I played my second international soccer game ever yesterday. In high school, my buddies and I would occasionally play a Mexican soccer team on the weekend. The games were usually in the heat of the day during their break from working at Mi Ranchito’s restaurant. Our games manifested the stark contrasts between the two teams. We would be dressed to the nines in our latest soccer gear while they played in whatever they wore to work, usually jeans. Then there was the language barrier. “Arriba!” and “Move, go, move!” The funniest difference came when we played shirts and skins. When my fair-skinned friend Sam removed his shirt to reveal a very white torso, the dark complected Mexicans lost it in unison. “Gringo!” (essentially meaning white person) they taunted. The games were friendly, but the actual soccer was ugly. Mixing the two types of soccer together usually produced an unorganized game. Essentially, two cultures bumbling and fumbling to figure each other out. Not sure whether to bow, shake hands or curtsy.
Yesterday the same thing happened. Except this time it was England, Canada, Austrailia, New Zealand, and America versus South Korea. Again the game was friendly, but the soccer was ugly. I certainly contributed to the ugliness, I was probably even its primary producer.
We drove south of town to Hwasun, a small rural area about an hour out of Gwangju, and immediately began play. South Korean soccer is different. They aren’t very physical unless you are waiting for an inbounds ball, then their hands are all over you. Other than that, I don’t think they tackled anybody. Before and after the game we lined up along the middle line and bowed to each other. That was kind of special. I cannot say that ever happened at home.
I was glad to get home. I met up with Lindsay downtown where I was dropped off. We ate shabu shabu, a Japanese dish and a favorite among the Koreans. Essentially it is a hot soup broth that you add meat, mushrooms and greens to. You cook it on a stove top at your table. The second course calls for adding noodles, followed by a third course of fried rice. That was our second time there, definitely worth trying twice.
We then caught the third Jason Bourne movie, “The Bourne Ultimatum,” an experience similar to one you have at home at the theater. If it wasn’t for the complimentary popcorn, I would have forgotten we were in Korea. Trust me, as a gringo that is a hard thing to forget.