Monday, November 14, 2011
Ah the boys of summer, the crowds roar, the crack of the bat, the smell of dried squid and boiled octopus in the air. Yes folks, I'm talking about baseball Korean style! Our friendship circle took us to a game. Dr Synn had been trying to discourage this from the very beginning but we were not to be dissuaded from our course. Gary in particular wanted to see a game while in Daegu and it worked out great as the Daegu Lions were playing one of their last regular season games in town. Our friendship circle is all college girls this time and none of them have ever been to a ball game. I'm pretty sure none of them knew the rules either but I'm sure they do now. Korean fans are a die hard bunch. We had a bit of a mixup getting our tickets so didn't get into the stadium in a timely manner. What we didn't know was that they oversell tickets for general seating. There are special seats set aside for little league teams that was cute. They all wore their uniforms and brought their gloves just in case. The assigned seating is like some kind of baseball maniac's club. After the game starts they open the gates to allow those of us without seats to spread out into the reserved sections. As a whole the Korean people are very polite and friendly. Some of their customs however, take some getting used too. Like the thing about personal space. While waiting in line they will press their bodies up against yours and think nothing of it. It's not considered rude at all, it's more of a camaraderie thing. Since we didn't have seats we were pressed into walls and crowds of people waiting for the elusive specail chairs to become available. Gary started to lose his cool at one point which is remarkable as I was on the edge about 20 times. Probably because Gwyndolyn was sandwiched between us and we were using our bodies to create a zone around her. Much to my amazement these polite, socially correct people hog seats! The first ones into the stadium snag a seat plus one on each side. One for their jackets, purse's, doo dad's and such, the other for their food. You have to stand in front of them, point at a seat and ask if it is available. Some of them actually say no even though you know it's open. Others will let you sit down.
The stadium is over 70 years old lacking in modern amenities, which is likely why Dr. Synn didn't want us to go. It's a concrete structure with minimal hand rails and concession stands. I avoided the toilets but you can't help but see into the mens room as the urinals' are all the way up to the missing door. If you are a modest guy, this is not the place for you. Dark dirty corridors under the stands to reach the exit's. The first row of balcony seats had no railings at all. So you sit up on this 5 foot wall, on a chair and sort of hang your legs over it. Super crowded and totally not OSHA safe in any way. You have to be willing to let go of your American idea's when traveling. Other countries don't follow the same rules we do. A fire marshall would have a heart attack over here. Since there clearly weren't enough seats for us all to sit together, or in the same section it was decided to split up. Gary found a spot for him and Gwyndolyn together. I found one in the same section but several rows away. We could look at each other though and hand signal when we needed too. I have no idea where anyone else ended up. I chose a seat beside a young couple who moved a huge greasy paper sack for me to sit down. They were big time fans. Little flashing lights head pieces, long blue tubes of air that you smack together to make noise, faces painted, the whole experience. But oh that paper sack. It smelled awful. At some time during the game I noticed the smell getting over powering and discovered they had taken dried squid out of the bag and were happily munching away. Sort of like a dried pigs ear or rawhide bone. You can smell it, but it isn't until it's been sucked on or chewed on that the aroma gets high. They must have caught me staring as they smiled and offered me my pick of what ever was in the bag. I saw boiled octopus legs, lots of dried fish things and what looked like a bowl of tofu noodles. Hard to turn that down...NOT. They were a pleasant couple though and I let them take pictures of me with them. I'd say 2 out of 3 patrons of the game brought a similar paper sack into the game. The small concession stands were behind us and what ever they were cooking in rancid oil just added to the over all nauseous feeling. Believe me if you ever get a chance to see a game, bring your own food. Or do like the autopsy folks did in Silence of the Lambs and smear something under the nose to mask the smell.
Now onto the game itself. Wild Wonderful Hilarious Outrageous and the best fun in a long time. The Daegu Lions ended up at the top of their division or what ever it's called. They're a pretty good team. To me it looked more like a triple A team. Or a super good high school bunch. Crazy error's, temper tantrums and botched throws abounded. The stadium has a fancy new score board that would show the batter's with their averages and stat's but I don't read hangul so I didn't get much from it. Other than a lot of the advertising was for American products like Subway and Pizza Hut. That is the only modern thing in the stadium. They don't have a PA system so the maniac fans do it for them. Like us, each player has a theme song. Unlike us they don't stop singing it just because the player is at the plate. In USA we stomp, yell and clap until the guy gets to the plate, then we go silent and wait for him to swing or something. The Koreans only get louder when you go to the plate. I wish I could understand what they were saying as I'm sure not all of it was very nice. One half of the stands were singing, cracking those blue tubes of air together and in general screaming or singing all the time. They are wonderful to listen too. No wall flowers allowed. You sing loud, you jump around, you make sure they know you are there for them. The opposing team is brutalized by raucous cat calls and boo's. We hounded the fielders from both teams, depending on the play. We screamed at the umpires, and laughed at the players that struck out. We didn't shush for any batters, we got louder. The stadium rocked or we rocked the stadium. A few Americans in my section, looked like college age kids really got into the action and the crowd cheered them on. You can't get crazy enough to get thrown out. It was a hoot.
Dr. Synn wanted to leave early to avoid traffic so we left in the top of the 7th inning. Just as I made it through the packed crowd to the meeting point, our team hit a home run and the place went wild. I was wrong. I didn't think it would get louder or crazier but they proved me wrong. It was hard making my way out of the stands to get out of there. People grabbed my hands and pulled me into dances, they posed me for pictures, they celebrated without restraint. Gary was on his way back to find me when I finally broke free and made it to the lower caverns.
We all went out for coffee at a "angel in us" coffee shop downtown. It's a chain of shops throughout Republic of Korea (ROK). There were more of us than there were chairs and the little ones like Gwyndolyn, SynnDong and Jenny were up to late and getting out of control. It was a stark contrast from the game though. Our student MiHwa (me wah) gave directions to the driver and then immediately got into an argument with him. I think he was going to a different angel in us and she thought he was trying to go the long way to make extra money. When Korean is spoken softly it is sort of relaxing and soothing sounds. But raise the voice and it all sounds angry. You could be saying "hey I sure missed you I'm so glad we got to see each other" and it's going to sound like "as soon as I get close enough I'm going to punch you out". Maybe not that nicely said.
My whole point here is that Korean Baseball was great. What a wonderful experience.
My trip here is coming to a close and I have so much I haven't told you guys yet. I must get busy.