Saturday, March 05, 2011

What I was doing two weeks ago today (1)

Watching Everton beat Chelsea on penalties in their FA Cup 4th Round Replay, in a Thai restaurant in Kuala Lumpur's nightlife district of Bukit Bintang.

I don't love the Bintang - it might once have been a quaint night food market, but it's now a seething tourist trap, and not at all cheap.  I found there were many better places to eat (well, cheaper) along the adjacent main road of Jln. Pudu - every third or fourth shop down there was an open-to-the-air 'food court' type of place (it's never very clear whether there is a unified management or several entirely independent vendors sharing the space in these places; and it's never clear who you're supposed to try and order from, or who you're supposed to pay; but it all gets worked out somehow in the end...) selling a range of Indian and/or nonya dishes for just a few ringgit. However, these places didn't sell beer (a predominantly Muslim country: alcohol is very restricted in its availability, and hence very expensive!); so, on my first couple of nights in town, I was forced to venture into the Bintang in search of a beer'n'footie option.

Luckily, that wasn't too arduous a search. Malaysia is football crazy: so, every bar (such few as there are), and almost every restaurant, and all these grungy food court places, and even a few street-food stalls have TVs showing European games - live! with English commentary! - on ESPN. They don't (usually) play obnoxious music over the top of it. They do play the commentary loud enough to hear. They do let you listen to the half-time, pre- and post-game analysis. It was such a pleasant change from the sports bar hell we suffer here in Beijing!

And I later discovered that - later in the evening, anyway - most of the food courts were quite happy for you to stop in to catch some of a game without buying anything (and even finishing off a road beer!)... although I'd order a lassi or a watermelon juice just to be polite.

Ah, I'm going to miss that about Malaysia - being able to watch sports anywhere, everywhere.  Why oh why is it so hard in Beijing??


8 comments:

Hopfrog said...

Ugh. I was watching that Everton game when there was about a few minutes to go and I had to get to work. Well, I thought, this one's over and headed out the door only to be moments away from one of the greatest Everton comebacks ever. Sickened me that I missed the ending but was happy to see the Toffees advance.

Not a Liverpool fan, but what a great game today. Kuyt's hat trick, Suarez's stunning play, Carroll's debut, and Anfield singing happy birthday to Dalglish. Liverpool and whomever made the trades happen are looking rather brilliant right now.

Good to here Malaysia is football crazy. I think one of the reasons football never took off here in the states is because we really didn't have exposure to it being played at the highest levels. Thanks to Fox Soccer Channel we get to see a ton of the EPL games and I always see them being played on our sports book screens and hear people talking about it more and more. I played as a kid, but am starting to appreciate the game at a higher level the more I watch it. And the more I watch it, the more I absolutely love the game. Aside from the gameplay itself, I love the fact that there is virtually no downtime or commercials during play. I cannot believe so many of my fellow Americans label it boring. It takes some time to appreciate it, but its definitely passed by baseball and basketball for me and is right up there with the American football. Can't wait for the knockout stages of the UEFA cup!

Froog said...

Oh yes, Baines slotting home that free kick with only a minute or two left on the clock in extra time - that was one of the great escapes of all time!! It's the kind of thing that encourages fans to think they may be 'fated' to win it this year.

I've never really had that much time for Everton, but - in a traditional British rooting for the underdog way - have tended to support them in their derby matches against Liverpool. I've been taking more of an interest in their fortunes this season because Sister Surly, one of last year's great drinking companions (now returned to Seattle, alas), is a big fan of theirs.

Are you also a Toffees supporter, HF? If so (well, even if not), you might like this early Froogville post about Kevin Sheedy, one of the key players in their great team of the 1980s.

Hopfrog said...

I thought rooting for the underdog was a distinctly American tradition. I rather suspect its probably a global tradition.

Thanks for the bit about Sheedy. I am an Everton supporter and appreciate learning a bit more about their long history as I am a fairly recent fan. With what I consider our two best players playing for them (Donovan and Howard) last year and seeing news stories showing how they were so graciously embraced by the Everton fans, well it was only natural that I start pulling for them. Too bad Landon wasn't on loan to them again during the MLS break.

Froog said...

Interesting question about how widely diffused or how strong that reverence for the underdog may be.

I rather suspect you Yanks inherited it from us.

I don't see much evidence of it in the Far East. The Chinese, in particular, seem to scorn 'losers', and find it incomprehensible that anyone would follow a club like Wigan or Blackpool in preference to Manchester United.

Hopfrog said...

