What do you do on a day with no football?

As the World Cup progresses, teams get eliminated and the number of games played get spaced out. As intriguing as it would be to see Brazil play every day for a week, players have to rest in between and, unfortunately, so do we.

It's a little unfair to say that our lives revolve around football. Even though there might be six hours of football in a day, we wake up early enough to do other things than watch games. We need to scout for locations to view games, stock up on groceries or find time to travel from host city to host city. Of course, all of this is to increase the pleasure of eventually watching the game, but that is merely a coincidence.

So, finally, on Wednesday, we were at a bit of a loss. The second round games were over, there were not one, but two rest days before the quarter-finals began. So, what do we do?

In short, walk. Previously, we had to rush around the city to get all our errands done before game time. Now, we could be more leisurely about taking new sights in.

I am a great believer that the best way to get to know a city is to walk around it until you get a little lost. Then, you're forced to understand the city and might see things that you would otherwise never catch if you just followed the prescribed tourist route.

How do you get about? You need a map, a comfortable pair of shoes and a sense of direction. I don't think mine are too bad, but when my cousin asked me whether I knew I was going in the right direction, I said, "You know where the sun is, you know what the time is". Surprisingly, this works much better than you might expect, although not as well as stopping and asking someone for directions.

Of course, it's time-consuming to walk around the city, getting lost down the sidestreets, but it's fun. The discovery of some quiet cul-de-sac. The intrigue at some hidden, charming (I will not use 'quaint') local restaurant. The joy of turning the corner and finally finding what you were looking for.

Of course, the feet are a little sore at the end of it all, but there is plenty of time to rest them once the football starts off again.

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posted on Wednesday, June 28, 2006 - permalink
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Why I shouldn't bet on football matches

Ghana-Brazil. Second round of the World Cup. Odds for Brazil to win? 1.27. Odds for Ghana? 10.00.

"Ten?!! If we bet one Euro, when win ten?!!"

My cousin, who shall remain nameless (the one with the letters V, N, A, G and I in his name), was there with me. I turned to him.

"Aren't those good odds?"
"They're great odds."
"Should put some money on it."
"You should."
"Odds are too good. Something's weird."
"Be a man."
"I mean, nine to one are great odds."
"Wanna put the money where your mouth is?"

I hesitated on this one. I've never actually placed a professional bet in my life before. Sure, there's the odd if-Villa-lose-this-I'll-buy-you-a-teh-tarik bet (a lot of teh tariks in that one). But never one at a betting shop.

The next day, Gav- I mean, my cousin - prodded me again at the Internet Cafe.

"I wonder if they have a Michael Essien shirt here," he asked aloud. Essien has been a revelation in this World Cup, a hard-nosed hard-tackler who holds the Ghanian midfield together, and we both admire him.

In the end, I was persuaded. I'd put five Euros on Ghana, and cuz would match me.

"Make sure it's over 90 minutes," he said. We weren't going to get caught out on this one.

The nice lady behind the counter smiled when I went up to place the bet. Odds of 10.00 were good, I was happy.

We got to the bar where were going to have lunch and watch the game. A waitress came up to us and we started talking. She asked who I thought would win the Brazil-Ghana game, and I proudly held up the betting ticket.

"Ghana?!" she said incredulously. "You are very brave."

I pointed to my cousin. "He was going to buy an Essien shirt," I said.

"Who's Essien?"

We educated her. Essien is a god. We worship him on the altar that is World Cup football. Him and Pele, of course.

Finally we settled down to watch the game with our Caipirinhas. The team list scrolled across the bottom of the screen. Midfield: Appiah, Muntari, ...

"Where's Essien?", my cousin asked. "He's not suspended is he?"

I sank lower into my seat.

We watched the TV. Essien was being interviewed. And then they cut to the stunning two-footed-studs-up-tackle-from-behind he made on some poor American player (probably deserved it, by the way).

"He's suspended isn't he?"

My cousin looked at me.

"Just tear up the bloody ticket."

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posted on Tuesday, June 27, 2006 - permalink
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England-Ecuador: Storm in a Fan Fest

You can tell when England's playing a game. You can hear when England's playing a game. It's that tune: En-GER-Land, En-GER-Land, En-GER-Land, the triple-syllabic repetition that after a while, frankly, becomes monotonous.

Even the way they look is pretty standard. Stripped to the waist, with an England team strip tied around his swelling reddened midriff, a beer in one hand, head cropped to reveal slightly paler skin underneath.

But one thing you can say about them: they're loyal. They're England through and through. Prick 'em and they bleed roses.

England are through to the second round, against what is perceived to be lightweight opposition. This is naturally where teams fail. The underdog usually plays a tight defensive game and all the pressure is on the bigger team to attack. It's not easy playing the minnows.

Gavin and I were in Koln (or Cologne, if you want) and we decided to go to the Fan Fest. Unlike the impressive festivals in Berlin (size) and Hamburg (interest), Cologne's fan fest is pretty much a letdown. To be fair, they do have pre-match concerts, but I kind of missed them on the days I was there.

The game began under sweltering heat. It's not really that much fun being stuck in a crowd of sweating tattooed Englishmen who are hurling abuse at anything that catches their fancy at the time.

England's game wasn't much better. Playing 4-5-1 (why?) with long balls punted to that well-known heading machine, Wayne Rooney, England had some chances, but were not convincing enough. Worse, the man I've tipped to win the game for England, Joe Cole, is not delivering. All he needs to do is to either beat a man and then pass to a free teammate, or hold the ball and pass to an overlapping Ashley Cole. A guy like Joe should be able to do that in his sleep, but the way he's playing, he looks more in comatose.

As the game progressed, the weather began to take a turn for the worse. It began slowly, with clouds gathering overhead. Although it gave respite from the sun, I noticed that the winds were picking up as well - normally a sure sign that rain is coming.

I put on my rainjacket. Gavin scoffed at me, but I could see how dark some of the clouds were. You could even see it moving towards us.

On the pitch, England were still not that convincing. Gerrard was trying his best to make things happen, but it wasn't really coming off. Lampard took shots, but still no goals.

Half time came, and I suggested getting out before it started raining. Just next to the Fan Fest, my eye was caught by an ice cream menu. Banana splits. Yum. Even at EUR4 for one.

We sat just inside the open shop. If we peeked into the back of the shop, we could see a TV. I got my banana split, and the second half began.

Now, I can't really say that I saw much of that, because it started to rain, you see. And I mean, really rain.

Well, first there was the wind. The umbrellas outside all flapped uncontrollably. Waiters ran out to try and bring them under control.

The announcer at the Fan Fest said, "You can feel the winds, it is very strong. And if you look behind you, you can see the dark clouds. It might be a good idea to look for cover."

The crowd roared and let him know exactly what they thought of fans that abandoned their team at the threat of mere rain.

The storm began. And I mean 'storm', not rain. Plastic chairs toppled over and scurried along the ground. The Fan Fest TV kept flickering on and off, and the TV in the shop too had difficulty keeping a signal. Outside, it began to pour, with some hard-but-not-so-hard core fans running for cover.

The ice cream shop started closing its sliding doors, insulating us from the chaos outside. English fans pressed up against the glass, not so much to get in, but so they could peer at the TV inside.

I talked to the lady next to me. "Does it rain like this often?" She shook her head. Never.

Suddenly, there was a roar. Beckham had scored, a meticulously curled free kick into the side.

Suddenly, with that, it all began to become clear. Both the game and the weather turned for the better. I finished off my ice cream, and celebrated an England win, if not thoroughly convincing, then at least workable.

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posted on Sunday, June 25, 2006 - permalink
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How I Lost and Found My Adaptor

Let me tell you a story. Okay, it isn't much of a story, in the sense that there aren't many obstacles, but it is about the choices I make when I'm travelling, and there is this sense of three acts, so... well, okay, it is a story.

First class seats in German trains have an electrical outlet, so you can plug your notebook in, or your hair dryer, or, like I did, perhaps even your handphone charger.

The plug is between the seats, way below everything else, so it's hidden away. And then I got into conversation with some Americans about Newcastle and Owen's injury. That's my explaination anyway about why I left it on the train.

Yup, left my phone charger on the train. And I don't think they make the model any more, so you could say it's practically one of a kind. As happy as I was that I would be saving money on phone calls, I really should get it back.

But what could I do? I decided to just poke my head around the office door in the Railway Travel Information Centre.

