Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Korea - The first trip to Suwon

Hello everyone!

It's been a while, but I have been on vacation. I'll try to remember what I did the week before I left for warmer climes, but no promises...

I finished on the Monday. Tuesday was graduation, so my services were not required. I had shown an interest in going to their graduation, but was reminded of how exciting my own graduation ceremony was. And that was in English. So I opted to make better use of my time.

I did this by going off on a day trip to Suwon. It's still on the subway network, but a lot further south. It is a city in its own right, and one with over a million people. Funny how cities within the Seoul metropolitan area are bigger than any cities I have ever lived in before. Bucheon has almost 1 million as well, and Siheung has over half a million. Yet no one in Korea knows where it is...

I got on a rickety bus down to Suwon, which only took about half an hour. I had researched a few sights that I wanted to check out. There was the Hwaseong fortress, which is the nearest UNESCO heritage site to Seoul. There was also the Suwon World Cup Stadium, which may help to fulfil a possible aim to see every Korean World Cup stadium whilst I'm here. You may think that's sad, but it will help me uncover most corners of the country. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

But there was one attraction that was a must for me, as a supporter (and former employee) of Man Utd. Suwon is where Korea's most famous sporting son, Park Ji-Sung, was born and raised. The whole of Korea adores him, but they take it a stage further in his hometown. They named a road after him. No joke. I simply had to find this place.

The weather was putting a bit of a dampener on my mood, however. It was the first time in a long time that it had been warm enough to rain. And boy did it rain. If I hadn't been so captivated by the idea of Park Ji-Sung Road then I wouldn't have left my flat. Atrocious conditions that almost made me wish for yet more snow. Almost...

My first port of call was the World Cup Stadium, as I figured that was something I could see quite quickly in the downpour. I was hopeful that the rain would ease off, so that I could explore the fortress in a more aesthetically pleasing setting later on. As for the road...well, that was not going to be easy to find. It's in a suburban (if they have that out here) area of the city, and not exactly a tourist attraction or place of pilgrimage to Koreans. Maybe they would have given him a bigger road if they had won the World Cup.

So I get off a more local bus outside the Suwon stadium. It's quite big, around 45,000 in capacity. It looks odd as well, with bits sticking out in random places, but is initially impressive. Whether they ever fill the thing now is questionable, but Korea's best club side, the Suwon Samsung Bluewings, play there. I'll probably drag myself down to a game at some point. Especially as Stevo said you can take your own alcohol in. Game on.

I walk around the stadium, with the intention of finding a way to get in, be it legally or through other means. I don't condone trespassing and breaking and entering as activities, but I've done it before for football stadia in Europe (Zagreb comes to mind, but that time I feel I was putting my life at risk) and didn't get caught, so was hoping to keep this record intact.

The other reason I was looking for a way to sneak in was because I couldn't actually find an entrace. As I was walking around a small Korean boy walked past me with his mum, and turned around and waved. I waved back with a smile, and a huge grin lit up his face. Cute. Still no entrace, so I started trying to undo the gates and slide them apart. That was proof that I need to use the gym more. I then started asking people, and the third man pointed to the floor. Strange. He then pointed away from the stadium. I turned and saw a car park. On a lower level than the one I was stood on. I then looked back into the stadium, and realised that I was quite a way above pitch level. I have my moments, I know.

So I thank the man and head down onto the car park level, where sure enough there was an entrance to the stadium and a museum. I had to pay 1000W to get in. Note to British sports teams that charge a small fortune - that's 50p. I paid 50p to get into and look around a World Cup stadium. Unsurprisingly, as all other people in Korea were in work, I was the only person there. The woman at the desk, wanting to practice her English, took advantage of this to offer me a free tour, which I gladly accepted. Her English was pretty good, and she was cute as well, which always helps. She explained to me that the stadium was in the shape of a bird, which can be understood if you see it from the air, but certainly not if you're walking up to it.

Park doesn't just have a road in Suwon. Within the stadium's museum he has his own section. The Park-Ji-Sung corner. I did have a chuckle at that, particularly his framed and signed shirt from the 2008 Champions League final. Which he played no part in, and wasn't even on the bench for. They had lots of intruiging and strange things in the museum, such as North Korean 1966 memorabilia, and some grass (which now looks dead) from the 2002 final.

The stadium itself hosted 4 games in the 2002 World Cup, including Spain-Ireland and Brazil-Costa Rica. I had a brief look out on the pitch, before deciding that it may not be worth getting absolutely drenched in order to walk around. Maybe would have been more rewarding if I had managed to sneak in, but was still a nice stadium.

The rain was not relenting, so I headed back to the station to get some food before making a decision on the fortress. In the supermarket there were lots of food stalls, and I decided to sit down at one of them. I've been told that Koreans find it strange if people eat on their own in restaurants, but this doesn't extend to the food booths in supermarkets. The menu is in Hangul with no translation, so I do the logical thing and choose one by pointing and saying 'this please' in Korean. Maybe I should learn basic food stuff.

The woman I was gesticulating to knew one English phrase, which she then repeated to me. A lot. 'Very hot', she says. 'Very very hot'. I gobble up the hot stuff, so said 'bring it on' to her. Might teach that phrase to my kids at some point, as she had no clue, but she started making it for me.

It was noodles with beansprouts and chicken in the hot pepper paste they adore out here. Actually the kind of thing I cook when I'm hungry in the flat. But I make it with one difference. My noodles are hot. Their noodles were cold. As if they had been in a fridge. An odd taste sensation, that. It was reasonably hot, and the woman laughed when she saw me clearing my nose at one point. I gave her a bit of banter, telling her it was cold, but was only digging myself a bigger hole each time she walked to see a tissue on my nose. I still maintain that it wasn't actually that hot, but maybe my sinuses needed a clearout, and this was providing it.

I went to the bottom of the fortress' wall, and decided that the weather was too miserable. The picture is of one of the gates. It's a pretty big wall, about 6km, and a bit of an initial hike, so will do that another time. As well as find Park-Ji-Sung road. It's a nice enough city, but similar to Bucheon. Maybe better when it's not raining.

I'm trying to make these shorter so will write up the rest of that week later on.

Love you all


1 comment:

  1. Hey! Did you manage to find Park-Ji-Sung Road in the end? Will really appreciate any available information you can provide as there is very little English information on Park-Ji-Sung Road on the web, I'm planning to drop a visit to Suwon this coming May. Looking forward to your reply! Thanks and have a good day!