Sunday, March 29, 2015

Opening Day 2015

The 2015 KBO baseball season got underway yesterday, and I was there. In fact, I have attended Opening Day every year since I have been in Korea, so this was my seventh. I went to Mok-dong Stadium to support my team, the Nexen Heroes. The Heroes mascot is the best in the league, in my opinion, Mr. Stone Jaw, 턱돌이:

There are 10 teams in the league this year, which has sparked some changes in the rules, as well as an increase in the schedule to 144 games. You can read a pretty decent pre-season round-up at the JoongAng Daily.

One "new thing" I noticed was a concern about "safety" in the stadium, which seemed mainly to be expressed by these stickers put up all over everywhere:

However, at Mok-dong, at least, they still have the Smoking Area:

Baseball is, of course, an American invention, and food favorites at the ballpark include such traditional American fare as hot dogs and fried chicken. This is the case in Korea, too. But other favorites include dried squid, mandu (Korean filled dumplings), kimbap, and new to the stadium this year, "Ciao Chips". "From Italy!"

No visit to the ballpark is complete, at least for the adults, without a beer or two. And Koreans do enjoy themselves some beer. Within a few steps of my gate to the seats were three places to get beer:

There are two new rules this year regarding alcohol, at least theoretically. First, no bottles or cans allowed in the stadium, so the lines are substantially longer as the clerks have to pour the beer into plastic cups (a FIFA rule for ages):

Second is a rule prohibiting its sale after the seventh inning. This was certainly not the case at Mok-dong on Opening i bought a beer in the tenth inning.

Okay, fans, we have our food, we have our beer. Just one more stop before we go to our seats: we need to fill up our noisemaker things with air. There are several air pumps on the mezzanine with free air:

Time to find our seats. Well, actually, I had general admission tickets, 13,000 W (an Opening Day discount of 4,000 W) so I staked my claim with plastic bags slid over the back of the seats before I went out and took the photos above. Andy van Hekken throws the first pitch at 2:01, a swing and a miss, for the first strike of the season:

The game itself was very exciting. The Heroes, second place last year in both the regular season and in the post-seasonm fell behind the Eagles (perennial bottom-dwellers) 2 - 1 by the bottom of the third, and gave up two more runs by the sixth. But through it all, the fans kept up their high level of cheering, led by cheerleaders and cheer-dudes.

In addition to general team cheers, each batter has his own cheer or song, which the fans know off by heart. Some of them are chants, but others are tunes from pop culture sources, including this year, ABBA--"Waterloo" for, if I remember, 이택근, Ee Taek-geun. But Waterloo has three syllables, so you could use it for virtually any Korean.

Anyway, the Heroes fought their way back into the game with two in the bottom of No. 7, and the leveler in the eighth. They have always had strong offense, but quality defense was a long time coming. They still slip back into those patterns, as, for example, what would have been a nice sliding catch by the left fielder popped out of his glove. A couple innings later, SS and 3B performed a textbook Alphonse and Gaston, wherein they collided over a pop fly, the short stop knocking the ball from the third baseman's glove. Both were costly errors, though typically, neither was counted as such by the official scorer.

The game went to extra innings, and the supporters kept up their constant singing/chanting/cheering.

This was the first extra-inning game of the season, ad it went the distance, as twelve innings is the max in KBO rules. Finally, with one out in the bottom, Seo Geon-chang 서건창 soloed a walk-off homer. He is Nexen's lead-off hitter and was last year's KBO MVP, the first player to break the 200-hit barrier, with 201.

Here is my hero, 턱돌이, cheating on me with some other fans in celebrating the 5 - 4 win!

And finally, a shot of the scoreboard:

Friday, March 27, 2015

Harbingers of Spring

How do we know it's Spring?

1) First, of course, is the weather. Although if I'm honest, you couldn't tell it's here from the temperatures we've been experiencing. The equinox was a week ago, but the morning temperature has been below freezing every day since then.

2) The first blossoms. The first shot is of a sansuyu 산수유 outside the door of my school.The next two are the kenari or Japanese cornel dogwoods that line a sidewalk on my morning walk to work. They're also called "golden bell".

3) Baseball's Opening Day is this Saturday. And I have tickets. Nexen Heroes vs Hanhwa Eagles at Mok-dong Stadium at 2 PM.

4) The most definitive sign that Spring is really here is when restaurants drag tables and chairs out onto the sidewalk so patrons can enjoy the al fresco dining experience. I actually did this wednesday--at least for a while. The temperature kept dropping though and we had to move inside.
Just for the fun of it, you can see my first ever post on the spring flowers in Korea here. Frankly, a much better post than this one.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Krabi, Thailand: Too Brief Visit

At six days, my visit to Krabi, on the Andaman coast, was too brief: time I could have spent was used up on train journeys, bus rides and other "transfers", as they are called. I made the arrangements with a travel agent in Bangkok's Khaosan Road for a secluded spot with a pristine swimming beach, and I wasn't disappointed.

