Monday, July 05, 2010

Glad it's (nearly) over?

The World Cup is pretty much done.

After the game (or three, or four) every day mayhem of the first two-and-a-half weeks, things seem suddenly very sedate again once we reach the quarter-finals. Now, my home team are out [England] (though we never really showed up in the first place), the best team [Brazil] are out, the most reviled and overrated - but potentially dangerous - team [Argentina] are out, and the pre-tournament favourites [Spain] are under-performing (and alienating support with their cheating). We're all now just waiting for the surely inevitable German victory. And the remaining matches are all at stupid o'clock in the morning here in Beijing, so I'm not sure that I'll be watching any more of them live. There's a slight feeling of anti-climax.

I only ventured into Sanlitun a couple of times, and immediately regretted it. The city's sports bars are unbelievably crap at the best of times. I wasn't going to slog all the way over there to pay stupid money for drinks in a crap bar that was also crazily overcrowded. Some people call it 'atmosphere'; but I don't like my 'atmosphere' to get in the way of the screen, or drown out the commentary, or keep me waiting 20 minutes to get served. Vague plans of venturing further afield in hopes of finding a decent bar venue (The Irish Volunteer or The Brick seemed the only likely contenders - although The Chairman tells me he enjoyed watching a couple of games in the Bla Bla Bar up in Wudaokou) were stymied by uncertain weather and general apathy.

My attempt to watch the opening England game against the USA (on an outdoor screen somewhere on Sanlitun Houjie; I'm not even exactly sure where) was a disaster, and I gave up and went home at half-time. I felt so wrecked by the experience (the combination of the super-late bedtime and the 9 or 10 hours of drinking that had preceded it left me feeling exhausted for 3 or 4 days following - I'm not the man I used to be) that I forswore the 2.30am kick-offs thereafter (only catching about four or five of them, at home, after I'd suffered a bout of insomnia, or - fortuitously? - woken up just in time, or got back so late from the bar that I thought I'd see if I could survive at least the first half...), and have relied mostly on CCTV5's daytime re-runs (although I've had a pretty hectic month at work, I have been managing to keep most of my mornings free).

Watching outdoors has been rather curtailed by the weather, anyway: we had a long spell of that New-Orleansy thundery cycle that so often besets the Beijing summer, where we suffer intensely humid days and heavy rains at night.

And I'm not sure that any of the outdoor options were that good. The 'Football City' beer garden at the East Gate of the Workers' Stadium looked like a fun possibility, but it was perversely closing down at midnight (not sure how strict they were about that - did they chuck people out before the extra time and penalties in the Paraguay v Japan game??). Nobody even seemed to know if Ritan Park had an outdoor screen this year (it was much the best temporary open-air venue during the 2006 tournament, with the circular altar enclosure in the middle hosting a giant screen and dozens of food and drink concession stalls from bars and restaurants around town; I don't think that happened this year - or, if it did, nothing was done to advertise the fact). There are some giant LCD screens in some of the mega-malls around town, such as the barely-opened Sanlitun SOHO, but these seemed to me like a rather charmless, atmosphereless kind of venue for watching. The most fun outdoor experience I had these last few weeks was watching the tail-end of the USA v Slovenia game outside a chuanr stall on my hutong.

I'd caught the first hour of that game (intermittently, in the background) at Zui Yuefang, during a gig by my friends Blackwater. I likewise caught a few fragments and highlights, or the odd half-game, at Ned's and the Pool Bar. But this year, for me, the World Cup has essentially meant 12 Square Metres - I've watched very nearly all of the early and mid-evening games there. That's my idea of 'atmosphere': a little bit of buzz, but not too crowded; a mixture of old friends, new friends, and enthusiastic strangers; and quite a spectrum of nationalities (I've enjoyed a Mexico game with a Mexican, a Japanese game with a Japanese, and the Germany games with a couple of Germans). And they had three screens showing two different channels: from the left end of the front bar, you could watch both of the simultaneous final group games at the same time - probably the only place in Beijing where this was really possible, or at any rate easy.

But 12 SqM won't be staying open until dawn for the last four games, so I'm somewhat at a loss. I've kept my schedule fairly clear this week, but.... I really don't know if I can be bothered to stay up all night for games I could just as easily watch at breakfast time the next day (assuming, that is, that CCTV5 doesn't unfathomably decide to dispense with full re-runs now). I'm not sure what to do. Maybe I should consult THE COIN??

Anyway, it's been a damn good World Cup. And I hope we've got one or two more great games still in store for us.

Come on, Germany - finish what you've started!!

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