I'm not confident in my German. I know this because if I have to ask anything complicated, I first check if they can speak English or not. Most of the time, the response is "Not very well, explain it to me in German". Once, it was "Your German is good, what, say it in German lah!" (translated to Malaysian English, of course).

The other problem is that they tend to answer in rapid-fire German. The trick I have (which works most of the time) is to identify the two or three words I understand and then work out what is being said from there. The problem with that is that one word can sometimes make all the difference.

By the time I had finally worked out where the lost and found department was (incidentally, in DB railway stations, they're always also the left luggage office), I had asked three people and walked the length of the station twice. When I got to the last person ("My English not so good, say in German please"), I had more or less got the words down pat, based on which phrases left people puzzled and which they nodded and smiled at.

They told me because the train went on ahead to Munich, they didn't clean up the train in Leipzig, and that the only way I could get it is if I went to the Munich train station. They were kind enough to write my name and seat number down to pass it along, though, and they were sympathetic of my plight (being crap at German).

The problem is, I wasn't due in Munich until the week after, so I would be without a telephone until then. Not a disaster, but still a pain.

So, I was still thinking about that when I boarded the train to go to Cologne, my next stop. I also wanted to drop by Frankfurt to buy tickets for the Billy Joel concert (different story). Frankfurt to Cologne is only an hour, no problem.

However, when we pulled into Frankfurt station, I was still very groggy from the sleep (it was 5.30 am), and I thought about things for awhile.

The ticket office wasn't going to open for another four hours at least, maybe five, so I'd have to hang around in a cold railway station until then.

But, the train I was on was going on to Munich (all trains go to Munich or Berlin, I gather). Sure, it was another four hours, but my German Railpass would mean it would be a free roundtrip, and I might be able to get my adaptor back.

So I settled back to sleep and stayed on the train. Of course, when we got to Munich, it wasn't over yet.

I couldn't find the lost and found office ('Findburo' if you're interested), so I poked my head into the Euraide office. Euraide is an organisation set up to help people with Eurail tickets sort out tickets, reservations, etc. I used them as an interactive map of the station. When I told them I had lost something on the train, the guy basically laughed and wished me good luck. Apparently there's not much found at the Lost and Found.

Nevertheless, I'd gotten this far already, might as well go all the way. The man in charge of the lost and found office was (a) Clearly a life-long employee of the DB railways, with not much left on his tenure; (b) Proud of his job and the responsibilities that came on with it; (c) Not likely to speak the languages of any country that he fought against in the war (The Great War, not the other one).

By this time, I had the words more or less pat, but I still needed to point to the phone ("See? Thingy that plugs into there"), make funny rectangular shapes with my hands ("Like this, not so small, not so big") and a lot of smiling and nodding at what seemed the appropriate times ("What kind of idiot leaves his adaptor behind on a train?" Smile. Nod.).

Finally, with some more pointing and nodding, he finally produced my adaptor. In one piece. I thanked him gratefully and heartily. I think he was so surprised by my reaction, that he himslef broke into a huge smile, grasped my hand with both of his and seemed to thank me in return for making his week.

A time to make friends indeed.

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posted on Friday, June 23, 2006 - permalink
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Iran vs Angola at Leipzig stadium

The stadium is pretty impressive on the inside as well. The seats are steep and I think there isn't a single place that has an obstructed view. The architecutre is simply overwhelming.

The seats we got were excellent. The only problem was that the setting sun eventually peeked under our roof and gently basted us, but it wasn't anything too serious.

Watching a World Cup game in a stadium is like watching any other football game, except that it's bigger, louder and more expensive.

Well, not technically bigger. Bukit Jalil held 80,000 during the Commonwealth Games opening and closing ceremonies (it can theorethically hit 100,000) and that was an absolutely amazing atmosphere. In the World Cup the crowds are slightly smaller (50,000-70,000) but just as ferocious, and just as loud. You wear your heart, flag and whatever you can get your hands on on your sleeve.

You notice the rabble rousers that inspire a crowd onwards. With the numbers that we are talking about, you need more than just one person leading the chants. Note that in football, there are no official cheerleaders on the field, just who you bring with you in the stands.

The game itself was okay. Things only really perked up when Angola scored. It'ss fairly amazing to me that Angola, who needed a win to even think about getting through to the next round, lined up 4-5-1 from the beginning, and then only gradually changed to a 4-3-3. They were much better going forward, and were pressing for the second goal that would send them through, when Iran scored from a straight-forward header off a corner. After this, the game petered out a little (might have been the heat of the afternoon sun). The strangest thing, though: The Angola keeper looked as if he was playing for a draw near the end, when a win was what they should have been going for. In the end, neither Angola nor Iran came away with much credit. Angola can be excused as it's their first World Cup, but Iran really need to buck up if they're to establish Asia as a footballing region.

After the game, we quietly shuffled out. There wasn't much in the way of celebration since both teams were out, so it was a little anti-climactic.

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posted on Thursday, June 22, 2006 - permalink
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Trying to avoid security at the World Cup

For this World Cup, the orgnisers have promised to be very stringent with identity checks, and that ticket holders will be matched with their passports. I look very little like the Mr. Pueltson whose name is on the ticket, so the ticket might be a problem (my apologies for the crazy spelling, but I'm now used to generating umlauts on a PC yet).

However, despite getting two tickets for the game, my cousin and co-traveller did not want to travel cross-country to Leipzig wiwth me. He didn't relish either Iran or Angola, and he wanted to save his valuable Germany Railpass days for Nuremburg.

Leipzig is a three-hour journey away by train from Hamburg. This makes it a six-hour round-trip journey for a two-hour match. As crazy as this seems, it's not altogether strange as many a dedicated football fan have made round-trips of longer journeys in poorer conditions. I myself remember rugby matches against King's Tauntons which were that long away, and if you don't think that's necessarily so awful, imagine a coach-load of proto-pubescent teenagers after a bone-crunching rugby game in the middle of a sleety British winter.

But I'm travelling first-class on the cream of Deutsch Bahnhof trains, courtesy of my German railpass tickets. For a set fee, you can travel anywhere in Germany for a certain number of days in a month. It's actually a very good deal. It works out to EUR40 a day for a second class ticket. It's a better deal at EUR50 a day for a first class ticket - which is normally a EUR40-50 surcharge. Even with the discounted World Cup fares (only available to those with gameday tickets), second class Hamburg-Leipzig-Hamburg comes out to be EUR90. So, I was very happy with an excuse to use one of my extra RailPass days.

Anyhow, I digress. But this is my story, and I reserve the right to do so. Since I had a spare ticket, I felt that since fortune shone her light on me, I should do the same to the next poor soul who wanted to experience that special atmosphere of the World Cup but did not have a ticket. That person was Billy, who probably couldn't believe his luck that not a few hours after arriving in Germany, with his only intent to enjoy the atmosphere at the fan-fest, a virtual stranger sharing his same dorm would offer him a ticket to watch a World Cup game.

Okay, it's Iran-Angola, but he'd never been to a World Cup game ever in his life, and might possibly never again. So, we bustled awake at six in the morning and hustled our way to Leipzig.

Leipzig is the only World Cup host city in the former East Germany. You can sort of sense it. There is an undeveloped feel to it, which is to its credit because much of the old architecture is still intact. The word is 'quaint', although I hate to use it because it conjures up the worst in commercially-packaged American-infested tour groups. (I hope you understand that I am referring to those loud-mouthed, perenially-uncouthed, tactfully-challenged Americans, and not those globally-enlightened, cleverly-unassuming travellers whom you occasionally meet and mistake for Canadians.)

But Leipzig is very pretty and nice to stroll through. It's compact, it's got cobbled roads (always a favourite with me) and it's got pleasant architecture.
It's also got a first class football stadium only 20 minutes walk away from the city centre. It's absolutely amazing. Size-wise it's on par with the Shah Alam stadium (which is pretty incredible in it's own right), but it's nestled in a little valley, so the stadium seems to grow out of the countryside.

We had a plan of attack. Apart from the wrong names on the tickets, I also wanted to bring in my video camera. However, some versions of the rules said that it was not possible to bring in any sort of video recording equipment. Others just made it clear that any filming or photography was for personal use only.

The idea was to try and go into the stadium only when there was a crowd. Hopefully, because they would be keen to process the masses as quickly as possible, they might let things slip. Like a camera. And an Asian-looking Poulsen. (You'll notice that the spelling will change as I get along with the story. My prerogative again.)

