It has been wonderful to be in Korea for the World Cup. I am not a huge sports fan, but seeing how much pride Korea has in their country and their team has been really remarkable. I have never seen anything like it.
Korea played their first game against Togo at 10:00pm our time on Tuesday. On Monday afternoon, the kids informed me that "teacher, tomorrow everyone red yes". They weren’t kidding. There are 110 kids in our kindergarten program. I would say more than 100 of them were wearing red team shirts. It was unreal! Almost all of the foreign staff (Jennifer missed the memo, I guess… ha ha) were wearing red. The kids were really worked up, and would start the "Dae Han Min Guk" chant at any opportunity.
~Side Note on "Dae Han Min Guk"~
If I was in charge of Romanizing this chant, I would write it as "Day Hand Mink Gook". Those words are pretty close to how you say it. And all it means is "Republic of Korea". But it sounds really cool when tons of people are yelling it.
~End Side Note~
After classes Joe, Orla, Brooke and I got on the 5500 bus and headed into Seoul to watch the game at city hall. The ride is normally 50 minutes. It took nearly 2 hours. The traffic was horrific. On Wednesday, the news was estimating that over 650,000 people were crammed into those few city blocks. I suppose that explains the traffic. It was a lot of freaking people. But it was also very exciting. They shut down one of the main roads for blocks alongside city hall (this "main road" downtown Seoul is eight lanes wide, to give you an idea). Everyone put down cardboard or newspaper and sat on the cement. You could feel how excited everyone was, even though Korea didn’t score in the first half of the game. After Togo scored, everyone chanted "It’s okay… it’s okay…." Koreans are amazing fans! They would cheer every time their team was touching the ball, every time they got to throw it in… almost all the time! They would also cheer every time there was a replay. I’m sure that if they show the goals tonight on the news, someone will cheer it again.
~Side Note on Polite Koreans~
The first time everyone got to their feet and cheered was when one of the Togo players got a red card (moms… it means that guy had to leave the game). The fans got to their feet, jumped around, screamed, chanted… and then sat back down when the game resumed. It was so strange. Especially since I can even get 10 kids to do that… let alone 650,000. Can you imagine this happening in Canada?!? Also, we didn’t see a single fight. Excellent.
~End Side Note~
Unfortunately, Joe and Orla headed home at the half to try and beat the traffic. Fortunately, Brooke stayed with me to watch the game. I heart Brooke! I would have stayed alone (sorry Moms, but that’s the truth) because I figure this was a one-time opportunity. Am I ever glad that we did!
In the second half, Korea scored two goals. After each goal, there were fireworks and everyone would jump to their feet and cheer. They went crazy! It was great!!
~Side Note on the World Cup~
I just thought of this… some of you may not realize that the game was NOT being played in Korea. The World Cup is in Germany this year. All those people gathered downtown to watch the game televised on giant televisions (we could see five from where we were). All that excitment… all those fans… all for a game on TV.
~End Side Note~
At the end of the game, there were more fireworks and much craziness because Korea won. There were people doing conga lines and dancing around in the street. As soon as the game ended, Brooke and I knew we were going to be in for a rough time to get home. It was already midnight, and we had school the next day. Based on the size of the crowd, and knowing how bad the traffic was on the way in, we figured we would be lucky to get home by 3:00am.
We grabbed hands so we wouldn’t lose each other and headed into the subway. We weren’t in there even 10 minutes when we realized we may have made a mistake. But there was no way back out – there were thousands of people wanting onto the train. For better or worse, we were taking the subway. In the end, it took about an hour to get onto the train. It could have been worse. But not much. It was so hot and humid in there! We took the subway to Itaewon and then a cab home. I walked in my door at 2:00am.
All in all, I would go through the crowds and lack asleep again to be able to be part of this again. It was absolutely incredible and moving, and will be one of my favorite memories of Korea. The next day, our boss even bought all the teachers pizza, because Korea won the game and we had supported them. AWESOME!
Last week, when I spoke to Mike about Korea’s chances for this Cup, he mentioned that they probably wouldn’t do as well because they didn’t have the "red tide" (the fans) behind them like they did when Korea and Japan hosted the World Cup in 2002. Being here, Mike, I disagree. The fans are behind them 100%. And I know that the team isn’t here to see it first hand… but I bet the team knows it. They would have to know it. I’ve got 43 pictures on Flickr to prove it.
The next game is Sunday at 4:00AM. And, much as I hate mornings, I think I might get up and watch it. Wake up, grab a beer, get back in bed, and watch the game. Sleep for 2 more hours when it is finished. And I was never a soccer fan. Now… DAE HAN MIN GUK!!!