Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Korean Football

Tancheon Sports Complex

Yeah, that's right. I am writing about Korean Football (from here on in known as soccer, not to confuse my fellow countrymen). A few weeks back I dragged Garry to a fashion show and have been promising him a soccer or baseball game anytime in return. So off we went. We happened to make it to an important game too, not just a regular season game. We watched the Korean F.A. Cup final. The 2 teams were the Suwon Samsung BlueWings (we rooted for them), against Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. It was a bit of a mission to get to the stadum, but worth the trek in the end. We traveled by train, bus and taxi to Tancheon Sports Complex, Seongnam, somewhere in the southeast end of Seoul. The game started at 2pm and we left our house before 10 to make sure we had tickets. We faffed around a little enroute, but in the end didn't really have that much time to kill.

Just before the game was meant to start the skies opened up and it rained cats and dogs. We were mostly covered in our seats so it didn't affect us much but it made the game a litte more fun. The fans were all decked out in rain gear and umbrellas and the skies were amazing. At about 3 in the afternoon, it looked like it was maybe 7 or 8pm the clouds darkened so much. The bright lights in the open stadium actually made it all look like quite the sight (Can you tell I'm not a sports fan? I like the game cause it 'looked pretty' LOL).

Dark skies at 3pm. 

So Koreans in general seem to be a very extreme group of people. Without generalising too badly, when they do something, they do it properly, no holds barred. I could tell you a million examples of this from religion to education to so-called 'leisure'activities like camping and hiking, but I digress. I will stick to the extremism on the soccer field (well, in the stadium anyways). I don't know the first thing about soccer, with the exception of my boyfriends complete and utter obsession with it, BUT these fans were the real deal. Not the hometeams fans, the Suwon fans. They were buck wild crazy. From the moment we got there the fans were buzzing and it DID. NOT. END. Even when Suwon lost. These people were passionate.
Suwon Bluewings Fans

More fans.

Watching the game on screen, while being there live.
So Korean.
First off, the environment was just plain fun. No over priced drinks stands and no rules against bringing in your own food and drinks. People came ready as if headed out for a picnic (all beit a wet one). As I have stated many times before Koreans picnic like its nobody's business, I LOVE it! They toted in snacks, fried chicken, pizza, 6-packs, you name it. The main food shop in the stadium served Mr.Noodles, chip bags, beer and that was pretty much it, and at decent prices to boot. But everyone came prepared (minus us) for the game. Aside from food there was the typical fan paraphanalia. Blue jackets, scarves, jerseys, horns... the full monty. There was also a nice selection of confetti, toiler papering, banners, giganticly oversized flags, and the piece de resistance... a mini drum band. The drums made it. I tell you people were singing and chanting and stomping to the beat from pregame, all the way to the bitter end and beyond. It was actaully exhausting just to listen to, nevermind take part it :) You couldn't help get caught up in all the madness around you, it true team spirit.

The mini drum band.
Toilet papering the stadium.

Perfect weather for an afternoon of soccer.

I would love to say there was a happy ending and all that team spirit and fun ended with a blazing win from the Suwon Bluewings, but alas, it never happened. The opposing team scored a controversial goal and people were pissed. There was a bunch of yelling and cursing and the refs were not to popular on our side of the stadium, but I guess that's how the sport is played. You win some, you lose some. In a really ugly display that almost counteracted all the enthusiasm people showed the whole game, after the crappy call the ref made, people started throwing water bottles and beer cans and other garbage down on the field. I hate stuff like that, it screams 'I am an ignorant asshole' to me. But Garry assured me that soccer fans round the globe get up to a whole lot worse. The saving grace, and I swear it makes me all warm and fuzzy inside thinking back on it, was a lone Korean fan at the very end of the game. Garbage strewn everywhere, bottles, cans, bags... he hopped the fence, bypassed security and started picking up all the garbage. He walked around and picked up every last peice. Did I mention it was still pouring rain? I love how one small action can put to shame some peoples behaviour, while simultaneously redeeming themselves. Whoever that Korea dude was, thanks to him. Job well done.

My most favorite fan, who cleaned up all the mess.

Game Over.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mom comes to K-Town!


