Sunday, May 16, 2010

Nexen's the one?

I'd like to thank the Mets for getting me in gear yesterday; I'd planned to ease into Saturday by watching their game online, but they considerately fell behind 7-0 very quickly, which sprung me early from my Web-induced trance.

I had a good long run. Or a good, long run. I now know all the parks in the neighborhood and, along the stream, all the rubberized-surface areas and where the shade's likely to be at various times of day. This time, I ran six and a half miles without ever getting more than a mile or so away from home, winding around the water and through the parks wherever my whimsy and my Asics took me.

I'm adding five minutes each week to my weekend long run in preparation for the marathon. This one was 65 minutes and it felt good. There's a feeling of strength and satisfaction and, I guess, virtue after such an outing; it's a pity for newcomers that the eleventh through, say, thirtieth minute can feel like such a slog that many people give up running entirely. At any rate, this run felt really good, though by the end my calf muscles were tighter than shrink wrap.

So, a little later, I thought it might be a good day to get a massage. That's been a challenge here: most "massage" places aren't... um, erm... legitimate, featuring more "happy endings" than Meg Ryan's filmography. The massage therapists generally don't speak English and tend to be very, very forceful; I've seen them at the jjimjilbangs using what appears from a distance to be steel wool. My Korean skills don't extend to "I'd like a fairly gentle, stress-releasing, completely PG- rated rubdown from a licensed practitioner, please." But my shoulders are boulders, my lower back is always sore, and my calves... well, just say I prefer it when I can walk normally.

I'd received a brochure for a legit therapeutic massage place, and talked to the personable, Anglophone owner, at the 5K race a few weeks ago in Bundang. His studio is in Itaewon, just a couple of blocks from What the Book and the Foreign Food Market, so I headed over there. ("Over there" is roughly as far away as Over There was for George M. Cohan's doughboys in 1917.) When I got to Sky Massage, it turned out that the Chinese guy who's very good but really rough-- my fellow teacher Susan got a quick rubdown from him after the 5K and said it hurt like hell-- was there, but Maureen, who sounds as if her skills are exactly what I need, is in the States. So I'll try again in a week or two.

The trip to Itaewon wasn't a waste, however, as at I got a Runner's World magazine, a couple of Robert B. Parker paperbacks, and a Korean "phrasebook" on cd for transfer to my iPod, at What the Book, and a lot of prepackaged curry from India at the food mart.

My big outing for the weekend was supposed to be a trip with our principal Ron and his family to the Twins-Giants game at the stadium; Michelle at work called on Friday for tickets, but they were already sold out. That was certainly unexpected, and probably due to the Giants' fans, who are the most devoted in Korea. The Giants play all the way down in Busan, but their supporters travel all over to support them, generally wearing inflated orange plastic bags on their heads at the games... yeah, I don't know, either.

Anyway, Saturday was so beautiful, 75 degrees and sunny, and there I was in mid-afternoon in Itaewon, full of energy, that I decided to take the subway 'way out to southwestern Seoul to see how the "other" team in town does what they do.Their guests were my old friends, the Samsung Lions from Daegu.

The Nexen Heroes are the sad sacks (Sad Sox?) of Korean baseball. In 28 years, they've played in three cities and been known as the Sammi Superstars, Chongbo Pintos, Hyundai Unicorns, Woori Heroes, the Heroes of Seoul (the only team ever not to have a corporate sponsor) and, as of a week before the season started, the Nexen (tire company) Heroes. The fans' plastic sticks are translucent and cheap-looking; they look like somebody inflated condoms for a health-class lecture. Their mascot is a ridiculous big-headed, jutting-chinned guy who looks like the love child of Clutch Cargo and Jay Leno; the back of his head is lightning-bolt shaped, as if he had some hideous accident during birth.

I swear the only reason I took this video is so you could get a glimpse of the Nexen Hero in the bottom-right corner in the final second. Honest.

I suppose that, as the patron sinner (I'm no saint!) of lost causes, I ought to adopt the Heroes as my team. But their park is way, way too far away for them to be my home team, I hate their Redskins' colors, their mascot and their name, and as a lifelong Met, Ranger, Knick and Big Red fan and Democrat, I think I've suffered enough. This matters to no one but me, but I don't know if I'm a Bears (my home team) fan or a Lions (my first home team) fan when it comes down to it. For this day, I was a Lions fan.

The Heroes' park is, in size and amenities, between the Bears' (and Twins') modern stadium, which was built for the '88 Olympics, and the Lions' dump back in Daegu. On this day, I sat among the rabid Lions fans (note: the "rabid" is lower case; the team is not the Rabid Lions) and, with my back to an aisle and an empty seat on either side, it was a lot more enjoyable than at the games at the big ballpark with thunder sticks thundering right in my ears. I'd guess that 10,000 of the 18,000 seats were filled and more fans came the 200 miles from Daegu than from the area around the ballpark. Sad Sox, indeed.

So I had a great time, I learned some new fan sing-alongs (to the tunes of Sing Sing Sing, Red River Valley, and, my favorite, Cum on Feel the Noize), and the Lions prevailed 5-0. Sixteen more subway stops and eight hours after I'd left, I made it back home, tired but sated.

Today? Another beautiful day, had coffee with Lauren, planning to watch the new Doctor Who episode and take a shorter run and, later, a bike trek to the park out west to grade papers in the sun. Another good weekend... and the Pac-Man beepety-beep from those awful bike machines isn't even bugging me as much as it did at first... though they're no walk in the park.

Life's (mostly) Good in the shadow of the LG building.


Later that evening...

The run was kinda cool; I came upon a Korean man who was tired on his run and had started walking; when I reached him, he started running again and we ran together for 20 minutes, having a nice though halting conversation in his limited English and my entry-level Korean. Mr. Gwang is 55 and grew up in the grinding poverty after the war. ("Grinding poverty" is my phraseology.) He's a nice guy and it's good to run with somebody, even somebody you don't know. He was kind enough to be impressed that I could read "Gwacheon Marathon" in Korean letters on the vests of runners passing us... but, damn, that's two marathons I had no notice of within blocks of my place in the last three weeks!

I never did get out to that park in the west, as Nicky the art teacher called to see if I wanted to go to get pizza with her and Dex. (Guess what my answer was.) It's nice to have a little network that spreads info: she told me where to get a cheap used bike, I told her about a big sportswear clearance, they showed me where to get cheap pizza...

So it's been another really good weekend, oot and aboot. (This entry has been dubbed in Canadian.) And in four weeks I'll be in California...

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