It has been sports central recently in Korea.
Last week, every classroom in our school had their big screen TV on full blast in the middle of a regular school day with teachers, students and janitors stopped frozen as Japan and Korea battled it out in the final game of the World Baseball Classic in Los Angeles.
I allowed my students to continue watching it. Honestly, I felt like I would be committing cultural suicide if I didn’t.
“Well. Let’s just speak English while we watch it,” I said.
My Korean co-teachers, Whit and I had been watching it live in our teacher’s room just before class when Korea scored a run to tie the game 3-3 in the 9th inning. And as a fair-weather friend of baseball myself, I was totally caught up in the excitement. It was so palpable, you could almost see the sweat beading on foreheads. Fingers crossed. Hands clasped in silent prayer.
When Korea plays Japan, it’s not your average Yankees-Red Sox battle. It goes much deeper than baseball. It’s about national pride. It’s about proving yourself to a country that once controlled you.
My students practically hugged me when I said we could leave it on to watch the 10th inning.
“V-I-C-T-O-R-Y!” They sang, cheering Korea on from their small school desks.
Unfortunately, Japan’s Ichiro Suzuki lived up to his stats and won the game for Japan soon after. Their little 6th grade hands sank in sorrow. For once, they were silent.
“Well. I hate to say this. But open your books to page 16,” I informed them with no plausible segue possible.
After this rough bout with Japan, Korea came back from behind and proved themselves on a different world stage over the weekend, totally redeeming their pride through “Queen Yuna.”
Kim Yuna is a young Korean figure skater who is at literally at the top of her field at age 18.
She made history Saturday night, winning the the gold medal in the World Figure Skating Championships, dominating the field.
Kim’s presumed archrival, 2008 world champion Mao Asada of Japan, finished only fourth, almost 20 points behind. Kim’s total of 207.71 not only broke Asada’s old record score but made her the first woman to top 200 points.
Koreans are once again holding their heads high, boasting in their victory over Japan. And for the moment, they are the winningest nation of the two. But who knows what tomorrow holds.