And still there is no resolution to my visa worries. My company needs to be registered to employ foreigners, which requires the boss’s signature or something – and he’s in Canada at the moment. Hopefully, that’ll all get sorted next week – I’m not terribly optimistic, however; I’ll believe it when I see it.
Last weekend was Seollal – lunar New Year, and one of two major holidays in Korea (the other being Chuseok, or ‘Korean Thanksgiving’). It was also Valentine’s Day.
I bought Habiba a couple of pairs of earrings. She put my feeble efforts to shame and made me a card with a pop-up flower inside; and she made a batch of chocolates for us both. On Sunday the fourtheenth, I was hoping to make up my side of the Valentine’s Day deal by taking Habiba to a nice restaurant I’d been to once before.
Before that, however, we had an appointment to go and watch ssireum – Korean wrestling. Ssireum is similar to sumo – it takes place in a big sandy ring and is a contest to remain on your feet and in the ring. The difference is that in addition to their tight shorts the wrestlers wear a length of cloth that is tied around their waist and, in a separate loop, around one thigh. Holding on to this belt arrangement is a major part of the contest, each athlete using the other’s belt to try and throw them.
Ssireum used to be very popular, apparently, but these days the only competitions of any note to take place are the ones at Seollal and Chuseok. The matches we saw were part of the lighter weight division – the heavyweights fought the following day. Many of the wrestlers were in their thirties, muscular guys, but with a bit of middle aged flab. The younger wrestlers had movie star bodies.
The stadium was a fairly long subway ride away and we went with some of Habiba’s colleagues and their friends. We got there as the opening ceremony was in progress – it basically consisted of a few singers doing the kind of song that older Koreans seem to like – old-fashioned and cheesy.
The competition was between sixteen wrestlers. The first round of matches was over surprisingly quickly. I watched the first one, which lasted for about a minute. Then I decided to video the second; this one lasted less than two seconds. As these first matches were all only one bout each, it was game over for that particular loser (at least until Chuseok).
The second round was more involved – matches were the best of three. The final was the best of five and was won in straight bouts by one of the younger competitors. After the final, the winner was presented with a cheque for 20,000,000 won (about £10,500), given a long blue robe and paraded around the floor on a huge wooden chair.
After that, the third and fourth place playoff took place – people were starting to leave by then. Then there was a raffle, we hung around to see if we might win one of the 30 bicycles or other things, but no.
One highlight of the event was that for a few seconds Habiba and I were on the big screen in one corner, and therefore live on national TV. Once we noticed ourselves we just sat there continuing to applaud and looking up and to our right smiling. Later on I got a text from a colleague saying she and her boyfriend had seen us. When Habiba went back to work, one of her kids had seen her.
After that, instead of going for a romantic dinner for two, we tagged along with the others and had galbitang – meat soup.
A good day, but not the most successful Valentine’s Day ever.