Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Another way that I celebrated Thanksgiving this year was by running (on the 12th) in the first annual Gongju Thanksgiving Turkey trot (known to everybody but Lauren and me as the "Paekche Marathon." Don't be fooled by the word marathon...Koreans seem to call every road race a marathon. The race was actually three: a 5k, 10k, and half marathon, and Lauren and I took part in the 5k race). Registration for the race was online...in Korean...so naturally, we couldn't pull it off without assistance. Lauren's host mom registered her, but my host mom couldn't figure out what I wanted and my host teacher flat out said no when I asked her for assistance. I decided to just show up on race day and see if I could register then. I was a bit nervous about the running part, since I hadn't been running that long and I knew Lauren was in really great shape...but a road race in my own city in Korea was impossible to pass up. I got to the track just in time to see the day's first balloon releasing. Hundreds of metallic pink balloons were tossed into the sky as runners and (a few) spectators cheered. As is usual for a Korean sporting event, the parking lot and every corner of the stadium was devoted exclusively to food. A group of men with gray (meaning half marathon) numbers enthusiastically took pre-race shots of soju and a mixed group of men and women sat down to a pre-race meal of seafood noodle soup. Very few people warmed up. I tried to find somewhere to register, going first to a tent that said 5k on the top. "Hello, I don't have a number," I informed a girl in the tent (in Korean). "Why?" she asked. Having no language to deal with that question, I shrugged helplessly and said "Give me a number" (in the polite form...so it wasn't as rude as it looks in translation), which made her scamper off to find someone who "speaky Engrishy." She returned with the object of her search, a young man who bowed to me and said, very quickly "Hello, hi, how are you? Fine thank you and you? Bery muchee. Nice to meet you. Okay, goodbye," and then looked at me expectantly. I repeated my Korean request for a number and was led to a new tent, where a young women tried to get me to search for my name on the list of registered entries. I started explaining that I wasn't going to be on the list, but she told me that if I hadn't registered there was no signing up on race day. At this point I really wanted a number...so I decided to have play up the lost in translation factor and pretend I didn't know what she had said. I found Lauren's name on the list and alternately said the Korean word "together" and the English word "please" and sort of hopped up and down and looked at her beseechingly. She explained to me that because of insurance, she really couldn't let me register. Lauren arrived and joined me in my pleading. She was getting flustered but really didn't look like she was going to change her mind, and we almost gave up. Luckily, at this moment her boss came up, asked what was going on, and said "ehh, it's just the 5k, let her run but [KoreanKoreanKorean]." She pulled out a pen and a piece of scrap paper and started jabbering at me and gesturing with the pen. Somehow I understood that this had something to do with the whole insurance thing and she wanted me to sign away my right to sue or something. I wrote on the paper "I Cara Chebuske waive all right to sue," signed it, and wrote my phone number. Then she wrote my name, and phone number on a race number and demanded my blood type. I have no idea what my blood type is, but Lauren suggested A and I went with it. My blood type also went on the number...perhaps in case I needed an emergency blood transfusion. Fortunately, we didn't have to cross that bridge. At this point, Lauren and I were both feeling excited about our victory and ready to run. Before we could do that though, there was a hoochie dance show, a marching band performance, and a group stretching and aerobics exercise for all race entrants. Then all the runners lined up along the track. To start each race, there was a balloon releasing and a fireworks display instead of a gun (The half marathon fireworks were the sparkling, scattering kind and the 10 and 5k fireworks were rainbow colored and smoky). There was also an announcer from a TV station who instructed everyone lined up for the race to give the person in front of them a shoulder massage. While the massages were going on, he spotted the two wayguks (foreigners) in the crowd and asked us something in Korean. All the runners standing near us pulled back, so we were alone in a little ring, looking awkwardly at the announcer dude and waving dumbly. The race itself was really fun. The weather was perfect and the Korean runners were really slow. Lauren and I ran along together and talked, and I discovered that I was in better shape than I thought. We actually ended up winning the race for women...or possibly coming in second and third, although they passed over us when they called people to the podium. We also gave each other high fives as we crossed the finish line, an act that was caught on camera and shown on TV for my host family to watch and delight over. After the race, much like at American road races where they usually give the runners a banana, a bagel, gatorade, and possibly a powerbar, we were given a bag of food when we finished. Inside the bag was a pastry, a Chocopie (chocolate covered marshmellow and stale cake), a banana, and a carton of milk--half-and-half tasting, warm Korean milk. wtf? Although since I drank mine, I guess I shouldn't make fun of it.
Lauren sent me a link to a website with other road races in Korea, so hopefully I will get a chance to have more road racing adventures.

Added Nov. 27: pictures Lauren found of us in the Dong-a Ilbo, Korea's largest and sassiest newspaper and sponsor of the race. The only part of the caption I can read is "foreigners."

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