"Fighting!" to Run

It has been a busy few days for me as I ran not one, but two 10K races this weekend. Running is new for me; it's something I've just picked up since being here. I did my first 10K was in mid-May. As it was my first race, I was told just to finish, just concentrate on running every step, and not worry about the timing. No, I wasn't anywhere near the front of the pack, but I did manage to run the whole thing.

The run started at World Cup Stadium and ventured off along the river. It rained a little bit---just enough to cool us down, but not enough to make the trail slippery or make it uncomfortable. At first, we were all running as a big group; it was hard to find space for my feet. But it was exciting to be racing a clock, actually running for a purpose instead of just to move somewhere. After a while, when the real runners found their way to the front as us amateurs slowed down, there was finally some room for all of us.

Running along the river trail was beautiful. The Han River is a view that I will never get tired of. I live really close to the river, so I did all of my training runs on the trail near my house. I discovered that running from my apartment to the 63 Building in Yeouido is about 10 kilometres (well, it is according to my caveman-basic calculations, anyways), so I run there and back for my weekly runs.

This amazing view of the river reflecting all these lights just opened up in front of me all at once.

I remember one of my first runs, when I was running towards the river under a bunch of overpasses and I just stepped onto the river trail, and suddenly the view of the river opened up to me. It was late, maybe 10 o'clock, and so the sky was dark but the tall apartment buildings across the river were full of light. So this amazing view of the river reflecting all these lights just opened up all at once. I actually gasped out loud---a full, deep intake of air, and then a "Wow." That was then followed by some quick sideways glances to make sure no one heard me. It was just that beautiful, I couldn't help it.

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And so I was running along the river once again. I was running to the sound of my feet hitting the pacement, counting each kilometre marker as it went by: 1, 2, 3...that went by quickly...4, 5...halfway done...6, 7, 8...almost there...

I was trying to find the ninth kilometre marker when I first saw the spectators. They were standing along the edge, pumping their fists in the air and shouting something like "Whiting!"  or "Piting!" The people kept coming, more and more were standing at the sidelines cheering, "Piting!" to everyone running by. Even though I wasn't sure what they were saying, it pumped me up and I kept going, now with a smile on my face. Then I turned a corner and there, suddenly, was the finish line. With a quick burst of energy and a few dozen "Piting!"s, I crossed the line.

It wasn't until later that I found out the crowd was yelling, "Fighting!" (pa-ee-ting or hwa-ee-ting, in Korean)---the Konglish expression for encouragement. It doesn't really have a direct translation, but it's meant to be like "You can do it!" or "Go for it!" or "Don't give up!"

It's come to be something I look forward to when I race; I know that I must be nearing the end when I hear it, and it gives me that one last burst of energy I need to cross the line. It's what I needed to hear this morning, as I was nearing the finish line at Olympic Stadium. "Keep going!" they said. "Don't slow down, just keep fighting!"

And I crossed the line with my best time yet.

Taekwondo, Korea's National Sport

Walking home from work in the evening, it's not uncommon for me to hear little boys and girls practicing taekwondo in the small studio around the corner from my apartment. If the timing is right, I see groups of kids walking home in their white uniforms, practicing a few moves on each other as they head home.

Taekwondo, Korea's national sport, is popular not just here in Korea, but all over the world. It most likely developed from other forms of Korean martial arts, like taekkyeon, which is commonly described as a more “dance-like” version of the sport. Korean martial arts have passed through several waves of popularity and near-extinction throughout the years. As recent as the early 20th-century, during the Japanese colonial period, the sports were prohibited. But, having been passed down secretly, they survived. After liberation, the government decided to eliminate Japanese influence from its martial arts by merging several forms into one. And so taekwondo was born.

The word "taekwondo" combines the characteristics of the sport: tae ("foot" or "kick"), kwon ("hand" or "punch") and do ("way" or "discipline"). The World Taekwondo Federation defines the sport as "the right way of using all parts of the body to stop fights and help to build a better and more peaceful world." Like most martial arts, taekwondo is more than just combat; it combines self-defense and philosophy and teaches its students self-discipline, courtesy, and perseverance.


Sunday Soccer League in Seoul

I've been participating in the Seoul Sunday Football League (SSFL) for a couple months now. And by "participating" I mean cheering, not playing. It's a highlight of my week. A friend of mine invited me to watch him play soccer for several Sundays before I finally accepted. It was an away game, so we rode about 45 minutes outside the city to a pitch at an International school in Suwon. I listened to music on my iPod, sat in the rain, and didn't exactly follow the game. They lost anyway.

But something about being there really appealed to me. I wasn't sightseeing or being a tourist, I was watching my friend play soccer. I wasn't just hanging out with other English teachers, I was making friends with other expats and Koreans. After several more Sundays and one two and half hour bus ride to one of their away games in Cheongju, I got the title of #1 Han River Harriers Fan, and it's a title I cherish.

This weekend, we played a tribute game for John, who was a member of the Harriers this year. And by "we" I do mean I played too. The black bands we all wore on our arms in memory of John made everyone's step a little bit bouncier, smile a little bit bigger, and laughter a little bit heartier. The boys played without a referee, and looked as though they were having the time of their lives. This game was one of the funnest to watch all season. They subbed in regularly so everyone got a chance to play, and they swapped their jerseys as they came on and off. By the end of it everyone was wearing someone else's jersey. I don't know if they were keeping score; I certainly wasn't.

As the #1 Fan, I was called in to play at the end of the game. I wore my jeans, winter boots, and a jersey over my huge winter coat. I don't think I could have been any more excited than I was at the moment I stepped onto that field. They boys, as wonderful as they are, kept passing the ball to me so I could get a chance to kick it around. Neither I nor anyone else could figure out what position I was playing, I was just running up and down the field, following the ball but also trying to keep out of its way. Man, it was fun.

With Christmas just over a week away, the season has ended until next spring. I can't wait.

Attend a Korean Baseball Game in 2 Easy Steps

A Korean baseball game is not just about the sport; it's truly about the spectacle. I found myself not watching the game as often as I shouldheck, I don't even remember the team names. Instead, I was watching the crowd and the cheer squads. It didn't take long to catch onto the requirements for attending a baseball game here.

There are only two steps to attending a baseball game in Seoul:

  1. Beer. Just because. We bought huge cups of beer from the beerman in the flourescent green uniform and settled in our seats to watch the game. Beer here is cheap, unlike its MLB equivalents, so there's no excuse.
  2. Cheer. And for goodness sake, get yourself some cheer sticks. There is a cheer conductor on top of the dugouts to lead the cheers, with the assistance of about five female dancers, so you can follow along with the rest of the crowd. The team at bat has every one of their fans on their feet, but when the inning was over and the other team heads up to bat, relax and sit down while the other team's fans show their team spirit.

Baseball games here are loud, crazy, and fun. Koreans can teach MLB fans a thing or two about supporting their team!