Monday, October 31, 2011

Bad football really isn't that bad

David Fleming of EPSN's Page 2, perhaps the most irreverent and therefore the best way to approach sports, took it upon himself after last week's 6-3 Seahawks-Browns game to find the ten worst football games of the last ten years. Fleming didn't count routs in his analysis because those are technically games where somebody plays well, and in a sense I suppose he's right, but from my perspective as a more-or-less dispassionate fan without a particular favourite team, I'd rather watch two crappy teams play a close game. A rout like the Saints' 62-7 win over the Colts last week is simply awful to watch.

I watched most of five football games today by skipping through commercials, kicks of any sort and other undesirable fluff. In the Colts-Titans game, were up 20-0 in the first half, which is when I switched to another game, and went on to win 27-10. I remembered the Bills were playing in Toronto. As I watched the game, the Bills kept making plays, it was great, but when I skipped ahead to the third quarter, the early 13-0 lead had become 20-0, so I stopped watching. The Bills won 23-0.

Then I tried the Jaguars and Texans, hoping that this otherwise unassuming game might have been interesting, but when I tried to watch just the fourth quarter, it was 21-7. I turned it off immediately. The Jaguars did get as close as 21-14, but the Texans put it out of reach with a field goal. I gave about a half hour to the Cowboys-Eagles game, but as dazzling as the Eagles looked, it was a double-digit lead before long and when I skipped to make sure it stayed that way, I saw the score that made it 34-0. That final held up as a 34-7 rout.

As I write this, my fifth game of the day, the Lions-Broncos game, has just become 17-3 for the Lions. Skipping ahead a bit, I saw that it became 38-3 midway through the third quarter on a deep pass to Calvin Johnson. With two minutes left, it's 45-10. I give up. I'll have to wait to watch the Patriots-Steelers game in its entirety, which the Internet has given rumblings (Facebook comments about the game I didn't read, pictures on websites that I immediately closed) of having been interesting.

By contrast, I saw three football games last week: the Jets-Chargers, the Broncos-Dolphins and the Jaguars-Ravens. These Jets and Chargers game was presumably well-played for the first half, but I saw the last twenty minutes (game time) and I was appalled by what I saw, particularly at the end of the game. Still, it was reasonably entertaining to watch as the Jets came back from a 21-10 deficit thanks to the Chargers' miscues. Rivers threw two interceptions that resulted in ten Jets points. This was entertaining.

What was not entertaining was something that I feel like I see far too much, as losing teams stand around doing nothing as the clock runs inside two minutes. The mismanagement of the clock inside two minutes was so egregious that even normally reserved commentators, the sort of vexing people who remind you of an indifferent parent as your brother pummels you, noted the incompetence.

Then we switched over to the Broncos-Dolphins game, where the Dolphins had extended their lead to 15-0 with seven minutes to go. The Broncos didn't score a touchdown until 2:44 to go, then recovered an onside kick before scoring on another goofy-looking Tebow pass. In overtime, it took three possessions that looked as though they might lead to an unsightly 15-15 draw before finally there was a Dolphins turnover that the Broncos used for an 18-15 win.

Even the 12-7 Jaguars game, where the Ravens didn't score until late in the fourth quarter, was more watchable than today's games. They scored with 2:02 left, then recovered a tantalizing onside kick that went about 9.5 yards and bounced backwards, before holding the Jaguars to a 19-second possession. The Ravens had a chance to drive for the winning touchdown from their 20 with 1:43 left, but threw an interception on the second play of the drive. It was ugly, but it was far more watchable than the crap that aired today.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What does Yueyue's death tell us about China?

Two weeks ago in China's Guangdong province, two-year-old Wang Yue (nicknamed Yueyue) was run over by a car, ignored by passersby and later died in hospital. Thanks to the presence of security cameras pointed at the street, the hit-and-run and the subsequent indifference of eighteen people to the plight of a bleeding two-year-old was captured and seen by the world.

This isn't quite a case of China-bashing, because reaction within China has been as critical as the reaction outside of China, but both Chinese and non-Chinese seem to be treating this as proving, among other things, that China or the Chinese have no soul because they sold it to get rich. For years, people have felt that China's meteoric rise economically was coming at the expense of its people's well-being (as though hundreds of people being lifted out of poverty isn't well-being). Now, they seemingly have their proof.

But, as is so often the case, an event in China tells us what we think of China instead of telling us something about China. We would never think of India as the world's ninth-largest economy, but China is the world's second-largest economy, its second superpower and future ruler. All sorts of expectations are levied on China, when talking about daily life rather than its military or diplomatic capabilities, that would never be expected in other countries with per-capita incomes of 7,000.

It's likely that in other countries, this wouldn't have happened, but even if this had been an anomaly by Chinese standards, this would have confirmed our gut feeling that the Chinese can't be trusted. All it takes, of course, is one example, and if the example had come from CCTV in Thailand, Syria, Ecuador or Slovakia, it probably would not have had the same impact.

