Written by Pirate43 guide on 11 Dec, 2000
The royal residences here are sprawling and filled with commanding structures. I visited Toksugung Palace which is adjacent to City Hall (a short walk from Hotel President). It has a museum inside with items used by the royal court.…Read More
The royal residences here are sprawling and filled with commanding structures. I visited Toksugung Palace which is adjacent to City Hall (a short walk from Hotel President). It has a museum inside with items used by the royal court. The cost is 700 won (less than $1). It's closed on Mondays. phone 752-0735
Kyongbokkung Palace is another huge place. I really enjoyed just standing in the central plaza which is larger than a football field. Subordinates to the ruler had designated spots where to stand. A pecking order. 700 won will get you in here also. If you've a mind to, you can have your picture taken dressed up in ceremonial robes.
Changgyonggung Palace is another royal residence. It is a guided tour and stops at some unusual spots such as the Gateway of Youth (the U.S. fountain of youth counterpart) and the Secret Garden where royalty contemplated affairs of state (our Camp David counterpart). Allow at least several hours at each palace to meander through. Guided tours are in English. Our guide on this one was particularly interested in our impression of President Clinton. At the time the news of his affair with Lewinsky had just become public.
Seoul has a large number of pedestrian underpasses at intersections. I was glad to see I could avoid crossing the street (very busy). These underpasses serve many purposes. An escape from a sudden downpour, a convenient way to access…Read More
Seoul has a large number of pedestrian underpasses at intersections. I was glad to see I could avoid crossing the street (very busy). These underpasses serve many purposes. An escape from a sudden downpour, a convenient way to access the subway and large hotels and a place for formal and small time merchants to sell goods. They were always clean, well marked and no crime. The city has maps posted at almost every corner in tourist areas with "You are Here" pointers and maps in English. The hotels also provide good maps of town. I really liked the subway system. I had learned a little Korean but I think even someone with no Korean could get around town on the subway without problem. Each station is well marked and they use color coding to differentiate. You can even catch the subway to Kimpo Airport. I took it as far north as Uijongbu to visit my son at Camp Casey. Taxis are plentiful and don't cost a lot but the subway cars themselves were clean, graffiti free and the people polite. I often saw gentlemen give up their seats to a woman even during rush hour. As a note of interest, you will see standard barbershop poles throughout Seoul. Although the primary purpose of these establishments is barbering, many also serve as establishments geared to please men (if you catch my drift). Don't be surprised if you are propositioned. You can ride most anywhere on subway around Seoul for about 50 cents (450 won)Close
Written by globetrots on 29 Jul, 2000
Water is served with all meals in Korea, but alcohol usually flows abundantly at dinner. Bottles get passed around, with everyone serving each other: except with familiar friends, it is customary that you don't pour for yourself. The (lousy) local beer is very popular, but…Read More
Water is served with all meals in Korea, but alcohol usually flows abundantly at dinner. Bottles get passed around, with everyone serving each other: except with familiar friends, it is customary that you don't pour for yourself. The (lousy) local beer is very popular, but the firewater of choice is soju, a sort of sweet vodka that you drink straight. It's only one small step up from rubbing alcohol and is drunk in shots. Considering that a 12-ounce bottle costs around $3.50 in a restaurant or less than a buck in stores, few people sip slowly. This is probably the reason that Jinro Soju outsells all other liquor brands in the world. Considering that it's a very local commodity (unlike Bacardi rum or Johnnie Walker Scotch), the per capita consumption rate is staggering--in more ways than one.
Korean drinking habits go back a long way: while one Shilla dynasty king was in the midst of a drinking game with his soldiers, a rival attacked the palace and quickly defeated the inebriated rulers.
Another popular beverage is makkoli, which is a milky fermented rice beverage that tastes much better than it looks. You will generally find it in more traditional restaurants and bars, with big clay crocks of it served in old-style Korean houses or in log cabins with fireplaces. You can also find a variety of unique folk liquors distilled from local fruits and flowers.
If you don't drink alcohol, you'll be considered a wuss, especially if you're at a business meeting. The idea is to get hammered with your friends and there is no stigma about 'holding your liquor. If everyone falls down or passes out while walking home, it's been a successful night!
