Today was the big Ace climbing competition day (well, not big, just for fun, but big for me). I had already been to Ace before so I thought I could find my way back easily. Somehow I got lost in the multi-floored subway station and could not find the right exit. I took a guess and wound up in a neighbourhood I did not recognize. I started walking in a random direction and pretty soon I found the street where I should have been on. A nice break indeed, since to double back and go inside would have cost me another dollar.
I purposely made a wrong turn and stopped back at the school I had visited the first time I tried to go to Ace. My two little friends were there and they recognized me right away. They showed me a Korean game that is essentially Chinese Checkers but played with humans. One player starts on one yellow dot, and the other player on a yellow dot on the other side. The players take turns jumping along the lines to the next intersection. The winner is the player who gets to the other side. If you can knock the other player over, you win! This is a game we definitely need in Canada, but since our country is soft and lacks discipline, it won't happen.
After playing Korean Bodycheckers, the boys told me they were hungry. I said that I was hungry too, and since we both agreed that jjinpang was delicious, we set out with some other children in search of some jjinpang (remember, I've been searching for jjinpang for over a week now unsuccessfully). The boys and I did not have any greater success finding jjinpang either, so we eventually settled on some ice cream. Now, I had bought the same cone back in Itaewon for $1.50, but this cone only cost $1.20, and the boys got it for $1.00. When in Korea always shop with a Korean.
I got to the competition early so that I could warm up and there was a table of various Korean treats waiting for me. Most of the treats were slightly sweetened Quaker Rice Cakes in various shapes, but there was also some home made bread (delicious) and Ji-Hyeun had saved me a dumpling (mandu). There were a number of Koreans enjoying the snacks and watching a Star Craft tournament that was being televised. Perry said that a little bit of food would give me energy, but cautioned me against stuffing myself (like I was doing) because it would make me tired. In Korea you always listen to your elders, so I took his advice and went to get changed.
The competition was a slightly different format than what I am used to. Everyone who registered was placed in a category based on various characteristics like age, sex, experience, skill, etc. Then five teams were made, each with a diverse composition. Our group had one expert climber (the guy in the red), two intermediate climbers (Perry, in the grey, and myself), and two women (the woman in blue is looking at our other climber who just ran off to try a problem). Other teams had a different blend.
There were five stations with four problems each. One problem for Expert men, one problem for Intermediate men, one problem for Recreational men, and one problem for Women and Senior men (they did the same problem). That's 20 problems, and apparently Choi (the owner) had made 19 of them himself. Ji-Hyeun told me she had made the other. Each group gets a score card and has roughly fifteen minutes to gain as many points as possible. Each hold in the problem has a point total attached to it, and climbers are awarded that score if they reach that hold.
There were some incredibly ripped, incredibly strong climbers at this competiton. Check out the back on this fellow. I assure you he had the front to match. Additionally, the rock he is holding on to is made from real stone and was hand chiseled by Choi himself and then screwed on to the wall. There were dozens of these Choi holds in the gym, and I spent a good amount of time staring in awe at each of them.
This woman was very strong and was placed in the same category as me. She did not embarrass herself either. I had wanted to see Ji-Hyeun climb too, but she had to work.
When all was said and done not only did our team finish first overall, but I placed first in the Intermediate Men's category. I told Ji-Hyeun that next time I would need to go in the Expert category since I found the Intermediate problems a little too easy (I was placed there by Ji-Hyeun, it was not my idea). It's a big jump to Expert though, as the Intermediate routes were all around 5.11, while the Expert routes start at 5.12 (my limit) and go up to 5.13 or higher.
After climbing, the entire group of us went out to have dinner. This is the same place that Choi had taken me last Friday, and I hope he made a reservation because we easily took up half the restaurant. I was most honored when I arrived, because everyone was there already and Choi had saved me a seat right by himself. When I came in the door he frantically waved me over to his side. In this picture we have Thomas and Jasper up front. Alvin, an English teacher from South Africa, is in the blue shirt. I do not know the three Koreans to the right of Jasper though, but that is of course Choi with the big grin and the soju at the back.
I had a wonderful time dining with my new Korean friends. Today was a big day for me in other ways too, in that for the first time I was able to communicate to non-English speaking Koreans in broken Korean.
Choi is a great man, but he's also quite the character. He introduced me to a Korean woman who spoke very good English, and although he was talking in Korean I could tell from his sheepish grin that he was up to no good. She later told me that he was trying to play match-maker and set us up.
I've said it already, but I'll say it again. Big day. Tomorrow I go out with Lee Young San from the bath house. I should have more good stories from that, so remember to keep checking in.