Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What a long, strange trip it's been

Photos: in a tragic incident, a lioness devoured a hapless baseball player in Daegu on Sunday evening; even more tragically, the video I took of the Lion Girls didn’t load to the blog.

On Sunday morning, I caught the bus to the Samduk neighborhood, as Heeduk had asked me if I’d like to join his family for Chosuk at their home. I felt truly honored; I was the only teacher invited there this year. I’ve been thinking about it, and it feels as if it would be an invasion of their privacy to post details about their home and their family moments in a semi-public venue, so I won’t.

I’d been awakened that morning at 5:15 by my neighbors, who decided they should talk loudly for quite awhile under my open window as someone was departing in the (running) car. So, when I got back from Samduk, I took a good long nap. As it was both Sunday and a major holiday, it was blessedly quiet.

About 3:00, I headed out and caught a cab for the ballpark. I had hoped to go with my colleague Ray, but I didn’t have his phone number, only his email address, and I’d forgotten to contact him on Saturday. I called my acquaintance Tony, but his phone had been disconnected. So it was just me.

I got to the park just before 4:00. Citizens Stadium is a little park reminiscent of a AAA or AA park in the US, and I’d say the level of play was around there, too. I know that in the major leagues the visiting team doesn’t get off their bus in full uniform and walk through the crowd, as the evil, nasty, wicked Lotte Giants from Busan did.

Outside the park was a scene not so different from the exterior of the parks in Syracuse or Binghamton before a game: hawkers selling food, drink, and souvenirs. The big seller is those big inflatable plastic things you beat together in a cacophonous racket; to the extent that they’ve caught on in the States, they’re called Thunder Sticks. One pair doesn’t sound like much, but five thousand pairs thunder pretty impressively.

I found a seat a few rows back of the third-base dugout. The stands were filling up quickly and we had an hour to wait. It was fairly hot but the sun was behind us and before long it became very comfortable. The big center-field screen played commercials and highlights, and the four Lions mascots cavorted their… uh, cavortions. Just before gametime, the big screen played highlights of Korea’s winning the Olympic gold medal in baseball, accompanied by some bouncy pop music, which everyone sang along with and beat their plastic sticks to. (The country shed a huge inferiority complex comparing their baseball to Japan’s, and they never, ever get tired of reliving it… the highlights play on tv almost every day.)

The game itself was pretty much like ours on the field, but off it… the Giants had several thousand fans massed along the first-base line, and every time they batted, a guy in full Giants uniform blew a whistle incessantly and led the fans in deafening, disciplined chanting. When our beloved Samsung Lions batted, we had a uniformed guy, too, blowing a whistle and leading cheers, but to my ear, our side didn’t sound nearly as good. I will say that I didn’t mind the noise, except that the horrible, nonstop whistle tooting got to me to the degree that, if I had had the Korean vocabulary, I would have suggested that the tooters might stick their whistles someplace where the shrillness would have been somewhat muffled.

Our side has its own version of the Laker Girls, who danced between innings. There were four of them; collectively, they were exactly my age and my weight. It seems as if so many countries love to imitate American pop culture, but don’t quite have the style down. Still, the game (and, I bet, every game) is a party in the stands, no matter the score. That’s a good thing, as the Giants flattened our beloved Lions, 9-1.

I cut out in the eighth inning, which I never do, hoping to get a taxi home before the crowd left. I was not as successful as one might wish, as there were already a hundred people looking for the two taxis that were for hire. So I…

1. Walked a couple of blocks toward some bright lights, hoping to find a cab, but had no luck. After a half-hour or so, the rest of the crowd emerged, and

2. I considered jumping on a bus, but considering that I had no idea where any of the buses going by were headed, I gave up and

3. Asked a bunch of young people if they spoke English (they didn’t, really) and asked where the subway entrance was. I knew it was several blocks away but had no idea in what direction, so I tried to follow their halting directions and

4. Missed the turn they apparently had told me to take and would still be walking and somewhere around the DMZ by now, except that

5. A Korean man, a high-school engineering teacher, tapped me on the shoulder and said that I should follow him, as he was going to the subway. However, after awhile it became clear he didn’t know exactly where it was, either, and of course

6. Cab after available cab went by, but I didn’t feel I could be so ungrateful as to desert him, so he

7. Asked a passerby, who steered him to the subway entrance, and we

8. Rode to the downtown stop where that subway line meets the one I’d need to take to head home, so I said kamsa hamnida and annyeongi gaseyo (thank you and bye!) and I decided to catch a bus rather than transferring to the other subway line, which would have disgorged me with a 20-minute walk, through an unknown residential neighborhood in the dark, to get home, but

9. When I emerged from the subway, I wasn’t quite where I thought I’d be in the downtown area, and not on the street on which the buses I know run, so I walked around the nearly deserted streets and subterranean mall until I came up and

10. Still didn’t know where the hell I was, so I headed north until I came to the intersection with Route 40, which is south of my familiar Route 50, so I turned left and walked until I saw the sign that Samduk Junction (near the other school location, the Kims’ apartment, the Bell Park, and Route 50) was straight ahead, so I walked there and

11. Saw a huge lighted sign for our school on the side of a 12-story building, thought “Holy cow! They don’t have another, bigger school right near the Samduk school I know, do they?”, followed by “Holier cow! The sign is on the side of their apartment building”, and I walked past the Bell Park and turned right on Route 50 and…

12. Walked a couple of blocks to the bus stop, whose sign didn’t say that buses 508 and 518 stopped there, so I briefly wondered if I’d somehow turned the wrong way, but decided to keep walking, and several blocks later found another bus stop, at which 508 and 518 do stop (apparently, not all buses pull over at all stops on their routes), and I…

13. Waited, caught the bus, walked the four blocks to home, and…

14. Oozed up the stairs.

Take me out to the ballgame. Better yet, take me home.

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