Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Seoul Survivors Survive and Win Championship

This last weekend was that final rugby tournament of the year and was held down in Busan.  It was a semi-single elimination 10's tournament.  For those unfamiliar with rugby, this meant we would have 10 players on the field for each team, instead of the usual 15, and play 10 minute halves, instead of the usual 40.  This tournament presented a number of challenges from the start.  First, because Busan is a 5 hour drive we had to leave Seoul on the team bus around 6:30am, meaning most of us were exhausted.  Also, it being December 10th, it was freezing cold outside, which is never fun to play rugby in.  Lastly, playing multiple games and only having one substitute was a huge burden because nobody could afford to be injured.  You could say the cards were stacked against us and things didn't get any better once the tournament started.

There were 5 teams who showed up at this tournament, which meant two unfortunate teams had to play a pig-tail match in order to decide who would go into the semi-finals.  Of course Busan, who was running this tournament and is our biggest rival, schedules us to play in this game.  We faced off against Ulsan, who proved to be no problem as we pummeled them 31-0.  However, this was still energy spent that the other 3 teams in the semifinals didn't have to spend and keep in mind we only took one substitute with us.

Luckily however, there was some confusion between that game and the next game which led to a long break before we played our semifinal game against Jeonnam.  This would prove to be a match for the ages.  A couple unlucky breaks saw us fall behind 14-0 by halftime.  However, we were able to rally ourselves and score 14 points in the second half to tie it.  Because this was a knockout tournament, no games could end on a tie, however, things were about to get dramatic.  One of the players from Jeonnam claimed there was a rule that if at the end of a tied game, if one team has a player currently in the sin-bin (penalty box) then that team loses the game.  So, at the end of the game, even though the score was tied, we walked off the field the losers because one of our players had gotten a yellow card just before the end of the game (this was bogus too because in the first half one of the other team's players had committed an egregious penalty and gotten just a warning, but we do the same thing and get a card).  This was a bitter pill to swallow, but it suddenly got a lot sweeter when one of the tournament organizers ran out saying that nowhere in the world does someone lose a game because of a card.  So we would play two 5 minute overtime halves and if still tied it would go to golden try.

We scored quickly in the first half, but Jeonnam tied it up at the end of the first half.  The second half was a hard fought one and nobody had scored by the time it came to the final play of the half.  This is when I received a breakaway pass and scored the game winning try.  Well, technically it was a penalty try because as I crossed the goal line and was headed to touch the ball down, I was tackled high around my neck causing me to knock the ball on.  Being an obviously illegal tackle, the ref awarded me the penalty try and we won the game.  Quite exciting and quite exhausting.

Next we just had to wait to see who we would play in the finals, which to no surprise turned out to be Busan.  Apparently, one team was supposed to play Busan to give every team at least two games, but since that team had already lost and the game didn't matter the team forfeited.  Why this is important is because now going into the championship Busan had played one game while we had played essentially 2.5 games.  Add the fact that Busan practically had a whole second team worth of subs compared to our one sub and the odds were definitely stacked against us.  If things couldn't get worse, the ref chosen to referee the game had never refereed before and seriously had to be taught the rules as we played the game.  This undoubtedly led to some very poor officiating.

I can honestly say that while walking out onto the pitch I had never NOT wanted to play a rugby game more in my life.  It was freezing cold, most of the team was beat up and playing at less than 80%, and thinking realistically, our chances didn't seem good.  However, this was the last game of the season so there was nothing to hold back for.

Early in the game we scored a try and I really believe that this was necessary for us to win.  Had Busan scored first, I don't think the team could have recovered our morale.  However, Busan did answer our score with two of their own and, due to their made conversions and our missed conversion, the score was 14-5 early in the second half.  We scored with less than 10 minutes left to make the score 14-12, and then in the dwindling minutes we had a break through run coming off a set piece that led to the game deciding try.  Seoul Survivors won both the KERA Cup (basically Korea's rugby championship) and this Knockout Tournament Shield.  We really collected the hardware this year.

Oh, one more special note.  A huge thank you to my good friend from Singapore, Ga Hye, who came out to cheer us on and even bought our team drinks.  You're the best.

The 2 teams after the Championship (notice how many more there are in red than black and yellow)

Celebrating on the bus back to Seoul

My friend Ga-Hye

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Berry Berry Stinky

Autumn in Korea is marked by a beautiful display of multicolored trees and leaves, weather getting a bit cooler, and the sidewalks becoming covered with these berries from hell.  They are called ginkgo fruits or 은행 in Korean.

The sidewalks become so covered in them that stepping on them is inevitable.  Now this sounds bad because the berries would get all over your shoes, but this is the least of your concerns about stepping on them.  Once these berries are burst, they release a horrendous stench.  Now imagine a sidewalk so littered with these things that every step is bound to require stepping on one, and then compound that with the number of people who walk on the sidewalk in that given day, and how many berries that then means are stepped on, and you might get a picture of how potent this stench is.  It is a little funny watching high maintenance Korean girls look like they are playing a game of hopscotch trying to avoid stepping on them, yet still failing miserably.  I'll be glad when these things are gone. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Picture in the Newspaper

Last week I found my picture in the main Korean-English newspaper, The Korea Times.  The rugby team I have recently started playing for put together a charity event for a local orphanage.  During the month of November we all participated in the world renowned Movember festivities.  For those unfamiliar, the rules of Movember are simple: one cannot shave for the entire month.  Actually, to be more accurate, one should rock a mustache for the whole month, but considering my line of work and that I look like a predator with a mustache, I choose to keep the whole beard until the last day when I shaved it down to a mustache.

To turn this into a charity event, the whole team grew out their mustaches and auctioned off the privilege to shave them off.  I honestly didn't think anyone would pay for this but I was surprised and we actually raised quite a bit of money.  We also sold raffle tickets for prizes donated by local businesses and accepted other donations.  It was a fun event and it was pretty cool to see my picture in the paper, even if I did look like I belonged on a '70s cop series or like a person who by law has to notify their neighbors of their criminal past.  So thankful to have that off my face.

For the whole article go here