The Seoul Train bravoing my life...



놀이하는사람들 is the name of a bar in 신촌, close to where my apartment is located.

The name literally means, "The people who play." I like the name. I find it unique and refreshing compared to the "Rolling Stone", "The Doors", "Woodstock" and "Oregon Trail" named bars lurking in its vicinity. The foreigners I know refer to this bar as just "The Bar". At first reference I wondered if this was actually its name and I passively accepted it. Recently I actually took the time to decipher the half broken, sloppily artistic sign hanging above the bar entrance. It is written in some form of Korean calligraphy and was nearly incomprehensible for this 한국밀 beginner. But, that's what it says and its meaning assisted in giving me an even more positive out look on the bar. That is, until the other day...(dramatic effect attempted..)

This place is quite hip when it comes to foreigners and weekends. Fridays and Saturdays are absurd in this basement, one room, dimly lit dive. The wood tables and benches are then packed with people and standing room is tough to negotiate. In the corner a DJ can be barely seen through a certain cigarette smoke fog and the center of the room acts as a stage for gyrating bodies of all sorts. Drinks are relatively cheap there but the main attractors would be the woody, rustic-hippy atmosphere and the music. Like several other bars in the 신촌 area the "DJ" (man standing confused infront of a wall of records and CDs. No turn tables.) not only will play what you request but actually encourages the customers to do so. Small scraps of paper and pens are always readily available.

I spend my weekends doing other things and usually opt out of the mayhem that is a Friday/Saturday evening at 놀이하는사람들. But, do to its proximity, I sometimes drop in with friends during the weekday, especially if we are hanging out in my hood (that would be neighborhood). For instance, when Chloe was my prestigious guest Jay and I took her down to the place where people like to have fun:

And fun we had. We took some class pictures. Check them out:

No explanation needed. A little Carleton College energy graced that evening in 놀이하는사람들 .

So, now you know a little about the place that serves as the setting for the shit that went down the other night.

Jay and I are having are share of problems- problems that bless themselves indiscriminately on relationships one and all. The other night I was up late watching Australia out play the Azzuri and after a text message or two, decided to go meet Jay and her room mate for a late night beer. Jerry, her room mate, is also my coworker. Great guy, good friend of both of us. I meet them at 놀이하는사람들 and the three of us comprise nearly half of the people in the bar. The other five people are either current or off duty employees or their significant others. They are having their own party of sorts and Jerry and Jay had been included in a certain "off the tab" generosity well before I arrived. I also receive a free beer when I sit down next to them. The DJ, his employee friend and girlfriend are already treading jin as they continue to mix the stuff with cranberry juice. The other two employees aren't really partaking. The petite, deceivingly masculine DJ is loud and can't screw on the top to the gallon jug of cranberry juice. On the otherside of the bar, directly across from him, the couple slurs and laughs and drinks more. Everything is going alright at first. I sit next to Jerry and talk about work, relationships and the free beer we are drinking.

The first sign that things were heading south was when the DJ finds his way over to me and tells me that we have to fight. I chuckle as I look at him because he is a skinny, short man sans any imaginable athletic talent. His suggestion is not in his best interest. I have handed in to him many paper squares with song requests written on them before and we have partaken in short, meaningless conversations, so I guess we are acquaintances. I know he is drunk and, at first, think he is just joking. I say, "So, why do you want to fight?" He says that he wants to date my ex-girlfriend. I smile and tell him that I don't think she would date him but that he could try his best. He backs away towards the DJ booth, presumably determining how to react and then losing his train of thought as he increases in proximity to the jin bottle. I turn back to Jerry, not thinking too much about the DJ embarassing himself.

Jay comes and sits down next to me and we are talking. She has been having a rough week and has had a couple drinks and, not being too big of a drinker, is a little more emotional than she would normally be. She has a silent way of crying where tears just poor down her stoic face while neither her breathing nor voice tone change much. I suggest that we should think of leaving soon, find a better place to talk. In the meantime everyone has noticed that things are not as chipper at our corner of the bar as they are elsewhere. Jerry senses the awkwardness and moves his conversation down a ways with the sober male employee. The DJ on the other hand fills the gap by approaching and telling Jay that "It's over. You should move on." He then asks her to talk. She shakes her head. He grudgingly returns to his mountain of CD cases only to attempt to call her on his cell phone. Jay is more than a little embarrassed at how he is acting and refuses to answer the phone call. This guy had never before disclosed his pent up passions for her and the last thing she wants at this point is to start a new relationship.

He begins talking to his inebriated buddy across from him about us. His buddy finds clarity in stupor and suggests that maybe it isn't any of his business. They continue talking and I lose track of the slured Korean and my attention returns to Jay. Jerry excuses himself to the bathroom. Jay and I are at the end of the bar. The DJ is still leaning over the mound of CDs speaking with his good friend (also an employee) and the friend's girlfriend is still teetering next to him. The sober male employee is back a little ways having a conversation with a sober female employee who is off duty this particular night.

