How far would you go to watch women's hockey in South Korea?

A Canadian man is living in what he calls the "magic bus" in South Korea to be there for Canada's Olympic women's hockey team. For three weeks, a cold parking lot will be home for super-fan Mike Schofield.

For 3 weeks, a South Korean minibus has become home for super-fan Mike Schofield and his girlfriend

Mike Schofield sells a hotdog for a $5 'donation' in Gangneung, South Korea. The native of Sarnia, Ont., moved to South Korea six years ago to teach English and travelled to Gangneung to support the Canadian women's hockey team. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

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. 

"And when I realized that the Olympics are coming to Korea and I'd be here, the first thing I said was I'm going to buy a bus, rip the seats out, put a bed in and sell sausages outside the hockey games. And so you just follow your dreams, right?"
Schofield and his girlfriend have been living out of a minibus he bought for $2,000 so they could attend all the Canadian women's hockey matches. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

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."

For the past six days, they've been living in the tiny minibus he bought for $2,000 US.
Despite the cold, Schofield says they're warm enough with six blankets. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

"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.

Transformed

"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.

"I've never had that many selfies in my life," he said. "But I think it's great to have the kids just loving it."
Schofield unloads his grill and sausages before Canada's second game, against Finland. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

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.

"And today we were just on the beach having a stroll and the 200 North Korean cheerleaders came strolling by us. So things like this just keep happening around here. Festive."
Schofield at Canada's first game, against Russia. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

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.

About the Author

Kim Brunhuber

Los Angeles correspondent

Kim Brunhuber is a CBC News Senior Reporter based in Los Angeles. He has travelled the world from Sierra Leone to Afghanistan as a videojournalist, shooting and editing pieces for TV, radio and online. Originally from Montreal, he speaks French and Spanish, and is also a published novelist.