Sundays and Ssireum
Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! Today, I bring you one more week of sweet, Korean wrestling action. Last week I talked about the joys of bovine-sumo, but this week its us two-leggers who take the spotlight. Today, I went to a Ssireum match an hour north of Daejeon. A quick breakdown on Ssireum: Two guys enter a circular ring, both guys wear a belt that is either blue or red. They both kneel down in front of each other and grab each others belts before standing back up. From this point, the goal is to flip the other person onto the ground or have them touch the ground. As you might imagine, it gets has many similarites with Mongolian wrestling and Sumo. Unlike Sumo, pushing someone out of the ring without making them fall out and touch the ground only warrants a restart. Today, we got to see the Professional Heavyweight division, and they are really able to throw each other around.
The matches take place in a typical bracket-style. There were eight wrestlers and it was single elimination, Each match follows a “best out of three” point system. If a wrestler is downed by his opponent twice, then he is out of the competition. When the finals ended and the champion was decided, confetti burst and shot through the arena. The champion won $20,000 and all-he-can-eat for a year, which I’m sure is an insane amount, from a major beef corporation. After the competition, I actually got to shake hands with the 2012 Ssireum Heavyweight Champ (one of the perks of being one of the few white people around). To be honest, I thought the fighters looked about average size when I was watching the matches, but when I shook his hand I realized how big this guy really was; first time someone has made me feel normal-size in Korea. He was about 6ft 4in and around 340lbs. Definitely, NOT a small guy.
As we were trying to leave the arena, the front door was completely closed-off by a mob of people. Finally, I had found myself in an angry protest (you would think it would have happened sooner for me). We tried asking around as to why people were banging on the doors and trying to push past the security and police teams. The answer we got, and poorly translated, was that they were protesting the building of “something in Korean.” As we moved through the crowd someone threw a piece of wood at the window. We overheard something about building “over” something else. An old woman screamed and shook the door and then an old man fell unconcious and was carried away by medics. We looked up the word we couldn’t figure out: “cemetary.” They were protesting a building that was supposed to be constructed on top of their family’s cemetary! The leader of the protest yelled something, and suddenly the crowd switched from outright anger to a silent sitting protest. I think they were just using the wrestling match as a place with a lot of people to hear them. I would definitely be more than pissed if someone was digging up my relatives, and I would definitely do more than shake doors and throw wooden pieces. It’s sad that this kind of thing can even happen.
Alright, now that I’ve either incited or depressed you, let’s move on to the fun part of the week where I talk about something weird I saw in Korea! For these weeks addition to “Adventures in Konglish,” I bring you soap:
If you are like me, sometimes you walk into the bathroom, run water over your hands, and then think, “Now what?” Well, Korea has taken care of THAT problem as well. Fear not my fellow easily-confused hygiene-enthusiasts, this soap reads “On: The Body” so that you know exactly what you are suppose to do with it. Just in case you are STILL wondering, I did indeed use this public bathroom bar of soap on my whole body…otherwise it would have read, “On: The Hands.”