Gangneung Beach and Seoul Plaza: From Beach Bums to Soccer Hooligans

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June 25th 2010
Published: June 27th 2010
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How am I to sum up these past few weeks in Korea without rambling on endlessly describing every detail of the adventures I have got myself into? In a few words, I really can’t. It’s unfortunate that I will loose out on a few key points from my last few weeks, but I think you get the main idea about how I am doing here in Korea: amazing. Life could not be better; good friends, great food, a relatively un-stressful job, yup… life ain’t too shabby at all these days.

One highlight worth sharing was my trip to Gangneung (강릉) a few weeks back. A crew of about 30 or so foreign teachers all met up in this city on the East coast to spend 3 days basking in the sun and partaking in rampant drunken foolery.

Soaking in the Sun

The trip out to Gangneung was not bad at all, lasting a brief three hours on a relatively comfortable bus. To pass the time, being the obvious waygook’s (foreigners) that we are, we played a few drinking games on the bus. I can only imagine what some of these Korean’s must think of us, clanking our bottles around and yelling out obscene answers to the age old statement “never ever have I ever.” I like to think we provided entertainment to the few fortunate souls who like to take life a little less seriously. Regardless, the more we drank, the less we honestly cared as we continued our antics throughout the journey to freedom.

By the time we reached our destination, it was getting closer to midnight and we had no idea where our accommodations were located. In the brilliant fashion that I usually make plans here in Korea, I just sort of tag along for the ride… I never take the time to do any actual “planning” myself. I feel that this helps keep my already unnaturally low stress levels from increasing even in the slightest. In this case, I guess the group that had the information for our housing hadn’t even left Seoul yet and we had to wait for them to arrive before we could drop our things off…. Oops!

So there we were, a group of 6 foreigners stranded at a bus station in some random corner of Korea. As tensions rose and hope dwindled for finding a place to rest, something grabbed our attention in the distance. At first, the blue and green lights appeared remote and obscure; no one quite knew what it might be. However, as we approached the beacon of hope from the southwest, the letters of a well lit sign began to reveal themselves. With each fleeting step, a new letter jumped off the sign and became recognizable; I saw an M, then an F followed by a Y and a T. It didn’t take long for the word Family to become abundantly clear. A moment later, with the trumpets of angels heard faintly in the distance, it became apparent that hope had in fact been restored; we had found a 24 hour “Family Mart.”

As stated in previous posts: Family Mart is where it’s at; a castle on the hill that provides good tidings of sweet joy to the lost souls below. They have everything from Pringles and frozen dinners to Soju and Almonds…. And that’s not all. They boast an array of chasers and mixers to accompany the divine nectar we call Soju which keep the beverage ever changing and appealing to ones pallet. Mmmm… I love me some Family Mart. If I could, I would be the spokesman for the chain… still waiting for a reply on that letter. Oh well, like the Doosan cheerleaders, I am sure they will one day come to their senses and call asking for my services. Moving on… we spent the next two hours playing one of my favorite dice games from high school (3 man) until making the decision that we were far too drunk to be sitting in front of a convenient store. It was time to go to the beach!

After hopping into the nearest taxi, we got dropped off closer to town and (we prayed) closer to our accommodation. It took us a solid two hours to find the beach from there. Now this may be because the Soju threw off my usual “compass like” directional skills, or just that I have never been very good at finding things to begin with; it matters not. What’s important here is that we eventually found our way to the beautiful beach. I do feel it’s necessary to say it was only an approximate 5 minute walk from where the cabbie dropped us off.

Now the most magical (that sounds a bit fruity but I’m keeping it) aspect of this particular beach visit was all a matter of timing. Due to the prolonged bus ride through traffic, the drinking session in front of Family Mart, and our failed navigational routes locating our destination; morning was upon us. Being on the eastern coast of South Korea, this left us exposed to an illustrious sunrise which I will not soon forget.

The scene couldn’t have been more perfect: close friends, delicious drinks, and a football to toss around while we awaited the sun to peak over the vast horizon in the distance. When it finally did rise, I was speechless and wished to remain there as long as I could (wow I am loosing man points like it’s nobody’s business). Despite Brad yelling out “Shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, EVERYBODY” (after which I did partake in a shot), the scene was perfect (okay… maybe it was the “shots call” that added to the perfection of the moment).

Before meeting up with the rest of the convoy who had finally arrived in Ganglung; a strange sight befell upon me. While tossing around the football with D in front of the beautiful yellow and red sky backdrop, war broke out. Charlie was everywhere!!!! Looking down the beach, a group of approximately 500,000 (aka 10) South Korean troops were walking towards us. With AK-47’s in hand, frag grenades lining their beltbuckles and stone cold faces, it was a regular Wild West stand-off. I threw up my hands and prepared for some old fashioned water boarding, “this is it old boy,” I thought to myself, “the end of the line” (granted, I was pretty darn wasted at this point). The soldiers gave us a friendly nod with wide smiles and walked by. Close one!