Korea could have easily become a nation with no identity when it comes to food. The country was heavily influenced by China, invaded by the Mongols, and occupied several times by Japanese rulers not known for their cultural sensitivity. Despite all this, their cuisine has…Read More
Korea could have easily become a nation with no identity when it comes to food. The country was heavily influenced by China, invaded by the Mongols, and occupied several times by Japanese rulers not known for their cultural sensitivity. Despite all this, their cuisine has come through it all unscathed, remaining distinct from those of its neighbors and historic trading partners.
Korean food is somewhat of a mystery to most foreigners. While Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and and even Thai restaurants abound in the US, eateries from this Asian nation primarily serve immigrants or expatiriates from the homeland. While these restaurants sometimes succeed with the general public in Manhattan or on the West Coast, the majority are located in Korean neighborhoods and filled with local customers. Perhaps this is because many of the staple foods are an acquired taste, or that they're difficult to describe to the uninitiated. Besides, when it comes to advertising, they're not exactly photogenic.
Take kimchi, which is served with virtually every meal. Kimchi is a generic word referring to any spicy pickled vegetable concoction, but the most common type is made from cabbage fermented in a brine that includes red chili paste and loads of garlic. It won't make you sweat, but it has quite a bite. The fiery, blood-red pepper sauce contrasts with the white or transluscent cabbage leaves, forming a mixture that doesn't exactly make your mouth water at first glance. Other versions are made with green beans, large white radishes, bean sprouts, and a variety of unique local vegetables. In Korea, it's not unusual to find several different bowls of kimchi laid out with a meal, even in the Chinese and Japanese restaurants. While the taste takes a bit of getting used to, most expatriates living in Korea eventually end up enjoying it regularly.
Bulgogi and Kalbi
The dishes that westerners take to most quickly, however, are usually bulgogi and kalbi--both made from beef. The first is thinly-sliced, marinated beef quickly fried and served with rice or vegetables. Kalbi is marinated beef ribs grilled over a fire at the table. Vents carry away the smoke, while customers take care of flipping the small pieces of meat and removing them with their chopsticks. You lay the morsels in romaine lettuce or sesame leaves, throw in some kimchi and pepper sauce, then stuff the roll into your mouth. There are also many pork kalbi restaurants in Korea, which tend to be a little cheaper.
Korean food is generally quite healthy. Meat is usually eaten in small portions that can be picked up with chopsticks and it is always complemented by a large number of vegetable dishes. With all the pickling and soy sauce, sodium levels are high, but meals are generally well-balanced, high in fiber, and low in fat, calories, and sugar. Vegetarians get plenty of protein, since tofu and other soy products are prominent ingredients. The harmony of spices and seasonings is very important and many ingredients are also chosen for their health and medicinal benefits.
Numerous lunch items are prepared individually since many restaurants serve takeout as well. Dinner meals, however, are eaten family-style. Diners pick at an assortment of dishes with metal chopsticks, or ladel soups or stews into their own individual bowls. Usually each person will have their own rice bowl and perhaps a clear soup, but everyone shares the other items. As you would expect from such a casual dining style, service is far from formal. Waitresses are generally mothers in an apron. To call one over, the proper term is not 'waitress,' but 'ahjuma'--the respectful term for a middle-aged or married woman. Food quality is consistently high from restaurant to restaurant and there are few layers of finery: the 'haemul tang' (mixed seafood soup) you order from a hole-in-the-wall place in a residential neighborhood will generally taste and look about the same as the version you would get in the fanciest restaurant in town. In either case, the 'cook' prepares and combines all the ingredients, but the cooking itself takes place at a burner on your table.Close
Written by John in Tucson on 26 Apr, 2004
Many Americans' images of the Republic of Korea are still from the 'MASH' movie or TV series. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth now! The Koreans' hard work, sacrifice, and patience, Koreans have achieved much. They built the world's 7th largest economy, home…Read More