I sat outside, enjoying the crowd's antics. Fans waving flags. Fans tooting horns. Fans getting their bags turned inside-out by the stadium security.

The longer I sat there watching them go through bag after bag, inside seam after every inside seam, the more resigned I was that I was going to be caught out.

But it was too far for my liking to go back to the main train station and dump my stuff in a left-luggage train locker, so I decided to try my luck.

As usual, I played the I-am-but-a-dumb-tourist act. He asked me to open the bag, I opened the bag. He asked me to empty the bag, I emptied the bag.

"Oh, sorry, you cannot bring that in". But he wasn't pointing to the video camera, but the AlphaSmart. Everyone assumes that darned thing is a fully-fledged PC, when it's just a glorified electric typewriter with solid-state memory. But everyone's worried that I can use it to hack into some WiFi signal or block television signals.

Fortunately, they let me keep the bag in the store room and take my video camera with me. One down, one to go.

But the queue to cheque the tickets was moving smoothly. Nobody had to wait, nobody was being interrogated. Then he got to my ticket, saw the name, saw my face, and did a double take.
"Mr. Puetsen? Can I see your passport please?"

Damn. The game was up. I could play it clever and "C'mon, you know how this thing works, let me in", but yet again I went for innocent tourist.

I told the truth.

"Somebody in the dorm gave it to me, for free."

The guard took me aside and then asked me to join another lady outside. As she took us to the office, I carried on the "Wha-? Me-? Why-?" train of argument.

I stopped outside the office, and she asked me for my passport.

Hell. The thinking before we went in was to say that we didn't bring our passports, but I could see that this line of argument wasn't going to go anywhere fast. So I just took out the passport and gave it to her.

Trying not to look nervous, I smiled at her. "So... problem is it?"

"Ja... a little."

I realised I was smiling a little too much. What was it they said about the guilty trying to hide too much by smililng?

So I shut up and went serious.

"Does this happen a lot?"

She nodded grimly.

I then remembered that being too serious made you look shifty as well.

So I gave a slightly nervous smile. Friendly without being over-enthusiastic.

She turned to me.

"Okay, here is a new ticket, you have the same seat, just a different name."

My name is now 00003652663.

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posted on Thursday, June 22, 2006 - permalink
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How I got free World Cup Tickets

Do you believe it? Some people questioned my decision to go to Germany for the World Cup even though I didn't have tickets. "Have faith," I said. "Have trust".

A pretty odd turn of phrase from somebody who has long questioned the concept of fans celebrating organised sport as an alternative religion (the worship factor is there, the code of ethics less so). Yet, when you journey into the unknown, you must surely always hope for the best. Sure, bad stuff might happen, but the truth is that you can by and large prepare for the worst and greet the good with open arms.

As you may know, World Cup tickets are notoriously difficult to come by. The lottery is, well, a lottery, and direct buying over the Internet from third-party salesmen involve ridiculous sums being paid above the face value.

Nevertheless, there are always games where supply outstrips demand. And Angola versus Iran is one of them.

Iran just managed to qualify and are seen to be weaker than Japan or South Korea. However, they are seen to be potential dark horses who might have provided a shock result or two.

Angola is seen to be the weakest of all African nations and many have written them off to finish bottom in their group. Nobody seems to know much about them and nobody seems to know any of their players.

However, in a turn up for the books (albeit very slim, light-weight tomes), Angola are the ones in with a shout of qualification. If they win and Mexico lose their game with Portugal (which is very possible), then Angola could just pip the finishing post with goal difference.

Nevertheless, despite being a game to determine qualifiers, Angola versus Iran isn't enough of a draw to garner much interest. No star players, and both are seen to play dull, plodding football. (I think the latter is unfair to both - Iran run hard with the ball, and Angola aren't afraid to try the occassional outrageous play.)

Anyway, all that explains why somebody might not mind giving away those tickets for free, but it doesn't explain how I got them.

Well, they were given to me. By people I was sharing a dorm with. They are Australians who had tickets to watch Australia play Japan and really didn't feel motivated to travel to Leipzig to watch Iran-Angola.

Where did they get their tickets from? Well, here's where it gets a little more interesting. They got it (for free) from an Englishman who, it seems, was happy to give it away because he had a stack of tickets two inches thick and he wasn't interested in Iran vs Angola.

Bearing in mind that you are technically not allowed to buy tickets for more than four people for seven games, it's a little unusual that this man would have a stack that would easily come to fifteen and sixteen games. And it seems his pile included all the top games: all the England games, Brazil games, semi finals, finals.

Of course, all of this if based on hearsay from Australians who were drinking on the night they got it, so I have no idea where the truth really lies.

Nevertheless, for me, this is some sort of vindication, some sort of "Nyeh, nyeh" for those naysayers. Okay, so it's Iran-Angola, but the point is that - if I do get into the stadium - my trip to Germany did bear some World Cup fruit.

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posted on Thursday, June 22, 2006 - permalink
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Got some posts up

Finally, I've managed to get some posts up about my time in Berlin. Of course, I'm now in Hamburg, which is quite some way from Berlin, and about to leave for Cologne, but I will get them up eventually. Given time.

Just scroll down the website, I've inserted the older World Cup entries about me in Germany in between the rest of the stuff. There's more, but I need time to put it up.

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posted on Thursday, June 22, 2006 - permalink
i've inserted the pears and grapes! i love the postcard dzof! :)
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Czech fans sing. And then they get drunk, and then they sing some more. Only louder.

Czech for "The Glorious Republic of Czechslovakia" is "Cesc", which is pronounced CHESS-SEA. This makes them sound a lot like fans of a Premiership club, but without the Mourinho-like smugness.

I know this because I saw a lot of Czech fans at the Hamburg stadium. I was there to catch the atmosphere and maybe a ticket to the Czech-Italy game. Due to Ghana's superb athletic play, the Czechs find themselves having to win in order to realistic get through to the second round. Italy can't afford lose either, if they are serious about getting their hands on the World Cup for a fourth time. (Did I mention? Last time Italy won, they were captained by a certain Dino Zoff.)

Of the two sides, the Czech supporters were louder and seemed more confident, although the Italians did have the best banner ("The sky is blue and white. God is an Italian. Forza Italia").

Many people who don't have a ticket came to the stadium. I sort of expected that for the Brazil-Croatia game because Ivete Sangalo was performing, and anyway, Brazillians want to go to where all the other Brazillians are. But there must have been a few hundred milling around, some of whom were looking for spare tickets.

The strategy of waiting until the game begins to buy your tickets is slightly flawed, I think. This is because everyone else might feel the same way. I thought I heard tickets being sold fo EUR120 three hours before the game (but I could have been wrong), which is a very good price for a game like this. But, ten minutes to game time, I was told that the price for a ticket was no less than EUR250.

It's a question of supply and demand. If everyone waits till the last minute to buy, there is more supply than demand in the beginning. This then should be the time to buy, because later on, it's very hard to persuade low prices when there are so many people clamouring for tickets around you.

In the end, I opted to watch it on television in a crowded sports bar right next to the stadium. Both Italy and the Czechs had chances, but Italy's defence looked more convincing. I said it before the tournament began, and I'll say it again, Fabio Cannavaro is the best central defender in the world at the moment. Of course, now that I've said this, he'll muck up and put the ball in his own net or something, but it's what I believe.

Italy had a 1-0 lead at half time, and in the other game, Ghana was leading 2-1. Not good for the Czechs. They poured forwards in the second half, and left themselves exposed at the back. True to form, the Italians defended well and counter-attacked with great effect. A superb through ball to the back-in-favour Pippo Inzaghi, a little shimmy past the Czechian keeper, Cech, and it was game over.

Now, the Italian fans broke into song. Now they danced and waved their flags.

When I was back in Hamburg, I saw the Czech fans. Some were slumped in their chairs. Others were staggering drunk, singing to the very end.

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posted on Thursday, June 22, 2006 - permalink
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Perks of supporting a team that's been knocked out

Since there was time to kill before the Iran-Angola game, Billy and I decided to split up and explore Leipzig on our own. It's good that, a World Cup ticket lets you travel on local transport for free (did I mention that I got hold of FREE World Cup tickets?). Anyway, Billy was wondering whether he should get souvenirs.

When I met up with him an hour later, he was all kitted up with an Iran football jersey, Iran scarf, Iranian flag, Iran pin badge and an Iran backpack.

