Day 5 of South Korea Trip 2016

This morning I woke up bright and early to instant noodles again. I didn’t have any coffee and made sure to stay nice and relaxed until the day’s event – power breaking.

Once again, I had to wait at Kukkiwon and watch my teammates compete in other events before it was time for power breaking.  Some of them competed in poomsae (patterns) while others competed in downward knife hand tile breaking. The latter event seems incredibly difficult, though I would like to try it some time in the future. You need to break as many flat tiles as you can (arranged on the floor) with the pinky finger side of your hand. It requires a lot of practice and good form.

The master that I train under and my club grandmaster competed in the knife hand tile breaking event and my grandmaster ended up coming away with bronze in the international division. Congrats to Grandmaster Wong!

One thing I’d like to note is that throughout this tournament, a lot of people worked very hard to make sure things ran smoothly. For example, the floor staff always efficiently removed the debris after a round of board / tile breaking to ensure the next event could start promptly. Bravo to the floor staff!

Finally I was called to report to the waiting area to compete in power breaking. This time, I left my phone with my club members for safe keeping so I don’t have any pictures of the waiting process.

What’s interesting about power breaking is that when you report to the waiting room, you need to write down your “challenge” for that round. That means you have to write down how many tiles you’re going to try and break. This is a bit tricky if you lack experience and don’t know how many tiles people usually try to break. During the Korean rounds, I studied the average challenge numbers and found it ranged from 12 to 15 tiles so for my challenge I went with a conservative 12. You don’t get penalized for the ones you fail to break so it can’t hurt to pick a higher number than you’re capable of breaking. The only caveat is that the height of the stack of tiles can affect the difficulty. I’ll explain that more in a later post.

They called around 6 of us onto the mat at a time and we were given 1 minute to arrange our tiles onto the breaking platforms. I actually cut one of my fingers while moving the tiles because I was so nervous I grabbed one of them too tightly. We were all provided a silicone pad to place on top the tiles so we wouldn’t cut our fists up later.

When my turn came and I was called up to bow and get ready, anxiety got the best of me once more and I wasn’t as loose as I would’ve liked to have been. That might have been partially affected by the fact that I had absolutely no experience with the material and so was a bit apprehensive. How much power could I apply without damaging my hand? I had no idea. So my turn came, I got into position with left foot back and right foot forward, gave another meagre shot, brought my left hand up, hopped up slightly and brought my left fist down on the tiles. I could tell right away that I didn’t apply enough force but at least I broke 9 tiles and that was enough to advance to the final round. Many competitors broke less.

We had some yummy instant noodles and eggs back at the house for lunch before watching some club members attempt board breaking via side kick or back kick. This event takes a high degree of skill and accuracy in your kicks.

I also walked around a bit outside. Free Red Bull was being handed out so I happily grabbed a can but I was still a bit tired from the stuffy stadium air so I went to the expo grounds to grab a “Dutch coffee” for 6000 won. I have no idea why it’s called Dutch coffee. It tasted like slightly strong coffee with ice cubes in it.

After all the events for the day wrapped up, we headed off for some amazing Korean fried chicken. I can’t stress enough how good Korean fried chicken is. It’s one of the things you MUST try when in South Korea. We ate at a Samtong fried chicken branch in Gangnam. The food was so good I found it hard to stop eating.

That’s all for Day 5! Day 6 will be quite the day as the finals take place for both power breaking and speed breaking. Stay tuned!


Day 4 of South Korea Trip 2016

The morning started off rough, with pre competition anxiety causing…turmoil in my digestive system. That’s par for the course with me. Perhaps noodles AND coffee was a mistake. We quickly ate breakfast and I had a quick trip to the washroom before we dashed off to the Kukkiwon building where I would wait for my first event – speed breaking.

Speed breaking is an event where one’s successes depends not on how many tiles are broken but on how FAST the tiles are broken. The bottoms of the tiles are fastened securely to a moving platform. It can’t be stressed enough how smoothly the platform moves on its track. If you hit the tiles with insufficient velocity, they might still break BUT the platform will also move a lot. That’s not good. The best competitors move the platform the least amount. The speed breaking apparatus is set up to alternate sides. Competitors are directed to either one side or the other.

Before competing, we needed to be ready in the stands, listening for the announcement calling us to go to the waiting room outside the building, where we reported in, got our names checked off on a list, and waited to be led to another place inside the building to wait for the event to start. The whole process entailed a lot of waiting, a lot of anxiety and a lot of people trying their hardest to RELAX and not burnout while “warming up” too much (a very real danger). I tried to enjoy some other events in the stands until finally the announcement came, calling us to get to the waiting room. I quickly got my dobok top and belt on and went off to report in while everyone wished me the best of luck.

When the time came for us to sit down at the side of the competition area and wait for our turn, I thankfully wasn’t first so I had a chance to observe others. I noticed that people had a variety of techniques and variations on how to break the tiles as quickly as possible. This being the preliminary round, most didn’t do so well, moving the platform holding the tiles right to the other side almost every time.

