal

Deluxe means that the bus only has about 30 seats, each of them larger than normal and arranged in a 2+1 configuration. They are pretty comfortable and recline sufficiently to allow you to easily take a nap. This was handy as the journey of almost four hundred kilometres was scheduled to last about four and a half hours. We stopped after about three hours for a break at a motorway services. I’ve no idea where we were, but it looked nice enough.

Somewhere between Seoul and Ulsan.

If one of the market stalls had sold fishing rods I might have been tempted to have left the bus there and then.

Another one for those with an interest in motorway service stations.

They didn’t sell fishing rods though and so I got back on the bus and just after one o’clock I arrived at the Ulsan Express Bus Terminal.

I hadn’t managed to learn very much about Ulsan before getting here. It didn’t warrant a mention in either of the Korea guide books that I have, nor did the internet throw up anything of interest. I picked up a map and some leaflets from the Tourist Information Office and learned that they have a few mountains around the edge of town that looked worth a visit. They also have a lighthouse where people often gather to watch the sunrise and they have an industrial complex that the notes on the map recommended viewing from the top of one of the hills after dark when it would be fully lit up.

That place looks somewhat familiar.

I liked the last suggestion, it reminded me of gazing upon Teesside from Roseberry Topping. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to climb any mountains and I was too late to see the sunrise so I just had to mentally file the knowledge for any future visit.

As I had about three and a half hours to spare before the five o’clock kick-off I decided I might as well do my sightseeing on the way to the stadium. It was marked on the map that I had and looked to be a few miles away. I set off walking in the general direction, safe in the knowledge that I could always get a taxi if it turned out that the scale of the map bore no relation to the actual distance involved.

There wasn’t a great deal of interest along the route although I suppose that when the Tourist Information place is giving the Industrial Complex a plug, you know that it’s not really a town geared up for visitors. I did take the opportunity to get a haircut though. It had been a month since my last one and as I had a bit of time to spare it made sense to get an overdue job out of the way. I may have mentioned before that the barber shops over here are not alway what they seem. Some are just covers for brothels, others, whilst providing haircuts, also offer a variety of ‘extras’. Or so I’m told. I think the barbers that I went into was one of the latter type. The barbers chairs were hidden behind a screen so you couldn’t see them from the street and once in the door there was a small reception area where the barber, a couple of old blokes and a glamorously dressed women in her mid-thirties were sitting watching golf on the telly. I did my usual mime of shaving my head and the barber directed me to behind the screen.

In the back area there were three barbers chairs set out in front of mirrors and then behind them were three single beds. The odd thing was that there was nothing dividing the chairs from the beds or the beds from each other. If a customer wanted the glamorous woman to break off from the golf and fiddle with his bits, it would be in full view of anyone on the next bed or in the barbers chairs.

I like to think I’m fairly worldly-wise but I’m not sure I’d be too keen on someone, perhaps my next door neighbour, sitting down for a short back and sides whilst  I was getting jiggy with the staff, six feet away and in full view.

Anyway, the option didn’t arise and neither did anything else. Perhaps they realised I was just after a haircut or maybe the golf was at a particularly critical stage. Nobody else turned up in the ten minutes or so it took to give me a trim, so I didnt get a live show included in the price either.

About two and a half hours after setting off from the bus station I got my first glimpse of the stadium. Or at least its roof, with the rest of it hidden behind trees. It is right in the middle of a very picturesque park, complete with a boating lake.

It's behind those trees.

I had a wander around, as I tend to do and took a few photos. It was an impressive looking stadium from the outside, another of those built for the 2002 World Cup. It has a forty four thousand capacity and hosted the Germany v USA quarter final if you can remember that far back.

Ulsan Munsu Stadium

 I bought a ticket for the East Stand, which faced the tunnel, and went in. I was pleased to see that it didn’t have a running track like so many of the stadiums over here and after getting a couple of cans of Hite I took a seat in the back row of the lower tier, bang on the halfway line.

Kim Young Kwang, the Ulsan goalie seemed very popular. There was a lot of footage of him on the big screen before the players came out, although it did seem to include a fair few fumbles, which left me questioning both his competence and that of the bloke who put the video together. The fans liked him though, he had his own banner behind the goal next to a large inflatable tiger and he got the biggest cheer of the day when the teams were read out.

Grrrrr.

