Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Korea - The first World Cup game

Hello everyone!

So the greatest sporting spectacle in the world is upon us. You can keep your Olympics - they're funny, but equestrian, modern pentathlon and judo are nowhere near as important as football. I missed most of the last Olmypics as I was in Prague. I didn't see Bolt's masterclass until I was back in Blighty. But I'm not missing the World Cup.

Actually it would be impossible to miss the World Cup in Korea. They're rather enamoured with the event. A bit too enamoured, perhaps. Every advert is linked to the Korean team. Every shop has some sort of World Cup decoration. And every lesson I did in the week leading up to the start of it was on the World Cup.

It is something that I could not do in Britain, but is very possible and enjoyable in Korea. I was a bit sceptical as to how much the all-girl classes would appreciate me nattering on for fifty minutes about football. I shouldn't have been. Obviously the boys' classes knew more of the players, but the girls were just as enthusiastic. And they all know the Korean players, which is what part of my lesson was based around. They also all remember 2002, and how good it was.

Videos, pictures and various other highjinks were part of my lesson, but I ended it with the best game I've played so far. World Cup top trumps!! It took me about five minutes to very carefully explain the rules - in particular that they cannot just flick through their cards until they find Brazil - but they loved it. And they all now know what a football ranking is. Mission accomplished.

Of course much of the excitement out here stems from the fact that Korea are in the tournament. Their first game, against Greece, was very winnable. I explained to my students that Greece were 'as bad as Wales', and Korea therefore should win. One of my classes, 1-1, do a 'toto'. This is a giant grid with the goals of Korea on one side and the goals of the opponent on the other, and you write your name in the box of your predicted score. I predicted 2-0 Korea, and marched on.

We are aiming to watch the vast majority of the games. The main obstacle to this dream stems from the time difference. Lunchtime games in South Africa are primetime games in Korea - primetime games in South Africa kick-off at 3.30am in Korea. That's difficult. We watched the first game, but missed France (not the worst decision we've made) as we had a masterplan for Saturday.

Saturday was going to be amazing, starting with a bungee jump. We travelled across Seoul, over two hours on the subway, to then find that the bungee place had closed for the day due to bad weather. I was busy making smart alec comments about how rain shouldn't affect a bungee jump - if you slip and fall off, you're doing exactly what you were going to do anyway - when someone mentioned possible lightning as a reason. Fair enough, then. Shame, as we were really pumped for it. To make us feel better, we hit up Irish coffee and a Full English in Itaewon for lunch. First Full English I've had out here, and it was nice, but I didn't really eat them enough at home to have a massive craving for one.

We hung around Itaewon for a while - the rain was really coming down at this point - and went to a couple of bars before opting to head over to Gwanghwamun. Very close to this place is Seoul City Hall, and outside City Hall was a giant screen for lots of people to watch Korea send Greece back to the Dark Ages (we hoped). Off we trot - in ridiculous rain now - getting to City Hall a little after 4.30, a mere four hours before kick-off.

It. Was. Rammed. Seriously, considering the rain and the time, I was stunned at the amount of people already there, as it was only going to become more crowded. We found the Bucheon crowd, and got about our business. My business was getting rid of my shoes and standing barefoot on the grass. Not grass anymore, more like mud. It really had a festival vibe to it.

We messed around for a bit, taking photos and posing for Koreans, before Jen introduced some masks of Korean players into our lives. I immediately took the Park Chu-Young (that's 박추용 to Koreans) face and attached it over my head. We then pretended to ruin their careers in tabloid stings for a bit, before an opportunity unwittingly fell into our lap.

We spied a television camera off to our side, with a man talking into it. From people jumping and waving behind, the strong suggestion was that this was a live broadcast. So on goes the mask, and this is what we did...

What a rebel, eh. Soon after some K-pop bands emerge to whip the crowd into a frenzy. The Korean fans are famous for being loud and passionate, and they didn't let us down here. We could join in as well, mainly on the grounds that they sing the same phrase for every song. 대한민국!!! Followed by five claps. Its on every advert, in every song, on the lips of every Korean. If only someone would patent it they would be a trillionaire...

The atmosphere was electric. It didn't have the organised feel that I was expected, more instead resembling a carnival or music festival. The weather aided that. I had been telling people that the rain would make it better, and it was becoming true. We were all having a blast. And that was before the game even started. Six minutes in...the place erupts. A splendid cacophony of noise. Korea are winning. The noise maintains its high level for the whole game. Korea win 2-0 - note my prediction from earlier - and everyone goes wild. Including me, it seems - in the later pictures I don't seem to have my shirt on. I would have taken more myself, but my camera got water in it and wouldn't work. Still, what an atmosphere, and what an experience.

We eventually headed back to Itaewon, where I had the hottest food I have had thus far in Korea. And it wasn't Korean. We went to a kebab shop, where the man asked me if I wanted spicy or mild. I made that scrunchy face I make when I'm appalled at the prospect of something - in this case a mild kebab. So he says 'super-spicy', and I oblige with a kind of 'bring it on' approach. Tom had one drop in his and he said his was very hot. I had three big spoonfuls in mine. It was nice, I did enjoy it, but it was SOOOOO hot. And boy did I pay for that for the next two days.

We had ventured back to Itaewon to watch the England game. I was sat on a table of Americans, so showed my stubborn side and backed England. It all started so well...but to be honest, Korea are my team in this World Cup, and they had gotten off to a flier. And what a way to experience it. One of the best experiences I will have this year, without a doubt. Fantastic fun in the rain.

Love you all


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