My favorite thing about South Africa 2010: Paraguay’s uniform looks remarkably like a Where’s Waldo costume. I had forgotten that Where’s Waldo ever existed, but upon seeing Paraguay’s uniform, I remembered that Waldo’s escapades were one of the earliest influences of my travel obsession. (My second favorite thing is that allegedly, North Korea will not let any of its own countrymen out of the country, so they hired 100 Chinese to go pretend to be North Koreans in the stands and cheer on the Pyongyang football delegation. Seriously?!?)
My least favorite thing about South Africa 2010: hearing Shakira say “waca-waca” every five minutes.
Okay, okay, I admit that this is a fair-weather fandom, and that if I were back home in the US, I probably wouldn’t have any idea that the World Cup was even happening, much less be able to comment on the uniforms of a far-off land. But there is something about being in a foreign country, surrounded by all nationalities, that can sweep even the biggest sports cynic into fandom. So I totally understand why Max was none too happy when he realized we would be in Tibet for the start of the World Cup. China isn’t exactly known for its football skill or fans, and in Tibet we’d be lucky to even find a TV within a couple hundred kilometers. Dreams dashed of finding fellow Messi/Maradona compatriots to watch with, our first day in Lhasa we set about finding any place to watch any game at all. (It’s not exactly a city known for its nightlife…)
Argentina v. Nigeria: Some people had recommended the bar at the Phuntsok Khasang Hostel but that turned out to be quite far from where we were staying, so we headed to the oh-so-originally-named Traveler Bar instead. We shared the comfy sofas, traditional Chinese lamps, and large projector screen with a dozen or so Chinese tourists. Though they appreciated the novelty of watching the match with a real, live Argentinian, their loyalty to a high-scoring game was far greater than their loyalty to a fellow viewer from Argentina. They cheered every time either team got the ball more than about 3 meters past midfield. But, at least they livened up the small space, and they were appropriately congratulatory when Argentina came out with a victory. We flirted with the idea of staying for the US v. England game, which began at 12:30am local time, but on only our second day at altitude, we were feeling less than energetic, and had to make our way to bed.
Argentina v. South Korea: The only accommodation at Everest Base Camp, where we were the day of the game, is a few nomad tents. Needless to say, they have no TV. On account of the confluence of several adverse factors, the group decided to head down early (I still wonder whether Max was faking that altitude fatigue for the sake of finding a TV…). We managed to make our way to the small village of Shegar before dark. Electricity at the guesthouse normally worked only from 8 to 10 pm, but the staff was nice enough to keep the TV in the reception area on for the duration of the match. We had no fellow viewers and the TV was so small and fuzzy that we could barely see the ball. But it was a victory for Argentina, so Max was happy, even if he couldn’t see the goals.
USA v. Slovenia: Sports bars are tough to come by in the Tibetan city of Shigatse, and the late local start time made watching from the TV in our hotel room the only palatable option. The first 15 minutes of the game were painful to watch in their utter lack of skill and action, and reconfirmed why I avoided watching football for the last 30 years. I went to bed and got the score from Max in the morning, who claims the second half of the game was pretty good.
Argentina v. Greece: We arrived in Xi’an (in central China) at 10pm after a 35 hour train ride from Tibet. The game began at 2:30am local time. The local bars closed and, despite my best efforts, I fell asleep watching from the bed in the hotel room. It’s just not that fun to watch football in a solitary environment in the middle of the night. Max managed to stay up until 5am to see his team to victory.
US v. Algeria: At 10pm local time, all the bars were playing the England/Slovenia game instead of the simultaneous US/Algeria game – understandable given the massive number of British travelers and the virtual absence of Americans outside of our national borders. So we joined approximately 98 Brits and 2 Slovenian fans to watch their match. For the duration, raucous Brits draped themselves in their flag and wildly waved the Algerian flag in an expression of all things anti-America. They were louder than the vuvuzelas. Finally, 86 minutes in, the half-dozen or so Americans present convinced the bar people to turn one small tv in the far corner of the bar to our game. At the end of 90 minutes the drunken, Algerian-flag-toting Brits did a victory lap – passing our screen just in time to catch the America goal – the one the put the US (not England!) – in first place in our group. The Brits made it through, the Americans made it through, but there were still upsets all around. The whole place was in an uproar. A good time was had by almost all. Finally, we found some World Cup spirit.