My attention is immediately refocused back on the DJ as my head jerks to identify the object that received the slap I just heard. I turn my head just in time to see the DJ wind up and return his received slap 10 fold to his good friend's cheek. A dramatic pause ensues before the DJ scrambles over the CD player and mound of CDs, breaking glasses and finally sliding to a stop next to his buddy on the opposite side of the bar. By this time the sober male employee is at the other side of the now infuriated buddy holding him back trying to neutralize the situation. During this foreboding episode I have moved Jay out the way towards the exit and Jerry has returned from the bathroom. Jerry stands next to us trying to find the bar he was in before he left for the bathroom.

Things look like they are going to be resolved and we are about to leave when the sober man releases the buddy just long enough for the buddy to go after the DJ. The buddy is a much bigger man that the smallish DJ but both are well beyond drunk. We watch from the door way to see a three man heap (DJ being choked by the buddy with the sober one grabbing the latter from behind.) They rapidly slam into the far wall where things turn bad.

Apparently the DJ and the sober guy are a lot closer than the DJ and the buddy because the two of them proceed to beat the crap out of the buddy. The sober guy had pulled the buddy off the DJ and onto the ground but instead of then preventing the DJ from taking advantage of the prostrate buddy they both began to attack the buddy. It takes about 5 seconds for me to realize that the buddy on the ground is going to get seriously hurt from the blur of flying boots and fists if something isn't done. I run over and pick up the DJ and carry him across the room in a head lock to the other female employee. I turn back to see the sober employee still kicking the prostrate one (now bleedings profusely from the face), but with more precision and less rapidity seeing as he was probably getting tired and that the prostrate man's girlfriend was laying over her man's body trying to block his kicks. Luckily two other DJ acquaintances have arrived and Jerry is assisting them in subduing the maddened DJ. I get over to sober man and do my best to distract him. I push him a way a couple times and get in his way. Eventually he comes to his senses and stops kicking the guy in the head.

We are disgusted, embarassed and confused. Jay is helping the off duty female employee clean up all the broken glass. Jerry is with the sober one making small talk and I am next to the beaten man's girlfriend inspecting her boyfriend's face. Suggesting that not only should he get out of the bar but that he should seriously consider prompt medical care. The DJ is outside and the sober one asks us to get the beaten one out of the bar. I let his girlfriend take care of it seeing as I don't care about the guy enough to risk getting his blood on me.

Jerry, Jay and I get our things together and also exit the bar. And there across the street are the DJ and the beaten buddy locked in an embrace, professing friendship eternal. They then fall over into the dirty street. The DJ gets up to run after a cab that he attempted to flag down, which drove off after it saw all the blood.

We leave shaking our heads. We aren't people who play like that. And, I'm not going to be doing anymore playing there.

Not an American Soccer Fan


I have never followed American soccer too seriously. I have tried several times over the years but my loyalties never really landed in their bandwagon. Nor any other country's bandwagon for that matter. I have been left (abandoned!) without a bandwagon to hop into. Enough about bandwagons.
It is a hard version of the sport to appreciate because, in my opinion, it lacks what the Europeans and South Americans bring to the game. The discrepancy is simple. To them the game is organic. Football* is an inherent part of their culture. The players are sincerely passionate about the game. There is a certain synergy between the players and the culture; they feed off each other to create magical football beauty.
On the other hand, it is difficult for Americans to produce any team worthy of international respect because America simply lacks a true football culture. Sure, more and more young Americans are playing the sport but, unfortunately, it is all in vain. Even if the game takes root in the homeland, it will always pail in comparison to Basketball, American Football, Baseball and probably Hockey. The MLS (Major League Soccer) will succumb to the same fate as the other leagues that preceded it:
-NASL (North American Soccer League), think Pele and the New York Cosmos
-MISL (Major Indoor Soccer League) The Wichita Wings come to my mind, with their host of my childhood heroes: “Stormin'” Norman Piper, “Fast” Eddie Henderson, Tatu and of course Chico Borja.
The NASL lasted from 1968 to 1984. No one went to their games. The average attendance was around 15,000 people. The MISL, which began in 1974, only ran for 14 seasons before “a protracted salary war with a new indoor league ultimately spelled its demise.” The new league would be the MSL, not be confused with the current outdoor league, the MLS… (I imagine the MISL was attempting to reach a larger fan base by dropping the “I” for “indoor” to yield “Major Soccer League.” I can just imagine the rational, “Now just wait one minute. Don’t give up just yet. Think about it this way: now the public will think we are both an indoor and outdoor soccer league… our attendance will double! Ha!”) Well, I guess the joke is on them since the average attendance for the 2005-06 season rang in at a shocking 4,737. The league is still technically alive but its supporters are fighting off the pro-euthanasiast (the banks who loaned them money). Most of these teams have been fighting off bankruptcy for the greater part of the last decade.

