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Soccer Fans Swarm Koreatown

June 14, 2006|K. Connie Kang | Times Staff Writer

Several thousand soccer fans converged on Koreatown early Tuesday to watch South Korea's first match in the 2006 World Cup, televised live from Germany on giant screens.

They were rewarded by South Korea's first World Cup win on foreign soil with a 2-1 victory over Togo.

Many in the crowd wore red T-shirts with Daehan Minguk -- the formal name for South Korea -- imprinted in hangul script. Some viewers arrived at Koreatown Pavilion Garden, at Olympic Boulevard and Normandie Avenue, at 2:30 a.m. for the scheduled 6 a.m. match.

"We stayed up all night," said Sang-Jee Hyun, who drove from Santa Barbara with an international group of students studying English at a language institute there. "It was well worth it -- seeing our team win."

Victoria Block of Switzerland, who was part of the group, said she supports the South Korean team because her boyfriend, Jong-Hyun Lee, is from there.

The 5,000-square-foot pavilion and garden, whose Korean name Da Wool Jung means a harmonious gathering place, is a popular venue for community events.

Other South Korean soccer enthusiasts gathered at Koreatown Galleria, an upscale shopping center at Olympic and Western Avenue. A portion of the fourth floor had been turned into a makeshift theater with a 100-inch screen and rows of chairs arranged in front. Restaurants and shops opened their doors shortly after 5 a.m. -- nearly five hours earlier than usual -- and did brisk business selling food and T-shirts. Shoppers and restaurant-goers lingered to watch the game and chat.

Sung-Yoon Kim, a retiree who lives in Koreatown, said he watched the South Korea match at home. But he decided it would be more enjoyable to come to the Galleria to view the other games on the giant screen in the company of fellow South Koreans.

Nak-Myung Chung, who had come to Koreatown from Pismo Beach on a day outing with his wife, Mi-Jong, and their three children, ages 14, 11 and 7, was delighted to find the big screen.

Though he left South Korea many years ago, he said he still feels his heart stir when he watches the team play.

It's a deeply rooted thing, he said. "You can't help yourself."

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