Take me out to the ballgame

I’m going to wait one more day to finish up writing about our trip last weekend to Gyeongju.  There’s too much to tell today.  Today was a much better day for my family than yesterday was.  In the morning, my wife and son went over to a neighbor’s house for a Gymboree-style music and play class.  My wife said that my son was a bit timid around other children and did not want to play with the musical instruments.  It seems that his mood changes from day to day.  He never used to be scared in these situations, but today was different.  I’m sure he’ll be different again tomorrow.

We then headed to the COEX Mall.  My wife took my son to the aquarium for the first time, and I participated in a cultural event sponsored by the International Youth Fellowship (IYF).  If you recall, we went to the COEX Mall for the first time in March, but we weren’t able to take our son to the aquarium because he was too tired (see March’s archive).  He really enjoyed himself today at the aquarium.  At first he was afraid to get close to the aquatic life, but his mom finally coaxed him into picking up a starfish.  That seemed to be the magic pixy dust that soothed his timidity, because he was much better for the rest of the day (and he’s made up with daddy too).  He found a small toy Nemo (from Pixar’s animated feature, “Finding Nemo”) he wanted to buy, and mommy bought it for him.  By the time I saw them again in the early afternoon, he had thoroughly worn himself out. 

In the meantime, I went to work at the IYF World Cultural Fair.  In April, I participated in IYF’s English Speech Contest as a judge (see April’s archive).  The atmosphere at this event was much different.  Whereas the speech contest was formal and subdued, this event was casual and raucous.  The event filled a large room at the COEX Convention Hall.  The room contained dozens of booths representing countries from around the world.  I manned the American booth and answered people’s questions about the U.S.  Visitors were a bit shy, so I bribed them with free ice cream if they answered trivia questions and asked questions about the U.S.  I visited other booths and met some very nice Koreans involved with the event.  It was a great cultural exchange.  Unfortunately, the fair was not what we had expected.  Many of my colleagues participated in the event at a time when we really can’t afford to be out of the office, and I don’t think it was the best use of our work time.  I have a feeling that we won’t be involved with this fair again.  I had fun, but it wasn’t the type of outreach we usually do as a community service.

I’ve been missing America’s national pastime, baseball.  This evening my wife and I went to Chamsil Stadium in the Olympic Sports Complex to watch the second-place Doosan Bears play the cellar-dwelling KIA Tigers (the Samsung Lions are in first place).  As a big baseball fan, I’ve wanted to see a baseball game since the season started.  Today my favorite team, the Seattle Mariners, lost 9-3 to my newly adopted National League team, the Washington Nationals, in Interleague play.  In honor of that occasion (who would’ve thought the Mariners would ever play in RFK Stadium?), I donned my Mariners jersey and my Nationals baseball cap and headed to Chamsil Stadium with my wife to watch Korean baseball.  She’s also a big baseball fan and didn’t mind celebrating our anniversary watching baseball, drinking beer, and eating Cracker Jack and Korean kimbap (the hot dogs were overpriced and looked terrible).  The entire evening was incredibly cheap by U.S. standards–$6/hour for a babysitter, $2 round trip per person on the subway, $8 per ticket for seats just behind home plate, $5 for a Doosan baseball cap, $2 beers, and really cheap eats.  You can’t beat that in the states.  It costs more for a single decent seat at a Major League game than we paid for our entire outing tonight.  We paid more for two tickets to watch the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants at Yankees Stadium a few years ago. 

The Bears-Tigers baseball game was a pitcher’s dual, and when we left in the 7th inning the score was still tied 0-0 (we left early to put our son to bed).  The KIA Tigers won the game 5-2.  We didn’t really go for the game itself, because we hardly know anything about the teams.  Instead, we went for the experience of watching Korean-style baseball.  The quality of play was somewhere between U.S. Triple-A ball and Major League Baseball.  The ballpark dimensions were much smaller than in the U.S.  (For example, the left field wall was about 325 feet, about 60 feet closer than in a typical major league ballpark.  Barry Bonds could easily clear the stadium with a swing of the bat.)  Korean baseball seems to focus much more on small ball than on the long ball, so there are far fewer home runs and more singles.  Chamsil stadium holds about 40,000, and as in Japan, the stadium is divided into two sections and each side is reserved for each team’s fans.  The hometown Doosan Bears fans filled the first-base side of the stadium.  There were far fewer KIA Tigers fans on the third-base side because the Tigers play in Gwangju.  Still, they were far more vocal than the Bears fans.  I really liked their enthusiastic and amusing chants, such as "Let’s Go KIA Tigers!" (in English)  Fans added to the crowd noise by fervently knocking together plastic balloon noise makers.  The crowd helped make up for insufficient multimedia.  At Major League baseball games, multimedia such as Jumbotron animation, billboards, team mascots, fireworks, public announcers, fan cams, and player songs blaring from ballpark speakers all play a big role in entertaining baseball fans.  Multimedia at this game was conspicuously muted.  Cheerleaders animated the crowd between innings, and I saw the fan cam a few times, but not once did I see a Doosan Bear mascot come out to roar up the crowd.  Maybe he was in hibernation.

The highlight of our baseball outing was when I spotted the Doosan Bears cheerleaders waiting near some concession stands during the 6th inning.  They were dressed up as boxers and were punching the air with their boxing gloves, practicing dance routines.  I pointed them out to my wife, who said, “Hey, why don’t you take a picture with them?”  So I did.  Three of them thankfully obliged.  I was very much a leaf among flowers, but I was happy as could be to have my photo taken with such beautiful cheerleaders.  That would never have happened in the states! 

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