One word at a time

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One word at a time

Chun Han-jin dreamed of flying to a quiet resort in Fiji after the World Cup ended. He saw himself enjoying a long, tropical breakfast locked in his hotel room without saying a word to another person.

During the World Cup, Mr. Chun was the staff interpreter for the Korean soccer team. He had to be at almost every gathering in which the team's Dutch coach Guus Hiddink and his players had. The consquences of misinterpreting would have been disastrous. It could have built terrible misunderstandings between players and the coach.

"From breakfast on," Mr. Chun says, "I would go through each of the Korean dishes on the table with coach Hiddink -- what's good and bad. Then another person would start talking about what KBS said about the Korean team on TV. At one point, I said to the coach, 'Look, can we at least stop talking when I'm eating?'"

Mr. Chun assisted Mr. Hiddink from the moment the coach arrived in Korea a year and a half ago. Mr. Chun was there for the bad times and the bad -- 5-0 losses to France and the Czech Republic last year, but also this past June. Mr. Chun faithfully did what he had been told to do by Mr. Hiddink. On the sidelines of matches, Mr. Chun wore a blue jump suit, like all Korean assistants, and like Mr. Hiddink's aides, Mr. Chun comforted, cheered and yelled at the players, occasionally even mimicking Guus Hiddink in trying to make himself heard.

"Sometimes he would pretend to get mad at me in front of the players for mistranslating, because they didn't follow his order properly," Mr. Chun said. "He would do those things on purpose just to make the players feel guilty."

Mr. Chun's job with the team, which was more of a cultural mediator than a technical interpreter, began with a staff breakfast at 8:30 a.m. and ended with the team meeting at 11 p.m. In between, he participated in staff discussions, he met with foreign physicians and trainers and had private meetings with individual players and the coach.

When the team traveled abroad, Mr. Chun made hotel reservations, booked airplane tickets and sometimes helped players buy their families gifts. Sacrifices were inevitable, but there were some sparkling moments, Mr. Chun says, that made his job worthwhile. It wasn't a lobster buffet or the feeling of knowing secrets of every player on the team.

"It's tough work, and it's not possible without some sense of patriotism," he says. The team's Korean coach Park Hang-seo compliments Mr. Chun who managed to stay awake at night while the team reviewed videotape of their lastest game.

"It's amazing how he didn't nod off when Mr. Hiddink repeated the same sentence over and over," Mr. Park says.

The situation was even more hectic in the beginning, during training camp. Very few players on the Korean team spoke English. Song Jong-guk and Lee Yong-pyo -- both midfielders who train in Korea -- made an effort by reading English textbooks between breaks during the camp. Ahn Jung-hwan knew some English by talking to Italian players in Perugia. But the rest were either too resistant or modest to show off their linguistic talent among their colleagues.

A graduate of Yonsei University, Mr. Chun, 32, went to high school in Toronto. Before he started working for the Korean Soccer Association in 1997, he was with the Hyundai Corp., which has a family relationship with the association's president, Chung Mong-jun.

During the training camp, Mr. Chun had other jobs besides interpreting. Especially in the beginning, when there was a mingled feeling of fear and reluctance among the Korean players about the blue-eyed coach after the Dutchman arrived in Korea, Mr. Chun made a conscious effort to explain to the players Mr. Hiddink's trivial habits. To lessen the cultural gap, he would explain to the players during their spare time about Mr. Hiddink's odd sense of humor, the hidden showmanship he sometimes displays in front of journalists and his unusual meticulousness.

"In the beginning when Mr. Hiddink first arrived, players stopped and stared at me in great awe as the coach called out the run sign in English," he says. "Later, most players found their own way of communicating." Mr. Hiddink, too, once admitted in an interview that communication is not simply about spoken words. There are other way to express your thoughts, he says.

"Even if the players didn't understand what their coach was yelling about, it became obvious on the field because the players often knew they were doing wrong," Mr. Chun says.

Mr. Chun agrees that the Dutch coach knows how to play with words. Many Korean journalists quoted Mr. Hiddink in newspaper headlines and raved about his phrases. After the victory over Italy, Mr. Hiddink stirred a small controversy, calling the Korean players "mad dogs." During the congratutory ceremony at Gwanghwamun, the coach said in an overly emotional tone to the large crowd of Red Devils, "You are unforgettable," quoting the singer Nat Cole King.

"He liked to pull out catchy quotes from movies, songs and books," Mr. Chun says. "He assumed people would naturally understand the context. Sometimes he would throw in a line from an English movie and it would take me about 10 minutes to explain to the players what it meant. Thank God, I watched lot of movies before I took the job."

Mr. Chun says the three words that the coach used in almost every conversation with the players, besides foul language, were, "control," "easy" and "relax." When things didn't work out as smoothly as he had wished, he would often yell, in typical Konglish, to the Korean staff, "Do your first job!" In describing Mr. Hiddink's character, Mr. Chun uses adjectives like "careful," "sensitive" and "strategical."

Among insiders, Mr. Chun was nicknamed "Coach Chun." Indeed, visitors to the team's training site often mistook Mr. Chun for an assistant coach when they saw him yelling at players.

So how did Coach Chun get along with Coach Hiddink? "Pretty well," says the interepreter.

by Park Soo-mee

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