Last month, I played host to the best house guest on the planet... my mom! As I mentioned in a previous blog, my mom and I travel well together. She did a lot of traveling with her mom when she was younger, and I guess our relationship followed suit in that way. Because she was only here for a week, I had our schedules packed to the minute before she even entered this time zone. Luckily my mom is a trooper and laughed in the face of jet lag.

Her first full day in Korea was spent at my school. She finally got to put an image to the idea of me teaching a class of 40 odd little Korean bandits. My kids were great. They loved having a visitor and each of my 5 classes for the day revolved around Canada, my mom, and my family back home. Aside from the obvious massive language barrier, the kids loved her! Another wonderful introduction on her first day was to Mrs.Kim, my co-teacher. I talk to Mrs.Kim all about my mom and I talk to my mom all about Mrs.Kim. It was so nice to have my worlds collide! Mrs.Kim has been a HUGE (I cannot stress HOW HUGE!)  part of the easy transition I had to living in Korea. She has done so much for me and has really played such an amazing role in my life for the past 11 months, so it was really nice to be able to introduce these 2 women to eachother.

As soon as the bell rang on Friday afternoon we were off to play. We left Osan and headed for the bright lights and big city. First stop was Sinchon to drop our bags and check into a seedy love motel. To be honest the love motel was beautiful, but the area is pretty seedy, and we both got a kick out of mother & daughter getting offered hourly rates at the motel. Next stop was Hongdae. What better way to introduce my mom to the mayhem of Seoul than a Friday night in Hongdae. After a bite of dinner, a coffee shop stop and a good dose of people watching, we headed back to our lair.


Saturday morning started off with a visit to Gyeongbokgung. The palace name translates to "The Palace of Shining Happiness" and is one of Korea's greatest treasures. I hadn't actually been there yet and it was a beautful morning, and a great way to see the palace. We leisurely strolled around for a while and soaked up the grandeur of Gyeongbokgung.

From Gyeongbokgung we headed to Noryangjin. Jagalchi fish market in Busan was one of the highlights of the city, in my opinion. I was hoping Seoul had something comparable to this but was a little disappointed. Noryangjin was massive and full of creepy crawlies from under the sea but it just lacked the colour and character of Jagalchi. None the less, we picked out our lunch (and were greatly over charged), had it grilled, steamed and cooked to perfection and served to us at a restaurant in the market. As fresh as we hoped for. Lunch consisted of a steamed squid, some funky looking shells, my favourite grilled flat flounder fish and a Korean delicacy that was highly overated. It was a small fish and we were instructed it was so special because you can eat the whole fish, skin, bones, head and all. Not really a selling point for me, but Garry bit the head off just to say he tried it. Ew. Anyways, overall lunch was delicious.

All fueled up, we headed to Myeongdong. This is one of my favorite parts of Seoul because it's full of people and shopping. We were actually just killing time to make it up to the top of Namsan Tower for dusk since Garry and I had just been up there a few weeks earlier during broad daylight.We forgot to calculate all the young couples lined up for a romantic Saturday night date up the tower and actually made it just in time for dark. But still the views were stunning. Seoul is a beautiful city to see with a birds eyes view. We spent some time wandering about and seeing all the sights and then headed back to our love den for a well deserved sleep after hours and hours of pounding the pavement in Seoul.

Sunday morning we set off for another palace, Changdeokgung, "The Palace of Prospering Virtue". A lot of the architecture is really similar, so once you've seen one exquisite palace, they are all pretty close to that. But again, the sun was shining, and the weather was beautiful so it was lovely to just leisurely walk the grounds and take in all the surrounds. Another great thing about Korea is the entrance fees for these huge attractions are so small. I think we paid a dollar to get in to Changdeokgung. So it was money well spent, to walk around and submerse ourselves in more Korean culture.

From there we took a quick taxi to Insadong, a very traditional area in Seoul. It is now for its art galleries and tea shops and a generally relaxed, enjoyable scene. We stopped for lunch and ordered a table full of some of my favorite dishes to share and let me my try. Between Garry, my mom and I, our orders, plus the multitude of Korean side dishes, there was barely any elbow room at the table. We ordered bibimbop (a rice and veggie mixture), kimchi mandu (steamed dumplings), naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodle soup), and a jigae (thick, hot soup), and of course the mandatory banchan (side dishes). Delicious!!!! My mom loved everything, it was a great meal, and it makes my stomach growl just thinking about all those dishes.We walked lunch off on the main drag of Insadong and nipped into a few places to see what we could see. My mom picked out a few odds and ends as souvenirs and we eventually headed back in the direction of Osan.