This was a big game for both teams. Ulsan started the game in fifth position with Jeonbuk in sixth, three points behind and in the final play-off position, but seven points clear of the next team Suwon. A win for Ulsan would just about make them safe and would give Suwon a bit of hope in their chase for sixth position, whilst a win for Jeonbuk would just about finish Suwon’s season.

Lee Dong Gook had been restored to the starting line-up after his substitute appearance the previous week as Jeonbuk went with the wing backs again, with Eninho playing just off the Lion King.

A few minutes into the game about fifty soldiers joined the hundred or so Ulsan fans behind the goal.

Just in case North Korea gets a bit arsey.

Jeonbuk didn’t bring as many fans as usual with them with only about fifty of their supporters grouped behind the opposite goal. It has just occurred to me that these reports could be a lot more accurate than they actually are. When there are only around fifty fans in a stand it shouldnt be beyond me to count them and tell you exactly how many there are. I’ll try it next game. I might even try counting the exact crowd just to see if I can do it. In fact at some of the lower league games I could probably get you a list of all their names.

Anyway, Jeonbuk started well and Lee Dong Gook had a chance in the first few minutes that looked offside to me but it didn’t matter as he shot straight at the keeper. No doubt the save will be on the highlights reel before next weeks game. A few minutes later Ulsan nearly scored from a corner when Yoo Kyoung Youl headed over the Jeonbuk bar.

Almost the opening goal.

Not a great deal more seemed to happen in the first half, apart from the appearance of Flag Boy. This lad turned up about midway through and wandered about the East stand collecting food and drink from people who appeared to be strangers to him. After he’d eaten and drank as much as he wanted he went down to the front of the stand and led the singing for a while before a niggly first half drew to a close.

Squid? Beer? Crisps? Thanks very much.

At the interval I wandered out for a couple more cans of Hite, watched a girl wearing the home team’s goalie top sing Blondie’s Maria and then moved upstairs to see what the view was like from higher up.

By popular demand

The second half was a bit better with Ulsan’s Columbian Julian Estivan Velez  forcing the Jeonbuk goalie to make a decent save early on and Lee Dong Gook blazing over the bar from distance. Middlesbrough’s finest ever Korean ex-player made amends after an hour though when he got on the end of a cross from the left and despite not connecting properly his scissor kick bounced up into the roof of the net for the opening goal.

Even better than his goal against Mansfield.

Not only did the goal shake things up on the pitch but it caused a bit of a scuffle behind the goal between one of the Jeonbuk fans and a bloke who I think was a club employee, possibly part of the security team. They appeared to have a disagreement over the lighting of a flare to celebrate the goal and in a throwback to more civilised ways of going toe to toe, each of them carefully removed their jackets before trying to get stuck in. It couldn’t have been any more ‘old school’ without them incorporating pistols at dawn. As ever in these situations, plenty of others managed to keep them apart and the security man departed without making his point or collecting his jacket. He had to send in one of his less confrontational colleagues to retrieve it for him.

Hold my coat.

Both teams had their chances late on, Ulsan from a free kick and Jeonbuk with a disallowed goal from Lee Dong Gook a few minutes from the end.

Near enough full time.

There were no further goals though and the win took Jeonbuk into fifth place, above Ulsan on goal difference and seven points ahead of seventh placed Suwon with just four games remaining.

Gwangju Sangmu v Incheon United, Sunday 12th September 2010, 3.10pm

September 30, 2010

On Sunday I got the opportunity to visit another of the World Cup stadiums. One of the hiking groups that I’m in were walking along the coast from Buan to Gyeokpo on the Saturday, so it seemed a good opportunity to combine that hike with a trip to nearby Gwangju and the Guus Hiddink Stadium the following day.

Buan is in the south west of Korea and with the hike setting off at 11.15am, Jen and I got the bus from Seoul at 7.50am. The weather was pretty bad for most of the journey, with heavy rain until we got close to Buan. The bus was about fifteen minutes late arriving and when we got off at the terminal there wasn’t anyone around who resembled a hiker. If it had been raining in Buan we would probably have forgotten all about the hike. The weather was fine though and with the route following the coastline meaning that we were unlikely to get lost we took a taxi to the sea wall starting point of the nineteen kilometre trail.