I have tried to throw my support in with those teams who play better football. But I was always the first to admit my status as an imposter. I followed the Series A division in Italy (even though I knew nearly no players and couldn't pronounce anyone's name…) and I rooted for Italy in the 1994 American World Cup. Alexi Lalas and Cobi Jones couldn't fool this twelve year old. But as I have grown older I find myself more content with my predicament. I no longer choose sides. I just watch the games and appreciate soccer beauty when I am lucky enough to witness it.
Teams of notable worth in Germany:
-Argentina is something else. Loinel Messi, only 18 years old.
-Germany and their two Polish forwards, Klose and Podolski.
-Brazil. Nothing yet, but don't give up on the likes of Rohnaldino and Kaka.

*Football is the term used by the rest of the world for what the Americans call soccer.

The View


The summer skyline from my apartment window.

Before I rearranged my room.

The third England game is coming up tomorrow morning and it is going to be good. Finally, after much anticipation and discussion, Wayne Rooney is back in the starting line up. The 20 year old prodigy returns to the pitch after he suffered a fracture to his fourth metatarsal in his right foot during one of Manchester United's final league games in the premiership.
Is Rooney as good as he seems? England fans herald him as England's key to football success in Germany this summer. The "white pele" he has been called. I think he might be that good, but honestly- after watching England crawl and gasp their way through their first two group fixtures- it would take a lot of good in a good player to save the England side from what appears to be certain elimination in the first knock-out round by the boot of either Ecuador or Germany. Both teams have been playing class football thus far- they are squaring off behind me on my TV as I type.
Rooney may indeed have what it takes to defibrillate England soccer back to prominence. And, prominence is surely in their potential, especially if you just take the sum of their parts. The problem for England always has been the concept of coming together as a team. Great players, poor team work, bad performance and finally, a worse result.

Here is where the hope lies:

"There are times when Wayne Rooney brings to a football field what a kid who has been guzzling too many E-numbers brings to a classroom. The sight of him diving in a muddy goalmouth, goading David Beckham to try to beat him from the penalty spot, even brought a schoolmasterly admonishment from a protective Sven-Goran Eriksson yesterday. "I thought he was going to injure himself," the England head coach reported. "He wanted to show what a good goalkeeper he was but I wouldn't let him."

The same training session, at Cologne's RheinEnergieStadion, had also seen a grinning Rooney slithering along the rain-soaked turf, like a human cannonball, to try to tackle Jermaine Jenas with his head in a game of piggy-in-the-middle. It was a challenge that the Manchester United striker won. "He's tackling anything that moves," sighed the paternal Eriksson. "Nothing surprises me about Wayne. Nothing."*

Step back Sven, England needs some energy like that. After all, he did win the tackle.

*The Guardian



This afternoon saw the conclusion of my third season playing for the SBFC Jokers. We played on our home pitch at the 서울외국인학요 and defeated Seoul Celtic to claim a fourth consecutive league title.
I am jumping the gun on this title claim but it there is little doubt that Celtic will be able to overcome the massive goal differential in their remaining two games. Assuming Celtic is able to win their final two fixtures they will have an identical record with us (we have played all of our games already), where each team's sole loss came at the expense of the other. So, to determine the league victor we must look to goals for and goals against. With today's 4-1 thrashing we have extended our lead to +13 goals. It's not impossible for our rivals to pull it out but it is unlikely. It would be a lame way to carry off the league trophy anyway. We are content to have beaten them head to head, losing the first game 2-4 but winning the second 4-1.
Today's concluding game was played despite the absence of several quality players: Sebastien is in Germany enjoying the madness and Remco has returned to Holland for the summer. I missed the previous two games due to a hamstring injury. I attempted a return for this final match but just as I was getting used to the game pace alone up front- I felt my hamstring start to go. I played only a couple minutes before I told Wayne to find me a substitute.

Here are the Jokers as they ended the season today at SFS:



Well, Im back blogging. So much has transpired since the last time I sat down to seriously write. And, I have been thinking a lot about what my blog is and what it obviously isn’t or doesn’t do. There is no coherent story and there should be. It is disjoint and random and I pity my handful of readers for that. Instead I should be giving more insight into the grit that constitutes my daily grind. You should be able to taste the sweet but stifling Seoul smog through these posts. You should be able to attempt vicariousness through my digital voice. And, well. Shouldn’t there be some characters? Never could be a story without characters.
Additionally, my blog format excludes the best aspect about blogging. Isn’t the entire idea that this should be a dialogue? At least something more than a spiraling soliloquy, that’s for sure. Questions, concerns, general blather and hate mail are all welcomed on- what will be- the new comments section of this blog. Other voices are needed, desired.

A new beginning. Why now? A critical mass has been reached. I can’t let these times float by undocumented.

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