Monday was back to work as usual for me. I tried to amuse my mom with a list of things to see and do while I was away. She spent a lot of time with Garry, checked out the market in Osan, wandered all around my little city, ventured by herself into Gangnam, and spent a day at the Korean Fold Village  (Look here for a previous blog on the Korean Folk Village ) On Monday evening straight after work, my mom and headed to Suwon to walk the fortress. Unlike our attempt to see dusk at Namsan Tower, our timing in Suwon was dead on. We climbed up just as the sun started to set and got great views of dusk (my mom's favorite time of day too!) from the fortress. Working up an appetite, we met up with Garry and had a great galbi meal in Suwon (Suwon is apparently famous for its galbi?).

Tuesday evening we had a nice treat. Mrs.Kim invited my mother and I to dinner in Dongtan with some of the other teachers at my school. We went to a nice traditional, sit on the floor, kind of restaurant. We had mageoli (traditional rice wine) served to us and a meal full of great dishes my mom could try. It was a really nice meal with the main language spoken in English and some Korean translation happening, instead of the usual Korean spoken with a little english translation. Nice change for me.

Wednesday rolled around WAAAAAAAAAAAAAY too quickly for my liking. That was our last evening together. Garry and I cooked a nice meal and the three of us just hung out at home. My mom was heading to Dubai and Abu Dabi after Korea and so she was preparing for her next adventure. I spent the last evening absorbing everything about my mom's presence to make it last for the next 6 months, until I see her again. It made me so happy to be able to add on one more country to the list of places we have been to and experienced together. It also felt really nice to host my mom. She has spent her whole life taking care of me (yup, she still does at 32), and it was nice having her stay at my place, and cooking for her, and showing her around my neck of the woods. A small payback. Thanks Mom, it was so amazing having you here in Korea, come back ANYTIME!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Korean Heritage Fashion Show

Monday October 3rd was a holiday in Korea. It was to celebrate Foundation Day. On Sunday evening there was a big event in the fashion industry in Seoul. It was held in the beautiful surroundings of Gyeongbokgung, the royal palace. It's name translates to "The Palace of Shining Happiness".

The theme of the show was "Yesterday in the service of tomorrow." It's goal was to incorporate both traditional fashions with new cutting edge designs. It was an opportunity to look back at more traditional styles from history (like hanbok, Korean tradional clothing style), while simultaneously looking forward to future Korean fashion trends.The backdrop to the catwalks were the main inner gates to Gyeongbokgung.

The models had to walk through these majestic doors in order to strut their stuff down the catwalk.
Unlike most fashion events, this one opened the doors to the masses and was underway shortly there after. It all kicked off just past 7pm, as planned. There was seating for the VIPS in the inner circle, and then lots of standing room for everyone else. The stage was elevated so even from the very back, seeing the models wasn't a problem (and there were jumbo screens projecting them on stage).

There were 11 designers showcasing their work and a few traditional performances in between. Unfortunately I am not familiar with Korean fashion designers, but here is a list of those who were involved:

Park Youn Soo, Park Chun Moo, Jang Kwang Hyo, Kang Dong Jun, Kwak Hyun Joo, Lee Juyoung, IMseonoc, Ha Sang Beg, and Hong Hye Jin,  Kim Hye Soon and Lee Seo Yoon

The juxtaposition between old and new was everywhere I turned. The historical palace was decked out in state of the art sound and lighting systems. The fashions emanating from the gates echoed both the past and the future in their designs. The music was a beautiful collection of sounds, again both modern electronic music and more culturally Korean based music. There were also three drummers off to one side of the stage adding to the rhythm of the night. Even the crowds followed suit, there were old and young there to see not only the fashions but the brilliance of Gyeongbokgung all dressed up for the event.

Below are just a small glimpse at some of the things that caught my eye...