Many Americans' images of the Republic of Korea are still from the 'MASH' movie or TV series. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth now! The Koreans' hard work, sacrifice, and patience, Koreans have achieved much. They built the world's 7th largest economy, home to Hyundai and Gold Star. As for national politics, after decades of conservative governments, the Korean people have also established a fully democratic system. The Korean peninsula remains an enigma, though, as the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between south - the Republic of Korea - and north - the very closed totalitarian and Marxist Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea - is the most defended border in the world. Approximately 43,000 American troops still serve in South Korea. What encourages tourists to visit Korea? Friendly people, natural beauty, an ancient history, shopping, and exotic dining, of course! An increasingly developed tourist system allows visitors to experience each of these attractions and for less cost than one can travel in most places in the world! A nation the size of Indiana and surrounded on three sides by the sea, Korea represents a remarkably homogeneous population of about 45 million, 13 million of whom live in the capital city, Seoul. The nation has the world's fourth highest population density and our impression from walking the streets of Seoul and its suburbs is each one is an energetic, bright-eyed school kid! Throughout the city are wonderful places to visit! For example, Kyongbuk palace was built in 1395 as the primary royal residence, typical of ancient Korean architecture. The National and National Folklore Museums are on the grounds, too. Namdaemun and Tongdaemun are the south and east gates to the city built in 1398. Chogyesa was built in 1395, the only temple within the old city walls of Seoul. The temple today is headquarters for 1,500 Buddhist temples throughout Korea. The fortunate will visit during a traditional religious service with Buddhist drums and incense. Chongmyo contains a complex of royal buildings completed in 1393. Contained within are the ancestral tablets of the Yi dynasty rulers and their queens. The complex was used as barracks by Japanese invaders in 1592! Shopping in Korea is a terrific experience! The Itaewon district offers high quality yet inexpensive suits, jackets, and shirts for men and women can easily be tailored in two or three days. Luggage and women's handbags, particularly in eelskin, and dress and sport shoes are very popular, too. Jewelry, brassware,and Korean ceramics are difficult to match. Insadong is famous for traditional and modern Korean items and Myongdong attracts those interested in fashion! The Yongsan Electronics Market offers exactly the items one would guess. Remember to bargain and avoid counterfeit items which US Customs may not allow on your return!Close
Written by michaelhudson on 10 Sep, 2002
After my first six months in Korea it would be fair to say I was desperate for a curry. As much as I love Korean food, nothing quite compares to a good "ruby" in my eyes. After trying the mediocre and overpriced Ashoka in the…Read More
After my first six months in Korea it would be fair to say I was desperate for a curry. As much as I love Korean food, nothing quite compares to a good "ruby" in my eyes. After trying the mediocre and overpriced Ashoka in the Hamilton Hotel, Itaewon, Seoul, I finally stumbled across the Taj Mahal a mere five minutes up the road.
Stepping into the Taj Mahal (www.tajmahal.co.kr, tel: 02 735 0312), with its garish wallpaper and English speaking waiters, is rather like stepping into your average British curry house. Located a short walk from Itaewon subway station on line 6 (to reach the restaurant come out of exit number 3, go across the zebra crossing in front of you and walk straight past Burger King. Take a right when you see a sign for the mosque and walk up the hill, the restaurant is directly opposite the King Club on the left side of the street), the food here is of a far higher quality than the more expensive, and extensively advertised, Ashoka. Open seven days a week from noon to 3.30pm (lunch) and 6pm to 10.30pm (dinner), a meal here will set you back somewhere in the region of ten pounds (just under nineteen thousand won). For those in search of a bargain, there are also buffet specials from Friday to Sunday (13000 Won for lunch and 16000 for dinner).
If the Taj Mahal is good then the nearby Chakraa is positively excellent. Small, with seating for twenty people inside and three tables on a small patio outside (from which you get a great view of the illuminated Seoul Tower at night), and decorated in a minimalist black and white theme, the food here is extremely cheap by Seoul Indian restaurant standards (the most expensive item on the menu is Chicken Biryani at 6500 Won (about three pounds fifty) and lunchtime specials cost a maximum of 8000 Won. Open from 11.30am to 2pm for lunch and 5.30pm-11pm for dinner, you can reach Chakraa by coming out of exit 2 of Noksapyeong station (one stop from Itaewon on line 6). Walk straight ahead until you come to a smaller road branching to the left (you'll see seven story block of flats with a big number one on the side and a zebra crossing). Go up this street until you see a large tree on the right. Chakraa is just behind this.
