Thursday, March 21, 2013

Professional Chukku

I’m not sure if it’s Korea or living abroad in general, or me in general, but I’ve recently been getting exactly what I didn’t expect. In America, if I want to go to the grocery store, it pans out pretty  much like I imagine: I get in my car, I drive for ten minutes, I buy too many cookies and not enough fruit, get back in my car, and go home. If I need to pay my bills, I pay them. If I want to play soccer, I go to any old field and shoot around for an hour.

I’ve tried to pay my bills twice today—the first time I’ve tried since November—and failed (no one was there and might not be there tomorrow; who knows?). The last time I played soccer by myself I got roped into coaching three fourteen-year-old boys for an hour in exchange for a convenience-store coffee. Today I had to hop three buses to find my local grocery because the normal bus drove by, lights off.

Busan Asiad Stadium, home of the I'Park!
Yesterday I tried to go to a Korean soccer game. My friend Candice messaged me with news of free tickets and I jumped on it, dragging my friend Kim along as well. We showed up a little late and had to sit on the endline, but we were close to the players on the field and even closer to a crowd of rabid teenage girls screaming and singing their support of our team, Busan I’Park. Like most girls in Korea, they didn’t seem to have much understanding or interest in the game itself, but the sport provided them an excuse to scream which, Kim explained, was all they really wanted. Their energy was ferocious. If North Korea ever attacks, I know who I’m hiding behind and it’s not the conscripted South Korean army of man-boys in dorky glasses.

Sometime during the first half I noticed a distinguished-looking gentleman cheering along with the girls—or attempting too. He was grinning and clapping on the wrong beats, obviously unfamiliar with the cheers, but enthusiastically so. During halftime, he approached us and asked me and Kim, in very slow, careful Korean, “Is the soccer game fun?”

This was back before the game when we figured this
was as close as we'd get to the players. HA!
I understood, but I looked at Kim to answer, since she’s the Korean of the two of us. Kim, who never hesitates, hesitated. Then she answered, (in Korean), “Uh . . . yes? I’m Korean!”

Confusion banished—maybe he’d assumed Kim was foreign because her English was so fluent?—they were off to the races chatting. I’m a student—this is my professor. Yes, she teaches English. She’s from Chicago—she loves soccer. I smiled and nodded at the parts I understood and accepted the business card he offered me that said, “From the office of the mayor of Haeundae.”

We took pictures together while the boys played (no one besides me seemed to be watching the game). We watched a video he’d had his secretary make for his grandson who lives in New York. We got invited to follow them after the game and meet the players.

You know, just because.

The girls in front of us screaming “ ,” literally, “Busan is the best!” might as well have been a Greek chorus.

Kim and I took some pictures with the players and basked in their sweaty, exhausted victory (Busan I’Park rarely beats a team as well-ranked as Seoul FC) before walking the mayor to his private car and saying goodbye. Earlier in the game he told Kim to text him so we could all meet up for the next game (in two weeks). Kim said she’d like to, but she’s a student and we got the tickets for free. The mayor told us not to worry about that. No joke.

I have no expectation.s

Ladies and Gentlemen, the mayor of Haeundae! He said one of the main reasons he comes to the games is he likes the energy the young ones have to cheer.

"Busan is best!" Kim and I didn't get the memo that this was a serious picture. Oops!
"Really, Korea?" "Why not."
Meet and greet with the coach.

This player, #4 Park Jong-Woo, is famous for the scoring the winning goal over Japan to give Korea the bronze medal this past London Olympics. After scoring, Park lifted a protest sign "Dokdo is our land." A write-up of the kerfuffle is here. What is not mentioned in the article is that for part of Park's punishment, he still has to serve military service, which no other Olympic medal-winner has to do in Korea.

Goalkeeper Lee Beom-Yeong, who made four pretty dang nice saves this game to keep I'Park
ahead of Seoul through to the end. And of course, Kim, the awesome.

Kim hauled this guy off the line and asked to take a picture with him. I don't actually know his name or number, but he was very obliging. 

Feels great to feel short in Korea!

One of my former soccer teammates posts "WeirdhandWednesday" pictures every Wednesday. They crack me up because they aren't nearly as awkward as my hands are in every picture I take. Exhibit A, above.  These are some pro-level I'Park fans. I wish I'd thought to ask them to explain the offsides rule, just to see if they could.