Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cold Chicken, Professional Soccer and Korean Erectile Dysfunction Commercials: Chuseok Holiday 2010 (SATURDAY)


So, the original idea was to get lunch in Suwon. That was literally all that was set in stone. Lunch with Juanita and crew at Outback Steakhouse, and meeting up with Brent and Angie at 4:00. That was it. But I didn't make it back to my apartment until 8:00 PM.... Monday night.

Having a sirloin at Outback was an almost-religious experience. I am a carnivore. And even though Korea indulges my meat-eating ways (sort of), I was jonesing.

It. Tasted. So. Good. Om nom nom.

At lunch, we met some of Juanita's buddies, one of whom told us about some things to do in Suwon, including a soccer game at the Suwon World Cup Stadium that was free for foreigners that night. Free for foreigners?? Cheers, Korea.

After lunch, we popped into the third floor bookstore, which (wonder of wonders) had an English section! We were like kids in a candy store. Except way nerdier. I picked up a few paperbacks: A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (Sidebar: wandering around Icheon today, I saw a Korean version of A Thousand Splendid Suns.) I think that the Madison GEPIK kids may be starting a rotating English books library.

Shortly thereafter, we located Brent and Angie, and wandered into a small second-floor cafe to muse about our jobs and Korean oddities. Even though the GEPIK program is somewhat standardized, everyone's experience varies so much. After hearing about some of the things that other kids have gone through (horrifying apartments, temp housing, sickness, being dragged to Jehovah's Witness meetings by host families) I am quite pleased with my situation here in Icheon.

We decided that we were all about seeing some Korean soccer (I've been wondering what all the fuss was about) so we set our sights on finding the Suwon World Cup Stadium. This is difficult when one does not speak Korean. But right outside of the Suwon subway station there is this thing called a "taxi stop". It's such a stupidly simple idea, but I don't recall ever seeing one in the U.S. It's literally just a section of a road where taxis line up and so everyone knows where to go to catch a cab. The thing is here, there are at least two different types of taxis. There are the regular ones, which are usually silver or white, and then there are "deluxe" taxis. The only really obvious difference is that deluxe taxis are painted black, and also have completely black tinted windows. I assume this is for privacy while rich Korean businessmen snort coke off the thighs of very expensive prostitutes, but I guess we'll never know.

So, we all piled in our non-deluxe, mere-mortals cab, and speed off in what we are praying is the general direction of the World Cup Stadium. Luckily, our cab driver is savvy, although she is watching Korean game shows on her GPS, which is slightly unnerving when there are four lanes of traffic all going 80 km/hr. We screech to a halt, pile out, and are standing right in front of one of the most enormous soccer stadiums I've ever seen. This thing is monstrous. And so freaking awesome. We are like six-year-olds.

Well, maybe alcoholic six-year-olds. Why Korea Is Awesome #39: You can bring booze pretty much anywhere. We kind of scope out the place, take some obligatory pictures (especially in front of the free-standing bathroom SHAPED LIKE A SOCCER BALL. Really. I couldn't make this up.) and then head across the street for some snackage. The hometown team is the Suwon Bluewings, and there are people in jerseys all over the place, particularly in the convenience store that we popped into. Couple of tallboys of Cass, some water and potato chips, and it was game on.

Now, we had heard in passing at lunch that this game was free, but this had never really been confirmed by anyone, and we had no idea how to obtain tickets. We kind of wandered up into the complex and were looking at ridiculously over-priced Bluewings jerseys when this adorable Korean staffwoman comes up behind us, beckoning for us to join her. (Racial profiling for the win.) And then she just hands us all free tickets, no questions asked. Sweet.

This stadium is b.a.l.l.e.r. I probably couldn't do this description justice without pictures, but suffice it to say, it is enormous and super-cool. We were in row 7, and the field is super green and the fans are psyched and some are waving Che Guavera flags (that one we haven't figured out yet) but it is just... cool. The team lost, 2-0, but it was really surreal to be at this professional soccer game, in Korea, knowing that the Badgers were playing ASU in the morning, cold chicken and warm beer, Korean kids chanting cheers we couldn't understand.

Today, I was looking at this file I have on my computer of just interesting pictures I find in my cyber travels, and there is this one of some graffiti. I don't know where it is, or who wrote it, but it just says this:

"You are alive."

And that's what it felt like.

You are watching Korean soccer. You are drinking beer with your new friends.
You are content.

And you are alive.

Later, other stuff happened... like we got kicked out of a taxie by an irrate cabbie, traversed the Seoul metro and I slept in a ball on Angie's apartment floor. But more on that later.

<3 from Korea. Jenny.

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