I thought, heck, he was a little bit serious about getting souvenirs, wasn't he? I wondered how much it all set him back.

"Nothing. For free."


"They give me for free."

It seems that the tree that we had agreed to meet under also happened to be the lets-give-Iranian-stuff-away-before-the-police-come-and-break-it-up tree.

I guess that's one of the perks of supporting a team that exits the World Cup early.

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posted on Thursday, June 22, 2006 - permalink
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Mexican, Truly Malaysian

The World Cup is a cauldron of nationalities, mixing up people from all over the world (including one or two from countries that didn't even qualify), that it's sometimes hard to tell who is who.

Of course, if they're wearing a flag, then it's a little easier. However, a lot of people wear Brazil who don't actually come from or live in Brazil.

The other way is to listen to what they speak. I can discern between Mandarin, Korean and Japanese. I'm not so good between Hungarian, Croat and Russian. But I'm relatively quiet when I'm alone, so it's hard to tell that way.

Finally, you can just look at a person. Tall blonde girls are obviously Swedish (obviously). Fresh-eyed perky ones are American. And dark, shortish, scruffy guys like me are going to be Mexican.

I'm beginning to lose count how many times people have called me Mexican, or more generically, spoken Spanish to me.

I do try to correct them, but do they know what Malaysia is? Thanks to our country's efforts at promoting tourism, I had nothing to fear.

At Leipzig, after the Iran-Angola game, a whole group of guys waved at me. "Hola!" they shouted. "Mexico!"

"No!" I shouted back. "Malaysian!"

"Malaysia? They not in World Cup?!!"

Yeah. Thanks for reminding me. Again. I am stressed out enough that our national team is so bad that it struggles to beat Hong Kong and Palestine at the best of times.

"No, they not here for World Cup, but I here for World Cup!"

"Ha ha! MALAYSIAN!" Finally. When you're with somebody who is clearly worse at football than you are, it is easy to be magnanimous. They launched into a chorus, to that famous English tune, "Here We Go".


And then, to cap it all of, "MALAYSIA, Truly Asia!!!"

Thank you very much, Tourist Development Board.

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posted on Wednesday, June 21, 2006 - permalink
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How I got my free World Cup tickets

\Do you believe it? Some people questioned my decision to go to Germany for the World Cup even though I didn't have tickets. "Have faith," I said. "Have trust".

A pretty odd turn of phrase from somebody who has long questioned the concept of fans celebrating organised sport as an alternative religion (the worship factor is there, the code of ethics less so). Yet, when you journey into the unknown, you must surely always hope for the best. Sure, bad stuff might happen, but the truth is that you can by and large prepare for the worst and greet the good with open arms.

As you may know, World Cup tickets are notoriously difficult to come by. The lottery is, well, a lottery, and direct buying over the Internet from third-party salesmen involve ridiculous sums being paid above the face value.

Nevertheless, there are always games where supply outstrips demand. And Angola versus Iran is one of them.

Iran just managed to qualify and are seen to be weaker than Japan or South Korea. However, they are seen to be potential dark horses who might have provided a shock result or two.

Angola is seen to be the weakest of all African nations and many have written them off to finish bottom in their group. Nobody seems to know much about them and nobody seems to know any of their players.

However, in a turn up for the books (albeit very slim, light-weight tomes), Angola are the ones in with a shout of qualification. If they win and Mexico lose their game with Portugal (which is very possible), then Angola could just pip the finishing post with goal difference.

Nevertheless, despite being a game to determine qualifiers, Angola versus Iran isn't enough of a draw to garner much interest. No star players, and both are seen to play dull, plodding football. (I think the latter is unfair to both - Iran run hard with the ball, and Angola aren't afraid to try the occassional outrageous play.)

Anyway, all that explains why somebody might not mind giving away those tickets for free. But how did I get them given to me?

By people I was sharing a dorm with. They are Australians who had tickets to watch Australia play Japan and really didn't feel motivated to travel to Leipzig to watch Iran-Angola.

Where did they get their tickets from? Well, here's where it gets a little more interesting. They got it (for free) from an Englishman who, it seems, was happy to give it away because he had a stack of tickets two inches thick and he wasn't interested in Iran vs Angola.

Bearing in mind that you are technically not allowed to buy tickets for more than four people for seven games, it's a little unusual that this man would have a stack that would easily come to fifteen and sixteen games. And it seems his pile included all the top games: all the England games, Brazil games, semi finals, finals.

Of course, all of this if based on hearsay from Australians who were driniking on the night they got it, so I have no idea where the truth really lies.

Nevertheless, for me, this is some sort of vindication, some sort of "Nyeh, nyeh" for those naysayers. Okay, so it's Iran-Angola, but the point is that - if I do get into the stadium - my trip to Germany did bear some World Cup fruit.

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posted on Tuesday, June 20, 2006 - permalink
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Being a supporter means you support

I am a fan of England football team, in the sense that I want to see them do well. Partly it's because I'm familiar with the players. In theory, I support Brazil, Italy and England equally, but I think that if England had to play either of the two countries, I might support the English if only because they would be the underdogs.

Gavin, my cousin, also is an England fan. But the way we both support the team comes from different places.

Although we both want our tems to play well, he actually wants England to lose when they play badly. He thinks that if they don't lose, then they'll keep on playing badly.

I, on the other hand, have enough faith in a coaching team of professionals, that they would see that may have things tactically wrong, even if they happen to win games.

I get peeved by the fact that he says he's an England fan and wants them to lose. Big arguments ensue when I tell to stop claiming being a fan. I have no problems not liking the way a team plays, and even for him to want a team to lose. But don't claim to be a fan of the team.

It's like those Chelsea fans who've suddenly come out of the woodwork. You're free to choose to support any team you want, but if you support them only when they're playing well, then something's wrong.

If that's the case, then you should say that you're supporting good football, whoever plays it.

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posted on Sunday, June 18, 2006 - permalink
My dear cuz, am catching up on your posts and thought I should present my point of view.

I AM an England fan and if anything, my supporting them even when they are playing negative rubbish defending a lead made from an own goal, shows how much of a fan I am.

How many times do you see a coach saying after losing a game "We deserved to lose that game"? Same principle applies. You learn more lessons from losing than you do from winning.

Good riddance to Sven. He was absolute rubbish.

Keep up the good work.
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Party Like a Brazillian

One thing the Brazillians know how to do is party. I'm serious, they're like a whole cut above the other fans. It's like football is just an excuse to get togethe and have a good time.

There's like a critical mass. When enough Brazillians and one drum get together in one place, a party spontaneously combusts. It only takes ten or twenty Brazillians to start something rolling into a first class celebration.

It starts long before the actual game begins, when the fans begin swarming to the city. It doesn't have to be the actual city that the game is being held in, but of course, if it is so, you get more fans and bigger parties.

The beat of choice is samba, and two things immediately strike you: That every Brazillian seems to know how the rhythm goes, and every Brazillian knows how to move to that rhythm.

Suffice to say, I don't. But I can bop from foot to foot, mildly recalling the four lessons I had in the samba. Nothing compared to how the actual Brazillian girls move though, you understand.

Even immediately before the game, there's no letup. Everyone jives all the way to the stadium with quick impromptu bursts of rhythm.

And it's all amazingly good natured. There's no hostility involved, which is extremely foreign to somebody who has followed English football. There's no taunting of the opposition, there are no rude songs and - as far as I can make it - no rude language of any sort.

Fun for all the family. The kids are there, dancing away, everyone from babies to grandmothers. Mothers encourage daughters to provacatively jiggle their hips in time with the music. It's the samba, baby.

When the game begins, everyone's focus is on the pitch. Every trick by Ronaldinho is punctuated by drumbeats from the crowd. Every shimmy, every wrong-footed pass is celebrated, even if it doesn't lead to the goal. The result matters, sure, but the living of the game is what they look forward to. The only time they even come close to booing is when the ball is passed back to the goalkeeper. Or when Diego Maradona appears on the screen.

Near misses are rewarded with groans. And everyone does it. It's infectious, focussing on the gamee, and waiting for that glorious moment, when the ball hits the back of the net.

When it finally does, when the goal is scored... my word. Other people just cheer the goal, wave their flags and chant the name of their team. With the Brazillians, it's cheer the goal, jump up and down in the air, and then beat that rhythm on the drums, and dance. And dance. And dance. And dance.

