Saturday, June 14, 2008

Greetings from Korea!

We made it! Nothing like a 15-hour flight to make one appreciate freedom of movement. Apparently, Korean Air is infatuated with the early movies of Dustin Hoffman, the time warp to “The Graduate” and “Kramer vs Kramer” did wonders to help us adjust to the 13-hour time difference. Our lovely colleague Mi Suk Park greeted Sharon Wheeler (aka ‘Wheels’) and I at the Seoul airport with a smile, coffee, and a big box of Dunkin’ Donuts, proof positive that sugar and caffeine are the world’s elixirs of recovery.

I just love a country that makes me feel tall at 5-foot nothin’. Unlike my recent trip to Holland where all the mirrors were 3 feet above my head and reaching a light switch required vast knowledge of plyometrics, everything is sized as a junior miss here. My kind of place.

We’ve picked up some Korean words – mostly food of course – and I could turn this entry into an edition of the Food Network with all the delicacies of this land. We are basically sustained with protein and hot spices. Who needs Starbucks when breakfast greets you with 5-alarm kimchee? Mercy. That’ll wake your frontal lobe. I’ve been able to I.D. most of what we’re eating, most of it swam somewhere in it’s original state, and I translate about half of it to Wheels so she doesn’t starve. No need to dwell on such matters, a girl’s gotta eat and keep up her strength, no? “Eat it, it’s good” has been the mantra of choice, Wheels is nothin’ if not a good sport about it.

We truly have an international gathering of officials – our good friend Bibi from Germany is here, along with Jenny from Sweden, Jacqui from New Zealand, Sasha from England, my countrywoman Cristina from Italy, plus Suk-Hee (Sugar), Sung-Mi, Kyoung-Min (Blueberry), Sol-Gi, and Mi-Suk (Strawberry) from Korea (note food theme in the nicknames). Our fearless leader is Kati Elovirta from Finland, who bravely took charge of our motley bunch. We had our technical meeting with all the teams a couple of days ago, where we had our hair pulled out one strand at a time going through the colors of each team and goalkeeper for each match for the next 10 days. They fed us really well afterwards to remove the glaze from our eyes, so all was forgiven. A bit of training included a futbol scrimmage later that afternoon and was quite welcome, getting the plane out of our legs and reassuring us that our abandoned pursuit of a national team spot was a very wise decision.

Last night was the opening match at Suwon World Cup Stadium, about 5 minutes from our hotel, yet a 35 minute drive as we toured several parking lots, crawled our way through the 30,000 strong crowd at the front gates IN A BUS while miraculously not flattening anyone under the wheels (though a random soccer ball rolling by didn’t fare quite as well; we tossed the kid a referee key chain as an attempt at reparations, but the 7 year old was pointedly unimpressed – oops). Eventually, we found our way into the tunnel and the luxurious locker rooms. After opening ceremonies we were ready for Korea v New Zealand. Jenny from Sweden was the referee and started us off on a strong note, along with Cristina and Wheels on the lines, and me minding the benches. Fantastic crowd, deafening from the opening FIFA anthem to the final whistle, New Zealand up 1-0 till the 70th minute, then bam, bam, two goals from the Koreans in a two-minute span. The place went wild, smoke flares, streamers, drums, gongs, chants & songs, yeesh what a racket! Love it. 2-1 for Korea at the final whistle. Canada played Argentina in the second match, took it 5-0 with Sinclair finding the net a few times.

Then we went to eat at a local Korean restaurant. Wow. I mean wow. We ate for almost two hours and 25 courses, no lie. Soups, 4 million types of veggies, a cornucopia of seafood, shellfish, beef, pork, and kimchee that took the paint off a couple of our stomachs, pickled varieties of yummy things, just an absolute feast. I imagine the dishwashers haven’t left yet. I’m still full 10 hours later.

This afternoon the US will play Australia, our get well soon wishes are extended to Cat Whitehill, who tore her ACL during training here, and of course also to Leslie Osborne, who endured the same injury almost 3 weeks ago. We hope their rehab is both quick and successful. I will be the 4th for Sasha on the following match, Brazil v Italy, so I’m warming up my hands for the upcoming conversations.

Off to train a bit and work off some of last night’s culinary adventures. We’ll do our best to get it right in the matches and send more tales over the next couple of days.


Sandra Serifini reports about her experiences in South Korea as she officiates during the 2008 Peace Queen Cup.