We had a bit of luck when we got there as I recognised a girl who I’d walked with before and we soon caught up with the other seven members of the hiking group. The first 6km or so followed the beach where we saw families digging for something, possibly clams, maybe some sort of razorfish. I’ve no idea what they were doing to be honest, they could have been burying their grannies for all I knew. I saw a few of those flying fish that jump out of the water, some of them quite close to the shore. There were also plenty of locals in the water, all of them overdressed, as is the way it’s done in Korea, some of them to the extent that they were wearing tee shirts, jeans and trainers.

The second stage of the trail took us up into the woods where we passed a lot of army outposts and huts, providing coastline defences and training opportunities. It started to rain around this time. It was a hot day though and with the humidity I wasn’t convinced that I’d be any drier if I put my waterproofs on.

The final third of the hike was on roads, mainly due to us getting lost, and by the time we arrived at Gyeokpo beach, I was pretty much soaked through. I wasn’t as wet as two days earlier though. I’ve recently started playing five a side out here and we had played our first match that week in the rain that accompanied the hurricane. By the end of the game there were pools of water all over the pitch.

We left the rest of the hiking group at the bus station and checked into a hotel by the beach. It was a hundred thousand won for a room with a sea view and a balcony. It was probably the best room in the hotel, on the top floor with the window coming down to floor level and then taking up virtually the whole wall that faced the sea.

Our hotel.

After calling into a restaurant for a variety of seafood including some small ’cut in half’ crabs in a stew that I probably expended more calories trying to extract the meat from than I took in from eating them, we headed back to the hotel. In the foyer they had an umbrella stand that was well stocked with fireworks. I don’t know how the various guides allocate stars to hotels but if I was doing it then a bucket full of fireworks in reception would be enough to guarantee an extra star or two.

We bought four of them for a total of ten thousand won and set them off reasonably responsibly on the beach. By reasonably responsibly I mean that we stuck them in the sand.

Can of beer to responsibly douse stray sparks.

We did light a couple at once, which I believe the Firework Code frowns upon, but that was nothing compared to the way the Koreans let them off. Adults and children alike all just held them at arms length and fired them one handed down the beach.

And this is how the locals do it.

The next day we got a local bus to Buan and then a slightly less local bus to Gwangju. By the time I’d had some bulgogi for lunch there wasn’t really much time for any sightseeing which was a shame. Gwangju is famous for a massacre of protesters demonstrating against the military government in 1980 and there is a cemetery and museum that I was quite keen to see. I did have time for a haircut though, notable for the look of horror on the hairdressers face as she shaved it down to the requested three millimetres.

We got to the stadium about an hour before kick off and it was an impressive sight with curved roofs on each of the two stands along the sides of the pitch. Not for the first time I regretted that my camera was incapable of taking wide angled photographs. The stadium had been renamed after the World Cup to honour Guus Hiddink’s achievement in taking the team to the semi-finals. One of the games that it staged was the Spain v South Korea quarter final that the Koreans won on penalties after a goalless draw. I suspect that might have been the last time that the stadium was full.

My new favourite stadium

We got a couple of tickets for seven thousand won apiece and made our way into one of the stands with a curvy roof. If we’d wanted, we could have sat in the media section, complete with little tables, but it was a bit windy so we went down to the lower tier instead and sat in what looked like a VIP section. I’d had a look for somewhere selling beer but couldn’t see anything, although I can’t have been that desperate as there was still time to nip back outside and pick up a couple of cans if I’d wanted.

Whilst the stadium still looked in decent nick, the pitch was poor, with a lot of bare patches.Gwangju Sangmu, the home side, are actually the army team. They have been playing in the K League since 2003 when the Korean footballing authorities decided that they would like all of the former World Cup stadiums to be occupied and in a move that strikes me as a little insensitive, moved the army team into the city where the massacre by the military had taken place twenty three years earlier.

The team is made up of professional footballers who have had their careers interrupted by compulsory military service. All men over here have to serve at least twenty-one months in one of the armed services. From what I can see the only exception seems to be Olympic gold medal winners and the team that reached the semi final of the World Cup in 2002. Lee Dong Gook was left out of that squad by Hiddink who perceived him as being a little on the lazy side and he ended up playing for Gwangju Sangmu whilst doing his national service between 2003 and 2005. I wonder how often he cursed his former national manager as he got out of bed at 6am to march up and down the parade ground.

You might remember Kim Jung Woo from this summer’s World Cup. He was the lad who saluted during the South Korean national anthem. Well he was playing, no doubt regretting that they had been knocked out at the last sixteen stage. Two more wins and he could have given up wearing khaki for good.

