I've never been a true fan of baseball in America, it's just a little too laid back for me. I want lots energy in my professional sports, both from the players and the fans. South Korean baseball is exactly that, non-stop excitement. Much like baseball in Japan, the fans are spectacular in Korea. There's constant cheering, clapping and making as much good-hearted noise as possible. From before the first pitch until it's time to go home. I missed the first pitch of the game because I assumed the fans would stop singing and swatting together their inflatable noise makers once the game properly started. Along with the help of a cheerleader, who reminds you of the true meaning of the word, they use any opportunity to cheer for their team or just sing the latest Psy song.
Baseball was introduced to Korea be American missionaries in 1905 and has become the most popular sport in the country (second only to maybe Starcraft and hating Japan). The South Korean national team has been incredibly successful. They won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics and consistently rank in the top 3 internationally.
All of the teams are owned by large business conglomerates who put their names on the team as a way to help advertise their brand. For example, there's the Kia Tigers down south in Gwangju, the Samsung Lions in industrial Daegu and the LG Twins in Seoul. Hyundai even had a team called the Unicorns up until 2008.
Every single player on a Korean baseball team has their own song that the fans will sing when they come up to bat. The songs are all viewable online and you can download apps to your phone so you can practice and memorize the songs before the game. A lot of the songs lyrics are simple encouragement and team rallying, with lyrics along the lines of "Let's go [player's name]!" "[team name] is invinsible!"
There's absolutely no question which LG Twins players has the best cheer, it's Jo Yunjun. He let his true personality shine with choosing for his cheer to be set to the tune of ABBA's "Dancing Queen." The lyrics roughly translate to: "Wooooo! Jo Yunjun! Jo Yunjun! WoooOoooOoooOooo! LG's Jo Yunjun, blow us all the way up to the sky!"
Bringing in outside food and alcohol into the stadium is practically encouraged, you can even have food delivered to outside the stadium for you to pick up right before the game starts. Some stadiums even have picnic areas with views of the field.
But even if you don't bring your own supplies there are tons of options both. Right outside the stadiums are vendors selling all sorts of food and drinks, including pizza, chicken wings and more traditional Korean fare like anchovies, kimbap and pressed squid. Food and drinks inside the stadium are sold for the same prices you'll see anywhere else in Korea, including beer in the $2-3 range.
One regret of my time in Korea was that I never went to more baseball games. That, and that I never went to a soccer game, which I hear draws a similar exciting atmosphere.
A heat-wave is spreading throughout East Asia. Temperatures in South Korea went above 35° Celsius (95° F), with the highest temperature at 40° (104° F). It has been going strong for the past month and is likely to continue through September. At least six people have died due to the heat. In neighboring Japan, more than 23,000 people have been hospitalized and 27 have died from heatstroke.
Naturally, the increased temperatures has led to an increase in air conditioning and power usage, putting a strain on the country's power plants. Unfortunately, the heat-wave comes at a time when nine of the country's nuclear reactors are inactive due to regular maintenance. To further complicate things, at least 2 additional power plants have broken down, likely caused by power demands exceeding output.
To avoid issuing nationwide rolling blackouts, as in in 2011, the government has recommended the public reduce their power usage in various ways such as not cooling indoor spaces below 26° C (79° F) and to keep power usage low between 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM. Trains in Seoul are running less frequently. Restrictions have been placed on businesses, with city officials going door to door to ensure that stores aren't leaving their doors open, leaking cold air outside. Although, walking around the city, there are plenty disregarding the restrictions.
The leader of a male rights activist group committed suicide while being filmed and photographed by the media. Leading up to the incident, Seong Jae-gi released a statement calling for 100 million South Korean won (about $90,000 USD) to be donated to his organization, Man of Korea, to pay off its debts and for the closure of "The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family" (whose name in Korean directly translates to "Ministry of Females"), a government organization that tries to improve the status of women, children and families in Korea (in many ways the rights and social status of Korean women are 20 to 30 years behind those of women in western countries), whose existence Seong felt was discriminatory towards men.
Two of his colleagues were present for the suicide, pictured on the left, and stated that it was simply a publicity stunt and they did not intend for it to lead to Seong's death. Seong jumped off of Mapo Bridge, a popular suicide spot in Seoul. Prior to the jump, he tweeted that he believed that he would survive the fall. His body was found three days later.
The suicide sparked controversy for a wide range of reasons. People questioned the ethics of the media recording the event instead of trying to prevent it. Many of Seong's personal and professional problems were brought into public discussion. Prior to his body being found, there was doubt as to whether he had actually jumped.
