bookmark_borderPost-216: Earliest Memories: World Cup, O.J., and a Tragic Defeat at the Hands of a Small Girl

I continue to watch World Cup 2014 more than is advisable. With my friend J.H., I watched a 1 AM to 3 AM game in which the Netherlands defeated Mexico in dramatic fashion. Mexico is out.

I feel a special attachment to the World Cup, as I started explaining in post 215 (“World Cup USA 1994”).

I have told people that
two events of mid-1994 constitute my first strong “socially/culturally/politically relevant memories”**.  These are: (1) World Cup USA ’94, and (2) The O.J. Simpson trial. I remember being in California for a period in June 1994, to see my brother graduate from high school. I remember the TVs being dominated by two things: The O.J. Simpson murder and the World Cup (then ongoing in the USA). I went to Disneyland on this trip, and my mom broke her leg about this time.

** — (This is not exactly true, because I also remember the Clinton election of Fall ’92, in which the now-totally-forgotten Ross Perot got an astounding 20% of the national vote. I have no memory of the California Race Riots of April ’92, nor of the the First Iraq War of early ’91 [it only lasted 72 hours anyway], nor of the Berlin Wall in November ’89 or anything else, really, about the Collapse of Communism.)


So much for “politically relevant” memories. How about earliest memories of any kind? One stands out. It goes something like this:

                A Memory
                Small boy. It’s me. Short blondish hair.
                Small girl. Long hair. Noisy but pretty.
                A toy car. Nice! Red. Yellow. Fun. I can have fun!
                No. She takes it. She keeps it!
                I want to try! Maybe I can wait.
                Why won’t she share??
                What do I do? I can’t do anything. Sad.
                I wander away. I’m sad.
So there it is. This has stuck with me so many years, but it’s not a very positive memory, is it. A memory of defeat, dejection, helplessness. It was caused by a girl, whose name and face are long forgotten to me, “hogging” the object of my curious desire. It was one of those toy cars that a small child can fit into and drive around using the feet to propel the car forward. This was at some kind of early childhood play center in Arlington, back in the 1980s.

Still yet today, I can see through the eyes of that young boy on that day. He had no idea what to do. He just wanted to try the car. He just wanted to experience some joy in his young life. This other girl, she grabbed the car and kept it for herself. The boy slunk away and pondered life’s unfairness. The boy felt sorry for himself. He didn’t fight.

The sort of toy car that was lost

bookmark_borderPost-215: World Cup USA 1994

I remember World Cup 1994.

Now that it’s 2014 and the World Cup is here again, I realize that 1994 is no short time ago.


U.S. World Cup Team 1994

I remember this team. The wild-looking #22 in the back is Alexei Lalas. He is now a commentator. The little Black guy, #13, was Cobi Jones, who amazed us by his sprinting ability in those days. #18 is Brad Friedel, who is still playing today in the English Premier League, at age 43. I saw him on the BBC as a commentator when watching a game with my friend J.H. We were confused by his accent. Half of his sentences sounded British, half American. #1 was Tony Meola, the starting goalie, whose name I thought was very cool. Looking back on this team, there is only one player who is obviously Mestizo in ancestral origin, #7. Only two players are Black, and both are very light-skinned. This strikes me about how I perceive that the USA has changed. If this team were fielded in 2014, my feeling is that the coach and so on would be accused of racism!

This team performed the best, by far, of any U.S. national team ever up to that point.

There was no Internet in 1994. This probably meant life was more authentic. I played soccer in those days, too. I was in school but June and July, World Cup time, are vacation. I was so excited that I hardly knew what to do with myself.

The World Cup was not only going on, you see, but in my own backyard. I think some of the games were played at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. and there I was living quite nearby. I went to a game. I am almost sure I did. I have no idea who played, other than two minor teams. Exasperatingly, I am not 100% sure if this is a true memory. I remember seeing a bunch of attention-seekers dressed in bright red-white-and-blue costumes and making a lot of noise at the stadium. Is it possible I saw it on TV? No, it can’t be. A memory of TV cannot be so vivid. Is it possible the memory was of the 1996 Olympic soccer and I went to that instead?

I remember being alone in a car with my friend and then-classmate Pedro, listening on the radio to the USA vs. Brazil game. As it was radio, our clarity of understanding was less than optimal.
I remember our huge celebration when the USA scored a goal. Imagine the deflating feeling when we realized that it was actually Brazil that scored! The USA lost.

bookmark_borderPost-214: World Cup 2014 and Southern European Political Pessimism

I wrote the following to my (one and only) Singaporean friend, A.L., yesterday:

“The World Cup is seriously negatively affecting my life!”