The away team were Incheon. I’ve seen them a couple of times already this season and they are struggling a bit. In fact, going into this game they hadn’t won in the league for ten games, a run that stretched back to the end of May. Mind you, Gwangju Sangmu were on an even worse run, it was early May since they had picked up three points. So, what do you reckon, nailed on draw?

Incheon, who have a pretty decent travelling support normally, had brought about thirty fans with them.

Incheon fans

 At the opposite end of the stadium, the Gwangju ’ultras’ consisted of six sorry looking kids, although with the benefit of a couple of loudhailers they did make a bit of noise. It isn’t often that a team has more players than fans. Actually, they had more substitutes than fans. Bless.

Look very closely behind the goal and you can see the Gwangju fans.

It didn’t take Incheon long to go ahead. Their Brazilian striker Bruno Correa robbed a Gwangju defender and squared for Young Byong Soo to tap home from close range. The thirty Incheon fans, sensing their first win since before the World Cup break celebrated with a song using The Beatles tune ’I Will’.

The Army side fired in a couple of long range scuds from outside the box but apart from that didn’t really threaten for the rest of the half. At half time we were treated to an eleven a side game between some young kids on a coned off pitch that was smaller than the one I’d played five a side on two days earlier. In classic schoolboy fashion all twenty outfield players chased the ball around the pitch, although if they had spread out a bit it probably wouldn’t have looked a whole lot different. One was so small that his bib came down to his ankles. Still, I suppose it will stop him getting rusks on his football shirt.

Their parents trebled the attendance.

In the second half Incheon had a couple of chances to put the result beyond doubt. Substitute Nam Joon Jae looked as if he might have been brought down as he shaped to shoot  and then in the last couple of minutes they hit the bar after taking the ball off a Gwangju defender who for some reason was dribbling along his own six yard box. A court martial offence worse than shooting General Melchett’s pigeon.

As I’m sure you suspected would happen, the missed chances came back to haunt Incheon in injury time. Park Won Hong, who had only been on the pitch for a couple of minutes, headed home for Gwangju after a scramble in the box to enable both teams to preserve their records of not having won since May. I checked later and the official crowd was given as 1,318. I’d have guessed at half of that at the most. Perhaps that’s what happens when you put the army team in a town with a reason not to be too keen on the military.

Meanwhile, back in the world where teams do occasionally win a match, Jeonbuk got beat 3-1 at home by Gangwon. Lee Dong Gook played the entire game but didn’t score. Still, at least he wouldn’t be doing sentry duty afterwards like the Gwangju players. The result left Jeonbuk in fourth place, six points behind leaders Jeju United.

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.

SK Wyverns v KIA Tigers, Sunday 1st August 2010, 5pm

August 9, 2010

I’d walked past the SK Wyverns baseball stadium at Munhak not long after I’d arrived in Korea, whilst on my way to an Incheon Korail game, but five months on I still hadn’t managed to get back there to see a game. The regular baseball season finishes this month so I thought I’d better make the effort to get there before it’s all over until next year.

I’d got back from my trip to Jeonju to see Jeonbuk Motors at around Sunday lunchtime and as the baseball game didn’t start until 5pm, I had a bit of spare time. Enough spare time to be able to ride down to the river on my bike. Sunday, as you would expect, is a much quieter day in Seoul than the other days of the week and so it was easy enough to cycle the twenty minutes or so from my apartment to the River Han. Streets that would normally be full of traffic and pedestrians are certainly a lot easier to negotiate on a Sunday lunchtime. Even so, I still spent most of my time riding on the pavements. Everyone does that over here, including the motorcyclists. Whether it’s kids on scooters or pizza delivery men, they all just ride on the pavement, venturing on to the road only when they want to use a pedestrian crossing or when the pavement is blocked by parked cars, fortune tellers, street vendors selling golf balls or sports socks and old blokes who have peaked too early on the soju and are sleeping it off.

Riding alongside the River Han is a lot simpler, there are dedicated cycled tracks along both banks and with very few uphill sections it’s easy to get into a bit of a rhythm. There’s usually something new to see as well, the on-going programme to install sporting equipment into just about every available space is progressing well and this time I noticed what I assume will be a temporary swimming area for the summer. Mind you, I don’t think there will have been much actual swimming going on. The place was full of families having a day out and the swimming pool had so many kids in it that it was strictly standing room only. There were that many of them packed together that I couldn’t be entirely certain that there was actually any water in there with them.

