Thursday, June 24, 2010

Are you Ready for Some Soccer?

I feel like a dirty bandwagon jumper, but at least I’m a consistent one. I’ve been a raging, hard core, full on, balls out, cliche to the max soccer fan since 1994. Like most Americans, this statement is true for me only quadrennially, and then only for one month. I am an unabashed World Cup fan. The World Cup has easily surpassed the Summer Olympics in becoming my second-favorite quadrennial event, behind only presidential elections.

When I returned to Korea a few months back, I was well aware that my contract would coincide with the Cup. I couldn’t wait to watch the event overseas, particularly from a country that would be involved. I watched the Beijing Olympics from Seoul and was horribly disappointed. Nothing on Korean TV but the boring events that Korea excels at - archery, judo, tae-kwon-do, and badminton. When there were no live events that Korea was involved in to air, did any of the 3 Korean networks airing the games show a little basketball or beach volleyball? Of course not, they would all run endless replays of archery instead. I had my fears that Korean TV would only re-run Korean soccer matches when Korea wasn’t playing. My fears were unfounded. The Korean networks (well, network this time, SBS and SBS Sports) have done fantastically, airing every game live and in HD.

The second day of the World Cup featured Korea playing Greece at 8:30 pm local time, followed by a late night 3:30 a.m. USA-England grudge match. I went to Seoul’s Hyehwa neighborhood with some friends to catch the Korea game. Despite pouring down rain, a giant video screen towered over the street. Several thousand poncho-clad Koreans sat on the street watching every play. I’d never seen a Korean wearing a poncho or rain coat. Amazingly (and happily, especially for the disposable poncho salesmen) umbrellas were banned in the viewing area. Korea took an early 1-0 lead over Greece. The crowd as jubilant as they were soaked throughout the rest of the half. As the second half began, the rain let up but the Korean team didn’t, jumping ahead to 2-0, a veritable blowout in soccer. The game ended and the party started. My buddies and I took to the streets, high-fiving everybody, sharing beer with strangers, and getting hugs from random hot girls (actually, that one was just me). We may have been on national TV at some point. Later, there was a commotion and a circle of space opened up. A boxer dude emerged. It looked like there was going to be a fight. The boxer dude was ignored. Random dudes started break dancing in the circle instead. A car tried to make it’s way through the street. People lied down in front of it while the driver high-fived everyone around. Roman candles went off somewhere. It was that kind of party.

We hopped in a taxi and headed to Itaewon, and found a bar that was about 50-50 between American and English fans. The party kept going. By the time the US game started at 3:30, I hadn’t had a beer in half an hour and wouldn’t have another the rest of the night. USA tied England, of course. I was happy not to lose. The English guys there weren’t. We took the subway home. The 6 a.m. subway was packed like rush hour with Itaewon soccer revelers. I hadn’t seen that many white people on a subway since the time I went to Boston.

I had to work during the Korea-Argentina game. I didn’t actually have any work to do, I just had to stay at the office and watch the game on my laptop. The students were all devastated that they had to be in class, and the Korean teachers were all annoyed that they had to teach. The boss who made the call not to cancel class was nowhere to be found. He left work early to watch the game, of course. Korea got murdered 4-1 against Argentina, so watching the game at work ended up being a fine way to do it.

USA-Slovenia after working hours meant another trip to Itaewon. A fun scene, but nowhere near the scene USA-England had caused. The US was robbed, of course, but it wouldn’t matter as America beat Algeria a few days later and took the group in a game that I would end up watching at home, alone. Why watch a game alone? Staying out until 7 a.m. the night before tends to keep a man indoors.

Korea-Nigeria started at 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, really better described as Tuesday night. As my friends were sitting this one out, I didn’t want to cross town on my own at such a ridiculous hour. Instead I went home - to NoBlock. I’d been neglecting NoBlock a bit as of late, and it was great to be back. It was great to be Jae-hak again.

Korea-Nigeria was action-packed. Nigeria took an unexpected early lead, but Korea pulled even before halftime. Both times were inches away from scoring several other times. Word came that Argentina was up. If Argentina won and Korea tied, Korea would advance to the sweet 16. Korea scored and went up. The bar went crazy. Free shots all around, just like after the first goal. I was polishing of a Long Island. It was 5 a.m. on a work night. Killer. Nigeria evened the score, but by this point Argentina was up an insurmountable 2-0. Korea only had to hold on. When it was all over, Korea did hold and advanced. It was light outside. I’d had 2 free shots and met 4 girls. Korea was in. NoBlock was on. Jae-hak was back.

