Sometimes the cultural experience you seek does not originate from the culture in which you reside. One weekend I traveled with a South African English teacher, his mother, and his niece for nine hours in a car. Our destination was a rugby tournament in Daegu.
The morning started too early for comfort. I awoke at 4:00 A.M. bleary-eyed in disbelief that it was Saturday. On the other hand, I was grateful. I had two dreams that night about being late. I had to meet Hard Head, the Namak Middle School native teacher, at a nearby street corner at 5:45 in the morning. I faithfully complied.
My first taste of South African culture came at a rest stop near Suncheon. There I experienced my first taste of rusks. Rusks are a very hard biscuit meant to be drunk with a hot beverage. My beverage of choice, a hot black Americano, was declared inferior. Apparently, milky beverages are ideal. Like Oreos back home, they are meant to be dunked. However, you have to dunk them for a particular length of time. If you dip them too short, they will be hard and virtually unchewable. If you dunk them too long, then they will decompose into soggy bread. The ideal, I discovered, was between six and nine seconds (any South African readers are free to disagree. I would appreciate a proper rusk education).
After several more hours of half-sleepy conversation, we arrived. Daegu was beautiful. It hosted several Olympic events in 1988 and still sports some lovely stadia. Our tournament occurred on a rugby practice field. On one hand, some people were disappointed. They were promised a stadium. On the other, it was a natural grass field (many South Africans take issue with playing rugby on artificial turf. I don’t blame them. At the rate they scrape the ground that would hurt). Moreover, two beautiful goal posts watched over the field.
As I sidled up to the stadium, I met bewildered looks.
“Hello,” said one Korean-looking woman in native-sounding English.
“Hi,” I I replied tinged with nervousness.
“You look confused.”
“I am confused. I’m looking for Hard Head.”
They hadn’t heard of him, even though the man standing beside her had our team rugby sweatshirt on. The old me would have melted from embarrassment. The new me didn’t give a fuck.
Eventually I found Hard Head and proceeded to practice with the team. As a new player, I was quite raw.
“Hey Hard Head, is this the new prop?”
In line drills, I dropped my first pass.
“Ha! I guess he is just a prop!”
Several teammates sniggered.
When it was my turn to practice lineouts, I was petrified. In rugby, when the ball goes out of bounds, two players need to lift another player off the ground to receive a pass. Because I am tall, people assumed I would be talented at being hoisted up cheerleader-style with one man holding my butt and another holding my knees. They were wrong. I accidentally kicked one of my new teammates in the chest. I was summarily relegated to the back line. I didn’t mind. I’m a pacifist.
Our first game was against Stars and Stripes. This is a team of American soldiers (respect) who are mostly learning the game of rugby. Four of them (like me) were playing for the first time. I knew our team, the Busan Bandits, would likely win by a big margin. Therefore, I was all but assured garbage time.
17 minutes later, the garbage time arrived. I ran around for three minutes like a chicken missing a head, tackling one player in the process. I patted myself on the back (though no one else did).
After one more game of benchwarming, a proposition came to bear.
“Stars and Stripes need a player. Ian, you wanna play?”
I shook in my boots, unprepared to play a full game. However, after some thought, I relented. Why not? Get that experience.
“Good. We call this whoring out.”
We played against Ulsan’s rugby team. I was assigned to the back position (whatever that means).
As the game progressed, I relished in learning bits and pieces of the game. Spacing is everything. You need to maintain your lane.
“Keep a 45-degree angle!”
“Stay on my outside!”
I complied. Ulsan rushed down the field, three-on-me. I dodged and juked. They passed back and forth. I kept my head on a swivel and tackled the ball carrier.
“Yeah! Let’s go Ian!” I heard from the sidelines. The Bandits were warming up for the following championship match.
That was the adrenaline spike I needed. I finally understood rugby defense. It was the offense that left me at a loss. I received the ball, and proceeded toward the sideline, eager to unleash my unexpected speed. This was a big mistake. In rugby, you either run downhill or pass the ball. That’s it. It’s a game of field position. An Ulsan player tackled me, took the ball away, and scored. We lost the game three tries to one.
Despite my general cluelessness, others’ review of my performance was one was full of potential. From the sidelines I watched the Busan Bandits beat Seoul four tries to one. They won the league title, the early season tournament, and the end of season tournament – the trifecta. We promptly celebrated our tournament victory with beer and a multitude of pictures.
With the games behind us, it was time to head south to Busan for the afterparty. The weekend had only begun.
I think these shorts will be my new style. I bought a pair of fabric scissors so I could go to work on my shorts and swim trunks. Coming Soon Summer 2018!
Those eyebrows though. Never have I seen an advertisement actor look so sad and full of regret over food.
I am unsure whether or not the King took this picture by accident. His used the rule of thirds and centered the word “TOILET.” It appears eerily purposeful. Ms. Uno (my high school photography teacher) would have given it a C+ at worst.
The messages at Korean McDonald’s are so uplifting. Sometimes it makes me forget their role in the fattening of my countrymen.
Grandie is such a loyal commenter. I had to shout her out. I hope you’re still doing well in your “retirement fraternity and sorority house.” Love you.