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Bayside Korean man shows enthusiasm for World Cup

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Baysider Tai-Kyuk Han is a modern-day Renaissance man and world traveler who speaks four languages, works as a bank executive and has run his own small business making promotional products for 15 years.

But for a month, there has been only one thing on the Korea native’s mind: World Cup soccer.

“France, they cried,” Han said delightedly, referring to favorite France’s quick exit from the international tournament. “Senegal? They cried. Spain went home!”

Han, who is known as Ted, is just one of thousands of Koreans in Queens who watched the surprising rise of the Korean World Cup team in this year’s competition, which began May 31 and ends this week.

The businessman has been so enamored with the World Cup, he decided to create a commemorative T-shirt recognizing the significance of the 2002 World Cup tournament, which is being co-hosted by Korea and Japan. This year’s tournament also marks the first time the World Cup is being hosted by an Asian country.

The Korean World Cup team, not considered a powerhouse, surprised many and delighted its passionate fans with several upset victories during the international tournament. Korea, which lost its chance to play in the World Cup finals Tuesday morning when it was defeated 1-0 by Germany, now will play for third place.

A Bayside resident since the late 1980s, Han is a longtime soccer fan. As an executive for Bank of America who speaks Korean, English, German and Spanish, Han has traveled throughout the world and lived for several years in Germany. His business, Bridge Enterprises, has been in Bayside on Bell Boulevard since 1987.

Flushing’s Seoul Plaza, a mini-mall, has been World Cup headquarters for the borough’s Koreans, who have gathered by the hundreds to watch the Korean team.

Han is no different and has been there cheering on his native country from more than half a world away.

“It really warmed my heart,” Han said of Korea’s World Cup success. When asked if the team’s victories were a surprise, he shouted, “yes, yes, of course!”

Han’s T-shirts, which he has been both giving away and selling, feature the names of the 16 World Cup teams on the back and the words “2002 FIFA World Cup” on the front. The Baysider said he used both red and blue to represent the official colors of Korea and Japan and incorporated the two countries’ respective flags in the numeral 2002.

Before Korea’s game against Germany, Han said he planned to go to Seoul Plaza to watch and even though he was supporting Korea, he was a bit torn.

“Emotionally, I’m in the middle,” he said, referring to his years living in Germany.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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