How might I describe my mornings these past two weeks? A drowsy haze of soccer punctuated by frustrated sleep and confusion. You see, the games are shown from 1 AM to 8 AM. “Life is too short to sleep through the World Cup”, is my feeling. I don’t follow soccer whatsoever otherwise, so this may not be my most rational decision.

Dutch player Robben, who resembles Captain Picard, shoots past a Spain player. (Netherlands won 5-1).

This Sunday/Monday, I got to sleep at 12:30 AM and woke up at 3:00 AM, shaved/showered, packed up my things, and walked over to my friend J.H.’s home to watch the Korea game and then the USA vs. Portgual game. Korea had a terrible first half in which they conceded four goals and lost. They are probably out. As for the USA game, I had to leave before the second half began to go to our class’ last day. The USA and Portugal tied due to a last-second Portugal goal, which I thus missed.

Political Influences on World Cup Results;
The appeal of the World Cup is definitely “political'”
in the sense of it being all about national pride. Within Europe, I cannot help but think of the political situation since the 2008 Economic Crisis.

PictureFIFA Ranking Table, June 5th 2014

Southern Europeans
The European “PIIGS”, who fast approach a decade of unending economic unpleasantness and pessimism, did remarkably poorly in the Group Stage:

           Spain: Out. Two losses.
           Italy: Out. Two losses.
           Greece: Out. Two losses.
           Porutgal: Probably Out. Nearly two losses (tied USA at last second).

Now, consider that Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece respectively rank #1, #4, #9, #12 in the world!

“On paper”, as they say, each of these teams should be in the final 16, i.e., the second round in the World Cup. Three are out for sure and one teeters on the brink. What, then, is the statistical chance, in a 32-team tournament, that the #1, #4, #9, and #12 ranked teams are all eliminated before going onto the second round of 16 teams? The odds have to be very low, in which case we can speculate about a general explanation. Here is mine: As the contest is heavily influenced by national pride, teams from politically-pessimistic societies do more poorly than they should.

Vis-a-vis the “PIIGS”, who are more politically optimistic?


PictureNetherlands’ Robin Van Persie scores a “header” goal

Northern Europeans
With one glaring exception, Northwestern Europe has done  very. Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and England are all there. England was knocked out (and somewhere a dog was biting a man; England usually does poorly at the World Cup; England couldn’t even beat Costa Rica this time).

Germany: Probably advancing
Netherlands: Definitely advancing

Belgium: Definitely advancing
Switzerland: May advance with a final win
England: Out; scored only two goals in three games.

There is talk that certain of England’s potential players refused to
play for the national team as they’d prefer a vacation, which points to a kind of cynical political pessimism and anti-patriotism, too.

I saw a surreal vieo-game-esque goal by Dutch star Van Persie, in Netherlands’ 5-1 win over Spain.

The USA has done better than I expected. The German coach of the USA team, Klinsmann, was widely mocked for declaring that the USA “definitely will not win” the World Cup. The USA will play Germany one of these days. (Maybe the most curious thing about the USA team is that it seemed to have zero Hispanic starting players. The USA is approaching 20% Hispanic, but it’s hard, in some ways, to even notice [in media, sports, TV, movies, music, politics], except at the street level in certain regions.)

The South Korea team of 2014 performed poorly and will probably be eliminated. They have one Round One game left. I compare this to their great performance in 2002. The South Korea of 2002 was, in my opinion, much more politically optimistic than the South Korea of 2014.

The TV on which I watched one of the World Cup 2014 games

Today, I woke up at 4:50 AM to watch the Japan vs. Colombia game. I am writing as Japan has just lost. They are out. Why did I watch?

bookmark_borderPost-213: Letter to Mincheol Backfires (Or, the Ghost of Heidegger in a Korean Textbook)

A fictitious classmate named Mincheol invited me to go on a fictitious trip to Jeju (an island which is entirely non-fictitious). My task was to decline and give reasons why. Picture here and translation below.

