Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Retro Brew: Notes on the 2006 World Cup festivities in Hong Kong

(I wrote this while in Hong Kong for the 2006 World Cup. This was post-SARS Hong Kong hence the title. This came out in my column in Business Mirror in August of 2006 but was never posted here in the blog version of Bleachers' Brew.

Just to clear things up, Bleachers' Brew is the name of my column in Business Mirror. That wasn't supposed to be the column's title. I was supposed to name it after my old files from my advertising work that went by the name: The View from the Big Chair; a nod towards the classic Tears For Fears' album and a reference to the tennis umpire's view.

But I was listening to a lot of Cannonball Adderly, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis at this period in time and my BM editor asked me if I had a title already. I actually submitted my first column under The View from the Big Chair but as we pushed it back a week, I had time to think and eventually change it.

The blog version which contains practically all my sports writings for various periodicals obviously has more. The title of the column and blog owes much to Miles Davis' album Bitches Brew and "Bleachers" was the place where every one used to sit.)

A Different Kind of Fever Hits Hong Kong
words and pictures by rick olivares (with mai ventura)
football fever by the people of Hong Kong

FIFA ranks Hong Kong #116 in the world. It’s more than a continent away from Germany yet when you touch down at Chek Lak Kop International Airport, you feel the World Cup fever in your bones.

In the middle of this fully modern airport is a large vid-screen with a life-sized cutout of France’s Thierry Henry telling travelers to “Fly Emirates.” The chains of Newslink Bookstores are likewise into the action with their stands decked with football magazines and paperbacks.

There’s a stall here that draws a queue as long as Immigration. And why not when it has kits of almost every famous football club and country in the world? A young Australian lad, eyes ablaze with wonder tugs his mum’s hand. Once his hands touch those red Umbro English tees with a “Lampard” on the back, it’s sold for HK $447. So much for being a Socceroo fan.

The island has gone soccer mad. If it isn’t the Netherlands’ Ruud Van Nistelrooy on the side of a Double Decker bus there are bus stops adverts of England’s Beckham, Brazil’s Ronaldinho, and France’s Zidane.

Prat Avenue is one of the few streets in the shopping paradise of Tsim Sha Tsui that doesn’t have tourist shops. Instead it’s arrayed with bars and restaurants. From the avenue’s tip where the 7-11 is filled to the ceiling with soccer buntings to its end where it intersects with busy Chatham Road, it’s like the United Nations as most shops are decked in the flags of the 32 nations competing in the World Cup.

Ironically the only establishment that provides a soccer-free haven is a German bar, Schurrbartt’s. “You’d be surprised that there are folks in this world who don’t like soccer,” says Rolf a bar regular. So how’s business lately? “Oh, they’re all next door watching the games,” he throws his hands up in cheerful defeat.

The nearby betting station, the Jockey Club, has been recalibrated to accommodate the World Cup games. The betting is fast and furious. It’s Italy vs. the USA. With the pre-game animosity between the two teams, you know that it’s going to be a battle. Game time is at 3am but there’s no doubt the bars will have full occupancy. Good thing it’s the weekend.

According to the South China Morning Post’s Tim Noonan, HK employers have decried the high absenteeism during World Cup season. Fortunately, it happens once every four years and employers are willing to concede that. Besides the employers themselves stumble into their swank offices the morning after with bloodshot eyes and seemingly jet-lagged albeit from an all-nighter of soccer action.

Even the ritzy inter-connecting malls of the Gateway to Harbour City are festooned in soccer regalia. The more affordable trendy stores like Bossini and Giordano have shown their true colors. “World Without Strangers” is Giordano’s new advertising campaign in reference to the global game. If you get three shirts (now there’s a retailer’s hat trick score if there was ever one), it comes at a more affordable price.

One outlet in Peking Road offers a concession: “We apologize for your having to endure your boyfriend’s soccer-mania. For that we are offering 20% off on your shopping needs.” Tres cool. Football for men; shopping for women.

Only the women are just as into it.

A pretty Chinese lass walks by. She’s wearing a Beckham. Methinks she’s proud of her country’s British heritage. “Yes, but also because he’s hot,” she adds with a wink.

Hong Kong is 95% Chinese with the remaining 5% made up of different nationalities. If you find the various ethnic cuisines of France, Portugal, or whatnot too pricey, then you might want to settle for the less expensive fare of that neighborhood carinderia that is McDonald’s. But as you descend the steps of the McDonald’s along Granville Road, there’s a huge poster of the in-store Fantastic World Cup Cards promo to greet you. Every HK $17 purchase gets you a card. If the team on the card wins that day then you get a free meal.

Back in your hotel room after a day of shopping and sight-seeing, you switch on the tube. If the hotel doesn’t have cable then you’re doomed to local programming. You only have the BBC and National Geographic to keep you company. But wait a minute. Football Planet on National Geographic is on.

Dirk Kurbjuweit’s writes in Der Spiegel’s World Cup special that soccer “isn’t just a game.” And in Hong Kong more than a continent away from Germany, he is so right. It’s a way of life.

Supplemental reading:
Whenever I travel, I make it a point to check out the local sports and football scene and write about it. Here's another piece on football in Southeast Asia:

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