The game has restarted, but still the dancing and singing continues. Bra-zil, Bra-zil. When you're trapped in the crowd, there's nothing you can really do but join in. Bounce up aand down in time to the rhythm and get showered by drinks and ice spilt by the bystanders. Who cares what gets wet, Brazil just scored a goal.

The celebrations only die down when Brazil mount another goal threatening attack, and then all the attention is on the field again.

When the whistle blows, and if Brazil win, it's time to party again. And they're partying for up to an hour after the game ends, singing variations of what sounds like the same song over and over.

Well, I lie. Strictly they party all night long. God, I don't know what to expect if they win the World Cup.

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posted on Sunday, June 18, 2006 - permalink
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The Fischmarket, Hamburg

The guide books say you should visit the Hamburg Fischmarket on a Sunday, but they don't really explain why. I'm writing this to try and give more details, and to also say that, yes, you should visit the Hamburg Fischmarket on Sunday morning.

The market is only open on Sunday, from 5 to 10 am, and really needs a crisp, sunny morning to be really enjoyed. Some suggest spending all night on the Reeperbahn, enjoying the seedy side of Hamburg before refreshing yourself at the market, but I think a clear head is better. Of course, you might enjoy lurching through a crowd of early-morning shoppers, leaning on each to steady yourself as you zig-zag down an uneven cobbled road but, hey - whatever floats your boat.

The Fischmarket runs for a kilometer and a bit (maybe two kilometers, depending on how you count it) along the river Elbe. It is, as half its name suggests, a market, but not just a fish market. You get all the things you expect at most markets (groceries, crowds, noise) plus a little bit more.

If you are planning to visit, I would suggest going by the underground on the U3 line to Landungsbrueken. From there, walk along the river (keeping it to your left). As long as you have the right day and time, you can't miss it. You can also take the S-Bahn to the Reeperbahn stop and walk down to the river, but Hamburg's red-light district is pretty dead early in the morning, and you don't really want to start off your day dodging broken glass bottles and zonked-out punters wondering why they thought paying EUR200 for a baby oil massage was a good idea.

If you've followed these instructions, you'll find rows of stalls selling daily essentials. Vegetables, cheese, chocolates and, of course, fish.

Being a port, the fish is naturally fresh and superb. If you want a quick snack on the spot, you can buy a bun stuffed with a bit of raw or lemon-marinated herring or salmon or whatever takes your fancy. It is actually superb, it really tastes fresh. It's not japanese, but sushi lovers will have a field day.

But it's they way they sell the general groceries that I find unique. The bigger stalls are basically large produce trucks that open up on the side and convert to a shopfront.

Now, when you have a truckload of produce to shift, you're not interested in selling it in ones and twos. You want people to buy a lot in one go, preferably by the basket. So,okay, to start with they'll throw in a basket for free.

Then they just pick a random assortment of goods and place it in a basket. All the while, they're shouting out what they've chosen. "Some garlic, half a kilo! In the basket!". There's no guarantee what gets put in. "One whole box of strawberries! For free!". And then the grand finish. "All of this, all of this, I give to you for only ten Euro! Who wants this? Who wants this?". Then, somebody from the crowd will step forward and pay for it.

Sometimes they start with a price, and then people line up in front of the seller with open bags in their hands. They get stuff thrown into their bags one by one, all the while the seller is shouting out what he's giving away for practically nutthin'. Sometimes he'll throw free stuff into the crowd. Sometimes he'll open a box for free sampling. All the while it's thoroughly entertaining.

There was this African selling coffee. He literally manhandled this woman to his stall, shouting "You want something black? You want something strong? Come with me!".

But that's not all. You'll eventually come to this big building with a pier attached to it. The most obvious thing about it is the live music blaring from the front doors. Before you enter it, walk down a little further to see the rest of the market. There'll be flowers and all sort of knick-knacks, most selling at half the price of what you'd pay at a typical souvenir shop. After you're happy that you've had your fill of the market, turn around and head back to the main hall.

If it sounds like people are having a party in there, it's because they are. A live band plays on one end (60's pop music when I was there), and the whole of the ground floor is taken up by people enjoying their 8am beer. Hey, it's never too early to get some liquid protein down you.

For those that prefer something more substantial, go up to the verendah upstairs and have a EUR10 buffet breakfast. Or perhaps a EUR15 brunch. There's nothing like a bit of greasy roast meat to start the day with. Downed with beer, of course.

If you can move after all that, you can either decide to walk to the nearest S-Bahn station (Koenigstrasse or Reeperbahn) or, more interestingly, catch a ferry back to Landungsbrueken.

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posted on Sunday, June 18, 2006 - permalink
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Whatever the weather, the World Cup rules

According to the Internet, the weather in Germany at this time of the year ranges from a cool 15 C to a skin-browning 35 C. Of course, this is the Internet, so it must be true, although I had my doubts early on this month.

True, the weather when I touched down in Frankfurt was cold enough to warrant a jumper ('sweater' to you Americans), but for a whole week in Berlin, it was nothing short of stupendous. Too good, truth be known.

Sitting down under this sort of cream cheese melting weather for a 3pm game is a little silly, really. Which probably explains why I myself have done it once or twice.

If you drink enough water, and get to the end of the day, you then find it's excellent weather for the evening games, when the day and tarmac has cooled down and it makes for comfortable football viewing.

The weather was so hot that we all felt that a little light rain would do us some good. Be careful what we wish for.

When we hopped on the train to go to Hamburg, the weather looked ominous. By the time we got to the football viewing area, the rain started falling. And it was cold. Like that sort of annoying cold because you dressed for 34 C and are getting 15 C weather instead.

Some, however, revel in the rain. This couple was dancing the tango in the middle of the midsummer shower.

But of course they were. There's not that much to do between the football games.

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posted on Friday, June 16, 2006 - permalink
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Infuriation at the Fan Mile: Half time, England 0 - 0 Trinidad and Tobago

This is the infuriating part of being a football fan. Despite having at least three clear chances to score, England have managed to ensure that T/T has a clean sheet. The audience here is made up of Englishmen and Swedes (apparently 35,000 of them have converged on Berlin for the Sweden-Paraguay game), with the Scandinavians supporting - guess who.

Despite the scoreline, the English fans seem quite upbeat. Perhaps itís because the sun has finally hidden behind some clouds for the first time in a week, making the temperature bearable.

England neesd to keep at it. Professional, thatís the word. This isnít the time for passion nor for ill-disciplined creativity. Just keep it simple.

Nevertheless, this game has the word Ďupsetí scrawled all over it and I would not be surprised if they donít take three points from the game.

NB: England won with goals from Crouch (despite playing horribly for most of the game and fouling a Trinidian by pulling on his pony tail while jumping for the ball) and Gerrard (a stunner with the wrong foot from outside the box).

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posted on Thursday, June 15, 2006 - permalink
liverpool 2 t/t nil
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Brazil vs Croatia - Samba the night away

Brazil vs Croatia. The samba rhythm has been beating throughout Berlin for the last two days. you are greeted at every almost every corner with a Brazilian flag, an ĎOlaí and some hip wriggling.

Of course, the Croatians came to town as well, but their rhythm was less infectious and almost a little more confrontional. Nevertheless, fans were friendly towards each other.

Because we tried to go to the Olympion Stadium, we ended up missing the France-Switzerland game. Instead, we spent two hours trudging along, look for an amphitheater in the woods.

A ticket from the black market for the game is EUR250. A ticket for a samba concert with a large screen showing of a football game a stoneís throw away from the real stadium is EUR20.

The crowd was simply amazing. Brazilians converge to any city theyíre playing in, and itís pretty much samba time. you might think itís an exaggeration, but they hit a beat and thereís no stopping them.

In performance was Ivete Sangalo, apparently very famous in her native Brazil. A two-hour long Samba party at the expense of the France-Switzerland game.

After the concert, we all settle down for the big Brazil game. Everywhere you looked in the amphitheatre, you see Brazillian fans, mostly wearing jerseys bearing the names of Ronaldinho or Robinho. Not much in the way of Kaka, though. Throughout the partying, the odd Croation grinned sheepishly at one another.

Brazil actually played well against a gritty Croation side. They have this ability to pass the ball amongst the midfield, looking for the free man. When they finally find him, he will burst forward looking for a chance. Thatís how Kaka picked up the ball, nimbly stepped away from the midfielder rushing back to provide cover and scored with a sweet drive into the top-left corner.