Written by EGRyan on 02 Nov, 2006
The sun came out today and with it the realisation that the Smog/Fog is not a permanent thing. I’ve missed the sun a lot, more than a Cork boy should. It’ll be back to Mediterranean climes me thinks after this little adventure.…Read More
The sun came out today and with it the realisation that the Smog/Fog is not a permanent thing. I’ve missed the sun a lot, more than a Cork boy should. It’ll be back to Mediterranean climes me thinks after this little adventure. Any plans beyond my initial contract are of course dependant on me not being sent to prison in Korea for killing one of my co-workers. The guy is really starting to get on my tits and it’s only been a week. He is one of these people who seems to feel the need to fill silences with his loud voice and yet has absolutely nothing to say. On my seventh working day with this guy I can predict the mundane crap he will want to talk about. I’m inclined to talk shite myself but I don’t ever remember asking a co-worker every day what they had for breakfast and what they were going to have for dinner. I want to scream at him, that his "on-line" master’s degree will be about as useful as his five years "management" experience in McDonalds when it comes to securing the "Dean" or "Principal" position that this accelerated program is going to get him when he moves from Wisconsin to Florida next year. Now, he’s not moving to Mickey country to be near his ex-girlfriend who just moved there you understand but because he likes it. I think it’s the only place outside of "shoot me I live in the arsehole of no-where," Wisconsin, he’s been before Hwaseung, Korea. Having said that, this one horse town is, probably, not that different from the aforementioned "shoot me…." I made a small attempt to broaden his horizons the other day by burning a couple of CD’s for him, nothing too strenuous just a bit of Radiohead and Pearl Jam and then he has the wherewithal to ask me today if I had any "Simple Plan" on my lap top… FUCK RIGHT OFF………..NOOOOOOO, I’m not a 13 year old girl. ….Yes, somewhere in Wisconsin a Village is missing its idiot! Ok, sorry I needed to get that out of my system, that’s my vent for today!
The sun is shining, the place looks nicer and I started in the gym today. Operation "be the size of Paul O’Connell by March" may be realistic as there ain’t much else to do during the week. The gym is class, both in a practical and a sarcastic sense. Except for lacking the pool and track which I accept would be hard to fit on the eight floor of any building it is far nicer than the Mardyke which I loved at home. The gym is huge and perfectly equipped. The staff are really friendly and most importantly it’s damn cheap. The changing area is the best bit, by a long shot. It’s a bit like what I would imagine a roman bath to have been like, with a few Asian twists. It’s huge; lovely wooden lockers and benches greet you when you get up the stairs and slip off your shoes. You can pick up a clean towel or an egg if you wish, at the shoe discarding area. (Apparently they boil them in the sauna….. I’m not kidding). The Shower area is magnificent; the walls are lined with conventional showers, it’s all open plan by the way and leave your modesty at the door with your shoes. In the centre of the rough stoned floor are six bath options, the centre piece being a Jacuzzi of sorts. Given the nakedness of all the clientele the fact that the Jacuzzi is yellow is slightly unnerving but it’s all very clean. The steam room is huge, ornate, with wooden stools in the middle and marble benches at the sides. It, like everything else is super clean, (most are not at home) and has a nice smell originating from a bag of herbs hanging on the wall. The Sauna is really hot and again spotless. Everyone strolls around as the Gods made them and yes girls all you’ve heard is true, Black Guys are bigger than white guys, and yes… white guys are bigger than Asian guys…result, there are no black men in this gym! Come to think of it I haven’t seen a black person in Korea! Ah, flashback to good old Jake, he did say that I could see "Real Africans in Seoul, even Nigerians", I wonder where they keep them? Now, back to the cleanliness issue; the gym very kindly provides towels as I mentioned and soap and everything and everyone seems really clean but despite this I was still somewhat unprepared for the sight which greeted me as I exited the sauna. A middle aged man squatted forward on his haunches, with his back to the shower, SCRUBBING himself vigorously. If you’ve ever seen a dog with worms drag it ass along the ground you’re at a good visual starting point. Now, lift the ass off the ground and have one of the forelegs reach around the back and scrub with the same vigour with which the aforementioned dog would try to scratch the fleas from its ears (believe me if the dog has worms it definitely has fleas too). I trust you’re getting the picture. I don’t mean to suggest this man was dog-like in any sense other than the bizarre position and motion he adopted in order to clean his ass, but Madre Mia he must have been damn clean down there.
