Saturday, April 18, 2009

Episode 45: In Which DFM Tries To Find A Korean He's Never Met And Visits A Korean Soccer Game

Today I had planned to go to an FC Seoul soccer game, but Yuseok (who I have until now been calling Yu-Suk) got stuck in a giant traffic jam outside of the city and Bin got sick so she could not come either.  Undaunted, I phoned up a new friend I had never met before, but who had been put in contact with me through Perry (she told him she wanted a foreign friend).

My new friend calls herself Jerri, and she is a marketing student at one of Seoul's numerous Universities.  I wasn't surprised though, as every Korean I've met seems to be involved in marketing of some sort or another.

Jerri lives out of town, but just so happened to be in Seoul this day and said she would meet me at 2:30 for lunch before the game (5 PM start).  I had nothing to do that afternoon, so I went over to Sangam Stadium (World Cup Stadium) to see if there were any cheap bags I could buy to hold all of my souvenirs on the flight back.  (The lower levels had been turned into a giant shopping center - look back at my last post on the World Cup Stadium for more info).  There were no cheap bags but I did find some cheap toothpaste, which is nice because I lost my toothpaste.  Unlike most things in Korea, this isn't an American item that Lotte or LG has repackaged, but rather it actually seems to be Korean toothpaste.

It was interesting finding Jerri since I had no idea what she looked like, but I went to an obvious location and told her to "look for the white guy."  Jerri must have forgotten about Korean Time, because she actually showed up when she said she would.  I was pleasantly surprised, but not so surprised that I forgot to ask her if she wanted to eat (I was starving by this point).

I had found a nice looking Italian restaurant in the food court earlier, and so I took Jerri there.  I wasn't sure what kind of food she would like, but she said she knew the place and liked the pasta.

Once again, it is really handy having Korean friends because they can translate everything for you and seem to know the procedures for ordering things.  In Korea, the servers go about their business, and when you are ready to order you yell out "yoggi-aw," which means come over here.  

Furthermore, you cannot beckon someone to "come over" by the typical Western method of turning your palm upwards and doing a one-handed, upside down dog-paddle.  With its rigid hierarchy, this is the method of calling only your dog in Korea.  To beckon a person in Korea, you hold your arm straight out in front of you, turn your palm down, and then rapidly hinge your hand back and forth at the wrist like you are doing an actual "dog paddle" swim, but with your elbows straight.  The children always do this at school, and until Jerri told me about it I had no idea why they would call me in this manner.

Finally it was time for the game to start.

We bought our tickets and were placed in Section E.  "Section E" more or less meant that we could sit anywhere along the sideline of the field opposite to the player's benches.  There were many fans in this section, but for the most part they were much less boisterous than the fans in Section D. 

Section D was where all the die-hard fans were placed, and the whole section looked like a sea of red and black (the colours of FC Seoul).  Even before the game started I could tell that this was the place to be, but I couldn't sneak over there since a giant fence separated each section.  I spent the rest of the game wondering how it was determined who got to sit in each section, and how I could get myself seated in Section D the next time.

While we were waiting for the opening whistle, the sun was blazing hot and located right in front of us.  We had to get creative to keep from baking.  Eventually it dipped down below the top of the Stadium and made for a pleasant evening.

Perhaps it was that this was only a K-League game (FC Seoul plays in a larger Asian league as well), or that it was early in the season, but I was shocked by how empty the stadium looked.  I've seen videos where it is packed, but those must have been for the play-offs.

If you're interested, the sign Jerri is holding says "Seung-lee Saw-ool," which translates directly into "Victory Seoul."  This was a popular slogan that could be heard in many of the cheers and chants.  I got an extra sign for free because I was a foreigner.  (They fold up and can be used as fans and noise makers later).

The stadium may have been nearly empty, but it sure didn't feel that way once the game started.  Like the baseball fans, soccer fans in Korea are exceptionally loud.  I may not have been with the Section D squad, but I was lucky enough to sit in a small pocket of fans who chanted along with every chorus (luck had nothing to do with it really, I saw them before and relocated to sit by them very early).  The fans I was with were also quite entertaining and would get rather animated and upset if one of the players did not perform to their liking.

What follows is a 4 minute video containing some of the chants and antics of the FC Seoul faithful.  What is even more impressive is that this chanting is carried on nearly non-stop for the entire 90 minutes.  The fans never sit down.  I think somewhere in all of that chanting you can even see that a soccer game broke out.

If that wasn't enough for you, make sure to check out some more great videos of the FC Seoul fans I found on the Internet here, here, and here.

At half time there was a very entertaining relay race of sorts between two teams in a giant inflatable boat.  I recorded the race in its entirety for your viewing pleasure, below.

Check out the little guys in the middle for each team, on the second last leg, who can barely see over the edge.  Note:  The fans are laughing at the end because the "pylon" moved forward to help the losing team try and catch up.

The game ended in a disappointing 0-0 draw, even though the FC Seoul team dominated the game.  It's too bad I don't have more time to see more games, because I'm not sure which is more fun, Korean baseball or Korean soccer.  As with break dancing, automobile manufacturing and electronics, Koreans take everything that Westerners enjoy, and then make or do it better.

Final thoughts:  Korean soccer lacks three things that European/Western soccer has.  1)  The crowds cheer wildly during the game, but do not fight each other after the game.  2)  The players do not take many dives.  I saw a player grabbed by the jersey from behind and get choked, but he stayed on his feet, took his free kick and the game carried on.  If this were a European game you would have thought he had been shot.  Finally, 3)  The fans do not seem to yell at the refs or boo.  If the referee makes a call against one team's fans, they just make momentary sounds of disappointment and then go right back to their cheering and chanting.  It's all very fantastic, and very Korean.

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