After something like 2.75 years in Vietnam, I'm taking the low road back to civilisation.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Delusions


Leaving the world cup behind me, my journey took me through a former German colony, into Frankfurt, and then a connecting flight threw me, amongst largely German teens coming for summer schools, into London. This was significant because of course, England faced Germany in the first knockout phase.

Serena got me from the airport and I didn't get any exposure to the English media AT ALL until I set foot in Walkabout bar at Temple (£5 cover, £3.95 a pint of Guinness) and heard the BBC coverage. And I quote...

"Looking at these two teams, how many Germans would be automatic starters in the England side? One, perhaps two."


"Based on their performances so far, what we have here are two average sides."


To me, and surely the vast majority of the football world who haven't been deluded by a national media who instills a belief of some god-given right to a minimum achievement of a semi final appearance at every world cup finals, it came as absolutely no surprise that Germany ripped England apart. Having seen England play for only about 120 minutes, and having seen all of Germany's three games up 'til that point, I fail to see how professional analysts can be that blinkered when it comes to something that seems blatantly imbalanced to me.

What we had was effectively an ageing ("experienced" - English media) team who have always underperformed ("are familiar with each other's style of play") on the big stage, when they get there ("back where they belong"), who had scored 2 goals.

Playing against a young, quick, confident team who have scored 5 goals and dominated the only game they lost, despite having only 10 men.

The UK media is something that I will be finding very difficult to take seriously. I may not even be able to pick up the back pages of the Evening News.

Oranje


My final tickets were for a meaningless fixture (on paper) between the all conquering Netherlands (one of the main reasons Scotland weren't in South Africa - them and Chris Iwumelo) and the woeful Cameroon. A game where the Netherlands were destined to finish top and Cameroon bottom unless the indomitable lions could only affect the outcome of the final table if they were to take the Dutch apart.

However the game provoked a lot of interest locally, the former Dutch colonial town as part of a country who largely wanted all African teams to do well (With the exception of the Algerians, whom it is clear are not perceived, or do not perceive themselves, as African). I was very interested to see the split of the local support. It was overwhelmingly Oranje.


Having left my fake sleveless vest era Cameroon strip in Vietnam, I dressed up warmly as a neutral and came armed with beer and my Vuvuzela. I had no plans to actually buy one of these things, but Henno had returned from Bloemfontein with an Orlando Pirates one for me, and when in South Africa, I have to leave white some black and white memorabilia.



The game was an interesting open affair, which passed us by as me and Henno caught up properly, he made his predictions about my future return to Vietnam, while we drank Bathwater
from the nosebleed seats at the back of the south stand.

video

At Ferryman's bar at the Waterfront, Henno and I met up with Alan and his Dad for a beer, and had to endure a rendition of "Ten German Bombers" from those jovial English football fans. Upon the completion of their friendly wartime anthem, the three of us pointed out in song, that "You'll all be flying Lufthansa going home". To which there was no reply, other than "You're Scottish? What are you doing at the World Cup?" Oh, you guys.

Lyrical improvisational is a theme I hope i will continue to enjoy, as I secured some tickets for Hana and I at the Fringe on one of the 2 for 1 days, and one of the shows features Abandoman, fromwhom I hope to pick up some tips to develop my skills.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Self catering


I have ended up in a backpackers in Stellenbosch for a few days, as Henno's parents house is running at full capacity. As luck would have it, I presently have what is effectively a studio apartment to myself, as none of the other 6 bunks are occupied.

One of the main things about Vietnam that stopped me from using my kitchen for anything other that a parking space, was that the supermarkets were crap. Yes, they catered well for the Vietnamese, who also dodge from place to place to pick up a fish here, a spice there and some rice somewhere in between. But I am really looking forward to filling my fridge once more with stuff from one conveniently well stocked location.

Anyway, after hearing my girlfriend's voice for the first time in ten days, I went to the Checkers supermarket and splurged 120ZAR to fill the fridge, and make myself some lunch. Apart from a little awkwardness in the fruit aisle, it was a great experience and I look forward to walking into Asda with a £10 note and filling my fridge for the weekend upon my return to Edinburgh.

The longest day


My next match saw me travelling east to Port Elizabeth, where I had tickets for Germany against Serbia. This involved an overnight coach trip from Stellenbosch which took around 9 hours and dumped me in PE at 6am, PE took a long while to wake up, so I explored the (empty) fan fest and found some breakfast.

I met up with the Lau Mann, and we headed down to the new stadium where he applied his retro face paint design just after we had seen the German team bus drift past.

Say what you want about the Germans, but the legacy of Saigon Raiders, Hofbrau Munchen, and the fact the two people I knew in PE that day were both German and both going to the game meant that I was (partially) wearing their colours that day.

In stark contrast to the Italy game, there was a more natural atmosphere in the stadium. The small pocket of Serbia fans were over by the main stand, although I was sat next to one of the few Serbs scattered randomly amongst what was overwhelmingly a German support, and I found myself at the corner flag in row 4 with large pockets of Germans behind me. This gave me a great view of Ozil's back as he took corner after corner, but the Germans ultimately fell foul to bad luck while playing a strong opponent.

