Thursday, July 06, 2006

TOE BANG, 3465 Wilshire Boulevard, KoreaTown, Los Angeles
Switzerland 2 South Korea 0

June 23
I suspect my Wife is not the only Korean to have tried to make her family wear color-coordinated tracksuits: Koreans do groups in the way the French do angst.

A Korean victory against Switzerland today will surely lead to the mother of all Korean group experiences. That experience will incorporate rhymic fist-waving, drum-banging chants, accompanied by group eating: in short, the ultimate Korean celebration of life. Local businesses have amped up the tension, offering to increase group happiness through a variety of celebratory gifts: if Korea win, KTown banks will offer higher interest rates on savings accounts, restaurants and bars will offer free noodles and drinks, and someone somewhere will win a free wig.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion Korea will lose. Trying to prepare my Wife for this, I tell her that Korea are not the team of 2002. She gives me a look that suggests I should do something about it: as male head of household, I should smooth a passage for Korea in this World Cup, just as I should do something about my Wife’s campaign for US president.

My role as patriarch is clear, and like all men of great power I fear its loss. The only hope for victory is in the auspices; if the omens are good, then all might be well. Team spirit, technique and tactics are irrelevant: in order to propitiate the gods we must wear lucky shirts, find a good restaurant and order the correct entrails of the correct beast for lunch.

11:35am: Wearing auspicious red shirts, we find parking in KTown 25 minutes before kick-off. Miracle. Good omen.

11:40am: Enter bar called Toe Bang. Wife explains Toe means drum or something, then begins immediate deep perusal of menu. Good menu. Happy Wife. Good omen.

11:55am: Hip Sister-In-Law and her Dude Beau arrive. I once performed a simple psychology test on my Sister-In-Law and found that her self-image was independent/low-maintenance. Clearly she is rebelling against Korean group-orientation programming: she is both lawyer and rock singer at same time. I am curious to see if she will meld seamlessly with the crowd as my Wife does.

Dude Beau is a sound engineer: tours with Very Big Very Famous Band. Non-hip Wife once mistakenly referred to this band as Barley (they have a wheat-related name).

11:56am: Sister-In-Law and Dude Beau start downing Hite. Envy. I sip lemonade, and whine impotently about having acupuncture scheduled for this afternoon. Dude Beau not impressed. Neither am I. Dude Beau orders half an octopus soaked in kochijung (spicey Korean sauce).

Noon: Game kicks off to extended discussion of fabled Korean delicacies, including Live Baby Octopus. This you must swallow whole and fast, or it will use its tentacles to stick in your throat. Nobody can out-macho Koreans in the eating department. Come to think of it, nobody can out-macho Koreans in anything. My Wife has started fights in empty rooms: I walk into them later.

12:10pm: Culinary disaster. Wife has ordered wrong noodles. Wife asks me to taste them, which means “Eat them and give me your eel and rice.” Sister-In-Law laughs and says Wife being bratty. Noodles don’t taste of anything, but look ugly. Wife sneaks obvious glances at my eel. Share eel with her.

12:12pm: Independent low-maintenance Sister-In-Law melds seamlessly with chanting crowd.

12:15pm: Octopus arrives. Fresh, soft, and spicey. Damn good octopus. Wife picks at octopus, rice and kimchee, but clearly depressed.

12:24am: Switzerland score. 1-0.

12:25am: Wife unhappy. Bad noodles, Swiss winning. Decides Switzerland winning because they are wearing Korea’s shirts: Korea in white instead of auspicious red. I try to explain colours, home and away kits, rules of game. Wife not impressed. Suspect she blames me. Koreans all round not happy, despite menu.

12:35am: Dude Beau orders giant plate of bulkogee. Wife still depressed.

HALF-TIME: Independent low-maintenance Sister-In-Law asks, “Where is Ahn Jung Hwan?” Tell her he is on the bench. Sister-In-Law asks if he is injured. Say no, just not good enough. Dude Beau laughs. Sister-In-Law gives me bad look. Realise best not talk badly about Ahn Jung-hwan.

62 mins: Ahn Jung-hwan comes on. Women scream. Sister-In-Law joins chant for Ahn Jung-hwan. Then explains, “He’s cute.”

64 mins: “Hey, he pushed Ahn Jung-hwan,” screams Sister-In-Law.

67 mins: Sister-In-Law and Wife join in chant for Lee Chun-soo.

68 mins: Park Chu-yung off, Seol Ki-hyeon on. Sister-In-Law and Wife join in chant for Seol Ki-hyeon.

76 mins: Switzerland score. 2-0. Dodgy goal: the linesman flags; the Koreans stand still; the ref overrules the linesman; the goal stands.

78 mins: Wife insists “that referee is dumb.” Sister-In-Law shouts “Where is he from?” Sister-In-Law suspects ref is Italian.

85 mins: Wife and sister analyse the World Cup so far. Sister-In-Law likes the French shirts best out of all the shirts she has seen so far, since they have a better cut and drape. (Not sure if they are cut on the bias.) Argentinian colours, though, are much more fashion-forward than French colours. However, Mexican boys are much cuter than the Argentinians, though Ahn Jung Hwan is the cutest of all. (I want to add, despite a haircut that would not look out of place in a 70s porn movie, but for safety’s sake, say nothing).

Injury Time: Wife and Sister-In-Law suddenly realise Korea about to lose. Ask me how long left, in tone that suggests that if there is not much time then I should do something about it.

FULL-TIME: KTown does not get to form a large drum-banging group and there will be no free noodles or wigs. KTown depressed.

Sister-In-Law bashes referee. Then says Korea were unlucky. Wife agrees with Sister-In-Law. I agree with Wife and Sister-In-Law. Dude Beau mistakenly insists Korea weren’t good enough: “You got to bang it in the hole, got to bang it in the hole.” No time to warn him: Hite has taken over. “You got to bang it in the hole,” he adds one more time for emphasis. Suspect he will pay for this later.

2:20pm: Somewhere in traffic on Beverly Boulevard, tell my Wife I feel sad for her and her sister. Wife demands to know why I don’t feel depressed for Korea. Silence. Decide not to mention that I am not Korean. Being married to a Korean, I am Korean by default and must share group Korean sadness correctly when called upon. My bad.

2:30pm: Wife decides she ate the wrong food. She ate noodles she didn’t like. Korea lost because of this. If Wife had ordered bibimbap it would have been different.

2:35pm: Wife decides Korea needs a new coach.

2:36pm: Wife decides Swiss stole Korean shirts.

4:30pm (and for several days after): Wife wants confirmation: was that really the end; will Korea really not play in the quarter-finals? Since I understand football, since I am male, since I am representative of the household, clearly Wife wants me to do something about the construction of the universe. Not for the first time, feel futility of godlike patriarchal power.