I couldn’t be more excited about Saturday night’s elimination games without the Kansas basketball Jayhawks being involved. Korea vs Uruguay (hey, check out this country’s name) at 11 pm, USA-Ghana at 3:30. Should both teams win, my sports bigamy (thanks Sports Guy) will bite me in the ass for the first time. Like my buddy David noted, I’ll either be laughed at or killed, depending on who I cheer for. I never thought my sports bigamy would get me like this. I always thought it would be a Royals-Cubs World Series.

During every world cup, I always consider becoming a permanent soccer fan. It’s never actually stuck, but it always seems like a good idea. Soccer has a lot going for it. Games start exactly on time. During the first half, one can tell where the game is without seeing the came clock. If the game started at 3:30 and my watch says 4:10, then I know there’s 7 or 8 minutes until halftime. Games last two hours. With all the commercials, NFL games all slog on for 3 and a half hours these days, and baseball is even worse. Soccer action is non-stop. The scores are low and not a lot happens on paper, but the complexion of the game can change in seconds at any given time. Soccer lends itself to a creativity that really only exists in football and basketball. Watch some youtube clips of Messi. Dude is like the Barry Sanders of soccer.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have my problems with “the beautiful game.” I don’t care if Brits or speakers of Romance Languages refer to the game as “football,” but I get annoyed when other people do. I get annoyed when Brits or others say that football is a dumb name for the American game. Lots of countries - Australia, Ireland, and others call entirely different games football. I have no patience for Americans or Canadians that call soccer football. That’s just misusing your native tongue for the sake of douchebaggery. Why not also call trucks lories and cigarettes fags? Stoppage time and offside still makes no sense to me, but I admit that’s my own ignorance. The flopping absolutely grates me. In the Korea-Nigeria game, a Korean player was taken off the field in a stretcher. A goddamn stretcher. Two minutes later, he was back on the field. FIFA should clean this up. If you go down and stay down for longer than, say, 8 seconds, you have to sit out the rest of the half. Soccer is clearly a tough game, but the flopping makes it look a bit, shall we say, fay. Finally, and not there’s anything wrong with that, but dear god, the jersey exchange/players taking their shirts off for no good reason during the game thing. You know how Homer Simpson said that there’s two kinds of guys that wear Hawaiian shirts? I think the same can be said for guys that take their shirts off in public in non-pool/beach settings.

I want to be on board, soccer, I really do. I’ll even pick an English team (Liverpool, I kinda randomly picked them in my Euro days so I’ll stick with it) and follow them throughout the 16 month soccer season and the 29 tournaments they play each year that aren’t related to the regular season in any way. Take my suggestions to heart though, you gotta meet me halfway. If I can change, you can change.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

We Did It!

Well people, it looks like this has become the most powerful blog in the universe. What should we go after next? I don’t want to cop Colbert too much, but if he has the Colbert Bump, then we definitely have the the NES/NAS Nudge.

Thanks to this blog, and to the readers (probably), we have singlehandedly saved the Big 12 Conference and prevented a Korean nuclear holocaust (thus far), and that’s just in the last couple of weeks. Sure, the Big 12 may have 10 now, but Nebraska and Colorado were basketball RPI liabilities. Perhaps the Big 12 could expand again, get Memphis and TCU, and add a solid basketball and football program. It could also stay at 10 and dump the football championship. Since it cost 3 different Big 12 teams bids at the real title game, it was no good anyway.

The Big 12 is the tip of the iceberg, of course. Sure, there has been no formal peace agreement between the Koreas, nor has the North ditched its nukes. Today is not the day to concern ourselves with these minor trivialities. No, now is the time to celebrate that this blog, by its lonesome, literally saved the lives of millions, at least for the time being. Your welcome.

To beat that, Taco Bell comes to Korea next month. There’s been a lot of groundswell grass-roots support for that, so I can only take 92% of the credit.

Finally, on perhaps the most important note, NES/NAS’s sister blog has been quietly doing the lord’s work. This fashion blog stated in its first post its singular goal was to bring back the midriff shirt. Well, It’s back, baby, it’s back! At least here. I’ve seen at least 10 hot girls rocking them over the last couple of weeks, which is 10 more than I’ve seen for the last 10 years. We aren’t to 1998 levels yet, but damnit, we’ll get there.