River Han

I rode westwards along the south side of the river for about half an hour before turning back. I knew the subway trip to Incheon would take a while and so I didn’t really want to be out on my bike for longer than about ninety minutes. Finding my way back to my apartment wasn’t as easy as you might think it would be. Firstly I have an absolutely terrible sense of direction and secondly, I can’t resist taking short cuts. Of course, if the short cut takes me off course, I can never quite seem to compensate properly and get back on route. Twenty minutes after leaving the riverbank I should really have been just about home. I wasn’t of course, but instead I found myself at a subway station that I recognised as one that I often visit for a haircut and which is at least a half hours walk away from where I live. Still, at least I know my way back from there.

When I first came out here I had long hair, it was dyed brown as I reckon that long grey hair makes you look as if you are one step away from sleeping in the gutter. With my dress sense I can’t afford to have too many other tramp like qualities, not if I want to get into bars and restaurants, that is. Unfortunately, the long brown hair was too much trouble to persevere with. If I cant express myself well enough to a taxi driver to have him take me to a landmark feature like a World Cup Stadium, there’s no way I could have explained to a hairdresser exactly what I wanted. So, to the disappointment of my colleagues, I had it all shaved off. I think that quite a few of them failed to recognise me at first and probably assumed that long haired waster who had previously sat at my desk had been sussed out and fired.

I tend now to visit the same barbers every three weeks or so, the one in the subway. It’s staffed by three Korean women who speak very little English, although they have managed to establish my age, job and whether or not I have a wife. As I already know what their jobs are and have little interest in how old they are or whether they have a husband, the conversations tend to be a bit one sided. I was in there last week for a number five cut, which is about the equivalent of a number three in England. I asked for a number three the first time I went in there and it was so closely cropped that my head squeaked when I rubbed it. So by trial and error, I’m now settled at a Korean number five.

The bloke in the chair before me wasn’t even getting his hair cut, he had just popped in to tell them his age and marital status before having his head massaged with an electrical contraption about the size of a house brick. I think I’d last seen something like it in a Victoriana museum, next to the stuffed kittens dressed up as a wedding party.  It was explained that in the olden days doctors used the brick-like vibrating device to cure `hysteria’ in their female patients. These days though it is apparently used to stimulate hair growth. An ideal piece of kit, I suppose, for a barber wanting to increase trade. The hairdresser pressed it against the head of the man ahead of me in the chair and vibrated his skull until I was convinced that his eyeballs would soon be hanging by their optic nerves, somewhere level with his chin.

You thought I'd made this up, didn't you?

One other notable item in the barbers is the machine where you pay. Instead of just giving your six thousand won (about three quid) to one of the women, you are supposed to feed it into a machine. As a foreigner, I’m not expected to be capable of carrying out this task and so I give my money to my hairdresser, she feeds it in to the machine for me and then when no change comes out she gets a key, opens up the front panel and manually extracts my change from inside. It all seems a little pointless and strikes me as not much more advanced than when we were in junior school and built a computer which consisted of a large cardboard box with one of the cleverer kids sat inside. You would write `6 + 3’ on a piece of paper, post it through the letterbox and he or she would return the answer in no more time than it took to find the bit of card with `9’ written on it. It was cutting edge technology in 1974.

I left my apartment for the baseball just after three o’clock. I’d remembered that last time I’d been to Incheon it had taken me an hour and a half to get there and so this should have been sufficient for a five o’clock start. As you might have guessed though, if you have been reading this stuff for a while, it wasn’t enough. One of the subway lines that I had to use went to more than one destination. Not just right or left, but different locations in the same direction. I wasn’t paying attention, got on the wrong train and by the time I’d retraced my steps and got to Munhak, I’d spent two hours, twenty minutes on the subway. To put that into perspective, thats about the same time that it takes to reach the far south of Korea on the KTX express train.

Wyverns fans at first base, Tigers at third.

Fortunately baseball games last for a long time and getting in to the stadium half an hour late wasn’t much of a hardship. I bought a ticket from a tout outside for face value, saving me a trip to the ticket office and ridding him of a ticket that I’m pretty sure that he thought he would have been stuck with.  I was very impressed with the Munhak Stadium, it has a capacity of 28,500 and for today’s visit of Kia Tigers it was near enough full, with some people even sitting in the aisles. I was allowed to go just about anywhere for my 7,000 won ticket, except for the really posh area behind the batsman. If I’d got there early enough I could have had a barbecue as there was an area dedicated to those who wished to cook their own food.