This meant that the German fans were getting frustrated, and with frustration comes rapid hand gestures. Germans generally come with beer, so put the two together and you get... second half beer showers. This was not well received by the locals and the small number of Americans who were in the vicinity. These two groups of 'soccer' fans were also vociferous in their displeasure at people standing during the game, so there were a number of unsavoury exchanges during this game which culminated about 12 rows behind me in a large scale bout of handbags.

I spoke to Richard Schreiber after the game, who was at the time sitting in Johannesburg contemplating USA's exit before they came back from the dead to draw with Slovenia. He's going back to the US fairly soon, so would only see him again if I was to end up on the west coast, which isn't out of the realms of possibility by any stretch.

After feeding and beering up, it was time to observe England's abject failure to produce anything like top class football, and then try to meet Henno's mate Chris who was putting me up for the night. They were in a club, and trying to identify them proved a bit tricky. I had to keep myself going with Jaegerbombs as I was approaching the end of a day in which I had been on my feet for a good 20 hours, but eventually it was over.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My debut


One of the few drawbacks about this (or any) world cup is the commanding bargaining position that Budweiser find themselves in. Honest football fans, who want to inebriate themselves against the cold, their own team's ineptitude, or Vuvuzelas... whatever it may be, are subject to Anheuser-Busch's ability to outbid tasty beer companies to the exclusivity of official beer of football. Meaning football fans have to drink this piss-water.

Anyway, as mid afternoon arrived, it was time to leave our base camp and head into the city. Unfortunately this meant missing some of the first half of Japan's clash with Cameroon, and in particular a moment which I know brought a lot of joy to my other half, 5 time zones away.

As the car was dropped at the train station and we exited the vehicle, we were approached (something that happens quite frequently in this neck of the woods) by a lady asking for a jump start. With no cables on board, we gave her a push. And another. And another. Her battery was well and truly goosed and the car wasn't starting, but the point of this anecdote is to highlight an urban myth about exercise in the tropics.

I've heard people commenting in the past that "if I went back home and played football now, I wouldn't have any problems after running around in the humidity of Vietnam." Utter cack. If you are used to breathing in 35 degree air and then exert yourself in 8 degree weather, your lungs will not like it. Now I'm not one for suffering culture shock especially, but I've experienced this horrible phenomenon a couple of times now, and it's one of the few things that take me by surprise.

This was all en route to my first ever International football match, Italy .v. Paraguay. Now, I was already on the South Americans' side, having adopted the lesser known nations from the CONMEBOL region as my teams of choice. This standpoint was only strengthened by the surprising number of Italia branded Afrikaans speakers I encountered on the way to Green Point.

I had a great seat, right on the corner flag at the end both goals were scored. Check out the video to see (and hear). Vuvuzelas deserve their own entry. That will come later.

My impression of the game itself was simply that everything was much brighter than any other game of football I had ever experienced before. The quality of the game itself was nothing out of the ordinary, the atmosphere was forgettable but the experience was made memorable by how vivid and seamless everything was. It was an amazing spectacle. But I have seen dozens of better football games, experienced a hundred better atmospheres.

However this tournament is just warming up.

video

In transit

So a nice gentle flight ensued from HCMC to Kuala Lumpur, allowing me to watch games 3 and 4 of the World Cup I was en route to during my medium length stopover. I immediately found seemingly the only bar in KLIA that showed football and ordered some overpriced beer and food to sustain me as South Korea dismantled Greece and Argentina edged Nigeria. Found myself sat next to an English teacher from Yokohama who plays in the Tokyo Metropolitan league, so i got the lowdown from him on football in Japan and enlightened him on "Bong Da".

Unfortunately I had to fly during the England USA game, but my little blue friend and the tickets I collected upon arrival at Cape Town International rendered that a minor irritation (combined with the fact that Robert Green's blunder will be repeated on TV for eons - much to my delight).

Collected by my host family Kotze, we made the way to Stellenbosch, the Afrikaans University town that I had visited on a whirlwind tour of the Western Cape, on a day's respite from my penguin squeezing adventures 5 years ago. Coming from stuffy Saigon, the first thing I noticed was the temperature, and how insufficient my wardrobe is for the coming couple of weeks. I'm basically having to wear all the warm weather clothes I have at once, so I'm fooked if I get soaked.

Helping the culture shock to remain at a minimum, is a very accommodating host family including three cats, to soften the blow of leaving my own two behind.

The final farewell...


Writing this from my temporary abode in the Cape Winelands of South Africa, it's time to reflect a little on the past few week or so. Wednesday onwards saw me saying my goodbyes to the various characters from Saigon, slightly tempered by (what now appears to have been) a badly bruised rib, sustained the previous Saturday in the Bayon Challenge 11 a side football tournament in Phnom Penh. Karaoke would normally have been on the agenda, but as any sudden use of my lungs would bring pain, I had to settle for quiet drinks instead.

I had a sneak peek at the Bitexco tower, what will be (temporarily) the tallest building in Viet Nam. The photo is a view of Ben Thanh Market, taken from around about the 56th floor I believe.

Phatty's was chosen as an accessible meeting point for lunch with Hana (and a quick beer with Fraser) before I went to Tan Son Nhat airport for the last time. Of course, being Saturday afternoon, Saigon Saints were meeting there, but that wasn't what lost me my appetite for my last lunch in the country I had called home for just short of three years.

And so, onto KL.