Sunday, June 1, 2008

Travelogue #39: Live from World Cup Stadium: Korea v. Jordan!

<---Travelogue #38: Mad American Cows (And Why I Miss Cookie Cake)
--->Travelogue #40: 40,000 Koreans on the Street (Is It Really Just About Beef?)

Note: This article was featured in an abbreviated form in the July 2008 issue of Eloquence Magazine (South Korea).


In the thirty-ninth minute of the first half, midfielder Park Ji-sung threads through the Jordanian defense and rocks the ball into the net. Delirium seizes 53,000 red-shirted Korean soccer fans.

South Korea 1, Jordan 0.

I have never been to a professional soccer game, much less one in Asia, so I didn't know what to expect when my co-workers and I trooped into the massive Seoul World Cup Stadium for a square-off between South Korea and Jordan. What I find is that both teams are looking to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, and that this crowd clearly has a rooting interest.

Yet amid the proud twirl of the Korean national flag and the spirited go-team chants of the standing thousands, there flies a checkered Che Guevara flag.

That's right - Che Guevara, infamous Cuban communist guerrilla, icon of trendy t-shirts and poorly-received Steven Soderbergh epics. "What does Che Guevara have to do with Korean soccer?" I ask my friends. They don't have an answer.


Korea strikes again in the forty-sixth minute, this time on a Park Chu-Young penalty kick. I'm sitting beside Roy, a friend-of-a-friend in a San Francisco Giants baseball cap.

He is Korean, and this night isn't a cultural eye-opener for him; rather, it's just a soccer game between his team and the other. He grabs me by the hand so we can jump in tandem to celebrate the 2-0 score. He's chanting something and I'm humming right along with him, as are my friends. But in midst our hopping I feel like I'm sporting a mask, pretending that South Korea not only is my team, but that it's always been my team.

I find that even at a soccer game, hell, especially at a soccer game, the question of home comes into play. Call it an overthought reaction given my recent state of my mind, but as I watch the collected waves of red in the stands, I almost feel like I'm eavesdropping on somebody else's party.

Okay. I hear you. Alex, it's a friggin' soccer game. It's okay to clap, dammit. And clap I do. I also shake my head appropriately as Jordan, a team that looked lifeless in the first half, notches two goals in the span of eight minutes to tie the game in the second. How did Jordan come back? I blame myself and the rest of the fans for losing interest in the action and bringing "The Wave" alive.

The game ends in a tie. Like compressed air, the crowd leaks out of the arena. It's amazing how quickly the collective sonic energy dissipates into empty seats and muttered plans to get dinner. The atmosphere is like that of a romantic fling gone sour: the first half was the climb to orgasmic ecstasy, "The Wave" was the complacent cigarette after the fact, and the Jordan comeback was the wait, you're-not-going-to-call-back-are-you? end to the story.

I should have clapped louder.

<---Travelogue #38: Mad American Cows (And Why I Miss Cookie Cake)
--->Travelogue #40: 40,000 Koreans on the Street (Is It Really Just About Beef?)



Michael said...

That's one goofy ass hat.

Alex Pollack said...

Damn right.

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