Monday, June 19, 2006

Somnambulistic in Seoul

I have just returned from Seoul City Hall Plaza where a crowd nearly the size of last week's match gathered to watch the Korea Team bring France to a 1-to-1 draw. Thinking that the hour was way too late and way too early, not to mention that people might be less excited about watching their team get defeated, I half-guessed that the number of people who would show up might fill the grassy area and the pedestrian walkways around City Hall, but not much else. I was wrong.

The crowd was close to the size of the previous match, but I think the Seoul Muncipal Police Department was assuming the crowd would be smaller: unlike with the Togo match, the section of boulevard between Namdaemun, City Hall, and Kwanghwamun Station was not blocked to vehicular traffic. That meant considerably less seating area for the well-behaved and orderly fans, so there was spillover in the smaller areas, like the roadway between the Bank of Korea and City Hall Plaza, that had not been crowded during the Togo game. At any rate, the ubiquitous white-shirted police officers (they changed their uniforms recently, looking a little Singaporeish) did a good job of keeping people in line, literally.

Wherever they were sitting, the crowd was ecstatic. Tying France in a war would be absolutely humiliating, but tying them in a World Cup soccer match is quite an achievement. With one win and one draw, Korea's chances of going on to the next round are much higher than before. The next match will be against Switzerland, and I'm sure everyone is rooting for Korea, because, let's face it, everyone hates the Swiss. Damn Nazi-collaborating peacenik posers.

Anyhoo, as I was walking down from my house to the Plaza, I was thinking that if — somehow — Korea pulled of a win or even a draw, nobody was going to get much work done. In fact, I'm thinking that today should just be declared a national day of recuperation.

My jinx, I feared, was still in effect, so I didn't watch much of the game. The people-watching alone is fascinating. At 4 a.m., the crowd watching the Korea-France match had as much energyy as the 10 p.m. crowd watching the Korea-Togo match.

The excited crowd, though, became a bit subdued after France scored sometime early in the first half. I'm guessing a lot of people were thinking at that point that they might have stayed up really late (or got up really early) to watch the Taeguk Warriors get slaughtered. The half-time enthusiasm wasn't quite as high as with the Togo match, even though Korea was behind by one goal in both cases, but this may have been because some people were taking the chance — at 5 a.m. — to catch some winks.

The crowd went nuts when Korea scored with about ten minutes left to play in the second half. My jinx may in fact be over, because the goal was scored at one of those moments when I looked up to see how much time was left and make sure the score was still 0-1 (there is too little reaction to the other team scoring, which makes it hard for someone not actually watching the game to know if the other guys have gotten another goal).

Morning started to break sometime late in the first half, and they turned off the street lights around 4:45 a.m. By halftime, it was completely light out. "This is not good," I thought to myself: the harsh light of morning was like a metaphor for the harsh reality of an impending loss. Maybe Korea won't get out of the first round, and 2002 will be — for now — something of a fluke. Boy, there are going to be a lot of tired, dejected people this Monday morning.

But instead, we will have people standing around the water cooler talking about this defensive play, or that near goal or whatever. I think people will be taking long lunches and they will be getting shit-faced this evening. I had thought about taking my pimped-out minivan around Yongsan again with the Taegukki flag waving out the moonroof, but I didn't want to contend with morning rush hour (flags don't flutter much when you're idling), and I'm just too damn tired.

Some more incoherent thoughts as I fight off sleep:

1. I couldn't find the sambap girl, even though I had 2000 won this time. I bought a donut instead (which I rarely do) when Dunkin Donuts opened early. Bastards were selling stale donuts from the day before.

2. Walking home, I saw a Caucasian guy with a French flag painted on his cheek. His apparent girlfriend had a Korean flag painted on hers.

I pointed to the guy's cheek and said, jokingly, "You're a brave man."

"Fuck off," he told me.

I hope not all Frenchmen are like that, otherwise that country will get a reputation for rudeness.

3. Niels Footman linked to me in the Joongang Daily again. It's going to sound like I don't care about football, but I really do, and this post is sort of supposed to prove that. Also, I now have almost a twisted curiosity how the K-blogosphere is going to spin this draw in the most negative way possible. Or maybe they'll forego all that this time, because it's France.

4. The crowds again were well behaved. There was a lot of garbage left — it's a crowd of half a million! — but a lot of people were packing up their garbage in small plastic bags which were put into larger plastic bags and those were collected by sanitation people.

5. At the Kwanghwamun gathering, there was a small "Porter" pick-up truck with a large, neatly written sign announcing a ceremony in the Kwanghwamun area on June 29 to honor those who died in the Yellow Sea naval clash with North Korea.

6. I'm wondering how many people stayed up really late to watch the game, versus how many people just got up really early. I'm doing neither: I went to bed at 11:15 p.m. and woke up at 3:30 a.m. Actually, I woke up at 3:00, reset the alarm for 3:15, got up then and did the same thing for 3:30. And after I'm done blogging this, I'm going right back to bed. I don't have to show up for work until three o'clock this afternoon.

7. Turns out my prediction was right about people taking today off as a holiday (hat tip: Andy Jackson). Also, "beer garden" is now officially part of the Konglish lexicon.

8. I now think Korea is going to be a formidable soccer competitor two or three World Cups from now (maybe even the next one). Simply put: 2002 and now 2006 have sparked (will have sparked) the hopes and dreams of quite a few young people who will now dream of gaining national glory — and glory for the nation — as footballers.

Look at the team that Korea has now: these people went into soccer and excelled at the game at a time when there was much less interest in it. Now think of a hundred times more youths pursuing soccer when they're young, and imagine what kind of pool of talent Korea will have down the road.

Sort of like Korea and women's golf.

9. During the warm-up friendlies, guests in the Plaza and President Hotels complained of the late-night noise emanating from the Plaza. For shits and giggles, while avoiding watching the actual game-play, I counted 132 rooms with lights on at 4:30 a.m. among the 320 rooms visible on the north face of the Plaza Hotel (that's right: if there's a job to be done that involves peeking into hotel rooms, I'm your man). Some of the guests in the rooms, it appeared, were watching the game on the several giant-screen monitors outside, from the comfort of their overpriced accommodations.

10. Some people bemoan that so many people who are cheering the Korea team don't have much interest in soccer...


1 comment:

  1. Too bad that SsamBap girl didn't show up! Maybe it was too early for her to prepare ssam and bap.
    Many Thanks for the very well described post and makes me feel like I was in the plaza.


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