This moment gave me time to realize how close to North Korea we really were. The soldiers who were patrolling the shores were clearly on guard for people sneaking out of (or possibly invading from) North Korea. It really put things into perspective for me in that, even though we were in a paradise, real world problems were only a short distance away. With the rising tensions after the recent sinking of the Cheonan, things here in South Korea have become a bit more stressful. During the weekend we were in Gangneung, things were not so bad, but shortly after (following the revelation that the North had sunk the vessel) things heated up fast. There were sanctions put in place, threats of war, and a multitude of world leaders stepping in to try and calm the nerves of both parties. Thankfully, it now appears the worst is over but still, it is an interesting thing to experience potential “invasion scenarios” when visiting a foreign land. In an odd way, it’s also rather exciting. The Yongin GEPIK teachers went so far as establishing the Y-Rabble Militia in order to protect our borders. While I would have fled the scene faster than you could say “France,” I am sure they would have put up one hell of a fight… viva la Yongin!

So we finally made it to our pension (apartment) outside of town and crashed until the following afternoon. The next day, we got out of bed (or off the floor in my case) and got ourselves right to the beach. That whole day, we spent basking in the sun on the unusually un-crowded beach. Highlights of the day included burying D in the sand, tossing around the football until our arms felt like they were going to fall off, and a possible broken finger on my right hand (I refuse to go to the hospital… what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right?).

Working on the Night Moves

That night, all of us waygook’s rallied together back at the pension. In front of the pension, there were 2 barbeque grills that the landlord graciously allowed us to use. So, after taking a trip to E-Mart (basically a massive 4 level Wall-Mart) to purchase supplies, we started cooking up a storm. D took the reigns as the grill master and I took the lead drinking and eating (it’s what I do best). Dinner was fit for a king (from Serbia) and filled my stomach to its breaking point.

Not long after the barbeque was over, the crew got together and we made our way back to the beach. Our night at the beach was similar in every way to our day there; we sat around, talked, and drank copious amounts of beer, mackoli, and soju. It wasn’t long until a guitar magically appeared in the center of the circle and some of the kids started playing. Unfortunately, soju has a way of causing temporary muscular dystrophy after overconsumption. This made my guitar skills appear comparable to a third grader as I attempted a rendition of “Hey Yea” by Outcast. Still, at least I was able to provide a sliver of entertainment for the evening crew. It didn’t take much longer for my next act: Roman Candle Duels.

Roman Candles are in actuality God’s gift to humankind. Seriously, flaming balls of hot charcoal spewing out of a foot-long mobile cylinder…. How can you ask for anything more?! A few buddies and I walked up and bought a few sticks from a wayward Ajuma and started to fire them off into the water causing a spectacle that seized all of our drunken eyes (Ajuma N. An old Korean woman typically seen “power walking” through city streets, selling beer and kimbop to attendees of baseball games, or selling fireworks on a remote beach. The most striking feature of this particular breed is their reliance on oversized sun visors which protrude from the forehead an average of one meter).

It wasn’t’ long until my dear friend Sessions decided that it was a travesty to waste Roman Candles by shooting them into the ocean. Instead, he decided that they were best used when fired upon each other. Now I know what you’re thinking: danger Will Robinson; and you wouldn’t be wrong in your analysis. It’s just…. We were drunk and well… some bad ideas just seem so appealing when you have been sipping on the nectar of the gods. Without delay, we each grabbed a stick, bowed a gentlemen’s bow to our opponents (flipped each other the bird), and lit the fuse. Instantly the dual turned into a massacre as Brad and I doubled up on shooting Sessions. Despite his disadvantage, he did have one thing going for him: moves. Not just moves from a common man mind you; these moves were wizardly. As if he were trying out for a Harry Potter casting position, Sessions bobbed, weaved, and swung his wand of doom around in fluent choreographed motions that captivated Brad and I. The best we could do was barely hold our battle sticks up, and here is Sessions moving around like he was freeking Dumbledore.

The Roman Candle fight turned out to be surprisingly tame as no one lost any eyes or limbs… until next time at least… muahha. So, we huddled up back with the rest of the crew and drank a bit more as one by one, everyone started to head home. Finally, it was Sessions, Brad and I left on the beach alone. I had no idea that at that moment I was about to come face to face with a man who would be spoken of for (no doubt) years to come with my friends; enter Brinley.

