When I first came to Korea, almost 6 months (!) ago, I didn't know too much about the country. That's what has made this adventure so great thus far. One of the few things I knew about was their favourite sports. Putting taekwondo and 김유나 fever aside, Koreans are wildly passionate about two sports - baseball and football. This past weekend embraced both.
My first KBL game was on Friday night. We went down towards Incheon to watch their team, the SK Wyverns, take on Seoul's main outfit, the Doosan Bears. I really wanted to experience the passion of Korean baseball, even though I was pretty tired. I'd love to say I was tired from teaching that day, but it would be a scandalous and outrageous lie. It was a result of eating a portion of jjim dak that could have fed Bob Geldof's minions and then watching the seedier elements of Bucheon go about their business whilst sat drinking outside a corner shop. It's people-watching, but a late-night version. I did actually have more lessons than usual on Friday morning, because I was leaving school on a 'business trip' in the afternoon.
'Business trip' us the expression used for any time someone leaves school for a while. My orientation was a genuine 'business trip', but it gets used if I have to go to the hospital, to the bank, or even to GS Mart to buy more candy if my stocks need replenishing. Can't let the kids know that I've ran out of treats for them, there would be riots. This time, my excursion was across the road to Sorae middle school. Each public school teacher has to do one demo lesson, or open class, during their year. Each school is part of a group, and the other schools in said group send their native teachers and another English teacher to watch it. The idea is to compare teaching styles and offer advice. The pressure comes from the fact that this is the one time in the year when the bigshots from your school - principal, VPs, Head of Department - will see you teach. My open class will be in September; this was Ellen's.
It was very, very impressive. Mr Kim was busy, so Mr Kang came with me to watch, and spent most of the time trying to decide who was hotter out of Ellen and her co-teacher. After the lesson, you spent a bit of time giving feedback and then asking about each other's teaching problems, solutions and tips. Everyone has to contribute, an idea which took Mr Kang by surprise when he was given the mic. 'Um...well...I...um...your lesson was very punctual. Yeah.' As I said to him when we left - profound.
The feedback was very complimentary, with the exception of one tall, lanky, awkward American, who tore into the statistics used about American problems, calling them 'lies' and a 'myth'. Funny that, as they were taken from the textbook, but he then went on about negative impressions and stereotypes and lack of patriotism and all sorts of things. Was a bit ironic that he was becoming visibly more agitated and angry when trying to dismiss the idea of Americans being...violent. The guy acted like a jerk.
The twist in this tale comes at our rooftop barbecue the next day. It appears that, later on Friday, this American guy was sat on his own in a coffee shop when Josh and Tony walked past, saw him and invited him up. Can't fault them for that, if I didn't know better I would have done the exact same thing. Still, it added a bit of tension when he arrived. He didn't stick around long anyway. Not every Westerner we meet is going to be a wonderful person, I guess. Most are though! I'll go into details of that in the next edition. New experiences galore this weekend, I don't want to beat you down with an information overload.
In the meantime, I seem to have digressed badly from my original point - baseball. The Friday games start pretty early, so I was hoping to head straight to Incheon straight from this open class. However, Saturday was Teacher's Day (there seems to be a day for everyone in May), and as a thank you the parents of some of our students had made us a special meal, to be served when school finished at 4.30pm. I wasn't overly hungry, but still went along and stuffed my face with galbi tang. Whilst doing so, and talking to Mr Kim, I lost track of time, so was surprised when the time was approaching 5.15. The game, taking place a long way away, was starting at 6.30. Taxi time.
The taxi to Bucheon station was one of the funnier rides of my life thus far. The man, upon finding out that I am happy to try speaking Korean, decides to talk to me. A lot. He asks me where I am from, and I say Wales. He doesn't know it, and doesn't know Ryan Giggs, but then says 'Sco-tuh-lan-duh'. I smile, and then he makes a gesture with his hands by his mouth whilst making funny noises. Yes folks, he's mimicking playing the bagpipes. Hilarious, but it gets better. We keep talking, and as we descend towards the station he tells me he loves The Eagles. 'Hotel Calibornia', he says, and then starts to sing. Feeling on a similar wavelength, and it being a Friday, I start to sing with him. He then starts to list other songs he likes, none of which are by The Eagles. The fourth song on this list? Delilah. Tom Jones' Delilah. 'He is from Wales!!!' I exclaim. Big grin from the driver, followed by us singing Delilah really loud in the taxi. Well, the chorus anyway, I don't know the whole song. But an absolutely ridiculous way to pass the time.
The subway is packed full of kids. It was only after speaking to Kelly, who was at the stadium, that I understood why. SK were doing an offer of sorts for middle school students, so they were descending en masse to the Munhak Stadium. Rumours were going around that it had become a sell-out, but I got in before this was confirmed. A bit different from being one of 5,000 watching the K-League game in the stadium across the road from this baseball ground.
The atmosphere was electric. Even in the away end. How do I know this? Well that's where we ended up sitting. Even though we had all specified 'SK' when buying the tickets. Oh well, guess I have to support Doosan now. This was made easier after Doosan went 5-0 ahead in the first inning. Couple of things I found interesting about Korean baseball:
- They play the chants and songs of the AWAY teams when the visitors are batting. Very nice of them to do that, but I can't imagine it intimidates them a lot. Missing a trick there.
- The pitchers are so lazy that they get DRIVEN from the bullpen to near the pitching mound. In what looks like a Smart car. Bizarre.
- The cheerleaders are high school students, so if there was a team based in Siheung there would be a strong possibility that I would teach them. That unsettles me a little bit.
The noise and atmosphere at the baseball was incredible, but it pales into mediocrity when compared with Sunday's football game. Rather patriotic, the Koreans. It makes sense, being a very homogenous ethnicity and population. Tickets were a mere 30,000W (imagine paying about £16 to watch England), and our seats were really good. After making a Korean man one-shot his beer, and seeing him almost collapse, we headed in amongst a sea of red shirts. The game itself wasn't high on quality - Korea won 2-0 - but every time Korea even got close to the penalty area, the fans went mental. We thought one girl behind us was going to have a heart attack. Or make all of us deaf.
I missed the second goal, being in what's known as the 화장실 (toilet, sorry for showing off the few Korean words I know). I heard the roar, and sprinted out to the concourse, where DOZENS of Korean security guards were standing. They turned to look at me. 'Korea GOOOOOALLLL!' I scream. They love it, lots of hand-slapping ensues, and then they demand my camera to take photos with me. They were security, I wasn't going to say no. Though it has been pointed out that they don't look particularly intimidating...
We went to get a photo with the cheerleaders as well. Good moment, that. This was Korea's final home game before setting off for South Africa, so they had a send-off after the game. Very spectacular, this. Fireworks, a K-Pop band, the squad carrying a giant Korea flag around the pitch and kicking footballs into the crowd - it was probably better than the game itself. Lot of atmosphere about the place, and I am definitely now backing Korea in the World Cup. South Korea, that is.
Love you all