For some reason the 'rooting for the underdog' question kept coming back to me this week so I decided to do a little research. The best write up I could find on the subject is here:

http://www.slate.com/toolbar.aspx?action=print&id=2252372

If you don't want to wade through the entire thing (which I recommend, its quite good), this was the relevant passage:

"Two research groups have conducted surveys in the Far East, finding that people in Singapore and South Korea have more or less the same love for the long shot as Americans."

and:

"When they were forced to choose sides, 72 percent of the Japanese and 57 percent of the Chinese picked the team that was at a disadvantage. The Americans fell somewhere in between, at 67 percent"

I was shocked at how much Japan loves an underdog, but not at all surprised by China's apathy one way or the other. Most Chinese I know are only interested one way or another if they have a vested interest (rooting for the geographically closer side). This apathy would create a result somewhere close to 50/50. I think it also speaks to the lack of imagination we in the west have struggled with in dealing with Chinese.

I correspond with a lot of American teachers who have taught in China and one of their universal frustrations is trying to get their students to engage in hypothetical situations.

Before tracking down that study, I first posed the question to my Chinese wife about whether or not Chinese "root for the underdog". I tried time and again to lay out neutral situations but met with endless frustration as she always tried to find a reason for preference other than simply rooting for the favorite or the underdog. I think a lot of Chinese apathy on this topic stems from a culture that when compared to the west, is lacking imagination. Yes, there are a lot of imaginative Chinese artists and China has an ancient history of invention, but I think its universally accepted that on the whole, Chinese lack the imagination of the west.

Froog said...

Hi, HF. Thanks for that link to the Slate article; that was an interesting read.

I'm a little sceptical about the findings of these rather limited social psychology experiments. I'm inclined to think that there must be something culturally hardwired into certain of the Western nations - perhaps the prominence of the 'David and Goliath' story in our early education? - that significantly strengthens this impulse to root for weaker sides.

I was surprised to learn that it's supposedly also a common sentiment amongst the Japanese (though I've never been there). My impression is that it's much less common in most of the other European nations (well, I've never encountered it amongst the French and Germans, anyway), and almost unknown in East Asia.

Amongst Chinese football fans, it's pretty uncommon to find anyone who 'supports' anyone other than Man Utd or Chelsea. Everton and Spurs are about as far down the food chain as anyone will go, and these are rare eccentrics. And these are at least old and famous clubs who've won trophies in the not-too-remote past, and been on the fringes of the top 5 or 6 for the last several years; and, perhaps, are well-known here principally through their local rivalries with Liverpool and Arsenal. Most Chinese seem to find it inconceivable that anyone would support a team like Aston Villa or Newcastle, let alone Wolves or Wigan.

There was a lot of support for Ghana in the last World Cup, but I wouldn't call that a pure 'underdog' phenomenon. Ghana were not an insignificant team, and obviously there were additional sentimental reasons to back a side representing the host continent - particularly among the Chinese, who now embrace the Africans, with a patronising and proprietorial neo-colonialism, as "our friends".

Froog said...

I wouldn't like to say the Chinese have "no imagination" - but it's often rather underdeveloped, compared to what we're used to in the West.

I find the most galling expression of this to be the widespread lack of foresight, an apparent inability - even amongst very bright and well-educated people - to anticipate problems, or to plan more than a few hours ahead. I lose track of the number of times I've had to bring to the attention of my clients/students that they have a national holiday/half-yearly staff meeting/company training day coming up next week, which is probably, I assume, going to interfere with our regular weekly appointment.

I don't find that they have too much difficulty grasping hypotheticals - but they are unused to this sort of exercise. Well, they're unused to any sort problem-solving or analytical thinking. It just doesn't seem to figure in their education system at all (well, outside of maths, physics, engineering - I assume!).

One of my discoveries about education here which has most shocked me is that it contains no creative writing at all. In their study of Chinese, they do fairly little extended composition work - and I'm told it's invariably ploddingly factual, 'What I did on my holidays', 'What I think of my father' kind of stuff; the emphasis is always on drilling the correct use of grammar and vocabulary, not on the content and style. And they are never asked to write fiction. Most Chinese kids do more creative writing in English than they do in Chinese - even in high school, and certainly in university. (I've met quite a few Chinese who've achieved very good levels in their English who actually say they prefer it to their native language. I suspect the fact that they've been encouraged to use it as a medium of individual expression is a large part of the reason for that.)

Hopfrog said...

I probably should have worded my comment better. The Chinese certainly don't lack the ability to imagine, but the culture does seem to have 'evolved' into one which does not value imagination and has devoloped an educational system which doesn't stimulate creative and imaginative thinking.