Immediately, the Brazilian fans danced some more (itís not like they stopped dancing). Every touch by Ronaldinho was acknowledged and applauded, even if it didnít lead to anything. It is the Brazillian nature to celebrate.

Even though they were only one-nil up, Brazil strolled through the second half like nothing was the matter. Even though Croatia came close once or twice, the samba atmosphere rolled on. I have no idea what they woud have done if the score was equalised. Probably samba a little less loudly.

The game ended 1-0 to the Brazillians, and we spilled out and funneled ourselves into the train stations.

And guess what? Yup, the Brazillians were still dancing.

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posted on Tuesday, June 13, 2006 - permalink
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Steak from Argentina, football from Italy and Ghana, dent in the floor from me

We honestly do try to go to as many different places as possible to watch the games. Variety, spice of life, you understand. So, as impressive as the fan mile in Berlin is, we decided to try something different for the Italy-Ghana game.

Now, Italy is very important to me. I always follow how they do in every major competition. In fact, I've followed them in every major competition I can remember.

It began with the 1982 World Cup. I remember going downstairs to fiddle with the little black-and-white TV set we had in the kitchen to try and catch the Italy games. I remember Paolo Rossi scoring goals, especially since he wore such an odd number (20) for a striker. I remember Tardelli wheeling away after scoring a goal in the final, he face contorted in sheer ecstasy. And I especially remember the goalkeeper - Anyone who shares a name with me can't be all bad.

We actually found the place we ended up at completely by accident. It was this Argentinian Steak place in the kind of middle of nowhere. We only stumbled across it because we were trying to take a short cut to go to this Summer Beer Garden we saw and then crossed the road because we thought it was nearer... you get the idea.

For some reason, they were charging half-price for every food item on the menu. And it's happy hour from eight until closing. Admittedly the original list price was kind of expensive, but half price was good. The restaurant decor was nice, a classy and comfortable mid-range place, the sort of place you might bring a date. I certainly hope nobody was on a date in there that night.

So we went in, ordered quarter-kilo steaks and watched the game. And what a game it was.

Both Italy and Ghana were playing some of the best football seen in a tournament so far. Credit must be given to both teams for playing such an open game. The level of technical ability on show was so high, and there were chances to be had.

I think the highlight of the game for my brother must have been when he saw me stand up as Luca Toni headed the ball, controlled it and then when he struck it against crossbar, I cried out in pain. I then dropped to my knees on the carpeted floor, which probably saved me from breaking my kneecaps.

If there were dating couples in that restaurant that night, I sincerely hope they were so engrossed in each other that they didn't notice me.

Anyway, if you want to know, the restaurant is midway up a street parallel to Oranienburger street. No, I can't remember what the name of the restaurant was. That's the World Cup for you.

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posted on Monday, June 12, 2006 - permalink
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Watching afternoon football is bad for the eyes

There is a problem with having outdoor televised matches under the Berlin midday sun. The glare off the screen makes it impossible to see either the ball or players when they are under the shaded part of the stadium.

The first inkling we had of it was watching the opener. you had to squint at the screen at times, although overall it wasnít too bad. Then came the Australia-Japan game.

We decided to have it in an outdoor cafe near our hostel. We had scouted the food beforehand and it looked good - it was. However, the LCD projector, despite being the shade, looked like somebody had smeared vaseline over the projector lens. Australiaís gold and green looked paled yellow and lime greenish.

And it wasnít just that screen. Every time we saw a 3pm game on an outside screen, it looked fairly horrendous. It was impossible to watch half the game and the only way sometimes to know what happened is to watch the reactions of the players. Happy celebrations = a goal was scored.

I was wondering why we never got this problem in Malaysia and then I realised: We usually watch our football at night.

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posted on Monday, June 12, 2006 - permalink
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The World Cup is an opportunity for some to parade themselves to the world, to stand up and demonstrate that they are the epitomy of cool. yes, Iím talkng about the sports clothing companies.

The big names involved in this yearís World Cup are Nike, Adidas and Puma, but of the three, only Adidas has gone to the extent of building a scale model of a stadium in the middle of Berlin that fits around a five-a-side Foosball pitch.

Apart from playing games in there, they also show live telecasts of all the games. At a cost of EUR3 per person, that is.

Of course, there isnít just the stadium. Around it are more five-a-side pitches with podiums from the other sponsors: McDonalds, X-Box and Nestle. The glory that is the commercialisation of football is in a 360 degree view around you.

I have to admit, without the money put into the game, you would not get the saturated television coverage that enables football to bring the world closer. We do have to be careful that the game isnít dragged into a secondary position behind the business of selling Big Macs and X-Boxes. I believe that if the game is good, nothing else matters, which is why I feel a little guilty for basically paying Adidas EUR3 for the priviliege of watching a free-to-air television program.

Of course, all thoughts of this vanished, as soon as Holland took the field with the delectable Arjen Robben entertaining us mere mortals with a stunning display of one-upmanship.

Skimming along the ground with the deftest of touches, Robben humiliated the Serbian left-back over and over again. And the Center Back. And whomever else who dared to stand in his way.

Serbia were actually okay, but they just paled in comparison with the Chelsea winger.

The match ended and I didnít even think about the EUR3 apple juice that I bought when I was in there.

When the game is good, nothing else matters.

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posted on Sunday, June 11, 2006 - permalink
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England, Argentina roll on, but Trinadad and tobago rocks

Still, I have't been able to find a place to attach my alphawriter, so another short note.

Saw England-Paraguay, Sweden-T&T and Argentina-Ivory Coast plaz.

England got the job done but was otherwise unimpressive. T&T were rock on but lucky. Argentina look pretty good when they want to.

Today we divided our time between Potsdamer Platz (where a friend SMSed me to kiss a girl named Heidi - I have no idea what people think of me sometimes) and the Tiergarten again. We're getting more savvy about buying things from supermarkets, I think - which doesn't explain why we spent EUR50 on lunch for three people!

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posted on Sunday, June 11, 2006 - permalink
uhuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!!!!! having a blast perhaps!! :) where's my postcard ?:) i dont watch any games but maxis is kind enough to send me the results for FREE! :)
Less of England being unimpressive kay? Ta. Onwards and upwards. At least we're not going home. Yep, you read that right - we. Take care and behave yourself.
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England vs Paraguay at the Potsdamer Platz

Today is the day of the big game. I always follow the progress of four international teams: Brazil, England, Italy and Malaysia. So, any game involving any of those for me is a big game. Any game involving two of these four is a Big Game.

However, the day that Malaysia plays in the World Cup is the day that the Malaysian Football Confederation has cleaned its mess up and have decided to play football instead of politics, so we're stuck with only the big three.

I support England because I watch the Premier League - Go Villa! - and I know most of their players. Look: Robinson, Neville, Rio, Terrz, A. Cole, Becks, Gerrarrd, Lampard, J. Cole, Owen, Rooney, subs: Crouch, Hargreaves, Carragher. Can't do that for any other international team, honestly.

For this game, we decided on the cozy atmosphere of Potsdamer Platz, which is one of my favourite places in Berlin because of the architecture and because of the four-story Sony Centre. Unfortunately, the Sony Centre is closed for the duration of the World Cup, and RD2, a local TV station, has taken over the premises as their main studio. You can get in to watch games, but you have to get a free ticket first, and for that you have to queue up. All very organised, but a fair amount of planning is involved.

Security at these places is a little tough. They donít let you bring in bottles of water because (they say) you can fill them up with water and make them lethal weapons. When I was told I had to chuck my half-full bottle away, I immediately chugged all the water down my gullet. For some bizzarre reason, both Adik and Gav found this amusing.

We opted to sit in a restaurant, but shame on us, we didnít check if the menu on offer outside in front of the big screen was the same one that was inside. Obviously, the one outside was five Euros more per person.

As for the game itself, I thought England was okay. They got their early goal and managed to hold on to it. Gavin, on the other hand, complained bitterly throughout the game about Englandís Ďnegativeí tactics. He also thinks that Owen Hargreaves and Sven must have something on the side for him to have gotten so many caps for England. Iíll say it again: England were okay, they got the job done. Beckham was fine, Gerrard and Lampard worked well together and the defence was, on the whole, solid - apart from a few lapses. Unfortunately, these lapses in front of a better team might get them punished.