Barbecue area.

They also had standing areas, smoking areas and for those who like to stretch out a bit, they had a grassy section where people were having picnics, pitching tents or just sleeping in the late afternoon sun.

Munhak, better than Wigan.

A couple of years ago I went to watch LA Galaxy and they had a similar grassed area as the the upper tier behind one of the goals. It was a lot less crowded than today at Munhak, but the same principle and a pleasant way to stretch out and watch a bit of sport in the sunshine.

Los Angeles, better than Wigan too.

I can remember going to Wigan back in 1986 with the Boro and standing on what would have been a grassy bank behind the goal if the weather had been a bit better. Instead, on a day memorable for us seeing the floodlights of a stadium and nipping into a nearby pub only to emerge at ten to three to find ourselves outside the rugby league ground, we watched the game on that occasion from a mud heap behind the goal. No picnics, tents or barbecues back then.

I watched the baseball from a variety of vantage points, trying out the different parts of the stadium. Confusingly, the SK Wyverns fans waved red inflatable sticks, the colour worn by the KIA Tiger’s players. The SK Wyverns players wore white, whilst the KIA Tiger’s fans brandished yellow sticks. I soon got used to it though.

SK Wyverns fans

SK are top of the league with KIA down in sixth place. If SK can maintain their position until the end of the season it will give them an automatic place in the play-off final, a sort of Korean World Series. As for KIA Tigers, they would have to move up to fifth place to qualify for the post-season games and then play the team that finishes fourth. The winner of fourth vs fifth then plays the third placed team and so on. League position seemed to be counting for little though as KIA Tigers had taken an early lead by the time I arrived, a couple of home runs within the space of five minutes later in the game took them out of reach of SK Wyverns and gave the away supporters cause for celebration. 

After two home runs in a row.

As the game drew to a close at eight o’clock the visiting KIA Tigers led 7-0, which must have been quite a surprise for the table-topping Wyverns. 

Final score.

I got myself a tray of deep fried pork dumplings on the way out which were well worth the undoubted clogging of my arteries and they were certainly a lot easier to eat than the dried squid I’d had the previous evening. Fortunately I managed to select the right trains on the way back and by resisting the urge to attempt any short cuts I was back in my apartment no more than an hour and a half after leaving the stadium.

Suwon Bluewings v Daejeon Citizen, Wednesday 5th May

June 3, 2010

On Wednesday, we got the day off work as it was Children’s Day. An excellent concept, in my opinion, where families are encouraged to spend the day together. Unfortunately my children were six thousand miles away, so I decided to go to a football match instead. Somebody asked me recently if I miss them, now that I’ll only see them every four months or so, and I suppose that I do. Not as much as you might imagine, as I talk to them on the phone a couple of times a week and we send each other emails. What I do miss though, is them being children and there’s nothing I can do about that. I really enjoyed them being young. I have a great relationship with them as adults, but it’s not as much fun. They have their own grown-up lives now and I’m a smaller part of it than I was when they were kids. It’s just the way it is, I suppose.

I had a couple of different options for my choice of match. I had looked into going to Jeonbuk’s away game at Chunnam Dragons, but there didn’t seem to be a train back afterwards. In the end I settled for Suwon Bluewings against Daejeon Citizen. Suwon is a city just south of Seoul and you can get there with about an hours ride on the subway. When I got there I took a bus to Paldalmun, which is one of the main entrance gates to the Hwaseong fortress wall. The wall runs around the old city, it was originally built over two hundred years ago and is about three and a half miles all the way around. I thought I might was well have a wander around it before going to the match.

First though, I wanted something to eat. I stopped at a little café and had some pork dumplings. They were very nice, although as they had been deep fried I suspect that they probably weren’t too good for me. When I came out of the café I followed a sign for a palace, thinking that it would be something to do with the fortress wall. It wasn’t really, but there was a display of people dressed up in period costume, although which period I’d no idea, waving swords and sticks about. I watched them for a while and then conscious that I’d a wall to get around before the match I thought I’d better let them get on with cracking each others skulls and left them to it.