The resort is called J2B's, and while it got mixed reviews on TripAdvisor, most of them were from people unhappy with the previous management, turned off by the availability of of mainly Thai food in the one restaurant or dissatisfied with the fact that there was only electricity from 6 PM to 6 AM--even though this was clearly communicated in all the literature I saw about the place. I found it to be charming in every way, including the staff and the food.

The resort is situated on a tremendous stretch of private white sand, reached by boat or by a bumpy ride through the mangrove jungle. It is called Napparatthara Beach. The bungalows are set in a coconut palm grove arranged around the pavilion that houses reception and the restaurant.

Other guests came in and out all week, mostly staying for a few days before going off to explore the islands. I was content to lay on the beach, in my own lounger and read, occasionally dipping in for a refreshing swim. Krabi is one of three places in the world where the "karst towers" extend from land into the sea (the others being Halong Bay and the Dalmatian coast of Croatia). I think it was the most beautiful place I've place I've been to.

I did have to spend the night in Krabi Town, as all the bungalows were previously booked (my fault for being tentative in my initial booking). Where J2B was 900 Bt per night, the Apo Hotel located right by Chao Fa Pier was rather more (1400 Bt), but did have A/C, hot water and etc. Not really a lot to see and do, though it is quite a pretty area.

The place to have dinner in Krabi Town is the night market at the pier, where as I usually do, I had some red snapper, beautifully grilled.

Sadly, too soon it was time to head back north to Bangkok, to Suvarnabhumi Airport, and thence to the icy climes of Seoul, where now, over two weeks later, in mid-March, it's still too cold!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Thailand, Bangkok: A Brief Visit

My "Spring" vacation this year, as has often been the case before, was a trip to tropical Thailand, a welcome break from the bitter cold of February in Seoul. I spent my first few days in Bangkok, as well as my last day awaiting the flight back.

Frequent visitors to the Seoul Patch may recall the last few trips I have flown in directly to my favorite island haunt of Koh Samui, but this year I wanted to do it differently: visit a new little bit of quiet beach heaven, and also revisit the night train trip south, for which I had such fond memories in years past.

In addition to relaxing by the waves, one of my favorite things is Thai food--curries, exotic fruits, of course, but also super-fresh fish, particularly red snapper. Fish is popular in Korea, but the red snapper a rarity--Thailand is awash in it. To wit:

This little beauty was 400 Bt at a quirky restaurant of Susie Street, a block away from Khaosan Road. In addition to the massive grill laden with seafood,

the place was decorated with some interesting statuary. That last one is actually not a statue.

I also wanted to do some touristy things I had foregone in previous trips. For example, I took a dinner cruise on the Chaophraya a few years ago, but that was obviously at night. So I took one in the daytime. It was called "Rice Barge Cruise", and here's what I have in my journal:
I've tried numerous times to describe the riverboat cruise yesterday, and the madcap tuk-tuk ride that preceded it, but the iPad keeps crashing. It's now a little after noon on Wednesday and I'll be taking the train south to Surat Thani and ultimately Krabi this evening.
So the boat tour was fine, but I don't think it was worth all of $28. The first hour and 20 min was on a sightseeing boat, and included a chance--gasp!--to feed River catfish for 20 Bt in bread pieces. We then transferred to a rice barge for the remainder of the trip, which included a snack table bearing seven different fruits, sticky rice and some pandan custard. Also free drinks, any kind you want, as long as what you want involves some combination of rum, vodka your Thai whiskey, and orange juice or maitai mix.
The tuk-tuk ride was thirty minutes of excitement as we raced down every tiny alley in the region between starting point and destination. This was the second driver, of three, I noticed to have a cough; I suspect that being constantly at exhaust pipe level is an occupational hazard.
My photos mostly didn't turn out as I sat on the wrong side of the boat, except a couple great shots of the palace complex on the way back in.

Another thing I wanted to do was visit the Chatuchak Market, open Saturdays and Sundays, according to some sources the world's largest open-air market. Again from my journal notes:
Well, the Chatuchak Weekend Market is entirely a tourist trap--the only thing that's authentic is the food, and quite a lot of even that is crap. In two hours, I saw most of it, and ate some pig's head and feet, then hobbled out to find a taxi (200 Bt), because my big toe is throbbing.
My toe was throbbing due to a flare-up of "metabolic arthritis", aka gout, which hasn't bothered me in years. I found a druggist who had some over=the-counter anti-inflammatory that worked within two days (I got some more to bring back with me just in case). Anyway, the market was a vast disappointment. I remember it very differently from my childhood: the smell of mosquito coil smoke, dried fish and durian. This place had designer boutiques!

All in all, my Bangkok time felt less-than-amazing, but fear not! Things definitely take a turn for the more amazing when I venture south to Krabi Town. Stay tuned!