There were a couple of other little observances that tickled my fancy at this bastion of health and well being. The treadmills had a harness contraption hooked up them which some punters used to strap themselves in. Now, while they were advertising the "hipdominal system" as the latest fitness trend and had all sorts of vibrating machines, I could not, for the duration of my upright rowing, figure out what the harness had to do with it. Were they sentenced to a certain amount of time on the treadmill? Was it like community service and they were afraid they’d run away? I was perplexed!
My next observation is much easier to accept if not explain, because as a male I still don’t understand much of women’s mentalness. Gangs of predominantly slim, fortyish women arrived for their aerobics wearing an amusing collection of outfits about an hour into my training. The legwarmers were more original "Fame" than retro, and the vinyl skirt was tacky funny. BUT, why were so many of these women wearing cut off tank tops (titty tops to us Ex Mayfield Community School Students)? Now, I’m all for showing a bit of Britney midriff, but why wear these tops and then wrap the free towel around your stomach to cover it up? I wouldn’t stare at a woman’s midriff in the gym (much!!) but I was gazing puzzled at their efforts to secure the towels as they trotted into the studio.
The weather was beautiful as I walked home. A sunny September day at home or November in Valencia, would have done it justice. An old guy pulled around the corner in a battered cross between a "Chuk Chuk" and a pick up truck with a loud speaker going. I was hoping to hear Elwood announce that "For one night only the Blues Brothers Rhythm and Blues Review" would be playing nearby but instead he was shouting something in Korean. Now, I’ve mastered the ability to say "thank you" in Korean so I like to think that I could make an intelligent guess as to what he was shouting. "WAKE UP, WAKE UP, THE SMOG IS GONE…For one day only…The Sun is Shining!"
After five minutes I’m out on my feet. My Roy Keane box-to-box notions are replaced by "Fat LeTissier" strolling. There are a lot more mistakes in this game, the young lads are no-where to be seen and the heat is killing. I’m…Read More
After five minutes I’m out on my feet. My Roy Keane box-to-box notions are replaced by "Fat LeTissier" strolling. There are a lot more mistakes in this game, the young lads are no-where to be seen and the heat is killing. I’m getting more and more irritable and cranky so I avoid any 50/50 challenges, I couldn’t cope with getting injured by a 50 year old, not on my first day in Korea. We played really badly but luckily the other team couldn’t hit a barn door so we held on till half time. With what I guessed to be ten minutes left we won a free kick on the left of the penalty area and three or four of the usual suspects’ stepped forward. I’d been diplomatic all day with the appalling standard of free taking but I fancied this one so I pleaded with them and they capitulated. My LeTissier analogy was complete when I stroked the ball over the wall and in off the post, the goal keeper rooted to the spot. I shrugged and turned to limp back to half way. The boys couldn’t believe it and went mental, I couldn’t believe it either but I was too knackered to care. They surround me and there were more high-fives than a Super Bowl Sunday. The Leferee played an agonising twenty minutes more and a handful of goals for either side took the gloss off my free kick but we held on to win.
We cleaned up the mighty mess that we had created around the swings and slides and I posed for a few photos with some to the lads and kids. The posturing of Jake in his flash car, sharp suit and American twang were a distant image in contrast to the warmth, generosity of everyone that day. By accident I found myself back at the car and leaving without really saying goodbye, not that I could have anyway, but I felt bad that I left without so much as a wave. I take a look out over the yellow valley as we leave and on the drive back stave off the horrible dehydrated half sleep that had taken me over to see the DMZ up close again. Some two and a half hours later I reach Dongtan and meet my new boss. Sleep deprivation, dehydration and a touch of sunstroke were going to make for interesting dreams so I picked up a pizza to seal the deal and crashed! Had I really just spent the day playing football twenty-five miles from North Korea? Hawkeye, are you watching?
