Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Chance Run-In at a Baseball Game

Nexen Heroes (Seoul) vs. NC Dinos (Changwon) at the Mokdong Baseball Stadium, Nexen's home base.
Last weekend, one of my classmates invited me to a baseball game in Seoul. She's a fan of Seoul's team, the Nexen Heroes, and she knew that I was a fan of Changwon's team, the NC Dinos1. We went with other exchange students as well as my friend's homestay family, which included a teenage son, SW, who is crazy about baseball! All of us got seats in a section of the stadium heavy with Nexen fans, and SW was very enthusiastically using his pink thunder sticks to cheer on his team, so much that his parents kept telling him to sit down and be quieter.

Unfortunately for SW, the Nexen Heroes suffered a devastating (and, to be honest, embarrassing) loss against the NC Dinos, who are one of the best teams in the league this year despite being only two years old. The NC Dinos were leading by a few runs in every inning, which I pointed out gleefully to my rather disgruntled classmate. I took a quick selfie and posted it to Facebook, with the caption, "서울에서 넥센과 NC 다이노스 야구 경기를 보는데 다이노스를 혼자 응원해서 좀 쓸쓸하다 ㅋㅋ" (I'm watching a Nexen/NC baseball game in Seoul, but because I'm the only Dinos fan [in this section], it's kind of lonely, lol).

Then, in the sixth inning, something happened that made the Heroes commit error after error after error... maybe it was the fact that it had begun to drizzle? In any case, the Dinos were able to score ten runs at the top of the sixth, bringing the score to 16-5. Ten runs. What baseball team can score ten runs in a single inning?! The scoreboard couldn't even show double digits for runs, so after the tenth run, the numeral "9" was changed to an "A".

I stopped goading my classmate after that because I felt bad about how my team was trampling hers underfoot. Poor SW resorted to praying for a miracle beside me. On the other side of the stadium, however, the devout NC fans were singing and having a whopping good time. I have always been impressed with NC's fans -- I was once told that the Changwon team's fans all had to jump ship from the Busan team (Lotte Giants) when the Dinos were formed in 2012, and then they worked extra hard to build up their fan base in opposition to their neighboring city. As a result, the NC Dinos fans are among the most ardent in the country. I mean, this was a game held in Seoul (5 hours from Changwon), yet enough fans showed up in their section to hold their own against a stadium full of Nexen supporters and their sound systems, mascots, and cheerleaders.

One of my former students (from Changwon Science High School) is one of these die-hard Dinos fans. How did I find this out? Well, it was quite an unexpected and serendipitous meeting. Shortly after I posted the aforementioned photo to Facebook, she saw it pop up on her Facebook newsfeed. (We weren't friends on Facebook, but another one of my former students Liked the photo, and she saw that.) Realizing that we were both at the same game, she walked over to the other side of the stadium, judging by the background she could see in the photo, and then found me!

I was extremely taken aback when I saw her. This is a student who graduated in fall of 2012. I had only taught her for one semester and hadn't seen her (online or anywhere) for two and a half years! The first thing she said to me was (in Korean): "Teacher! Do you remember me?" It took me a moment because her hairstyle was different, and she definitely looked like a third-year college student, not a high schooler. But I remembered her name. In fact, I remember the exact conversation we had, nearly three years ago, when she explained why her name was rather unique among Koreans because it came from a native Korean word that had no hanja (Chinese character) counterpart -- her name means "sunset"2.

When I told her that I remembered her, she was so happy she didn't even know what to say next. Also, as it turned out, she hadn't kept up with her English studies, so she was very much speechless. She told me that she loved the Dinos and was even wearing a jersey that had been signed by the team. I was just amazed at this coincidental reunion. I wished my student best of luck in school, told her that we ought to meet up again sometime, and took another selfie before she went back to join her fellow fans. Later, during that improbable sixth inning, I texted her, saying, "WE'RE WINNING!" and she replied, in English, "Perfect!" plus a lot of emojis.

You know, I can't remember all of my former student's names. I can't even remember all of my current Korean friends' names -- it's just harder for me to mentally store and retrieve Korean names, compared to English ones. But I will never forget a student's face. And I'm glad my student didn't forget mine.

That night, I was thrilled that my team won, but what really made my day had nothing to do with the game at all. It had something to do, I believe, with the sunset.

- - -
1In Korea, professional sports teams are literally named after their corporate sponsors. Nexen Tire Corporation is a Korean tire manufacturing company. Its name is a portmanteau of "next century". The NC Dinos are owned by NCSOFT, a video game development company. Thus, I know many names of Korean sports teams, but I rarely know what city they are meant to represent.

2Okay, her name doesn't actually mean sunset. It actually refers to the glow of the sun at sunset or sunrise, which is... what, Rayleigh scattering? Or just... red sky (in the morning, sailors take warning...)

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