Much was made of the absence of Good Samaritan Laws in China, which meant that passersby would have opened themselves up to legal risk had they touched Yueyue, but the reason no one stopped to help her was more likely indifference rather than fear of a lawsuit. We have all seen instances of people in need that get no help from those around them. It happens in Canada, it happens in America, it happens here in Korea and it happens around the world for a number of reasons.

The social issues in China are immense, particularly in Guangdong province where much of your worldly possessions, especially the sort you value, are made. There are 150 million migrant workers in China, representing about one out of every eight Chinese people, who travel from villages to southern cities like Foshan, where Yueyue lived. The issues raised by this movement of people are complicated and difficult, both for the towns they leave and the cities where they congregate.

It's entirely possible, yes, that a city made up of a floating population of people who work too much don't care too much about each other, but what if the same thing happened in Los Angeles or Tokyo or London? When the Chinese state media spun some nonsense about the perils of democracy and declining economies, would it not be equally nonsensical?

The death of Yueyue clearly doesn't prove anything about China, nor does it give us any justifiable reason to look into China's soul beyond the question of whether the poor and vulnerable are treated well, which is a question each country should ask itself. Far too often in China, the answer is no, moreso than it is in the wealthy country where you are reading this, but that doesn't make Yueyue's death any more or less a single, horrific instance of human indifference.

Monday, October 24, 2011

2011 Chuncheon Marathon

I ended up with seven predictions for my marathon, five on this blog, one from Twitter and one emailed by my loyal friend and sometimes editor The Seadog. Most people were optimistic and thought I'd run between 3:29 and 3:38, but The Seadog knew better. Getting into the race, I thought that about a 3:25 would have been a perfect day, and 3:30 a very good day.

I started conservatively and let the pace fall where it did, which was 26:30 at 5k. I found my legs at that point and picked up the pace to 51:11 (24:41 5k), which was right where I wanted to be. I was 90 seconds behind on a 3:30 goal (25-minute 5ks) and I thought taking 10-12 seconds off every 5k was the way to do it. I hit 15k in 75:35, so I was doing really well.

Unfortunately, time spent looking for and going to a bathroom knocked me off that rhythm, and I didn't hit 20k until 1:47, halfway in 1:52. I was back on pace to hit 25k in 2:12, but the pace wasn't nearly as relaxed as it should have been. With a margin of error at around zero, all it took were the hills at 27k to finish me off. I reached 30k in 2:42 and that was that. I wasn't too concerned with a second-rate time becoming a third-rate time, and the course was still beautiful (the last 8-10k are not breathtaking like the first 30-32)

It was really tough from 32k to 36k because the pain in my quads kept me from jogging, even. I was able to get back on a relaxed albeit slow pace, which meant passing about a thousand of the thousands of people who had been passing me for an hour now. I finished in 4:04, which means that the Seadog wins the prediction contest with the 3:42 (slowest of all predictions) for never believing in me, and rightfully so.

The Seadog wrote, quite prophetically:

"I think you'll have a strong first half, but halfway through you'll start regretting not filling your pockets with Gu and Sport Beans. You'll try to power through, but ultimately, your electrolyte balance will be thrown off just enough to cause you to waver (at 31K)."

Chuncheon has usually gotten better reviews than the Seoul International Marathon as the best race in Korea. I can agree with that, having run it. The course is very beautiful. The race is one loop around the North Han River, with half of it along a narrow country road, the river on one side and high colourful cliffs on the other. The big hill leading to the dam at 27-28k is tough, but the view of the river and the hills around Chuncheon is breathtaking. It is, of course, very well-organized and doesn't quite give off the impression of being a race for 20,000 people in a small city.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I'm in half-decent shape again, so...

...let's play another game of "predict my marathon time".

I can't remember if anybody has ever won something from this on account of my DNF a few years ago at Boston, but I was apparently offering an autographed 8.5 x 10, so perhaps it's best that you didn't. This time around, I'll offer something far more desirable, a package of dried, buttered squid (seriously, it's good). If you don't live in Korea, you should know that dried squid is a common addition to movie theatre combos, as the image search shows.

Anyway, I'm running the Chuncheon Marathon this Sunday. It's not something that I've planned my fall around, actually, it was just a race I wanted to run. My real goal for the fall is to run a 39-minute 10k in November, this is just a way to run some extra miles that didn't really work out so well.

At any rate, I've run four races this summer and fall, none of them spectacular:

August 18 - 24:52 6k
September 3 - 44:xx 10k (a very hot, sunny day where I tried to stay upright)
September 25 - 29:22 7k
October 15 - 40:54 10k

I've been running about 50-60 km a week, which obviously isn't a lot, and yet it's the most I've run for a period of more than a month in a few years. Of course, I've said that before and then spent a month or two not running at all, but here we are. The longest runs I've had in the last two months have been about 4-5 runs of 18-20k, which took about 1:45.

I do feel like my fitness is on the upswing, but predicting how a marathon will go is like predicting a football will bounce: it's hard to say, but you probably won't like the outcome.

I think 3:30 would be a good run and anything under 3:20 would be fantastic. The course is somewhat hilly, though still fast. I wouldn't be surprised if my time ballooned to 3:40 because though I run a lot of hills, I haven't done a hilly run of more than two hours since December. Based on tempos of up to 11k, I figure I'd run about 1:32 for a half marathon.