We set up camp and the boys argued about where to hang the banner they had brought. After three attempts they tied it up between two trees and we ventured onto the pitch for a kick about. Jake’s brothers were nice, the younger…Read More
We set up camp and the boys argued about where to hang the banner they had brought. After three attempts they tied it up between two trees and we ventured onto the pitch for a kick about. Jake’s brothers were nice, the younger one apparently was on the Korean Judo team. I was impressed. He was a shit full back though, I was to discover later. I convinced myself that a bit of a game to clear the system, and then back to Dongtan and some sleep in my new gaff would make for a good day….. Oh will I ever learn??? After a few minutes we were back on the sandy area sweeping leaves out of the way, I didn’t really see the point but I fell in and did my bit. When the bus pulled up at about 8.30 and whole families alighted my heart lifted. They were carrying water, boxes of food, toys, gear, flags, all sorts. They were a really friendly bunch and I felt really embarrassed that I couldn’t even manage to say hello in Korean. Oh how Spanish was a doddle!!
It’s hard to gage Korean people‘s ages sometimes, but I gathered quickly that Jake at thirty-five was one of the youngest. Most of the men were around forty and some quite a bit older than that. Teams were picked, and I was put in the centre of midfield for the orange team. We kicked off with a proper ref and two linesmen all kited out and intent on taking things VERY seriously. As we approached 10am it stared to get hot and only a few minutes into the game I realised that my boots were too small and was probably going to lose a couple of toe nails… nice! I ran my ass off and should have had a couple of goals but my finishing was about as good as any new Liverpool striker. Give me four months lads and I’ll be banging them in at an unbelievable rate!! They were tidy footballers for the most part and had the positional discipline and economy of movement that only advanced years bring. I, on the other hand ran like a lunatic and threw myself into everything. We were 3-1 down early in the second half, but I managed a deflected long range effort and a few minutes pulled a cross back for the boy Jake to score and we were level. The final whistle went and there was talk of PK’s and Golden Goals. The drama of penalties was preferred, or should I say "PK’s"…… Oh the tension! The first two efforts for both sides were missed and so with Robbie Fowler-like ease I slotted the third to the left of the fat 45 year old goalie just inside the post….. Cracker!! Queue Robbie Keane-like sumersault and much rejoicing! We won 2-0 on penalties and I was the hero!! Oh to play against old men every week!! By the end I’m feeling VERY old myself and my Zidane-like bald patch is getting burnt through the thin grey haze that still manages to hide the sky. We finished, victorious and I’m ready to leave. It’s still not noon, so chop chop, things to do!! Wrong again!
Over the next five hours, games for the kids and adults were interrupted with mouthfuls of KimChi (I opted for a couple of apples, a banana and a bit of chicken). Some of the guys were very cool and as would be the case in most places it wasn’t long before a beer was shoved into my hand, quickly followed by a couple of shots of the local hooch… not bad! The guys and their wives were great, but obviously as I haven’t a word of Korean the conversations were painful, so I headed for the pitch and hung out with the kids. One of the girls was designated to approach the strange "Soccer Man" and so she ran over and poked me. "Hello….. he he he," she giggled and ran away. Later she was sent back, "What your name…..he he?" So before long I’m running around on my bruised and bleeding feet with a bunch of Korean kids who are shouting "Oven, Oven!" at me. To hell with it, this is great fun, just keep drinking water, you’ll be grand.
Some of the older kids had some English and they wanted to talk about Park Gi Song and Wayne Rooney. I told them they should forget Man United and support Liverpool, I told them I liked Park and Rooney was good but Steven Gerrard is a superhero. We went back to juggling the ball. Football makes everything easier.
