Remembrance of skating past

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Remembrance of skating past

The old outdoor ice skating rink near my home in southeastern Seoul opened last week. It's a typical country-style ice rink, with several flags hanging from various nations hanging overhead and popular tunes pounding incessantly. For several years, I've watched the rink, feeling very nostalgic.

There was a time in my life when I thought I was going to become the next Kristi Yamaguchi -- and maybe even better. The hot topics among my 10-year-old peers on my skating team were the latest undeserved punishment from the coach, whose outfit was prettiest and how to beat those stupid "chickens" (the rival team wore a yellow uniform).

When there was an important competition, our coach would take us out of the city so no one would see our routines. We skated anywhere that had a flat, icy surface. Often a rice field became our practice rink. There were brown, frozen stubs protruding from the ice, so we had to be careful.

The scariest thing of all was to skate on the river. I cringed whenever I heard that crackling noise under my feet or looked down and saw the water flowing beneath the ice. My parents, red-nosed from the cold, shouted from the ice's edge, "Come on, you can do it! O.K., smile big!"

Photographs record the misery of the -10 degree centigrade Korean winter: Holding my partner's leg and stretching like a ballerina in my pink micro-miniskirt, my lips elongated in what is supposed to be a smile (although it looks like I'm about to burst out crying).

All those childhood memories brought me to Gangdong Skating Rink. "For one month of business, an awful lot of work goes into the ice rink," says the owner, Kang Se-gu, who had worked until 2 a.m. the night before preparing the ice. When Mr. Kang, a former journalist, retired in 1994, he decided to farm on his ancestor's land. He says 600 members of his farming community bring their children during winter vacation.

So is the water deep at Mr. Kang's rink? "Oh, no. This is not a river, you know. About 30 centimeters," he says.

Admission costs 3,000 won. Skate or sled rentals cost 2,000 won. Lessons for 10 days cost 60,000 won. To get to Gangdong Skating Rink (02-441-4723), take subway line No. 2 and get off at Gangbyeon Station, transfer to bus No. 113, 13 or 573-1, and get off at Jumong Jaehwalwon (Jumong Rehabilitation Center).

by Ines Cho
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