I finally got to a Korean baseball game, between the Nexen Heroes and the Doosan Bears. Since both teams are from Seoul, large crowds cheered for each side. If you were rooting for the Heroes, you sat in one half of the stadium and clapped together pink, sausage-like thundersticks made of inflated plastic. If you wanted the Bears to win, you sat in the other half and banged white thundersticks together. I saw one person with pink thundersticks in the Bears section, and felt kind of sorry for her.
Since we sat in the Nexen area, that’s who we cheered for, and it was a good thing, too, because they won 9-7. At U.S. baseball games, people yell individually. The guy sitting next to you might yell, “Throw da bum out,” and then the guy to your left might say, when the spirit moved him, “Da umpire needs glasses.” At Korean baseball games, the crowd speaks in coordinated cheers. How they know what to say, and how they say it all at the same time, I have no idea. Well, OK, one of the cheers was pretty obvious: the batter’s name, followed by “Home run!” With another, I recognized the childhood tune from “B-I-N-G-O,” but not the Korean lyrics. But still, they always chanted and sang at the same time.
The only reason I attend professional sports games is to eat, so here’s my report on the food: to my relief, you could buy pizza, chicken, and pork dumplings. For those who needed their red pepper fix, they served spicy rice cakes. Then there was the squid and the silkworm larva, which I don’t remember seeing at U.S. baseball parks.
The pitchers for both teams were tall Americans who were trying to get a few more years out of their careers. Their relief pitching benches weren’t deep, and the ball park was relatively small, which may account for the large number of home runs: 6 of them.
Going further afield, we took a KTX high-speed train to Busan a few weekends ago, in the southeast corner of Korea. Bullet trains are clearly the way to go: fast, smooth, with plenty of leg room. Busan is known for its beaches, which are elbow-to-elbow in the summer, but were being stocked with truckloads of sand when we were there.
We got up to see the sunrise at the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, set atop rocky cliffs on the coast. To be honest, the 5:20 a.m. sunrise was a bust, since due to the hazy sky (China’s pollution, drifted south), the sun was well above the horizon when we finally saw it, but the temple was really cool. It had human-sized stone statues of the twelve animals of the zodiac, all standing on two legs and wearing robes. There was a gold statue of a jolly Buddha, a gold statue of a meditating Buddha, and at the foot of these statues and in various nooks and crannies, little kewpie doll figures of students with shaved heads. Young people visit this temple to pray for good luck on their exams, and leave these tokens behind.
When the Korean War began in 1950, North Korea quickly routed the South all the way down to Busan, where the South established a perimeter. At the U.N. Memorial Cemetery are graves and memorials to the 21 United Nations member countries who helped South Korea fight back. We picked the right time of year to visit, with the graves hugged by azaleas and roses in bloom. Only a handful of Americans are buried there, but there’s a Vietnam Memorial style wall with the names of all of the foreign dead inscribed, including over 33,000 Americans, listed state by state.
We visited the hillside Gamcheon Village, which used to be where poor people lived. It has been repurposed, with pastel-colored houses turned into art galleriesand cafes for tourists. What a good idea, and a fun place to stroll around. At a restaurant across the street from the Jagalchi Fish Market, we ate grilled fish, plus the most delicious shrimp tempura on the planet, perhaps the universe. We walked down the theater street which hosts the Busan International Film Festival every year, and took an escalator up a hill to Yongdusan Park with its panoramic view.
The next day we went into the mountains north of Busan to see the stunning Beomeosa Temple—it’s special because it still has buildings standing from 1713. Once we finished walking around this large complex, with its buildings painted in the traditional colors of green, blue, red and yellow, we followed signs to a “hermitage,” and found another large complex. This one had a gold Buddha up high on a pedastal, surrounded by about thirty 6-foot high bronze statues of holy figures in various poses. While we were there, people in black suits and dresses sat on the floor inside one of the buildings while monks chanted to commemorate a loved one’s passing.