Brinley was a gay South African man who captivated us all with his flamboyant accident and peculiar mannerisms for the next 2 hours. I don’t think I have ever laughed as hard in my life as I did whenever Brinley opened his mouth to speak only to have Brad instantaneously mimic his every word. It’ is not as though we were blatantly making fun of him, we were just having fun. In fact, Brinley himself thought the whole ordeal was hysterical. I can’t quite get into all of the conversations that were played out, all I can say is of all the gay South Africans out there in this world today, Brinley is the greatest.

The night didn’t last long without the likes of Brinley around. While set a goal to wait out on the beach until sunrise, fatigue finally set in at about 4:00am and we decided to head back to the pension. The problem was we didn’t quite know how to get back to the pension house. Oops! In guess we should have told the others to leave a trail of breadcrumbs… or bottle caps… there were likely more of those to spare. It happens though; it’s not the first time I have been lost and wandering around Korea and it will certainly not be the last. Somehow or another as the sun was rising, we stumbled into our pension and crashed down hard.

The morning held a very… eh… interesting event for me to behold. I am not going to lie: I like to cuddle. Throw a stuffed bear or a big pillow in bed with me and I’ll grab onto that thing for dear life. It’s just the way I am, try not to judge. However, it is a bit much when you mistake a large fluffy pillow with your good friend Brad. That’s a definite “no-no.” Like I said, don’t judge me… it’s just something I naturally cannot avoid doing. So I awoke with an arm around Brad and my head on his chest. Granted, he didn’t seem to be all that upset about it, I just wish Sessions wasn’t the type of guy that took pictures of moments like this… yet, he is. Douche.

After shaking off the embarrassment of cuddling with one another, we all met up with our other friends outside. Unfortunately, the day brought with it copious amounts of monsoon rainfall, the kind of rainfall that stranded Gilligan and the rest of the crew from the S.S. Minow on the shores of some remote island. Luckily, our group was able to make the best of the day by spending time under an awning while we grilled some meat and drank some beer. It was a great day spending some time meeting new people and reminiscing over our past few months in Korea.

That night, we headed out to a few bars and clubs but everything stayed pretty tame. However, it has come to the point here in Korea where “tame” has taken on new meaning. Most people say this word to mean they maybe spent a quite night in watching a movie or playing some board games with friends. Tame for me almost landed Brad back in the hospital with a near fatal head wound. He found that it was a good idea to run full sprint through a fountain in the middle of town and, in the process, he split his head open on a concrete arch. That’s just Brad being Brad I suppose. Not long after, we headed out to a few bars and clubs before making the adventure home through the pouring rain. The next day, we were back on the bus (soju in hand) and heading back towards Seoul.

I whole heartedly recommend anyone traveling in South Korea to take the time and visit Gangneung. It is a truly a beautiful beach and a great city to just come to and relax. And, in case you find yourself drunk and singing tunes on the beach in the middle of the night, do me the honor of yelling at any nearby Ajuma and picking up a few Roman Candles. It will be the best duel you and your friends will ever have.


Every 4 years the world seems to stop and come together for an event that leaves the population on the edge of their seats; a time when masses of people from all corners of the world have a chance to get together and show their support for their homeland by over consuming alcohol and yelling out racial slurs at their archrivals. The World Cup is finally here; and it’s difficult to avoid signs of this anywhere you may travel in Korea. I can’t say that I am the world’s number 1 soccer fan, but over the past few years, the sport has picked up a lot of interest for me. That, coupled with the fact that Koreans get SUPER stoked for their national sports, has made me a proud supporter for this years World Cup in South Africa.

Plans have been made regarding the first weekend of World Cup matches since I first arrived overseas in Thailand. My former partners in crime The Chaing Mai Changsters and I had been consorting a meeting since our TESOL course ended so that we could all reunite and watch the USA v. England match. It goes without saying that this had made me very excited for this particular weekend, and I had been looking forward to it for a long time. To prepare for such an occasion, I had my friend Marc order up an authentic USA Donovan jersey and I hit up the local E-Mart to buy myself a “Korea Legend” t-shirt.

On the day of the match, you could feel the rising spirits everywhere you looked throughout Korea. Cars honked their horns loudly as I walked down the street making my way to Seoul, loud cheers could be heard belting out of peoples apartments, and no matter where you went, it was impossible to escape these fateful four words: Dae Han Min Guk! The words literal translation is “The Republic of Korea” and it is the official name for this country. The Korean fans in true nationalistic fashion belt out this phrase to show their unflinching support for their soccer team. While I may not be Korean, I do currently live here and have grown to love this country. As my good friend Sessions states, “I may not be Korean, but I live here, work here, and love it here; so I consider myself a part of Korea.” Therefore, I throw my heart and seoul (hehe no pun intended) into cheering for the Reds and will continue to do so until they loose or God willing, they win this year’s world cup!

