BE TRUE TO YOUR SCHOOLThe sky is high," Koreans often say. Generally, the words are a cliche describing clear autumnal heavens. But the phrase also refers to the initials of the three most prestigious universities on the peninsula -- Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University. S.K.Y.
While Seoul National University is usually considered tops, in a class by itself, Korea and Yonsei vie with each other for the distinction of being the best private university.
The competitive spirit of these two universities reaches its peak every fall when the two schools hold a festival known either as Ko-Yon Jeon (for Korea alumni) or Yon-Ko Jeon (for Yonsei alumni).
This year's festival started Friday and wraps up Sunday morning. If it's Oxford versus Cambridge in England, and Yale versus Harvard in the United States, it's Korea versus Yonsei here in Korea.
In 1945, the forerunners of the two schools, Boseong and Yeonhui private schools, held a soccer match to celebrate the regaining of independence from Japanese colonial rule. The real festival, which began in 1965, alternates between the schools each year. This year Korea is the host.
Sports are a major focus of the rivalry. On Friday, the schools squared off at Jamsil Sports Complex and Mokdong Ice Rink in southern Seoul to play basketball, baseball and hockey. Whoever wins three or more of the events is considered champion for that year. So far, Yonsei leads the annual competition 15 to 11, with 5 years ending in draws. There was no competition in 1971, 1972, 1975, 1983 and 1996.
This year, Yonsei won the basketball game while Korea won baseball. Ice hockey ended in a draw. Rugby and soccer will be held Saturday.
Sports, however, are just the tip of this academic iceberg. The real spectacle of the festival is the cheering. The stadiums divide into two swirling masses of supporters, Yonsei in blue, Korea in red. On a platform on Jamsil's running track, garishly attired cheerleaders lead the frenzied (albeit always well-ordered) throngs, up to 40,000 strong. Each group of students waves huge flags of clubs and departments from their school, adding more red and blue.
The most influential and popular club at both universities is the cheerleading squad, and no wonder. In their flashy and ostentatious uniforms (donated by the celebrated designer Andre Kim), the mostly male cheerleaders are veritable Energizer bunnies of crowd-rallying fun. "You never know what a high it is to stand before 20,000 people and lead them under perfect control," says Chae Hun-dae, 28, a former cheerleader at Korea University.
All that fun takes a lot of hard work. The first thing all freshmen learn is their school's anthem and a lengthy list of cheers and songs. The day before each year's festival, students band together to practice their cheers, moves and songs. During the festival, students do not have any classes (or, rather, they simply don't attend), and instead head to the stadiums in groups divided into extracurricular clubs or academic departments. The youngest members have the responsibility of staking out the best places for cheering －－ close to the cheerleaders' platform. Some of them even camp out the night before at the stadium.
After all the competition has ended, students rush onto the field to cheer and dance some more. This would be a really bad time to be stuck on the No. 2 subway line as it passes the Jamsil area.
Then they're off to the bar-rich streets around their universities -- Sinchon for Yonsei, Anam-dong for Korea. Everywhere at this time you'll witness endless groups of students dancing and singing in circles all through the night. Out on the streets, strangers easily become friends.
Another die-hard custom is to attack the bars and stores in large groups, called "trains," demanding free drinks and other treats.
Contributing to the rivalry are the schools' well-established and very different characters. Korea University is known for its law school while Yonsei has a strong business program. Korea University has an image for being macho, wild and nationalist, with most of its students being male and from outside of Seoul. Yonsei, which was established by American missionaries, holds a more urbane, finished and cosmopolitan image. While the right drink for Korea students is makgeolli, a cloudy rice wine, Yonsei students are more comfortable with a bottle of beer. The tiger and crimson are the mascot and chief color of Korea. For Yonsei, it's the eagle and royal blue.
Even the schools' feng shui is different. Korea University is in northeastern Seoul; according to the theory of feng shui, east, where the sun rises, stands for honor, authority and masculinity. Yonsei is nestled in northwestern Seoul; west, where the sun sets, symbolizes property, birth and femininity.
Times have changed and so have the two universities, but their differences still basically hold strong. Pass by Yonsei in Sinchon or Korea in Anam-dong these days, and you'll see banners lining the neighborhood, huge signs that cheer one school and talk smack of the other. "Let's go hunt the cat!" says one banner near Yonsei. "Sparrows are poor prey for tigers," rejoins another one in Anam-dong. An always popular banner is: "Congratulations KU" -- [or YU] -- "You Are the Runner-up This Year -- Again."
The rivalry reaches its peak in the supporters' songs. One Yonsei song goes: "Tread on KU fellas and they will turn like worms do/ What a pity for them that they'll be completely beaten this time again." Korea responds just as vehemently, with songs like "Yonsei you little rascal/ why do you always get it wrong?/ It's the Ko-Yon festival not Yon-Ko/ No wonder you little babies suck on wimpy drinks like beer."
When you are ready to have some real fun, the first thing you should do is get a decent, proper outfit. Get your "Be the Reds" T-shirt out of the closet if you are going to support Korea University, along with a bottle of makgeolli as a sign of courtesy. If you are siding with Yonsei, be sure to have something blue with you. With the blue outfit, bottles of beer are totally welcome. Just be extra careful in choosing the right side, because if you're dressed all up in blue and seated amongst the waves of red, or vice versa, you are in big, big trouble.
Saturday's rugby match starts at noon and the soccer match follows at 2 p.m., both at the Jamsil Olympic Main Stadium. Take subway No. 2 line to the Sports Complex Station, and use exits 6 and 7.
In a college war, all's fair in love
Love can be ironic. When you are eagle-eyed and on the hunt for love, it plays hide-and-seek and never shows up. When you're about to give up, it finds you all too unexpectedly.
This was at least true for me one fine autumn day in 1997 on a jam-packed No. 2 line subway car departing the Jamsil Sports Complex station. I was having the time of my life, proud to be a typical Korea University freshman, who was more than ready to take part enthusiastically in every big school event. the Ko-Yon festival certainly qualified.
After the sports events, the Korea and Yonsei students flock together in the neighborhood of the host university to party. Being on the staff of my school's English-language newspaper, I, in my perfect red outfit, was to meet up with the staff of Yonsei's English-language newspaper at a subway station.
After spending more than six hours standing and cheering, I was soaked with sweat. The Jamsil Sports Complex subway station was full of students enjoying the lingering excitement to the full, singing and cheering in circles in front of the ticket booths. Once we managed to get on a subway, some members were so exhausted that they dropped to their knees. Not an ideal situation to meet your future boyfriend, but, as I've said, love can arrive when you least expect it.
And there Sang-hoon was -- in his perfect royal blue outfit. Be it Ko-Yon or Yon-Ko, the festival provides the perfect spot to make friendships, or, in this case, for love to blossom. Five years later, we're still together.
These days, I often receive phone calls from friends urging me to get Sang-hoon to cheer for Korea University. Sang-hoon receives the same sorts of calls from his friends.
We have reached an agreement to remain neutral, but our friends from both sides just jeer at that idea. Sang-hoon and I cannot help it -- we used to be enemies, but then destiny did away with all that.
-- Chun Su-jin
by Chun Su-jin