Be warned, the video above contains poop, vomiting and bad words.
Vice Japan checks out Korean Poo Wine, made using traditional fermenting techniques from the feces of 7-year-old children, seriously. Apparently the poop from children that young is still "pure" and without odor.
Korea's infatuation with poop goes to more than just making wine out of it. As seen in Arirang TV's "Semipermanent," there is a poo museum shaped like a toilet, red-bean bread snacks shaped like poop sold in subway stations and poo statues here and there throughout Seoul. Earlier today, I even bought from some organic brown rice from a store named "Poop Bread" whose cutesy mascot's head is topped with a poop-swirl.
Plummeting birthrates spark families and government organization to try and hook up singles. The Ministry of Health and Welfare is promoting dating parties and other similar events. Following this year's Valentine's Day, there was a speed-dating flashmob organized for those that had no Valentine. Not surprisingly. It turned out to be an incredibly awkward event mostly populated by men.
Some have suggested that Koreans long work hours, of the longest in the developed world, are part of the problem, allowing them no free time to actually meet people. Further complicating things, most dating in South Korea is done via blind dates set up by friends. It's uncommon for anyone to approach someone they are attracted to in a public place like a cafe, bar or elsewhere and ask for their number or a date.
A South Korean man escaped from North Korea 41 years after being kidnapped. Chun Wook-pyo and 35 others were abducted in 1972 while on a commercial fishing boat. The 68 year-old, who was 27 at the time of abduction, is presently in an undisclosed country awaiting to return to South Korea. Seen above is a letter he wrote to South Korean president Park Geun-hye, asking to return to his hometown. There are reports that there are still 517 South Koreans being held in the North that were kidnapped during the Korean War, most of whom were also fisherman.
Similarly, this past Friday, a North Korean man defected to the South. He swam across the sea border to a South Korean island, knocking on a resident's door at 3:00 AM. He's presently being "questioned" by the military.
North Korea's "Mass Games" have begun. The aptly named presentation of dance, song, gymnastics and human jumbo-tron celebrates the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, a day they refer to as "Victory Day." The "games" will run through the beginning of September. Check out spectacular photos of the event on Flickr by clicking here. You can also watch an entire 90 minute performance from 2012 on the DPRK's official YouTube channel.
North Korea's life expectancy and infant mortality rates are improving. Life expectancy has increased from 63 years in 2010 to 69 this year. Infant mortality rates have dropped from 32 deaths per 1,000 births in 2011 to 27. Also, the nation's population is estimated to now be at 24.7 million, up from 24 million in 2008. For comparison, South Korea has a life expectancy of 79 years, infant mortality rate of 4.08 deaths per 1,000 births and a population of 50 million, with metropolitan Seoul's population at 25.6 million people.
North and South talk to reunite families that were broken apart by the division of the peninsula. The talks, resuming for the first time in 3 years, would put 100 family members, selected via lottery, in contact for the first time in over 60 years. The meetings are proposed to happen in late September at a North Korean mountain resort, with further online reunions happening in October. Previously, 15 family reunions took place between 2000 and 2007. There are over 73,000 South Koreans who have family members on the other side of the DMZ, with an average of 2,000 dying each year. This marks a positive change in the countries' relationship since the beginning of the year. But we'll see how long it lasts.
In many ways Crayon Pop's image and music video for their song "빠빠빠 (Bar Bar Bar)" are bizarre and completely different than what other popular K-Pop girl groups put out. For one, they are fully clothed. Every single girl group act that I know of seems to only exist as a medium to push sexiness and legs. It's not as though Crayon Pop wears parachute pants and don't wear makeup, but their is a marked difference between this video and any other. Also, with the scooter helmets and bizarrely hilarious dance moves maybe it's their intention is to stand-out via a more innocent image.
Conversely, representing pretty much everything that's standard about K-Pop boy bands is EXO and their second music video for "Growl." Currently #2 on Korean music charts and received 1.4 million views on YouTube after being online for 5 days. There's also a Chinese version of the song. It's become common practice for K-Pop artists to do versions of their songs in other languages such as Japanese, Chinese or English to better appeal to those markets.
Looks like the formula of beautiful athlete + agility + legs + baseball is back. Taekwondoist and actress Tae-Mi throws out the first pitch for the Doosan Bears in spectacular fashion. The Bears are obviously trying to replicate the popularity of Shin Soo-ji's pitch from last month.
That's all for this edition of News from South Korea. Feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail to let me know if there are other types of news stories you're interested in.