Where Old Men Come To Play

I was wandering around Seoul a few weeks ago, purposely trying to lose myself by following my instincts down crooked alleys and curving streets. The smell of fresh dumplings and Korean barbecue hung in the air. At first it did not appear like the most exciting of places – stores were shutting down for the day, an ajumma was walking hunchbacked down the street, and a shoeless man lay on the sidewalk half covered by his blanket. But then groups of people gathered in small clusters piqued my curiosity. That’s when I came across Jongmyo Park.

Men playing Baduk at a park in Seoul, South Korea

The game is called baduk and well over a hundred men were gathered to play it. For a few hours every weekend, men trade their wives’ company for brotherhood and rounded black and white game pieces. White cardboard mats covered the ground for men to sit on where benches were not available, cigarette smoke swirled into the crisp spring air, and papercups and bottles of soju littered the sidewalk.

Row of Men Playing Baduk in Seoul

I hesitated to enter their turf; it seemed off limits to women, but the men were so entranced by their game that they hardly seemed to notice my presence. Camera in hand, I stood by and observed the intricacies of their game. Their enthusiasm for baduk put a smile on my face; my efforts to decipher the rules, however, proved fruitless.

Two Men Play Baduk in the Park

16 Comments

  • “trade their wives’ company for brotherhood” haha
    Watching old men play their card games and tiles all around the world makes me happy for some reason. I’ve been told that’s the appeal of fishing. I guess for the younger generation it would be playing Video Games but its not as cool as there’s less physical interaction and fresh air. Boys will be boys. Infiltrating the circle is the goal.

    • thatbackpacker says:

      I’ve also noticed older men playing dominoes outdoors across Latin America. Seems to be quite the pastime!

  • Juliette Giannesini (@Xiaozhuli) says:

    Chinese tend to do that too, although I’ve never seen so many players in one place!

    • thatbackpacker says:

      It’s certainly not something you see in North America. 😀 Do they play mahjong?! It took me a while to learn that game, but it’s so fun when you finally get it!

      • lozintransit says:

        I would say public ritual game playing isn’t that common in the Western world outside of Chess at the parks. A popular sports brand had a series of Ads where they would matter-of-factly present their product whilst people went about their ritual gaming.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDVdAfnMhQg
        This sprung to mind when I was in Spain and Portugal watching the guys play.

  • andiperullo says:

    These are such great photos!

  • Two 4 Travel says:

    What a cool event to randomly run into. It reminds me of something you’d see in a movie, like old men playing chess in Central Park. I wonder why there were no women in the area..

    • thatbackpacker says:

      I guess they need a break from the women every once in a while… 🙂 haha. It was definitely a nice little gathering to stumble upon.

  • Elle says:

    How awesome is it that you stumbled upon that? I can’t believe how many men there are just sitting around playing games together. That’s so cool! I’m considering moving to Korea in the next few years to take a stab at teaching English.

    • thatbackpacker says:

      Korea has been a blast! I would definitely recommend it – if anything to play board games with old men. 😉

  • Oneika the Traveller (@OneikaTraveller) says:

    Great pics!

  • sqirg says:

    Lovely pics. Would love to visit a place like that!

  • Great blog post! I was just in Jongmyo and Jongno a few weekends ago and saw similar sights. Amazing how this game has the power to enthrall.

    • thatbackpacker says:

      Yes! And apparently these weekend gatherings happen all over the country. I was walking through a park in Busan last weekend and behold men were gathered to play the game! 😀

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