Upon my arrival at City Hall in Seoul, a magical sight awaited me. Thousands of cheering Korean fans all huddled together in front of the massive TV screen in the center of the plaza. I’ve never seen more red shirts in my entire life! It was amazing how many supporters came out to cheer on their team, in the pouring rain no less!

To show my colors, I purchase the following items for the event: 1 red poncho, 1 devil horns hat, 1 set of Korean flag bracelets, 2 sets of light up Korean thunder sticks, 3 sets of temporary face tattoos of the Korean flag, and 1 blow horn… which I lost immediately after I bought it. I was locked, loaded, and ready to fire out cheers for Korea and heckles towards Greece (god do I hate feta cheese)!

I made haste meeting up with the rest of my foreign friends and we claimed our spot on the grass for the game. Our position could not have been better; we were virtually in the dead center of the mob! Now it was our time to throw elbows and box out the encroaching Koreans from taking our turf! It was also time to whip out the action bags and start doing a little mid-day drinking.

Various Korean singers and dancers came up on the big stage over the next few hours. We stayed in our spot for a solid 4 hours in the pouring rain awaiting the 8:30 kickoff. During that period, we lost a lot of good people. The Changsters decided to go on a suicide expediation out of the mob to grab some food at one point and were not allowed to re-enter the abyss. Though I was sad to see my comrades locked out of the party, I had to soldier on through the harsh weather and screaming fans.

It wasn’t long after that when the sun set behind the tall buildings around us and the clock struck 8:30… game time. I have never heard louder fans cheering for their team before in my entire life. We were mere American specks in a sea of Koreans, jumping up and down waving our various Korean nick-knacks and babbling out unknown lyrics to their surprisingly amazing songs. Life doesn’t get much better than this; slugging down Soju shots with friends, and hugging strangers in the street while belting out “Dae Han Min Guk!”… simply fantastic.

Upon Korea scoring their first goal, I thought that Seoul may be in the midst of an eruption on par with “Dante’s Peak.” In true Pierce Brosnan fashion, I over-acted my joy for the goal and joined in with the tens of thousands of screaming fans. For a solid 5 minutes, the roars could not be silenced and I could not hear a person talk to me even if they tried yelling in my ear. Watching the plethora of fans I was amerced in, the thousands of red shirts, thunder-sticks, and blow horns sounding off into the night air, the entire experience seemed so surreal to me. If you asked me 5 years ago if I thought this is where I would end up, I probably would have thrown a beer at you (5 years ago I always kept a back up beer in my front pocket). However, somehow this is where I am now: in the middle of a screaming mob of Asians in the center of a vast city thousands of miles from home.

South Korea ended up scoring another goal, and I ended up pounding back close to a half gallon of Soju. By the end of the match, I had all but lost my crew and was locked arm in arm with a group of 10 other Korean guys. The people behind me threw me at least 3 beers (for some reason these guys loved me) which I shared with my newfound friends as we drunkenly hopped around in circles yelling out rabble that I assume they must have understood. Keeping the spirit alive, our group formed into a large circle and started hopping around in one big circle. As the minutes passed on, we swallowed up group after group until there must have been about 40 others spinning and yelling with us. It was the perfect cap off one of the best sporting events I had ever attended.

One flaw that I found in the South Korean cheering section dawned upon me for the Korea vs. Argentina match a few days later. Now back home in America, if I’m at a Red Sox game or watching the US compete in the Olympics, I like to think I stand up and cheer regardless of the score. It’s called sticking by your team, being there no matter what; proud to win, proud to loose. That’s how I at least have always felt about sports. However, once Argentina went up a mere goal, a wave of quiet plagued the plaza. I’m serious; you could hear a pin drop in the street. The crowds sat down and seemed to just roll over and die, and we hadn’t even reached the second half of play! Sessions and I were baffled. We even tried to stand up and start the “Dae Han Min Guk!” chant ourselves to no avail. This made my heart heavy for a nation of fans that so quickly gave up on their team. However, I am sure when it comes down to it, they were merely sad for the impending loss to a more dominating adversary than they faced on Friday.

Despite these flaws in failing to root for a team on the ropes, a unique sense of national pride has been shown to me in this country. Over the past month, I have seen the Koreans capacity for complete unity. Red shirts, waving flags, blowing whistles, and proud cheers are constantly in the public eye across the peninsula. Whether it be at a baseball game, in the center of city hall, or outside my office window overlooking the elementary school playground, it is impossible to miss the faint whisper of the Big Bang/ Kim Yu-Na song “Shout of the Reds” in the distance. Even as a foreigner in a distant land, my heart swells up whenever I see this national pride put into practice. These most ancient of people have endured the worst throughout history from multiple wars, colonization, economic collapses, and corrupt dictatorships, yet still, they remain strong beside one another, through thick and thin. I admire their bond with each other and look forward to the opportunity of seeing more of this unity in the coming months.


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