The older lads are gathering again and I’m summoned for a three legged race. One of the young lads wants me to be his partner but an older guy, who I think was his Dad says no, they seemed to want to mix it up a bit. I looked around for the little girl who was braver than her friends and dragged her out for the race. Our team lost… hate that! After that, it’s Mother’s Vs Kids in baseball with a football. It was hilarious, apart from the dragon fly that landed on my water bottle it wouldn’t have taken too much imagination to substitute this lot for the crowd in Rathcooney on a Sunday. Soon the men are back in for a relay. They argued over which team I should be on. I beat the old guy I’m up against easy…C’mon he wasn’t that old, just a couple of years over forty and he had at least fifteen metres start on me. We lost again… hate that!
So things seem to be winding down, I guessed that it was coming up on 4 O’clock. I was knackered, sun burnt and my feet were killing me. I took my boots off at every opportunity but when one of the lads saw me putting my filthy socked feet into my runners he looked shocked and stopped me. He tried to rub the sand off one of my feet and I gathered from his gesticulations that he didn’t want me to have dirty socks in my runners in case I had to go indoors later. His efforts were futile as my white socks, soaked in sweat and blood had gathered enough sand to ensure that they would never be white again. I was too tired and too sore to care, but he was quite concerned that I would embarrass myself with such a breach of etiquette! We were interrupted by another guy asking if one of us would "leferee". None of these guys spoke English but yet they use all the English football terminology; free kicks, ‘orners, goals and of course, leferee. I’m confused and we both decline. To my horror I realise that we are to play another game. You are kidding me! Sure enough we are separated again and once again I find myself in Midfield for the oranges. Jake tells me we’re only playing for 30 minutes this time. "Only two quarters, only two quarters," The runners are staying on, there’s no way these swollen feet are going into those dainty white boots again. A deep breath and a little glance at the sun burning through the grey haze…. OK, let’s go!!
I felt about as grey as the Seoul that surrounded me when I got off the plane; a sharp contrast to the bright sun and bright mood, which met me with a smile when I landed in Valencia a year and a half ago.…Read More
I felt about as grey as the Seoul that surrounded me when I got off the plane; a sharp contrast to the bright sun and bright mood, which met me with a smile when I landed in Valencia a year and a half ago. I was worn out and needed some sleep. I was met by a false smile and a sharp suit when I hit arrivals at Incheon Airport and taken to an imitation "Towncar" to be transported to my new abode. "Not bad," I thought. How wrong I was. The hour I was expecting it to take to get to my apartment would turn out to be closer to 30. Once we got off the grey highway under the grey smog, darkness revealed the life and light of the neon, and I thought things were beginning to look up. Conversation flowed easily enough on the drive. I asked my companion questions that drew neutral responses. This guy was about as grey as his suit and the sky above. After a while I realised that these responses were not made in an effort to remain cautious with a stranger or from some form of sensitivity to my possible opinions. He just wasn’t bothered. North Korea, US Troops, Nuclear Tests; Just normal life, and he didn’t really care. The only thing that seemed to gage a genuine interest was the football game he was organising for the next day. He asked token questions about my family and experiences but didn’t listen to the answers. Ah well I’ll be at the gaff soon……
There was little to see on the drive as the last hour of grey daylight faded. The highways look American; the layout is the same and the signs have the same design. The bilingual names and the different cars unmask the imitation. The Towncars are not the Lincolns of New York but SanggYoung, the SUVs not the Fords of Westchester but Hyundai. It smacks of neither one thing nor the other. A "miscommunication," Jake told me when we finally pulled up outside the school in Dongtan, meant I couldn’t go to my apartment but would have to wait until the following day. Jake suggested that we drive to a motel near his parent’s house so that I could I could play football the following day, and he could then bring me back to meet the boss afterwards. As the man says; it seemed like a good idea at the time. As a result of this decision, to my amusement and perpetual childishness, my first purchase on Korean soil was a pair of football boots (I’m sure Debs would be proud) and to my slight embarrassment they were white (the alternative was gold… easy choice). My first Korean meal (I don’t count the crap on the plane) involved a pit stop on the way back towards the airport in Ansan. The food was OK, I had my first taste of the famed and much lauded Kimchi. It’s like thick rubbery cabbage smeared with a bad pepper paste, what the fuss is about, I do not understand, it’s awful. My back was sore from the eleven hour flight and the two hours we had now spent in the car so the break was welcome. With this in mind it probably wasn’t the best time to experience a Korean restaurant; sitting on the floor with nothing at my back, trying to get the hang of chop sticks was punishment.