Anyway, comment below with a prediction for a chance to win some dried squid.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Korean gets turned away at sauna by another Korean

By now, you have likely heard the story of Gu Su-jin, a Korean of Uzbek origin who was refused service at a sauna in Busan. If you haven't, a Korean-language link is here with an English translation here.

Note, however, that this woman is not a foreign resident, but rather a Korean citizen. The headline in the Korean-language article is a quote from the owner of the sauna who perceived her as not being Korean, but she is a citizen. This is not a case of a foreign resident being treated badly, this is a case of one Korean treating another Korean badly.

The lazy conclusion to reach from this would be that Koreans are all a bunch of racist bastards who are so stupid as to think that you can get HIV from being in the water with somebody who has it. As an aside, before you catch aspersions on the intelligence of an entire country of people, make sure that you don't live in a country whose people have trouble finding it on a map or where a substantial minority doesn't subscribe to some other ludicrous belief.

This is one single incident pointing to an issue which is more significant than the discussions I've seen so far on English-language blogs. In ten years, about twenty to thirty percent of all children born in this country will be of a mixed-race background. As it stands, about fifteen percent of all marriages in this country are between a Korean and a non-Korean. It's very much possible that the Korea of 2040 or 2050, when the children of 2020 come to age, will be one where a substantial minority of the population is mixed-race.

This is an issue which I have discussed here and here previously. How this issue will be resolved, one way or the other, is of the utmost importance. You might say that the government has been caught flat-footed on this issue, though I don't know if it's the case.

Right now, it seems that multicultural families (다문화 가정) and "marriage immigrants" (결혼 이민자) are all the rage right now as the target of charitable endeavours. Along with this, many have used other well-publicized incidents of racism in Korea to call for a law against racism in this country as none exists. Put another way, you're well within your rights to refuse service to someone because of the colour of their skin and to even tell them that. Note that this goes both ways, so a business can be set up for non-Koreans exclusively, to the extent that it's a viable market.

However, as my friend Rob has noted, what this country needs are not so much laws as much as it needs people to start following existing laws. All the laws in the world, it's worth noting, are no substitute for widespread racial tolerance. A law against racism would go a long way, but that would do all the good of making it legal for women to smoke: just because it's legal doesn't mean that it doesn't carry a social stigma which negates the legality.

In the grand scheme of things, saunas are not that important. Gu, the woman refused entrance to the sauna, decided to make a stand here because she has a 7-year-old son. How will that boy do when he goes to school? Is he going to graduate from high school? Will he go to university? Will he be able to find work? The educational and employment outcomes of mixed-race Koreans are utterly, shockingly dismal. If twenty percent of Korean adults in 2045 are going to be mixed-race, they better be educated and able to find employment. If not, the consequences will be devastating.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

A Legend of the Fall: Seoraksan

I've loved fall for a long time, as I wrote in 2008 and even in 2003. I've had football, playoff baseball (albeit not in the last few years) and running to enjoy this season, but living in Korea adds one more dimension. Coming from Canada, at least, I feel like fall is long, mild and very pleasant here. Of course, I enjoy (this is not sarcasm) the harsher weather we get in Canada, such as impromptu flurries or weather below-freezing in October, which isn't to be found here.

I went hiking twice this weekend, to Seoraksan on the east coast and to Bukhansan in northern Seoul. Seoraksan (~1700m) is about a 20km hike that takes 10-12 hours, which I did last year from midnight to noon and really wasn't eager to repeat. Instead, we settled for a short and simple hike to Ulsan Bawi, a massive wall of rocks near the base of Seoraksan. Seoraksan is a great place to go in the fall for the colourful leaves and its intricate, jagged peaks, and I'd only ever been in the summer or the late fall.

The top of Ulsan Bawi is only 800m high and it's about a 4-hour roundtrip from the city of Sokcho. We lucked out and picked a hotel suited to the Ulsan Bawi course than a course that goes to the top. Alternatively, if you want to go to the top, don't stay in Sokcho. If you do go this month, you'll be in time for spectacular views of colourful leaves all over Seoraksan from Ulsan Bawi.

From the park entrance, it's about an hour to the bottom of Ulsan Bawi. From here, you can see much of the higher peaks of Seoraksan as well as the East Sea. From here, you climb a nerve-wracking stairway suspended in the air half the way, before negotiating a rocky, winding course to the top of Ulsan Bawi. Looking north from there, you should be able to see the sea as well as Geumgangsan in North Korea, though on this day it was cloudy (and very crowded) to the north.

To the south, the peak of Seoraksan is visible above the clouds.

Ulsan Bawi is a good course if you want to see the beauty of Seoraksan but don't want to do all the work getting to the top. The views of the top are better than the views from the top in my opinion, though I don't think I've ever been at the top in something resembling clear weather, so this opinion doesn't count for much. It's not a very hard hike, but there's enough thrill climbing the staircase, at least for those scared of heights like me, that you'll see both adults and small children (some under 5) at the top.