10 May 2003 - Seoul, Korea
The Seoul World Cup Stadium

The Seoul World Cup Stadium was the site of the opening ceremony for the 2002 World Cup, the place where the South Korean football team played the last game in their stunning World Cup campaign and is, surprisingly, a pretty nice place to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Adik told me that I had to visit the stadium, there was no choice about it, and I'm glad I did. The stadium sits in the midddle of a complex of parks, with a lake and a fresh produce market at one end.

The park was quite active when I was there, full of families running around, roller-blading, chasing pigeons, and generally having a good time.

It's actually several parks, and I didn't cover everything, but it's nice to bask there in the sun.

The market specialises in marine and agricultural produce. You see tanks of live fish and crabs, and beside that you see these large plates of sashimi. If I were a party of four people I would have bought one of those and sat enjoying them in the park.

But the highlight of the area must be the World Cup Stadium. It's large and dominates the skyline from wherever you are. It's really nicely built, and even if it doesn't compare to Bukit Jalil for size, you feel awed by it.

In 2002, South Korea outplayed themselves to finish fourth in the World Cup, eliminating luminaries such as Portugal, Italy, and Spain along the way. They acquited themselves well against Germany and Turkey, and, more importantly in their eyes, surpassed Japan who only managed to get through to the second round. Gus Hidddink the national coach at that time was lionised as a hero and he broke many hearts when he stepped down from his post as manager to accept a job with PSV Eindhoven. To be honest, the only way he could out-do himself was to ensure that South Korea win the Asia Cup and then reach the semi-finals in Germany in 2006. He had the luxury of training with the team day-to-day for six months before the World Cup began and managed to indoctrinate them with the fast-paced, non-stop style that shocked teams into submission.

All this is pasted on the walls outside the entrance to the stadium. Life-sized pictures of Gus and all the players are lined up next to pictures of the fans and their exploits on the field in this shrine to South Korean glory. It really just about brings a tear to the eye to see how an entire nation was brought together in the belief that they were capable of more than others thought.

It only costs W200 to enter the stadium (about 70 sen) and you get to wander around it to your heart's content.

The week that I was there, the stadium was playing host to a performance of Turandot to celebrate the anniversary of the World Cup. Directed by Zhang Yimou who was also responsible for the staging of the same opera at Beijing's Forbidden Palace, it is touted to the be the largest outdoor operatic performance in the world.

And it looks it. The entire one side of the stadium (which is slightly longer than a football pitch) has been transformed to be a set. The audience sits on the field and the seats in the remaining part of the stadium.

Because you are free to walk around, you could walk behind the set of the stadium and see things backstage. All this impressed me so much that I went to inquire about tickets (cheapest ones were going at W50,000) but they were mostly sold out and the ones available that night began at W200,000 (about RM700).


posted on Friday, May 30, 2003 - permalink
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