There are certain activities and events that are considered a staple of Korean-ness and baseball is somewhere near the top of this list. With our weekends in Korea working our current contracts dwindling, we took the opportunity of having no other plans last weekend to book some tickets and head on down to Busan for a game. Yes, we could have attended in nearby Ulsan but the fans in Busan are known for being particularly enthusiastic, our friend who is a baseball fanatic lives in Busan and, best of all, its the home of the Lotte Giants. And Korean baseball doesn’t get too much more Korean or baseball-y than that.
Arriving at Sajik Stadium the atmosphere was already electric.
The place was packed with fans picking up tickets, running around excitedly and stocking up on snacks and drinks for the game. Like most places in Korea, food of every kind imaginable is available nearby as well as inside the stadium. And unlike most of the rest of the world, you can take in whatever you like. New York size pizza? Sweet as. Family size tub of ice-cream. No worries. Crate of beer – sure! But don’t worry, if you forget anything, plenty is available at the venue itself, either from the many vendors lined up on every level of the stadium or from the hawkers trawling the stands non-stop during the game. And yes, you can get chicken delivered directly to your seat. Oh and we should mention that prices inside the stadium are the same competitive prices as anywhere else. Gotta love the land of convenience.
Snacks and tickets in hand, it was up to our seats. We were sitting in the upper deck seats overlooking first base…so while not a prime position, it was pretty freakin’ awesome and actually afforded us great views over not only the game but the crowd and general hilarity. Oh, and did we mention the tickets only cost us 7,500 won (less than $10) each? That’s a steal!
To say that the crowd was enthusiastic about baseball would be a gross understatement. The passion, shown in organised chants, funky dance moves and loud cheering, shone through at every single moment of the game. Each player was introduced to the field by way of a clip on the large screen, and a popular song that had been adapted into a sound-bite incorporating reference to the particular player. And EVERYONE knew exactly what to sing.
Of course, we can’t talk about baseball in Korea without mentioning perhaps the most striking feature…each team in Korea is named not after where they are from, but rather the chaebol (a form of state-sponsored multinational, in Korea predominantly the family owned corporations like Samsung, Hyundai etc) that own them. So no ‘Busan’ Giants, but instead the Lotte Giants. And what happens each time the crowd start chanting? “Lotte, Lotte, Lotte, Lotte.”
While by no means subtle, its perhaps one of the most clever marketing opportunities we’ve ever witnessed. Want people to know your name? Get them to chant it at sporting matches over and over again. Free advertising all in the guise of fans enjoying a game. Genius.
The game itself was pretty entertaining but the crowd more so. There was everything you could expect from a big game – kiss cam (the Koreans were surprisingly really, really into it!), dance cam, cheerleaders, hype. It was all pretty awesome.
And then, just before the 7th innings, something even stranger happened. Everyone in the crowd was given a bright orange plastic bag to put their trash into…but in Busan, instead of filling them with their scraps, the fans blow up the bags and tie them to their heads, creating a sea of orange!!!
Its a pretty cool thing to behold. Upon closer inspection, it turns out the bags are actually printed upside down so its a firmly entrenched tradition for sure.
The crowd seemed to enjoy themselves immensely and we were swept along for the ride, hoopin’ and hollerin’ with the best of them. And for the fans that really just couldn’t get enough, they had their smartphones in hand so they could enjoy a double dose of baseball!
The game ended with a roar as the Lotte Giants took it out 2-1 over the Doosan Bears. Not a high scoring game but apparently that’s the norm in Asia. And for many, we suspect, its not even about the game – its about a highly charged, extraordinarily fun environment for all to hang out and get a little bit crazy.
For the fans that still hadn’t had quite enough, it was off outside the stadium to line up in orderly hoardes and await the players to emerge freshly cleaned and changed on their way to the bus.
When the players finally emerged, the scene blew our little Kiwi minds…the security guards formed a relay squad with each player coming out one at a time and being escorted to their transport by no less than three guards. When we asked our knowledgeable friend how necessary this was, she said VERY as apparently fans here can get quite full on. In New Zealand the only ‘celebrities’ who have security are politicians. Our sports stars are like gods, yes, but gods that we grow up next to. Dan Carter might look great in his undies but we keep our hands to ourselves in New Zealand.Thus ended our Ultra Korean Experience of the Day. And like a discarded orange rubbish bag, we floated off into the night.Ps. Some of you may have noticed that we’ve upgraded and now have video on our blog! We’re excited about this…and for those of you who were gagging to see Dan’s dancing with the Korean traditional dancers from way back in week one of our Korean stint, the video is now there waiting for you https://waterfallsandcaribous.com/2011/10/27/seoul-part-2/