Friday, March 4, 2011

Korea - Part I (Seoul)

(Photos will be posted again on my Facebook Fan Page!)

So it begins, a journey to Korea with former Korean Badminton superstar Kim Dong Moon, leading a small team of Canadians, including myself, Grace Gao, Jon Vandervet, and Alan Chow (Team Alberta represent!). We departed from Calgary for Seattle on a 6:30am flight, meaning we had to be at the airport at like 5:00am, meaning we had to be up by like 4:00am. Funny how those early flights can deceive you on how soon you have to wake up o__O. Regardless, we made it through without too much trouble (aside from checking in 10 minutes before the flight closed; and Kim's box jammed the oversize baggage machine so a hungover Jon climbed in and unjammed it after all of us gave a weak attempt at dislodging the box including the TSA guy). We arrived in Seattle promptly and began our 6 hour layover at the airport. The Asiana lounge didn't open until about 2 hours before the flight, so we had to wait it out in the food court until then. But once we got in, it was all you can eat cheese-string and cup noodles. There was also free wi-fi at the airport, so that made things a lot easier as well.

Jon Vandervet making full use of the Asiana Lounge

I have never flown Asiana before, but it wasn't too bad. Unfortunately, the TV system wasn't too great, as I ended up not using it at all. It was a long flight (~ 11.5 hours) but the food was actually excellent. The first meal was a choice between beef or a Korean meal, and of course, I picked the Korean one (bibimbap). As you can see from the picture below, I definitely made a great choice. We finally arrive and meet up with Ra Kyung Min, Kim's wife, former mixed partner, and also another Korean Badminton superstar. After a fairly long drive, as the airport is about an hour away from Seoul, we made it to our motel... what a day (or two)!

Korean BiBimBap with soup, side dish, fruit, and a Heineken!

So our first stop is Seoul, where we are to train at the Korea National Sport University (KNSU). This is where the University team trains, led by coach Lee Dong Soo (Korean Olympic Silver Medalist in MD for 2000 and 2004) and also the Dae Kyo company team, an all-girl team, led by Ra Kyung Min. Grace had the fortune of staying at their dorm with the players, while we guys had to rough it out in a motel. Actually, it wasn't too bad, but later, we do meet some kind of tragedy (I'll tell you later =P). We didn't actually interact too much with KNSU, as they were on their own schedule, but we were able to play with the Dae Kyo team. With these teams, the best players who get selected to join the National team will go train at the National Training Center, elsewhere in Seoul. If the National Team is out traveling for competition (in this case, they will be in Europe), then players who aren't on the traveling roster will return to their school, company, or city team to train with them.

Anyway, let's take a small break from the badminton, as I didn't take many pictures (because I was mostly on court!). For Jon, Alan, and I, our morning routine was to go out for donuts and Wi-fi, since we were still suffering from jetlag. There are many coffee shops in Korea, all of them quite pricey. Our favourite stop was at a nearby Dunkin' Donuts, with their donuts at about 1000-1500 KRW ($1 CAD ~ 1100 KRW), but their coffee was very expensive, with a small black coffee being about 1900 KRW. Oddly, they don't do cream/milk here and if you want that, you have to order a Latte (or maybe go to Starbucks). One morning, we walked over to Dunkin Donuts, but they weren't open yet, so we stumbled into this 24 hour place called Tom & Tom's Coffee. We wanted pretzels, but they were out so we went for this thick toast, which I assumed was like that Taiwanese thick toast. Well, after waiting about 15 minutes, we got our thick toast on steroids, because these things were massive. They were very tasty, but they got kind of heavy as it was quite filling. Not too shabby for 5500 KRW.

(L): Thick toast with Honey
(R): Thick toast with Apple and Cinnamon

Side view

The food in Korea is absolutely delicious! So many ingredients and such wide range of tastes for one to experience. In my opinion, they use many fresh ingredients and presentation is usually a big thing for them as well, so dishes look very appetizing as well. There are so many restaurants around our motel area, specializing in many different types of food. It seems so abundant that you could simply walk into the nearest restaurant that served the food you wanted, as the one two blocks away probably wouldn't make any difference. Same goes for the similar coffee shops and convenience stores. Check out some of our meals!

Pizza cheese 'ra-pokki'

Spicy chicken with rice cake

Assorted mussels and clams

Steamed mussels/clams

Fresh raw oyster with sliced pork

Food to go! Jjajangbap and Jjambong (spicy noodle)

We also did some training at a nearby high school with some of the high school players. They were still pretty good but we were able to win most of our matches except when we had to play singles =P Overall we got some decent games in for a few days. However the best players were suppose to be with the Jr. National team, so there were still better players that just didn't happen to be there. Anyway, here are a few shots of us resting outside waiting for the afternoon session to begin.

Nice weather for an outdoor nap!

Jon O.D.-ing on drugs =P

Grace, Jon, and Alan

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end when we had a barbecue meal of pork belly but we ended up getting food poisoning o__O It was pretty rough for a couple of days. We figured we either ate too much garlic, or we had some bad lettuce or something, because we all got sick later that evening at about the same time. The restaurant people actually cooked for us, so I'm pretty sure the food was done right. As for training afterwards, it was pretty difficult but we were kind of lucky to be sick on a Sunday (no training), and it was also a holiday in Korea on March 1st (Korea National Day). We were pretty much restricted to bed rest and liquids, though there were a few meal options available. Anyway, check out the last set of photos and I will hopefully update the next portion of our trip shortly: training in Su-won with the Samsung Electro Mechanics company team!

The poisonous meal: Kimchi SamGyeopSal


Abalone Porridge (JeonBokJuk)


Tteok ManDu Guk (Rice cake & Dumpling Soup)

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