I’ve got a couple of stories in today’s International Herald Tribune/ThaiDay about two contributions Thailand’s making to the upcoming World Cup (despite that the fact that the country’s national team didn’t qualify for the tournament).
First, Adidas is manufacturing the official game ball (pictured above) in Chonburi province. And second, assistant referee Pratya Permpanich is the only Thai — and one of only four Asians — who will be officiating the games. Here’re more photos from my visit to the game ball factory.
I recently purchased these potato chips at Bangkok’s Big C. (Big C is a Thai hypermarket, sort of like Wal-Mart but with an open-air meat section. Thailand has several hypermarkets, such as French-based Carrefour and Tesco Lotus, a UK/Thai joint venture.)
Anyway, I saw these chips and I thought, in this order:
1. Wow — World Cup ambush marketing! (The lack of official sponsorship, the ball with Adidas-esque markings, etc.)
2. German sausage flavor? You better believe it. I haven’t tried ’em yet but I have high hopes.
An Ecuadorian, an American, a Thai, another American, a Nepali, and an Israeli walk into a bar in Bangkok…
Okay, so there’s no punchline, but there should be one. Regardless, here’s a pic from a recent night on the town. The nationalities I mentioned in my setup are accurate, from left to right.
Imagine my surprise, given my long and storied history with the tiny Andean nation of Ecuador, to bump into a guy from Guayaquil who’s on vacation here — after all, Ecuador has only 13 million people, and most of them do not travel to Asia. His name is Jose. Great guy. We talked for a while about everything from Ecuadorian cuisine to his country’s chances at World Cup 2006 Germany. It’s a cliche, but hey, it’s true: small world. Very small world.
Here’re two blogs you need to be reading:
1. The Sartorialist. New York City man-on-the-street fashion photoblog. Sample image:
2. Kasey Keller’s blog. The US national team goalkeeper reflects on the squad’s preparation for the world cup.
The mood is the camp is really high. Everyone is confident we can achieve something this summer. Our aim is to do better than the quarterfinals of the tournament. The success of Greece at Euro 2004 gives everyone hope. That such rank outsiders could actually win the competition is a big boost for dark horse teams everywhere. The World Cup is a little different though. There are so many games you need to win against so many great sides. But you never know. The US is ranked fourth in the world right now. That may or may not be an accurate assessment based on our current form. But it’s up to the twenty-three guys in Bruce Arena’s squad to prove that fourth is an under estimation rather than an overvaluation.
A special person recently gave me a special gift: “The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup,” a collection of football-related writings that includes contributions from Nick Hornby, Eric Schlosser, James Surowiecki, Jorge Castaneda, Dave Eggers, and many other influential thinkers.
The book’s introduction, by co-editor Sean Wilsey, perfectly encapsulates the heady mix of anticipation, nervousness, and exuberance I feel as the opening match of World Cup 2006 Germany approaches (the tournament commences on Friday, June 9).
Here’re a couple of passages that I found especially poignant:
The world of the World Cup is the world I want to live in. I cannot resist the pageantry and high mindedness, the apolitical display of national characteristics, the revelation of human flaws and unexpected greatness, the fact that entire nations walk off the job or wake up at 3 a.m. to watch men kick a ball. There are countries that have truly multiracial squads – France, England, the United States – while other teams are entirely blonde or Asian or Latin American. There are irritating fans: ‘USA! USA! USA!’ (Blessedly few.) There are children who hold hands with each player as he walks onto the field. National anthems play. Men paint themselves their national colours and cry openly at opposing victories. An announcer shouts ‘GOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLL! GOL GOL GOL!’ on the Spanish language channel. A Slovakian tire salesman, an Italian cop, or a German concert pianist – having passed the official fitness tests and psychological examinations – will moonlight as referees.
The joy of being one of the couple billion people watching thrity-two nations abide by seventeen rules fills me with the conviction, perhaps ignorant, but like many ignorant convictions, fiercely held, that soccer can unite the world.
My buddy Matt Gross just began what is quite possibly the coolest travel writing gig imaginable: He’s traveling around the world in 90 days and blogging about his adventures for the New York Times. He’s on a budget, but luckily it’s not too restrictive. Here’s his first post, from Lisbon.
A few snips:
Every week, as I make my way eastward, I will be sharing travel tips, discussing the limits of ultra-discount airlines, exploring the concept of Slow Travel and, if I’m lucky, discovering a microscopic town or burgeoning metropolis with untapped vacation potential. I’ll seek stylish shoes in Barcelona and fine wines in Georgia, and delve into the logistics of yurt camping in Mongolia.
Some guidelines first. Circling the globe presents an seemingly infinite number of travel options, and narrowing them down requires one to be patient, open-minded and occasionally arbitrary. I am beginning in the Mediterranean because it’s summer and I want to go to the beach. Odessa is also on my list, precisely because I had heard little about it except that it’s a hot party zone. And while I went to Shanghai last year, that city struck me as so fast-moving that I couldn’t wait to see how it’s changed in the intervening months.
Matt’s itinerary has him hitting “Lisbon, Istanbul, Tashkent, Beijing, Shanghai, Ulaan Baatar and San Francisco.”
Be sure to share your suggestions and travel tips by posting a comment.
The coolest T-shirts in Bangkok — if not all of Southeast Asia. That’s the subject of my latest Gridskipper post. Check it out.
I’ve got a story in today’s International Herald Tribune/Thai Day (Thai Day is a Siam-specific IHT section) — it’s a review of drumming legend Billy Cobham‘s first-ever concert in Thailand. The story’s not (yet?) online, sadly. If you’re reading this from the Kingdom, pick up a copy of the paper; for those of you outside Thailand, well, you’re outta luck. But here’s my lede:
When the drummer for the opening act launched into his manic solo Tuesday night at the Thailand Cultural Center, he may well have felt intimidated by his proximity to greatness. That’s because not far away – lounging backstage, perhaps, or seated serenely in the wings — drumming legend Billy Cobham was in the house. When Cobham later took the stage and struck up his band for what would be his inaugural Thailand performance, he displayed not only his staggering percussive genius but also his subtle aptitude for marshaling disparate sounds from around the globe.
I’m happy to tell you that my spirits, which had been slowly and quite unfortunately depleted by the demands of Bangkok life during the hot season, were rejuvenated markedly this past weekend. That’s because I spent a few days at a delightful little beach resort outside Hua Hin. Here are some pics. Yes, I am well aware of the fact that I live an extraordinarily difficult life. I’m doing my best to cope. That’s all I can say.
The food (prawns wrapped in bacon)