Drinking My Way Through the World Cup: Savage Saturday

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 I spent most of Saturday in bed, missing out on some glorious weather in an attempt to sleep off the onslaught of chemicals onto my body and brain.  Pickled coma.  But eventually I creaked out of bed, fed my cats and myself (scrambled eggs and green peppers, mmm), and eventually headed to the Seomyeon area to meet Angry Steve and Sammy for some grilled meat and football.

 I spent most of Saturday in bed, missing out on some glorious weather in an attempt to sleep off the onslaught of chemicals onto my body and brain.  Pickled coma.  But eventually I creaked out of bed, fed my cats and myself (scrambled eggs and green peppers, mmm), and eventually headed to the Seomyeon area to meet Angry Steve and Sammy for some grilled meat and football.

Seomyeon is as close to a downtown that this snake-y city has.  It’s packed with restaurants of all sorts, especially near the Migliore shopping center, where there’s a rabbit warren of alleys containing Korean barbecue, chicken, and seafood joints.  This place is mobbed on the weekends by students and young folks, drawn by the pure street buzz and relative cheap prices.  You can get your feed and drunk on without blowing your stack.  It’s rather nice, all and all,  and is one of my favorite things about living in this country.  I wish I had a similar area to go to when I was an obscenely broke college student.

We had headed to Seomyeon for one reason only.  The first match of the night was Korea vs. Greece, so the streets and restaurants would be jammed full of hyper-nationalistic young Korean soccer fans wanting to catch the game and whoop it up in the even of a victory, which I thought was reasonably unlikely, given the seasoned opponent.  But luckily, I was proven wrong.  The three of us – later joined by the boozy Nick Bibby and two of his English friends, managed to find a table at a samgyupsal restaurant that – like every place in town – was showing the game.  We ate mediocre cuts of pork and washed it down with beer and a couple bottles of soju, all the while watching Korea hammer the sluggish Greek side.  The match ended 2-0, in Korea’s favor, and the locals immediately emptied into the streets, clapping and chanting and generally basking in the glory that is winning your first match of the World Cup.

This is why I like spending at least part of the World Cup outside of America.  The level of excitement is a hundred times more what you’ll ever find at home.  You can taste it and see it, and even the most cynical of us can’t help but get a little caught up.  It’s also good to see the Koreans school a European power, because it brings out their pride and pure happiness.  As we wandered through the red-clad masses, we were high-fived and fussed over by everyone.  I clapped my hands in solidarity and told them “chukhahamnida!”, which means “congratulations.”  Any shyness that the Koreans usually have had disintegrated.  They felt fucking great about themselves and their country, and by extension, felt great about us being there.  This is only a fleeting thing, because this pride can easily slide into obnoxious uber-nationalism, but what we saw last Saturday night was their best side.

Afterwards we took a cab to the Kyungsung University district and headed to Ol’55, where my band, The Headaches, was playing a special World Cup show.  The always entertaining Hajimama opened up the gig, with us on afterwards, drowning in beer and hi-decibels.  The turnout was respectable if not massive, and we rocked until about two thirty am.  Soccer and rockers!  Football and foot pedals!!  This was my mantra for the show.

After a bit of Baccus D energy drink (and maybe a little Jagermeister) to pick me up, I headed to Eva’s, just down the alley, for the England-vs.-USA match.  As I ascended the stairs, resplendent in red pants, white shirt, and blue tie, I was blasted with a wall of sound that is immediately recognizable as English men singing in unison.  As I approached the doorway to the bar I could see that the crowd was already spilling out.  The intensity of the singing put me on edge; I looked around for thick-necked shaved-headed Brits who may throw a punch my way or try to glass me in the face.  A lot of the Americans were watching the game across the way at the more Yankified HQ Bar, but I wanted to face the English myself and get right into the shit.

The place was a bursting, a wall of people scrunched into a smallish bar.  I plowed through the English section, trading handshakes, back slaps and abuse with a few of my trans-Atlantic friends, many of whom had St. George’s crosses painted on their faces, until I made my way to the much smaller American group on the far side of the room.  I managed to find a spot at the corner of the bar, next a very drunk and jingoistic New York Jonathan, and I glued myself to the floor, ordered a beer, and held my breath as the ball was kicked off….

Liverpool’s ace striker Steven Gerrard scored the first goal at about five minutes in.  We Yanks were immediately deflated, dreading this as an omen of things to come.  But our fears were overblown, for after a while, it became apparent that our boys were stepping up, that they could look England in the eye.  And our confidence was boosted by a messy goal scored just before the half, when the English keeper Green basically dropped a ball kicked right into him, which proceed to roll right into the net.  When the ball was kicked I saw Green stop it and turned to NY Jonathan with the intention of complaining about the shot.  It was then that I heard the other Americans erupt into the pure ecstacy that is the reaction to a goal.  I turned my head to the screen and saw that the screams were justified.  We had scored against England.  I jumped four feet off the ground and hugged Jonathan with all my strength….

The second half saw no more goals.  England pressed us well, but Howard, the US keeper, denied one shot after another.  The man was on fire.  In the end we drew, which for us was ALMOST as good as a win, and the English shook their heads, finished their beers, and shuffled home.

The sun was now up and Scott, Sam, Johnny the Greek and I headed to a 24 meat place for a breakfast of pork and beer.  Johnny – who is Canadian – but whose parents and family are properly Greek – was done up in his Hellenic blue and white, sporting a jersey from the national team.  He had been at Sajik soccer stadium early with 50,000 roaring Koreans, probably the only Greek fan in the whole place.  While unhappy with his team’s performance, Johnny – a real football fan – took it in stride, knowing that they’ll fight another day.  He smiled and laughed and told us that the Koreans had treated him with class, which is all we can ever ask.  With that, we finished the pork and downed our breakfast beers, staggering out into the glare of the late-morning sun.  It was time for bed.  I had to get some sleep before the next match.



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