How far would you go to watch women's hockey in South Korea?
For 3 weeks, a South Korean minibus has become home for super-fan Mike Schofield and his girlfriend
On a wooded hill, on the path to the Olympic hockey stadium in Gangneung, South Korea, Mike Schofield and his girlfriend are selling sausages. On a good day, Schofield says, they can make $500.
But today sales are slow; most of the spectators are more intent on making the hockey game than eating hot dogs. So they pack up their grill, and in the bitter wind make their way back to a used school bus in a parking lot adjacent the stadium and wearily step inside. They're home.
"I think everyone's had that dream of buying an old, retro Volkswagen van and living in it," Schofield said.
It's an extremely specific dream. Six years ago, Schofield came to South Korea from Sarnia, Ont., to teach English. He lives with his South Korean girlfriend (who didn't want to be interviewed) in a town 45 minutes outside Seoul.
"We've been planning for over a year for this exact moment right now," Schofield said. "So it's kind of unreal."
"Welcome to the magic bus," he said, sliding the door open. "We've got six comforters, a memory foam mattress, and this is the magic. You see that? It's a USB-powered heating blanket," Schofield said.
"Very intimate ... but it's three weeks. A lot of people are paying a lot of money to stay in hotels or they're staying in Seoul, taking the train. I said no. We're going to be in the Olympics. We're parked a two-minute walk from the Olympic stadium."
Schofield has tickets to every one of Canada's Olympic women's hockey matches.
"Our girls are the best in the world," he said.
He showed up to the first game, Sunday's match against Russia, dressed in a resplendent custom-made red jacket with white maple leafs.
"An event like this, you have to have your Don Cherry suit," he said, performing a Jaggeresque strut.
The maple leaf suit seems to transform him. At the game, he leads the crowd in a cheer, cupping his ear and pitting the fans of the Canadian team against the outnumbered Russian supporters.
He couldn't get to his seat without first posing for half a dozen selfies with awestruck young South Koreans. For many, this was their first hockey game.
"I love it," Schofield said. "Everyone coming here smiling laughing, getting pictures, so if it becomes an opportunity to reflect on the children and teach them a little bit about our sport, about our culture." He was interrupted by another selfie-seeker.
Living with another person in the back of a van, with temperatures falling to –13 C at night, has its challenges. But despite these being the coldest Olympics in 20 years, the biggest challenge so far has been making the bed. "There are so many blankets."
The first week's experience in a word?
"Festive," said Schofield.
"The other day we were just walking around. I was trying to get to the post office, and the Olympic torch came running by us. So I got the chance to run with the torch for 300 metres.
At Canada's second match, Schofield didn't have to wait long to celebrate: Canada scored against Finland within the first 30 seconds. He leapt out of his seat and gyrated for the crowd, earning a thumbs-up from an elderly South Korean woman.
"We can just flip this into a super-positive thing and promote hockey in Korea, because I found out that there are only 100 (women) pro hockey players in Korea," Schofield said. "So four years from now … maybe a thousand.
"So this is a really really, really good thing for the country."
Schofield said he will be back for the next game. And the next game. And the next. And along with him, he hopes, will be a few of hockey's newest fans.