Careful, sonny

On the way to the wall I passed a hairdressers. The barber’s shops here are denoted by a red and blue pole outside. The only problem being that only some of them offer haircuts whilst the rest of them are brothels. I think the general rule is that if you can see inside and they have barber’s chairs then you will probably get a haircut, otherwise you won’t. To make life difficult, some do offer haircuts as part of an overall package at, I imagine, a bit more expensive price than a regular trim.

I had stuff to do so didn’t really have time to have some hairdresser fiddle with my bits afterwards, but I could have benefited from a haircut. It had been five weeks since the Japanese barber had shaved my head and some bits of it were starting to stick up at odd angles. The hairdresser’s shops have a different coloured pole to the barber’s, with a bit of yellow in them, so I thought I’d be safe with that. I went in and waited until the girl had finished with the old biddy in the chair. She didn’t speak any English, but I was able to mime the shaving of my head. To be fair, there wasn’t a lot else that she could have done with it. Maybe burnt the stubble off with a blowtorch, I suppose, but I was hardly likely to be looking for a curly perm or to have it highlighted. Ten minutes later and I was back outside after having my hair cut and washed for six thousand won. At that price I don’t think there was much prospect of any hanky panky.

Around the corner was the start of the fortress wall. It had been quite badly destroyed during the Japanese occupation but had been rebuilt using the original plans. I’d picked an uphill bit to begin with and for the next fifteen minutes had a steady climb until I was able to look down on the town. The wall was an impressive sight, although I couldn’t help but think that it would have been breachable by anyone with a twelve foot ladder. Perhaps they didn’t have them in the olden days.

I'd just walked up that.

Every hundred yards or so was a gatehouse or a temple, all with helpful explanations in English. A bit further around was a great big bell that you could ring for a thousand won. You hit it with what looked like a railway sleeper on a couple of ropes and you got three goes. The first was meant to signify gratitude and respect for your parents, the second was for the health of your family and the third one was to bring about the realisation of your dreams. Well, I don’t have too many dreams, not if you exclude the recurring one with Konnie Huq and the baby oil, but I was happy to toll the bell in honour of my parents and the health of my family.

I rang that. Three times.

Job done, I continued around the wall for about another thirty minutes until I came to an archery ground. It being Children’s Day, there were plenty of families shooting at the targets. I watched for a while, recalling how I used to take my children to Sherwood Forest when they were small. My son would dress as Robin Hood and fire arrows at my daughter, who would have to be anything from the Sheriff of Nottingham to a deer, depending upon whatever storyline my son could think up.

Safer than Sherwood Forest.

I’d spotted the Bluewings stadium from one of the higher points of the fortress and when I’d got about three quarters of the way around it was time to leave the wall and head for the stadium. It had been built for the 2002 World Cup and had a very distinctive roof, shaped to resemble a pair of wings. I bought a ticket for the East stand for 12,000 won, mainly so that I could get a good view of the winged roof opposite. There were no free pizzas this week, but we did all get given a banana on the way in instead.

No pizza this week

I wasn’t expecting a classic, Suwon were bottom of the league, with Daejeon just two places above them. There isn’t any relegation from the K-League so it doesn’t have the drastic financial implications of relegation in England, but the Suwon fans weren’t happy with their lot. There had been a few protests against the manager, Cha, and the rumours were that if they lost today he would resign.

Suwon fans

It was a decent sized crowd, with my stand being virtually full and with a lot of noise from the Suwon fans behind the goal to my right. It was goalless at half time and the best chance of the second half fell to Suwon’s Brazilian substitute Juninho. Yes really, but not him, and not the one who used to play for Lyon and who possibly still does either. There must be a Juninho factory somewhere. Brazil I imagine. That would be the sensible place to have it. Anyway, I was hoping that the crowd might sing his song, so I could join in for old time’s sake. Any chance of that disappeared though when he hit a penalty straight at the keeper.

Ole, ole, ole, ole, Juninho, ho, ho..

Daejeon lost a player with a quarter of an hour left when he gave the ref a bit of slaver and picked up his second yellow card. Despite the last few minutes being end to end stuff, it finished goalless. I ate my banana and headed back off to the fortress wall to finish the remainder of the circuit, before getting the subway back to Seoul. Meanwhile Jeonbuk lost 3-2 at Chunnam Dragons to slip to seventh place, five points off the top of the table. Lee Dong Gook didn’t get on the score sheet this week and was substituted after an hour.

The Wings