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posted on Saturday, June 10, 2006 - permalink
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Getting ready for that World Cup thingy in Berlin

This will be a short post until I figure out a way of transmitting stuff in my alphawriter across to a computer. Yesterday we scouted places in Berlin for football viewing. As ridiculous as it may sound to those who know the richness of Berlin's heritage and culture for three grown men to tramp around saying things like "Hey, the screen isn't so good here, you know, and there isn't much place to sit" while ignoring any of the sights around them... let me remind thee, this is the WORLD CUP we're talking about.

Anyway, the short of it is: Potsdamer Platz is cramped and difficult, while the Strasse 16 Juni is excellent with six (count 'em, SIX) two story high screens down the road. Film, pictures and details later.

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posted on Friday, June 09, 2006 - permalink
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9 June 2006
Germany vs Costa Rica, Poland vs Ecuador: Standing up for the Germans

What do you do when you're in a World Cup city and you don't have a ticket for the game? Why, you go for one of the World Cup parties, of course.

Berlin has a few places where the public is invited to join in and watch the games. The main area is a kilometer long strip right through the Tiergarten, Berlin's main park. Along this row, they have six - count that, six - double-story screens. Lining the streets are food vendors, and you're invited to sit in the middle of the street with the others.

We chose this to watch the opening game - Germany against Costa Rica. As you imagine, the home team had a fair amount of support. The road was packed, and you could barely move for space.

We tried to book a spot - remember, we had reconnoitered the night before, but the actual day was different. Busier, for one.

We sat down, ready to enjoy the game, but when the German team came on screen, everybody stood up. Basically, if you wanted to watch the game, you couldn't sit down.

I've stood up during games before, throughout all of the game, but I've never had nothing to lean on. Everyone had their rapt attention on the action before them, all supporting the Fatherland. I don't really want to say it, but it was kind of like a rally.

Germany acquitted themselves well. That's what comes of picking such an easy game to begin with. 4-2 to the Germans - who asked Costa Rica to put up such a fight? The Germans were caught out twice on the offside trap, so I guess that's what everyone else is going to try and
spring on them.

After that we rested awhile before the Poland-Ecuador game. The crowd, not surprisingly, dispersed before that one began. I personally don't get that myself. I do try to catch every single game in the World Cup, if only because the teams are generally of a high quality, and
because... well, because it's the World Cup.

Having said that, Ecuador managed to win easily by virtue of Poland's ineptness. I would loved to have said that my man De La Cruz (Aston Villa, rightback) was the difference, but he had a so-so game. Nothing special.

On the other hand, Poland's inability to construct even a half-decent attack was special in it's own way.

We ended the night with Gavin complaining bitterly about how crap Poland were, and then complaining bitterly about Polish supporters singing at the top of their voices, like they had won something. Even I didn't get that.

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posted on Friday, June 09, 2006 - permalink
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German Train Carriages

The first class carriages in Germany are nice. Really nice. Much nicer than I remembered them to be when I was last here.

I've taken a first class pass simply because it came out to be EUR10 per day more expensive than the second class version. Considering that the average cost difference is EUR30-40 more expensive, and
considering that it's so much easier to find a seat in first class, I reckon this is a good deal.

Some differences are apparent. The seats are wider, with more variety. You have two-facing, four-facing, six-facing, and then with or without tables in between.

Some of them even have on-board radio and video, but you need to supply your own headphones.

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posted on Thursday, June 08, 2006 - permalink
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8 June 2006
When in Germany...

I know some German. It isn't very good, but it's good enough to order beer or to say "Hi" to some fine Ma"dchen. Not that I do either of those things regularly.

Anyway, using a foreign language for the first time when you enter a new country is always a little uncertain. Will the local accent be completely different from what you've learnt? Will you forget or confuse everyday terms and just get people annoyed?

Or - worse still - will they just give up talking German to you and switch to English. You know that when that happens, that's it. They have just taken pity on you and think, poor soul, he has absolutely no idea what he's doing. Having a foreigner speak English to you when you're trying to converse to him in his native tongue is equivalent of Brazil fielding a second eleven against Aldershot football club with Ronaldinho in goal wearing a blindfold. Good effort lads, but we'll make it easy for you, so you can save face.

The first opportunity I had was at passport control. I was thinking, should I start with a good morning, follwed by "I'm here for the World Cup Tournament, ain't life great, eh?".

But caution took hold of me, and I remembered you never mess with airport officials. I once joked that maybe they'll find a bomb on me or something, and the response was, "I hope that was a joke, sir".

That was before the attack on the WTC. Now they would probably poleaxe me into the ground and sit on me as a German Shepherd gently toys with my vulnerable parts. They have no sense of humour, these airport security men.

So I chickened out with the nice immigration lady, and just tried to look relaxed and non-terrorist like.

The next opportuity I had was at the train station. No nice lady now, but a grumpy bemoustached DetscheBahn officer who's probably sick and tired of those bloody foreign football fans who resort to communicating to him in bad English.

I try to keep it simple. "Good morning. I want to go to Berlin. Here is my...". At this, my voice trails off. What the hell is the word for German Monthly AllYouCanTravelForEightDays Pass? So instead I wave my ticket at him.

(The truth is, not really knowing the local language is not such a great impediment if you want something bad enough, they want to sell you somethng bad enough and you don't mind gesticulating like Taylor Hicks overdosing on Red Bull. I believe the entire Thai sex industry is based on this precept.)

The DB official listens to my accents, nods imperceptibly and thinks "Hah, here's some smartarsed foreigner who, worse than trying to talk to me in bad English, instead attempts to insult me with bad German."

He answers a slurred, rapid-fire answer. As far as I can make it, he says GoOutTurnRightTurnRightTurnRight, which makes me want to say "Why don't I just go straight on". He carries on to say "mumblemumblemumble and then somethingsomethingsomething Gleiss funf. Na"hmen blublublub gurglegurgle am Hannover umsteigen."

Now I knew he was trying to confuse me. All he had to say was which platform, but he was trying to outfox me with all the extra predicates, verbs and nouns.

I stiffened my resolve to not let him have the last word, so I repeated some of that back to him, so that he would know that I wasn't cowed. In German: "Platform 5, right? To Hannover, then change to Berlin?". I smiled at him truimphantly.

He cocked his head me. "Ja".

And then in English, "Platform Five".

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posted on Thursday, June 08, 2006 - permalink
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8 June 2006
Somewhere over Prague

There is nothing to do on a Thai Airways flight. I am so spoilt by the luxuries afforded by MAS and SIA that not getting a personal video screen is a bit of a surprise.

No matter, I would have been too tired to watch anything anyway. Having barely slept the night before, and then going the whole day in the hot, thick humidity of Bangkok, as soon as I could, I fell asleep in my seat. Until the stewardess woke me up for dinner, that is.

I've tried to spot the football fans in the crowd. Two Korean guys and one Aussie, if only because they're wearingn football jerseys. I am in two minds whether to approach them for an interview. It's not really in my nature to just cut in. I've always assumed that people on planes want to be mostly left alone. At least that's how I feel myself.

The point I'm trying to make is that one of the hardest things about trying to make a film about this trip, for me, is that I will have to approach complete strangers and try to get them to talk to me. This is completely out of my comfort zone. I told this to a friend, and he was surprised. I guess it's because I can be gregarious in company. But I need to be persuaded first that the company wants me gregarious first.

I guess it's a little like asking a girl out on a date. You assess your chances, you make first contact (smiling, of course). You establish, then develop a connection. And then, you tell her that to move to the next stage, you must use a video camera. And then they run away screaming.

Maybe that isn't such a good analogy.

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posted on Thursday, June 08, 2006 - permalink
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7 June 2006
Leaving for the World Cup

As usual, when I am trying to go on these big trips, I always kind of leave stuff till the last minute. This time it was getting a place to bunk the babies (Thanks Terri!) - you know I mean the furry kind, right?

I was also doing up these last minute notes. I'm a great believer in these note things. Yeah, sure, so it's in your guide book, but if you take the time, you can have one sheet of paper that tells you everything you need to know about the city. And then, I have a little clear plastic wallet that hangs around my neck, and I fold the paper in half, so it's within easy reach.

I have been so brought up on The Amazing Race.

Anyway, I'm rushing and rushing and packing and packing and then, just as I was about to leave for the train station - I realised that there was a small tear in the bag.

Not a big tear, about a centimeter or so (half an inch for you purists). The problems with tears is that little ones will become big ones evetually, so I had to do something about it quickly.

No, I didn't ask my mum to sew it for me. Her eyesight isn't what it used to be, anyway.

