Football is a big deal in Korea. I knew this before my journey to the Motherland, but when I entered the packed stadium, the stands seemed to be brimming with an overwhelming sense of emotion and excitement that I had not expected. Despite what recent protests may suggest, Koreans seem to possess a strong sense of nationalism that I have yet to experience in the Homeland. Americans can be very patriotic, but we don't seem to rally behind our country in quite the same way as they do in the Motherland. It was an interesting experience to partake in a soccer game as if the fate of the country depended on the game's outcome.
Of course, this showdown was particularly exciting and emotional because it was North Korea versus South Korea; nothing spices up competition more than a little sibling strife! I did not observe any animosity towards the North Korean team, only an intense support for the South Korean team. I can't speak to the political or social ramifications of this soccer showdown, but in my opinion, this game seemed like the opportunity for big brother South Korea, the better looking, more successful brother, to best the family black sheep. Interestingly, the game was a draw: zero to zilch. I can't help but wonder what if would have meant if the North Korean team had won. It felt rather poignant that neither team had bested the other. Sadly, just like the match, there is still no clear move towards resolution between the two countries.
There were a number of young people waving around large flags that read, "Fair Korea, Peace Asia." I was a bit bewildered by the meaning of their flags, but I later learned that they were promoting reunification between the two Koreas. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a photo, but a large section to my left were clad in white T-shirts bearing a graphic of the entire Korean peninsula colored in blue. The emblem was a call for a unified Korea. They later waved a gigantic banner with the same image. I think it would have been interesting to observe the cheering and comments in the pro-reunification section. Instead, I had to settle for the loud commentary of some very vocal ajusshis.
Here are a few more random thoughts on the match:
- The North Korean players were beefier and tanner than their S. Korean counterparts. I guess we know who's enjoying the Hanu beef.
- The N. Korean players all had a similar buzz cut, while the S. Korean players seemed to boast stylish perms or strategically layered hair styles.
- The typeface on the N. Korean jerseys were distractingly non-sporty. It looked like Times New Roman. Who uses serif-fonts on sports jerseys?
- The FIFA people seemed to be particularly sensitive to avoiding outright conflict between the two teams. For example, at one point in the game, a N. Korean collided into a S. Korean player. The media people began to replay the collision on the jumbo screen, but then, abruptly cut to a shot of some inactive fans in the stands. Was that a case of shoddy directing or a pointed effort to avoid images promoting confrontation? Let the conspiracy theories begin...
- My eemo was right. Most of the S. Korean players aren't all that good looking. Or, as she joked, "They're all country (시골) boys. Not very good looking." (No offense to country boys. My eemo was just kidding).
These folks in red are part of the specially designated cheering section. These seats go fast, so you have to get your tickets early. The cheering section also feature variations of the taeguki, the emblem on the S. Korean flag. I'm not sure about their significance, but I found the banners quite curious.
The stadium was packed. There would have been more people, but I'm sure that a bunch of them were still driving around looking for parking. I think we drove around for over an hour and a half before Joon Oppa miraculously found some illegal street parking! (수고했어요, 준오빠)
Of course we had to show our support for the Motherland with some red devil horns.
I tried to get some footage of the game, but honestly, my little Luminix snap-n-shoot can only do so much. I did, however, catch a bit of the massive wave in the stands so that you can experience a bit of the fervor for yourself.