The Motel was something else!! "The Black Hole Motel" was like a set from a burlesque porn version of "Blade Runner". You drive to check in under a rubber canopy, beneath a blinking pink neon sign. Reception is a booth with frosted glass so I signed in with a guy I couldn’t see and an all knowing finger pointed to the elevator. Upstairs the dimly lit corridor led to a room with all the comforts of a brothel. The mirrored ceiling was unnerving; I’ve never understood the attraction of being able to see yourself while doing the deed, I was almost glad to be alone. There was a selection of free and pay per view porn on the TV and a black tiled bathroom with a Jacuzzi. This place just oozed class. I managed to find the football just in time to see Cudicini get knocked out against Reading and later realised that "Pirates of the Caribbean" is not as good the second time round, or, was I just cranky? Three hours sleep in my little palace and then I was back out on the street waiting to be picked up for the football. "Did you say you were leaving at 5.30 AM for the football?" He didn’t mention that with the initial proposal. It seems grass pitches are few and far between in Seoul so we had to drive for an hour and a half to a ground that he and his club had acquired. As I waited for my spin on the side of the street, (he was half an hour late) I amused myself studying the details of the three "love" Motels on this back street in Ansan, no not Ansan, shit! I didn’t have a clue where I was. The grey night turned to grey light. Is it smog or fog? I couldn’t tell.
My driver went by the name of Jake by the way, and he was very excited about the game we were headed to. There seem to be a lot of "Jakes" in Korea and this one mentioned early in the drive that he would have to get my photo to prove to his wife that his decision to stay at his parents the night before had nothing to do with the "foreign" teacher he had picked up at the airport. "She thinks you’re a girl he laughed." Koreans who interact with westerners generally chose a western name to make things easier on us idiots who can’t handle their names. Sometimes this makes sense as a westernisation of their Korean name, like us Irish had to do at some point, but other times they just pick a random name they fancy; like "Jake". We picked up his brothers, I can’t remember their names, a bit more difficult than "Jake" to pronounce. I left my bags in the back of an SVU belonging to one of them and then we all piled back into Jake’s car and hit the road.
We headed north of Seoul and on another grey highway after about half an hour I noticed the barbed wire on the left-hand verge. The little military towers made Jakes mention of the "DMG" (Demilitarised Zone) redundant. I peered under the fog to what reminded me of the dead marshes in Lord of the Rings. Jake told me that you can do a tour for about 35 bucks… a tour of what I wondered… a bog?? As a central area to world news at the moment the "DMG" looks altogether unimpressive and the Army posts comic in their insignificance, we had tree houses in Rathcooney that were more impressive. But what does the "G" stand for? We stopped for a bit of breakfast at the side of the road; ham and egg sandwiches with Orange Juice and Coffee, things were looking up! We then got off the highway onto the local roads. This area he told me used to be part of the North so there are still a lot of Communists living in these crappy little villages. The wealth of Seoul is obvious in its absence up there away from the neon. There were shacks in the corner of fields that I hoped were tool sheds but suspected could be farmer’s huts. Ah... I see, he can't pronounce "Z"
We met up with another guy who had a blue pick up truck (it looked like a clean version of the one Pat McNally had up the road when I was a kid, except for the concrete) in a village half an hour from the highway and I sensed we were nearing our destination. He had the footballs and various other bits and pieces in the back of the pick up. As we had got further from the city the fog had remained so I presumed that the grey veil wasn’t just smog. Sure enough after about five minutes we pulled up outside a pitch. We drove an hour and a half at the crack of dawn on a Sunday for this?? For Fuck Sake! I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. The grass was long, coarse and yellow. The surface was rough and uneven and the goals too small. To the left, over-looking the pitch was what looked like a school, and on the right there was a sandy area with swings and slides.