Sports is like udon and ping-pong is like taco.
I could come up with an elaborate sports-as-food metaphor here, but these are actually my mnemonics for remembering the Korean words for sports (eundong) and ping-pong (taegu). Sports have been such a positive element of my experience here!
A couple weeks back we invited a huge group of people (SMOE folks plus frisbee folks) to a baseball game. My buddy, after highlighting how cheap the beer is and how amusingly terrible the players are, further encouraged attendance by writing: "If you're still not convinced, through some wonderful cultural miscommunication they thought baseball was supposed to have cheerleaders. No one ever corrected them because why mess with a good thing?"
As we happily heckled, drank tall boys, snacked on dried squid, and watched the cheerleaders instead of the players, the Doosan Bears and the LG Twins (both home teams) played out twelve innings... to end in a tie. A tie!
The weather and my health has finally improved, which makes for happy frisbee afternoons by the Han river. And the big Jeju Gnarly Nines 2010 tournament is this weekend! I hear the fields were used for World Cup training and are some of the nicest fields in Asia; a treat for the cleats, a treat for the sole! Seoul's top team won the tournament last year, so we have to defend the title as well as win the party, or, at least give a good showing. The party theme, somehow, is 'love', so our team, of course, will be dressing up like old people. We're brainstorming fun team names for the tournament, and I humbly suggested Pighting Mandus, Kimcheetah, or Gettin' Jiggae With It. I'll risk an over-explanation here: Pighting-- read: Fighting-- is something Koreans say to cheer on someone, as in 'Doosan Pighting!'; Mandu is the Korean word for dumpling; Kimchi + Cheetah = Kimcheetah; Jiggae is a common style of soup.
Another school's foreign teacher saw me shooting around during pre-game warm-ups at our volleyball tournament, and she invited me to play basketball with her rec team. So, this past Saturday after frisbee practice, I took the subway to Sookmyung Women's University and scrimmaged in their gym. One of the girls on the team is a grad student there, so we have the use of the gym for free, which is significant considering the usual fee is $500/month for two hours of gym time weekly. Because of the seductive powers of frisbee, I haven't seriously played basketball since high school, so it was an odd experience coming back to it. My frisbee instincts took over more than once when I tried to stall the person I was guarding and yelled "Up!" whenever anyone put up a shot. Anyway, it was a ton o fun, and we'll see how consistently I'll make bball a part of my weekend.
Rollerblading (hell if I know):
Later on Saturday, I went over to my second cousin's place. Considering my mother's side of the family is Korean, you'd think my second cousin would be Korean, but no. As the cosmo's sense of humor would have it, this cousin (a handy catch-all phrase for someone vaguely related to you) is the grandson of my Romanian great uncle by marriage on my dad's side. My Great Uncle Otto is Horatziu's grandpa. Ta da! Horatziu's place is amazing-- a far cry from the cubbies commonly issued to English teachers-- and was filled with carefully selected Japanese and Korean contemporary art and friendly Samsung executives with MBAs and expensive shoes. No cheerleaders or dried squid here.
Anyway, so the reason I can get away with heading this section 'Rollerblading' is this: through a series of events, I will soon be teaching one of Horatziu's friends how to rollerblade. Two years ago, she bought the entire rollerblades/helmet/pads set, tried it once, and gave it up for difficult, so the kit's been in boxes ever since. We will out them! And make her into a superstar. Kim Yu Na better get out the way.
I'm on my school's volleyball team of teachers. Last week, we played against two other schools in our district, and it was by far the most fun school-related event I have experienced! I mean FUN. Most of our school's other teachers came to cheer us on, prepared with giant empty water bottles they slammed together in rhythm while chanting. They were on their feet, yelling, the entire time, and they brought a school banner with them and hung it high and proud on our sidelines. With more exciting outfits they could give those pro baseball cheerleaders a good run!
It helped that our team is badass and gave them something to cheer for; we won both matches without losing a game, and then we all went out for barbecue and soju (the most common alcoholic drink here, like a rice vodka). Soju brings people together. Under the influence, some teachers who had never talked to me before revealed that they know English! The little sneaks. One in particular cracks me up. He's the ethics teacher, and when he saw my flushed soju face he called me, in English, a burning potato.