Sunday, June 25, 2006

Ukraine 4 Saudi Arabia 0

June 19
Celebrations for the Asian-American Mother-In-Law’s 70th Birthday are over, so it is time to dash to the airport, fly over to Big Island, and scope out land.

Owning land in Hawaii is my wife’s personal dream: I suspect she wants to live on that land in a Mongolian yurt. I suspect this because she drops yurts casually into conversation in the way that other people mention marriage or holidays or wall-paint. I will offer suggestions for dinner--a choice of salmon or stir-fried beef perhaps--and my wife will counter by mentioning that her mother’s neighbour’s son is getting married in Mongolia in a yurt. My wife also frequently mentions Genghis Khan and links between Koreans and Mongolians. Usually when I make jokes about yurts.

This yurt fetish brings us to Big Island with wife’s Korean Uncle and wife’s Korean Uncle’s friend, two Hawaii old-timers who know the land, and who manage to book us into chalets at Kilauea Military Camp. And this is why, for the final stages of the qualifying rounds of the Increasingly Marginal FIFA World Cup, I am based in a US military camp on the rim of Kilauea, a Hawaiian volcano which has been steadily erupting since 1983.

You have to admire the US military's ability to erect oases of luxury under extreme conditions: the TV in my chalet on the edge of the volcano has 79 cable stations. But since I don’t do cable, and don’t want to learn how to do cable, I must simply rise and surf until I find a game. Any game. This, then, is how I come to watch Ukraine take on Saudi Arabia at 6:00am.

5:20am: Back pain extensive. Perform exercises on floor while watching ads for ab-busting machinery. Ads all feature men and women in late stages of steroid deformity. Scarey stuff. Channel surf: “National Geographic” features graphic and excessive focus on nature as remorseless killing machine. What next? “When Budgies Go Berserk: The terrifying link between your Joey and his prehistoric blood-lust reptile-scum cousins."

6:00am-ish: Ukraine kick off against Saudi Arabia, and I experience moment of extreme self-doubt. Did I get up for this? I am a 42-year-old man on holiday on a lush, tropical, volcanic island, a land of violent beauty, and I got out of bed at this hour to watch Ukraine play Saudi Arabia in Munich via satellite? Yes. I did. And? Moment of self-doubt resolves itself into acceptance, the mutant cousin of lethargy.

6:01 to 6:45am: Comedy defending from the Saudis. Surf through channels, find usual excess without substantiation on History Channel. A reconstruction of Viking culture focusing heavily on sex, money and violence, but without any dramatic re-enactments. (What’s the point then?) Surf back to Saudis and their comedy back four. Or is it a back three? Hard to tell. Realise that I am old enough to remember the Soviet Union: I can remember when Ukraine was The Ukraine. Ponder significance of the definite article: The Ukraine is a geographical region, part of a larger whole, whereas “Ukraine” has an individual identity and forms a cohesive self-contained and self-identifying unit. A country as opposed to a colony. Or is it just a grammatical mistake? Ukraine as a country, or a grammatical mistake, score a couple of times. Saudi Arabia don’t.

HALF-TIME: It’s 2-0 and the wife is wide awake and wanting to go out and hunt for land. Tell her there’s a lot of it around these days.

SECOND HALF: Wife gives up on me and vanishes to uncle’s cabin.

50-70 minutes: Take shower, shave, prepare to meet realtor over breakfast at the camp cafeteria, which last night served my English school dinner from 1975. For $20. Apparently this was a Father’s Day Special. Not sure I want to investigate what special or childhood mean to the camp chef. Surf channels. Find that the Army hosted bingo to celebrate its birthday on June 14. I never knew armies had birthdays. What do they do? Invade places? Bomb stuff? Hey, it’s your birthday, go destabilize somewhere.

75 minutes: Wife walks in, Saudis give ball away, wife says must eat papaya, now, at uncle’s cabin. Say yeah. Wife notes that Saudis are slim. Offers hope that they won’t get heads cut off for losing when they get back home.

78 minutes: Wife talking in background in nearby rooms.

80 minutes: Wife’s intonation alters: high, rising. Listen closely. Papaya, realtor, land deals, in that order. It’s 3-0 to Ukraine. It’s a nothing game. Saudi look about as likely to score as a Catholic priest next door to a – no, that analogy won’t work – so why do I insist on watching this to the bitter end, provoking the ire of my wife? Because. Second moment of extreme self-doubt.

83 minutes: Wife suddenly engrossed in game. Standing nearby. A sense of mutual understanding passes between us. We share a football moment. I am not sure why she wants to watch this game, this late one-sided game, but relief floods over me in soft soothing waves. She is enjoying the game.

90 minutes: Wife still engrossed in game: Kalinichenko misses. Close-up on Ukrainian chap with 1980s tints in shaggy hairdo. Wife says, “He’s cute.” I think, yes, that it is true, he is cute, but he just shinned one over from 8 yards instead of laying off a simple pass to a man who was in space to his right, and, as far as I am concerned he could have a face like a bag of chisels so long as he lays the ball off rather than shinning it over the bar. But I don’t say anything, and my wife takes advantage of the space left by my silence, and weaves her way into that space to add that, in her opinion, only cute teams should win. Then immediately asks, did I eat papaya yet? Uncle prepared the papaya. Have to meet realtor guy shortly for breakfast but I have to eat the papaya first. Uncle prepared the papaya. Filial piety. Confucian tradition. Respect due. Go to eat papaya.