About 70 or so Koreans, mostly dressed in 2006 World Cup red t-shirts, gathered this morning at the Hang Kang restaurant to witness their team’s knockout game against the steely Uruguayans. Despite continued pressure and dominant possession, the South Korea team could not advance, falling 2-1 to the South Americans. The locals were still proud of their team.
“This is the most organized Korean team since 2002,” said Jae Chung, a native of Kwangju who came to the United States in 1978. “Even if we lose, I cannot blame them.”
Between plates of Kae Jang Guk, a breakfast soup offered free to allcomers by restaurant owner Kyu Lee, and chants of “Dae — Han Min Guk!,” translated roughly as "Go South Korea," the fans followed every nuance of the game with the passion that can only come from watching your country on the soccer field.
In the end, it wasn’t to be. There was only pride left for the effort the team had put in.
“This was the first time they had got to the last 16 outside of Asia and that was a big deal for us,” said 23-year-old C.S. Kae, who was born in Korea and came to the U.S. at the age of six. Kae enjoyed beating his sogo, a small Korean drum, to encourage the team forward.
While most of the fans today were a little older and would have had no trouble choosing their allegiance if the team had advanced to possibly play the U.S., in the quarter finals, C.S. confessed he may have been a bit torn given he has essentially grown up in the U.S. He said he was a member of the so-called 1.5 generation which is bilingual and bicultural.
Grace Lee, the 12-year-old daughter of restaurant owner Kyu Lee, said she had no such problems. Draped in a South Korean flag with her face painted in Korean colors, she said she would have supported the Koreans over the U.S. A choice, unfortunately for her, that she cannot make now.
So, the journey is over. Kyu Lee, who has owned the restaurant for ten years in a part of Denver that has a large population of Koreans, will no doubt be looking forward to Brazil in 2014 and the chance for his local community to once again follow the Taegeuk Jeonsa (Taegeuk Warriors).