[My Korean original, after corrections by Teacher Lee]
민철 씨, 제주도에 가지 마세요. 우리는 바쁘니까 여행은 좋지 않은 생각이에요. 시험도 있고 가족하고 약속도 있으니까 인천에 있을 거예요. 저는 여행을 못 가요. 가고 싶지 않아요. 글쎄요, 같이 가고 싶은데 못 가요. 다음 주말에 어때요? 다음 주말이 더 좋아요. 시간이 있으니까 다음 주말에 갈까요? 다음 주말에 가면, 아주 행복할 거예요. [Signed]

[English Translation]
Dear Mincheol,
Don’t go to Jeju Island. As we are so busy, going on a trip is a bad idea. We have an exam coming up, and we have obligations to our families, so we need to (here: “will”) stay in Incheon. I can’t go. I don’t want to go. Well, actually I do want to go with you, but I can’t. How about next week? Next week is better. If you have time, why don’t we go next week instead? If we go next week, I will be very happy. [Signed]
And the rest of the story: My attempt to sternly warn the fictitious Mincheol of his obligations to his studies and to his family failed; backfired. What do I mean, “backfired”? I mean this:


I sent the above picture via the KakaoTalk messenger program to a Korean friend, P.R. (one of the people with whom I somehow communicate exclusively in Korean). P.R. wrote back as follows. (Note that the ‘ㅋ’ letter denotes laughter):

                Me: [Sent the above photo]
_                P.R.: ㅋㅋㅋㅋ이게뭐예요?
                P.R.: 민철씨가누구입니까?ㅋㅋㅋㅋ
                Me: 민철씨가 없어요 [grin] 숙제가이죠…내 “편지”가 어때요?
                P.R.: ㅋㅋ아주 그럴듯한데요~?
                P.R.: 민철씨와 꼭 여행을가고싶은게 느껴져요ㅋㅋ

                Me: [Sent the above photo]
                P.R.: Haha, what’s this?
                P.R.: Who is Mr. Mincheol? Hahaha
                (Whereupon I explain that Mincheol is not real and that this is an assignment for class)
                P.R.: Hey it’s pretty good, isn’t it?
                P.R.: It’s just that…Now I feel like *I* want to go on the trip with Mincheol. Hah!

Here is a (hypothetical) person, Mincheol, proposing going on a trip for leisure even with exams upcoming and other obligations. We can criticize Mincheol for being irresponsible, maybe, but I think the Western Mind would (in principle if not in action) more likely sympathize with Mincheol than with the writer, who seems dominated by social pressures and “sounds very Asian”. (Ironically, the writer is [of course] me, who is 100% European by ancestry albeit writing in an Asian language [Korean] and one which I don’t know well at that). Yet my letter rebuking Mincheol for the trip idea made P.R., a Korean, want to join Mincheol! The “Mincheol Life” is appealing (in this case to a highly-amused P.R.), because it is (may be) more “authentic”.

The Authentic Life. Martin Heidegger. The letter-writer’s persona is the kind which Heidegger (if I can make the grand claim of understanding him) might say leads an “inauthentic life”. The writer appeals to the “They” idea. “They say you shouldn’t do any leisure activities before an exam.” Who are “They”? There is no “They”. And yet it is everywhere. All the time. Most of what we do is controlled by the “They”. The Authentic Life, as I understand it, means escaping the clutches of this “They” (see here for more). It may or may not mean going to Jeju Island with Mincheol, though.

bookmark_borderPost-212: In Which I Relate My Biggest Shock of 2011 (Or, A Martin-Luther-Related Surprise in Korea)

PictureLuther Statue
Washington, D.C.
[From post-211]

Now, I don’t think I’d believe this story if I heard it from someone else, but I trust my own ears well enough. I was there. It was late 2011.

This was it, more or less:
Picture a long table, at the back of a reasonably-priced meat restaurant, in a nice and cozy corner of the Seoul Megalopolis. Beef and pork are on grills built into the tables, cooking, in the Korean style. The grill emanates comfortable heat. Eight or so White Westerners are sitting at this table, eating and talking. Most are coworkers, teachers at the same English language institute (hagwon). Among them is me.

Next to me sits C.H. from California (who is now in China). Others present included J.H., B.L., M.G., E.R., and finally A.S. All these people were born in the mid-1980s (except for C.H. who is a bit older), so are in their mid-20s at the time (2011), Everyone around the table holds a university degree.

A.S., from England, with his close-cropped red hair, is the focal point of my memory here.
He was a big fan of one of the soccer teams in England.

