Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tennis, Anyone...?

I'm not much of a fan of tennis, and after watching Roger Federer play Pete Sampras at the Jamsil Arena in Seoul, I'm even less of one now. That's no reflection on the players themselves - but rather the circumstances in which it unfolded.

The tickets cost 120,000 won (about £63) each, but because we bought them with a Hyundai Card - the sponsors of the match - the price per ticket was a discounted 72,000 won (about £38). Ironically, we may have been able to buy them at an even lower price from ticket touts outside the stadium - the game was far from fully attended.

It was cold outside but fortunately the game was indoors where it was warm. Unfortunately it was too warm - in what seems an incredibly bad design heaters were blowing hot air from beneath our seats which made things quite uncomfortable until they were switched off about ten minutes before the end of the game, by which time I felt half cooked and completely dehydrated.

Next problem - and this is a big one for me - I like to take photos of some of the things I see in Korea. As oblivious as everyone else was to the fact that they'd been banned, I'd taken two before a member of the heavy security presence, dressed suspiciously like British policemen in their black flak jackets, came over to stop me. So it was that most of the pre-match entertainment consisted of watching security talk and argue with people while other members of the audience took sneak shots with their mobile phones while pretending to text friends. Meanwhile, up on the third-tier of the stadium, which hadn't been subject to a fascist takeover, people shot away through the match, even with flash photography, unimpeded. At least at Wimbledon, they just ask you not to use flashes.

Eventually it was announced that the match was being streamed to three countries live and this is perhaps one of the reasons why being in the audience came with a hidden DRM clause.

The last shot I took was of Wonder Girls, a Korean group consisting of teenage girls which provided the first part of the pre-match entertainment - or the second if you count the antics of Security as the first. The third part of the entertainment was provided by another group, Girls' Generation, who inexplicably are supposed to be around the same age as Wonder Girls but disturbingly managed to look several years younger in their whiter-than-white tennis outfits and short skirts. If that didn't leave you with a slightly queasy feeling, their coordination skills harked back to some of the more questionable performances I'd seen a year ago at a high school show.

Evidently people kept arriving during the game and were allowed in every time there was a break in the match. I noticed when I was at the baseball match I attended that Koreans tended to drift in and out during the course of the proceedings, but that lasted a few hours, this game lasted 61 minutes - and people were still coming in right at the end. After my brush with Security, one of the highlights was watching a foreign official photographer with a large badge labelled 'PRESS' getting prevented from taking shots from the crowd by one of the flak jacketed men in black. I wish I could have taken a shot of his complete disgust as he waved his press credentials around to little effect.

Federer beat Sampras in what I would have said was an unsurprising result, except for the fact that in two subsequent exhibition matches Federer won 7-6 7-6 and actually lost the third one, whatever you make of that. By this time, Security had finally stopped patrolling their assigned sections and retreated to protect the court from a largely agnostic crowd, which allowed us to take a few final photos and videos.

After the interviews, most of which the crowd didn't get to hear, Federer and Sampras were each dressed in a hanbok before hitting tennis balls into the crowd. It was a surprise, and as they were being dressed, they seemed to be so too. Welcome to Korea!

Because the game ended quickly we managed to change our return tickets to an earlier train - for a price - and were back in Busan before midnight. And for the first time I even got severe motion sickness on the train, which sort of brings the whole story of our Seoul trip full circle. The flight home in a couple of weeks is going to be really interesting.

Korean tags: 서울, 경기

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