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Her CUP runneth over

Rochester woman visits native South Korea during soccer tourney

Editor's note: Veronica Min Wotipka lives in Rochester. She is a native of South Korea.

By Veronica Min Wotipka

While visiting my homeland, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) recently, I was fortunate to experience the excitement of the World Cup 2002 soccer matches. For the majority of the world, this is the only true "football."

Although I had grown up in Korea and was familiar with the sport, my feelings for the game were not a whole lot different than most Americans. That is, indifferent. But the fact that this year the World Cup was being co-hosted by Korea and Japan, and that it was occurring during my visit to my family, I was drawn to it.

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In the days before the matches began, the entire country seemed to have soccer fever. References to the World Cup were everywhere. It almost became too much. But once the matches started, it was impossible not to be drawn into the excitement.

And this excitement was compounded by the successes of my native country (ROK) and my adopted country (USA). Both teams were successful beyond earlier expectations. I was especially torn during the match when they played each other. It was fortunate that the game ended in a tie.

In Korea, the matches were held at 10 different cities. I stayed in Seoul where my family lives. The city is normally exciting and full of life, and it was even more so during these games. It seemed that everyone who lived there was outside watching the games on big-screen television. The crowds cheered and carried on in front of the city hall well into the wee hours of the morning chanting, "pilseung Dae Han-Min Gook" (victory for Korea). It was not the best place to be if you were looking for a good night's sleep.

The Koreans leading the cheering were called the Red Devils. There was a time when the color red was shunned because it connoted communism. But during these matches, the entire country seemed to be a sea of red. There was a great deal of national pride, not only because of the way the Korean team played but also because of the honor and prestige of co-hosting the games. It took more than 48 years for Korea to get this opportunity. It might not happen again for another 100.

There were no troubles, and everyone was very safe.

The matches brought teams together from 32 countries. It also brought many celebrities. I was fortunate to meet actor Roger Moore of "James Bond -- 007" fame who came not only for the games but also as part of his work on behalf of UNICEF and to carry on the work started by my favorite actress, Audrey Hepburn. Besides Moore, I saw Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith who came to promote their latest film, "Men in Black II." There also were many dignitaries and leaders of the countries that participated in the matches as well as their citizens who came to support their team.

The influx of foreign visitors gave me the opportunity to do some work as translator and interpreter. I also did some work with a group of children for our divided country to the north.

And one evening while attending a concert of the World Cup Korean Orchestra, I was asked on stage to conduct. I never realized how tired your arms can get waving that baton.

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As you may have heard, the matches ended with Brazil as No. 1, Germany as No. 2, Turkey (a Korean favorite) as No. 3 and Korea as No. 4. This was the best finish ever for an Asian country.

t was all very exciting and an experience I will never forget.

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