Instead, I waited till I got on the KL Sentral train to KLIA and took out my trusty sewing kit. I've had this kit since even before the last Big Trip, and it still goes great guns for me. I spread the on the seats facing me and do some jury-rig surgery. Of course, everybody in the carriage is looking at me, but I'm man enough to be comfortable in my own masculinity. Even so, I gave the occasional grunt as I tightened the thread, just to show them I was doing a real man's job of it, you understand.

These strange looks were only matched by the ones the cleaners in KLIA gave me when I was trying to record the video diary. So hard, I tell you.

The highways in Bangkok are elevateed and run above busy streets below. When you're driving along, you're at least four or five stories up. Gives the impression that you're gently floating through the city.

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posted on Thursday, June 08, 2006 - permalink
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Stuck in Bangkok, not feeling the World Cup fever yet

Slowly, slowly, I'm inching my way towards Germany. A short stopover in Bangkok, to cater for the pecularities of trying to find the cheapest return ticket to Frankfurt. I could have had a five hour layover, but opted to get in earlier so I could quickly nip into town.

Not such a great idea.

For a start, the famed Bangkok traffic has a reason to be famed. I reckon that's the reason why they try so hard to actually avoid the roads if you're not in a car or bus. The sky train is elevated. The highway is elevated (yes, yes, technically a 'road', but bear with me). The skywalk pedestrian walkway is elevated. The khlongs are, well, a level below. Because walking next to Bangkok traffic? Hot, suffocating, and just plain urgh-grimy. Mind you, most of the time you're walking faster than the traffic anyway. I finally learnt to just plonk myself in a food court and nurse fruit juices.

And worse? For some bizarre reason, they're not that crazy about the World Cup over here. Unlike in KL, when you can't turn a corner without seeing some footballer kicking some TV/handphone/camera over a billboard, Bangkok just has... nothing. Well, not exactly 'nothing', more "Wha-? Whe-??? You guys do know there's a World Cup going on, right?".

To get to the bottom of this, I interrogated my taxi driver. We had the time anyway, we were stuck in a traffic jam. Never mind that we don't really speak the same language. I said, "World Cup?". He shook his head. "Boxing".


"Boxing good."

"But World Cup good too, right?"

"Only if got money. Otherwise boxing good."

He was talking about Thai Boxing, on live in Bangkok four times a week. And as far as I can tell, not affected at all by the greatest sporting event on Earth.

Tell me, is it true? Is there really a life outside the World Cup?


posted on Wednesday, June 07, 2006 - permalink
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Is "Footie Fan" written across my forehead?

"Pergi nak tengok bola, ya?". I guess I was obvious, a young, single traveller producing a plane ticket to Germany. What else could I be going for? Of course, I could be saving an early seat for Oktoberfest, but (a) I don't really drink and (b) I dislike lederhosen.

Of course, the truth is that I don't have tickets to any of the games (despite two hours at the Internet day before yesterday). I try and try and try, but so far, no luck.

I personally believe that for long-term travelling, preparation is key. So, to go without tickets to any of the games seems a tad hyppocritical. But I tried. I really tried. Really.

There are so many avenues. I'm tickling the possib ility of going as press. Perhaps a generous uncle will show the way. Maybe the heavens will open and a ticket will float into my lap.

I can but dream.

Nevertheless, I will try for a ticket, never give up. I will try for a chance to sneak into a stadium, never say die.


posted on Wednesday, June 07, 2006 - permalink
Poor Dzof! I wish you a ticket! **Twinkle**Poof**! Let me know if that worked, ya?
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Love football so much, I wrote about it: Gol & Gincu the series

Gol & Gincu, Sundays on 8TV at 10pm So, some of you guys know that I write scripts from time to time. And that I like football. So it must come as no surprise that when they asked me if I wanted to write for Gol & Gincu: The Series, I jumped on it like a hot thing that needs to be jumped on, because this sort of opportunity doesn't come along every day. Of course, they then said "Don't put so much football scenes in it, okay?". Tough to shoot, I understand.

The series follows on the life and times of Putri and her friends from after the movie. If you haven't seen the movie, it's about a girl, Putri, who starts playing futsal to try and win back her boyfriend, Eddy, and along the way discovers herself and a new boyfriend, to boot. Actually, not a bad movie at all. Too much male-bashing, I thought, but not bad. Also, not enough football.

The series proper begins on Sunday 4 June on 8TV at 10pm, entitled Kau, Aku, Dia & Mereka. This episode was written by Rafidah, who also wrote the original film. The episode is more of a lets-introduce-the-characters sort of deal. The main newcomer is Ayu, who is new to city life in KL, and is immediately attracted to Reza, Putri's current boyfriend.

My episode airs next week, on Sunday 11 June on 8TV at 10pm, entitled Hari Ini Hari Engkau. Well, I say written by me, but actually Rafidah had a strong hand in it at the end, so I can't claim all the credit, despite what the titles might say. She is a producer, she has full rights to do what she did. I still felt bad about it, though. So, I guess, it's kind of mine, except for the good scenes. This episode focusses on Ayu's attempts to win Reza over and Shasha's attempts to fend a new boy, Haikel, off. BTW, Shasha was Putri's main rival in the original film. Confuzzled yet?

(I also had another episode that was rejected outright. That one felt horrible, like my still-beating heart was ripped out of my chest with a pair of rusty salt-coated pliers. Without antiseptic. But that's a different story.)

Another problem I have is the timing of the show. Good God! Don't they know that my episode clashes with the Holland vs Serbia Montenegro Group C game? Cheh!


posted on Saturday, June 03, 2006 - permalink
ohh coolies you wrote one of the script!

what episode number is it? I read the scripts till the eighth and it was pretty suspenseful wink.. so i know a bit of the story =)
I wrote episode two. The pilot is the one that airing this Sunday.
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Germany, Here I Come

Sorry to stay quiet for so long. To be honest, I intended to write a little more than I have in the last two weeks, but things like life get in the way.

The big news (or, rather, the BIG news) is that I will intend to be in Germany for five weeks, covering most of June and a few weeks of July. There's this thing called the World Cup, you see.

The itinerary covers Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Frankfurt and Munich. The more observant will realise that this is not an accidental choice, being five of the twelve World Cup host cities. But whether I get to see any games live or not is a completely different issue.

Tickets for the games have been hard - very hard - to come by. Actually, I exaggerate a little, since there are online shops selling tickets at twenty to thirty times the cover value. Yet, I'm not willing to spend EUR1000 for a single ticket. Instead, I spend hours in front of the Internet, refreshing the screen for the ticket shop, hoping to get lucky. Even when tickets are available, when I click on them, I usually get sent to a screen that says "Sorry, shop is busy" or "Sorry, it seems that somebody was faster than you".

"So," I hear you asking, "Why on Earth are you going to bother to go all the way to Germany if you don't even have a ticket for a game". Yeah, you and my mom, my friend. I've been questioned on this over, and over, and over, AND OVER again about this. "Why do you want to go all the way over there to sweat it out in some Bierkeller when you can get all 64 games in the comfort of your local mamak shop in KL?".

Partly it's about the atmosphere. But I hesitate to say that, because I believe that if the football is good, nothing else should matter. A good atmosphere hightens the senses, but it can't save a bad game. And a great game is great regardless of where you watch it. So let's just say "partly atmosphere" and move on.

It's actually about travelling. It's about doing things that you've never experienced before. Seeing things that you never imagined before. Pushing back the borders of your personal horizon to a new vanishing point. And then pushing it that bit more.

Of course, there are going to be problems when you put yourself out like this. Uncertainty unbalances you, and you're always questioning yourself. Can or not? Should or not? Safe or not?

Heh. I sound like one of my scripts. I should be doing slogans instead.

Life is hard. Life is great. Live life.

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posted on Friday, June 02, 2006 - permalink
Dude, I for one will NOT question your motives, since I totally understand. I wish I could be there too.
But, hey, TV ain't so bad either, especially when you got your mates providing their own brand of atmosphere. ;)

Best of luck in Germany!
Have fun in Germany. Hope you brought some warm cloths because I heard it still is cold from time to time (it should be summer now!).

Pity, i don't have that many contacts in Germany anymore, otherwise, I would try to help you. But you will get along, and hey - life is not hard. It is fun, and if it is hard you grow!
Damnit, I wanted to go *and I don't even like football that much anymore!*
Good luck for your trip. I know, you'll have a lot of fun and meet wonderful people there.
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