Finally my name was called, I got up, stood before the officials, bowed when prompted to and was then given the go-ahead by the referee with a stern, “Ready!” So I got into position before the tiles, right foot forward and left foot back, took one or two practice swings, let out a rather meek shout and swung my hand down as quickly as I could. Now the problem was that I was way too tense, which affected my speed so I didn’t do exceptionally well in this round. The good news is that I did well enough to advance to the final round – to be held two days later. You can’t see in the picture below but I moved the platform far too much and wasn’t really satisfied. I also hit it at the wrong angle. I noted the errors and vowed to correct them before the final round.

After all of us had finished our competitions for the day, we left Kukkiwon around noon time and prepared to go for lunch. We ate at Woorizib Mandoo in Gangnam area again and this restaurant served some delicious kimchi dumplings.

Once full, we headed off to one of the most vibrant shopping areas of Seoul – Myeongdong. If you don’t like crowds, you’re best off going to Myeongdong in the morning, grabbing breakfast somewhere, and doing some easy shopping before there are too many people. Anyway, we had a late start but we don’t mind the crowds as we’re from Hong Kong and we’re used to it.

We all split up and shopped around for a couple of hours. Some of us wanted to sit down and relax for a bit so we grabbed a coffee at Holly’s Coffee. At 5pm, we all met up again at Myeongdong Subway.

From Exit 3 of the subway station, you can start walking uphill towards the cable car that leads to iconic N Seoul Tower, so that’s just what we did next. It’s a long walk up inclined streets to get to the cable car building. Once, inside you should expect a fairly long line to buy tickets. If you go to the website and plan ahead, you can order tickets online. We didn’t plan ahead but we were still early enough that we only had to wait in line for about 10 minutes or so – not too bad. I can’t stress enough, that you shouldn’t go too late in the evening unless you don’t mind waiting in line for about an hour. As we were LEAVING the base station at around 7:00pm, we could see a long queue of people snaking outside the cable car building and onto the sidewalk.

It was a beautiful night so far but it was far from over as next, we still had to go to Garak Market, which is easily accessible via subway train. It’s a seafood market that features dozens upon dozens of vendors selling seafood. You pick what you want to eat and either take it home or you go to the dining area and eat it there. It should be noted that there is a service fee if you eat there, and the cost is actually not so cheap.

After filling ourselves full of seafood, we were all tuckered out by the time we finally got to our rental home and had a good sleep.

I’m sorry for the delayed posts. As I get more practice, I shall become faster at this. Hopefully, Day 5 will be out tomorrow.

Day 1 of South Korea Trip 2016

Last night I boarded a Jeju Air plane with fellow taekwondo club members on a flight from Hong Kong to Seoul. We’ll be taking part in the 2016 World Taekwondo Hanmadang. It’s an annual tournament that takes place in South Korea and features competitions in patterns and board breaking!

The flight departed late last night at close to 2 in the morning. I slept most of the way on the flight.

Incheon International Airport (ICN) is the international airport closest to Seoul. It’s a very well designed, modern airport. Upon disembarking of the aircraft, we made our way to the shuttle train, then through customs and immigration (which doesn’t allow photo taking), then baggage pickup and finally out into the arrival hall.

Next, we exchanged Hong Kong dollars for Korean won (₩). Just exchange enough currency to get to the city and exchange more at a bank later where the rates are better. Then we went outside the arrival hall and purchased some bus tickets to Gangnam district in Seoul. If you purchase tickets with a Union Pay card, you’ll get T-Money cards (cards that can store cash and be used to efficiently pay for things by tapping the card on the payment device) along with the bus tickets. The bus that runs to Gangnam features deluxe seating so the configuration is 1 lone seat on the right, aisle, 2 seats on the left. The seats are all reclining captain seats so you’ll surely get a comfy ride to Seoul, which is nice because it’s roughly just over an hour.

When the bus pulled over at one of the hotels in Gangnam, we all got off, collected our luggage, and made our way uphill off the main avenue deep into the heart of residential Gangnam. There, we found the house that we’d be renting for the next few days. The first floor is private so we have access to the second and third floors. It’s nice! It’s complete with a living room, kitchen, laundry room, bathroom, master bedroom and 3 or 4 other bedrooms.

After settling in at our rental house, we found breakfast at The Jincook. It features a lot of the common dishes you might expect in a Korean restaurant, like delicious pork and beef, noodles – both hot and cold and some yummy kimchi. I had the naengmyeon (냉면 / cold noodles) and grilled pork.

Later, we went window shopping in the area, had some coffee at Starbucks, and went to the Kukkiwon campus. There’s the main Kukkiwon building and a separate cafeteria building with a modest but interesting little museum on the second floor.

There are also a couple of shops in the area that sell taekwondo gear and related merchandise. Prices are actually mostly kind of high. Afterwards, we went back to the house. That’s where I’ve been relaxing all afternoon. The house is well furnished and cozy.

In the evening, we went out for some Korean BBQ for dinner in the vibrant commercial area of Gangnam. With Korean BBQ, the grill is built into the table and every table has its own localized ventilation system. The meat was delicious and there were plenty of side dishes like kimchi as needed.