N.Korea's Sensitive Striker

      June 17, 2010 12:50

      His favorite food is bulgogi or Korean-style barbecued beef, though he hates it undercooked. His greatest fear is getting bitten by a cockroach, and he makes it a rule to clean up his room before a game to prepare himself mentally. He says he has a "heart of glass." Jong Tae-se, the third-generation Korean-Japanese football player who is the North Korean national team's top striker, made these revelations on the website of his J League club, Kawasaki Frontale. Jong's strong physical features belie his sensitivity and wit.

      Jong, who has a South Korean passport, is able to compete as part of the North Korean team because his South Korean father married an ethnic Korean woman who opted to hold neither South nor North Korean citizenship. Jong's father, a plumber in Nagoya, wanted to send all of his children to Japanese schools, but his mother, a teacher at a pro-North Korean school in Japan, was against it. As a result, Jong and his two siblings attend schools through university run by the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan or Chongryon.

      Jong went on a trip to North Korea when he was in high school and vowed to return to his "homeland" as an athlete. When he was playing football in college, he was offered a slot on the North Korean team for the 2004 Asian Cup preliminaries. He tried to change his South Korean citizenship to a North Korean one, but was stopped by the South's Nationality Act, which does not recognize the North as a sovereign country. He was able to play for North Korea from 2007 after mediation by FIFA.

      Jong has referred to himself as a "lactic acid tank." His body generates lactic acid quickly, which triggers fatigue, and compared himself humbly with Manchester United player Park Ji-sung, who is dubbed the "oxygen tank" for his stamina. He says Park is his role model.

      Jong also enjoys singing South Korean pop songs and even dances to them. "I respect South Korea for having an open and international mindset in every aspect from the economy to sports and entertainment," he said.

      He also admits to being a sentimental person who cried several times at the South Korean soap opera "Winter Sonata." And he was unable to hold back his tears when the North Korean national anthem was played before the match against Brazil. Jong says he cried because he was so happy to represent his country in an international match and to face off against such a powerful opponent. It appears his passion for football was a more decisive factor than his loyalty to the North in his decision to to play for the reclusive country.

      By Chosun Ilbo columnist Oh Tae-jin

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