Friday, September 26, 2008

Mystery meet

I had the day off yesterday (Thursday), as Heeduk asked me to teach on Sunday instead. My shift to the upper-level classes, SAT- and TOEFL-prep, is accelerating, which is great. It appears I’ll have days with very little to do except some prep and proofreading and days where I’ll be here from noon till midnight.

Anyway, it seemed fortuitous that he gave me the day of the big international track meet off; posters and banners and bus ads all around town have been advertising it since before I got here. The only other time I’d seen a major meet was in 1976 in London, and my girlfriend Alison and I had took the wrong bus, so we missed half of it.

Daegu will host the world championships in 2011, and this was a sort of dry run. The meet was at the ultra-modern stadium—well, maybe just the modern stadium, as it doesn’t have escalators—that was built to host World Cup soccer games in 2002. The stadium is way off on the southeast edge of the city, nestled against a hill, as you can see. Korea in general and Daegu in particular seem starved for international recognition, and admission was free so they could build up a big crowd.

I took the 20-minute walk to the nearest subway station, intending to train it and then walk another 20 minutes to the stadium. However, the platform was mobbed with literally hundreds of high-school and middle-school students, and when the train came, they pushed and shoved and crammed in as if they were trying to get listed in the Guinness book. (By the way, hundreds of Korean students in a subway station sound exactly like two hundred thousand sparrows in a tin can.)

So I got the brilliant idea of taking the next train going the other way, getting off at the first station, and coming back toward the stadium; at least then I’d have a seat in the crush. But when I got to the next station and the train came in, of course it was already bulging with students… apparently every student in this city of 2.5 million was taking time off to go en masse to the meet.

So I found a taxi. (Not actually on the train platform; I had to go upstairs.) The meter counted three bucks getting within a quarter-mile of the stadium and ticked off two more dollars (and me) waiting for the cab to be allowed to turn left into the lot; finally I just said “Yeo-gi” (“here”), paid the cabbie, and got out in the street.

The lead-up to the meet featured fireworks, cheerleaders, guys running around with flags, a unique race among high schools (the coed 8 x 200 meters), and an appearance by a female singer who is apparently very, very big here. It may have been Roberta Flack; I was in the upper deck.

By the time the meet started, there were perhaps 40,000 people there, and 35,000 of them were students, banging those damned inflatable plastic sticks together and occasionally watching the action. Every single one of them was in school uniform, which universally includes a white shirt or blouse, so it’s just as well it was overcast, or I might have gone snow-blind.

The meet itself was okay; it had a few Olympic medalists in it, but it was really rather fragmentary: some events for men, others for women, but it only added up to maybe half a meet. That’s okay; I went for the experience, not for the sport, and in fact, not being an idiot (usually), I left before the final three or four sprint events and walked back to the subway, embarked, rode, disembarked, and went home, too tired to walk to school to use the Internet or even to go to E-Mart(!)

I said some words into the close and holy darkness, and then I slept. (tm Dylan Thomas.)

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