Fireworks and Football

I realize I haven’t written about my awesome trip to Thailand to see Stephanie, but those photos are at home, and my students are taking standardized Korean tests all morning, so I’ve got a bit of free time. Sure, I’ve got some journals to mark, but that’s not nearly as fun.

This past weekend, Craig and I headed down to Pusan (Busan if you’re new to Korea or Fusan if you’re really old) for the FA Cup final between Suwon and Pusan. I didn’t get around to booking the tickets until mid-week, so left with the choices of 7am or 10:20am, I went with the latter.

We got into town around 1:30 and headed toward our Saturday destination: Gwangalli Beach, which was having a fireworks festival. After the longest cab ride I’ve ever had that didn’t begin with me taking the wrong bus to parts unknown, we arrived at a strip of sand which seemed to have been named “beach” by the same folks that have labeled every hill in Korea a “mountain”. At any rate, we were ready for lunch and could see the ocean, so some seafood seemed in order. I was cold, of course, so I wanted soup.

So, the local Nolbu Budaejjigae seemed a decent choice. I don’t eat spam, so budaejjigae wasn’t an option (to me, anyway, I think Craig was game). Fortunately, they had dak kalbi with seafood. Not soup, I know, but warm, delicious, and containing seafood, so it met our requirements. It turned out to be a great choice. There were mussels, shrimp, and baby octopi aplenty. I went for the first two and generously saved the cephalopods for Craig. I have agreed to try san nakji with him, but no need to rush things.

Once we’d eaten until we were ready to hibernate, we braved the cold once more in search of a room. The one place we’d looked at before lunch had posted a sign announcing they were booked up. Fortunately, one street back from the beach was all yogwans, so we were confident we wouldn’t be sleeping on the sand. As soon as we saw some people standing on a roof, we knew where to check next: the Hilton/ Hill Top (depending on which sign you read). They had a room, and so we were set. Of course, once we saw what our (by which, I mean, Craig’s) 100k had bought, it wasn’t much of a mystery why they still had rooms available.

Yep, that’s a round bed. See that thing that looks like a mattress pad? Under there was enough hair that it looked like someone had cleaned their brush. We slept on top of the covers.
After our eventful morning of sitting on the train and eating lunch, we were ready for a little rest. So, in the early evening we set out to find a place to sit and enjoy the fireworks. Since people had already been staking out their territory before we had lunch several hours earlier, we thought we might have a fair task in front of us. As it turned out, most places had reserved all their good seats. So we ended up at a “beer garden” (the sidewalk in front of a bar that had been roped off and set up with lawn furniture) which was offering their tables for 150k at the lower level or 200k on the deck. We went for the lower level, and this is what we got:

Well, that plus one more pitcher of beer. Yes, that’s two glasses you see. I helped Craig by having half a glass of beer. I live on the edge, I know. I hope he doesn’t think I’m a lush now… Being a more adventurous eater than I, Craig tried a bite of the dduk kalbi (my kids complain bitterly when they have to eat it at lunch, so I wasn’t too tempted, even with the honey mustard sauce). One bite was enough for him, and we picked at the fries until they were nearly refrozen in the night air. We ended up leaving the soju in our yogwan fridge– something to help the next occupants overlook the standard of housekeeping. The Pepsi and Cider we left behind, because who would even drink that for free?

After a couple of hours, it was time for the main event: fireworks. By this time, the beach, the road, and the sidewalk had been filled to capacity to the point that the entire waitstaff was standing guard pushing the rabble out of the roped off area. Meanwhile, we sat in comfort (I was even lent a blanket by the bar).

After a pitcher or so of Korea’s finest ale, I don’t think Craig was feeling the cold as much as I was.

The fireworks were launched from barges literally right off the coast, probably less that 100 yards or so from the beach. They were also launched quite low, so most of them seemed to be right over our heads. We had planned to meet another group of people, but at the last minute, they decided to watch the show from Haeundae Beach. I haven’t had a chance to confirm my suspicions that the fireworks were not nearly so spectacular from even that short distance.

It’s kind of dark, but you can see the ropes the hoi polloi are jammed up against, as well as how low the fireworks were. From my seat, I missed some of them completely, because they were aimed to line up under the bridge right off the coast.

The grand finale seemed a little like someone had a look at their watch and realized they had run over time. All in all a good show and a good time was had by all, or at least the two of us, with chairs, food and drink, room to breathe, and a blanket. 🙂

The real reason we had gone down south was for the FA Cup final, which didn’t start until late Sunday afternoon. So, we whiled away the morning with some cultural pursuits, namely the Pusan Museum followed by a stroll around the UN Cemetery. As it turned out, it was UN Day or some such, and we arrived just as a group of important-looking military officers were gathering for a ceremony.

If we’d stayed longer, we might have seen a 21-gun salute. We left just as they were playing the Korean national anthem, and headed to our final destination: the soccer ground.

Since the World Cup and the many new facilities built for it, the host cities mostly have at least two soccer stadiums (stadia?) now. We had a bit of luck and arrived at the correct one on the first try. Upon arrival, we were offered free tickets. After seeing Seongnam for free earlier in the week, I was feeling a bit spoiled and happy to be a foreigner.

After not meeting up with the other group the night before, I was looking forward to seeing them at the game. About five minutes after kick off, I got a panicked call from my coworker which I could barely hear over the announcements and cheering crowd. I thought I heard, “My friend is dead. He’s coughing up so much blood.” I later learned that one of the guys in the group had had more than his share of refreshments and in his haste to get to a bathroom, he tried to jump across a partition and fell several stories. He survived, but needless to say, they spent the game at the hospital, where he is now recovering.

Our outing was much less eventful. We had also planned to meet up with a guy Craig sometimes goes to matches with– you know, ones he wants to watch with someone a bit more knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the game. He arrived late, though, and ended up on a different tier than we were on. So, despite initial plans to watch the match with ten other people, we ended up on our own.

We headed back to the station after the awarding of the various medals and the cup and I got home with six hours to spare before my school day started.

Edit: I’m not sure why the photos suddenly disappeared, but I’m trying to fix it.
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