It so happens that C.H. is a graduate of a Lutheran college in the USA. At our dinner, as the meat sizzles and all the “accoutrements” are nearby at the ready — lettuce, garlic, peppers (of which we stayed well clear), sauces, kimchi, and who knows what else — I begin to ask C.H. about his thoughts on the Lutheran church(es) in America and so on. He knows much more than I do about it. He was even in a Lutheran seminary for a short time.

Our English friend, A.S., listens in. He chimes in:


He: [quizzically] “What are you two talking about?”
Us: “The Lutheran Church.”
He: “What’s that?”

Us: “Lutheranism.”
He: “….

Us: “You don’t know what Lutheranism is?”
He: [puzzled] “Umm, no.

Us: “It’s a kind of Christianity. It goes back to Martin Luther and the Reformation. Lutherans follow the teachings of Luther. [Matter of factly] You know, Martin Luther.” [The last sentence was not a question; it ended with a falling intonation].
He: “Oh, of course I know Martin Luther King. So it’s a church that follows Martin Luther King, is it?”
Us: “No, not Martin Luther King. Martin Luther. The one who lived in Germany five hundred years ago, who started the Reformation. That one.”
He: [blankly; gently shaking head]  “I’ve never heard of him.”

He’d never heard of him! Imagine. Our English friend, a university-educated European, claimed total ignorance of Luther. I should add that there was nothing ironic or joking about his delivery.

This shocked me. How can a university-educated Western European man have never heard of Luther? Am I wrong to be shocked? Am I wrong to be troubled by this?

You know, previous generations generally didn’t even bother “Martining” him. They spoke of “Luther” in the way we still speak of “Lincoln” or “Darwin”. First name not needed. Just a short few decades later, a native-born Englishman, a product of England’s K-16 system, has never heard of him, one of the most famous Europeans ever to live.

With lots of meat left to be eaten, and not wanting to offend A.S., but genuinely surprised and disheartened a bit, I dropped the subject. I brought it up later with C.H. in private. C.H. attributed A.S.’ ignorance of the Christian Reformer to “secularism” in the UK. (Note: C.H.
had had a small book published, around the mid-2000s, by one of the conservative Lutheran church bodies in the USA, which I sought out, found online, ordered, and read. That thin little book is now in the possession of C.H.’s  good friend J.A. [who also went to Korea, is still there, and became my friend too]. I gave it to J.A. when I moved out).

I didn’t find C.H.’s explanation totally satisfying, because Luther is more than a religious figure. Luther is one of the towering figures of European history in general, as I see it. It’s like excusing a Swede who had never heard of Napoleon by arguing that Sweden is a pacifist country so “they wouldn’t have studied about a general”. That doesn’t fly. All Swedes, certainly the educated ones, ought to know about Napoleon. An educated Englishman ought, at minimum, to “have heard of” Luther. If you ask me!
It so happens that A.S. was highly concerned with seeming “cool”. He was a good athlete, was basically pleasant to talk with, and had a certain charisma at times. He was a big fan of rap music, despite being a freckled, red-haired Englishman (a “ginger”, as he said). It occurs to me that knowledge of rap may correlate with ignorance of things like who Martin Luther was. Those who know all about Luther are generally going to be quite (relatively) ignorant about rap music. There is a correlation there. I have no data, but I’m sure of it.

It was once said to me that A.S. wanted very much to seem “working class” despite being “middle class”. This is a British thing I don’t too much understand. A Scottish teacher in the circle of people of my acquaintance at that time had said this. (The Scotsman’s given name’s first initial is R.; I’ve forgotten his surname — R.’s Korean sojourn ended in unforgettably-surreal circumstances a few months after the late 2011 dinner I tried to sketch out above, but R. is now doing well back in the UK, I’m told.)

I might offer this explanation:
If A.S. were twenty years older, I’m almost sure he’d have heard of Luther. At some point in the last few decades, though, part of the “high status” package for Westerners has become “belief in moral superiority of other cultures over our own.” By the 1990s and 2000s, when this A.S. was being educated in England’s K-to-16 pipeline, his teachers and so on must’ve, by consensus, steered the kids’ education away from “Dead White Males” like Luther and more towards the Shaka Zulus and Mansa Musas and so on.

In post-211 I discussed the Luther statue in downtown Washington, D.C. Now I wonder, truly: How many of the seven million residents of the Washington, D.C. metro area today “have ever heard of” Martin Luther”?

I choose to live imagining that the typical educated, native-born Westerner is aware of Luther.