Couple of shout-outs before I go. Dr. Kickass's web series, 1000 Ideas, is back up and running for a new season. you can catch it at 1000ideas.tv/ or on the link at the upper right of this page. My old pal Cryn started a Korea Blog that's worth checking out, you can find it on my links page (once I figure out how to do that) or at southofnk.blogspot.com. And, as always, check out my buddy Jack's newspaper, The Point. You are absolutely guaranteed to learn something cool that you didn't know about beer, rock and roll, or conspiracy theories.

More to come later this week (maybe).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I still hate Missouri (and Texas)

Amongst the logjam of expat in Korea blogs, I dare say no fellow expat Korean blogger is as informed as I regarding the current state of affairs in the Big 12 conference. I have a few thoughts.

I’ve always said that I am not a Big 12 fan, I’m a Kansas fan. I want KU to win, and other teams to lose. If, say, Oklahoma plays, say, Michigan in football or basketball, I don’t care who wins, other than how the results could potentially affect Kansas. To me, being a fan of a conference in college sports was always a bit like being a fan of an NFL division. If (let’s face it, when) the Chiefs miss the playoffs, I won’t cheer for the Denver Broncos to advance. I hate the Broncos. I want them to lose every game they play. I feel the same way about Missouri. I cheer for any college to beat Missouri in anything. I would even cheer for the Broncos to beat Missouri (side note - an NFL team could never play a college team in football, it just wouldn’t be fair. However, if Missouri and Denver ever had a cheating competition, there’s no telling what the outcome would be).

I also never cared for the Big 12 as an idea. I grew up with the Big 8, and while I certainly have no love for the other seven former Big 8 members, I never liked adding the Texas cast-offs. The Texas schools came from the Southwest Conference, a conference that died because it was so corrupt that Arkansas willingly left it for the SEC. The SEC, corruption-wise, is Chicago to the SWC’s Moscow. The Big-8-Texas merger was made for 2 reasons - money (Texas TV markets) and football. 12 teams allowed for a football conference championship. While this has driven barrels of money to the conference’s Dallas offices, it has also succeeded in causing upsets that knocked Big 12 schools out of contention for the national championship on multiple occasions. The formation of the Big 12 also uprooted the conference basketball tournament from Kansas City, where it had resided for decades.

I never trusted Texas. I suppose this statement is true in every conceivable way that it can be true. Adding the four Texas schools moved the conference power structure south. Texas has big cities, big money, but little decency. It is the state that gave us George W Bush (ish, but it’s what he says), Enron, and me a speeding ticket for doing 77 in a 70. The University of Texas is the gorilla at the table in the current Big 12 talks. Interesting fact - The University of Kansas and University of Nebraska are tied for the second largest university endowment in the conference at 1.2 billion dollars each. Texas is first, with an unbelievable 16 billion dollars. UT can, quite literally, buy and sell the rest of the conference. Right now, it looks like they’re in selling mode.

It has been widely reported that the Pac 10 is shopping for expansion, and they’re looking to swallow up Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado. Baylor is looking for help from the “ledge” to be included as well in lieu of Colorado, but the news today says Colorado has all but split for the coast. I didn’t think the Pac 10 would want to mess with the Texas State House - after all, those people are armed to the teeth. The Pac 10, like everyone else, wants more football and more money. Baylor is terrible at football, generally the worst in the conference every year, and up until last year they were terrible at basketball too.

However, Baylor wants to keep the Big 12 together. As a sub-mediocre sports school in the backwater Waco market, they’ve gotten quite a free ride out of being a BCS school all these years. Advocating for Baylor and the continuation of the Big 12, the only voice outside of Kansas speaking up for the conference - Baylor president Ken Starr. Yes, that Ken Starr. Ken Starr might be the only man that can save Kansas Basketball. You think politics makes strange bedfellows? Politics has nothing on college sports.

How did this Big 12 clusterfuck begin? I am sure there’s a complicated answer regarding financial spreadsheets that I couldn’t begin to understand. However, as always, I blame Missouri. Before the Pac 10 vultures started circling the Big 12 South (and maybe Colorado), there was Missouri talking with the Big 10. I didn’t need another reason to hate Missouri. They burned my town after all, and they did it because they thought that owning humans was kosher. Strangely, I don’t want Missouri to leave the conference. I enjoy watching them lose, and I enjoy beating them.

Nebraska is also interested in joining the Big 10, and may be invited. My main question - why the hell would the Big 10 want Missouri or Nebraska? The Big 10 prides itself on academics. Neither Missouri nor Nebraska are in the top half of the Big 12 academically, nor are they in the top 100 schools nationwide. All of the current Big 10 schools are in the top 80. I also question why the Big 10 would want either school athletically. Missouri (as I love to bring up at cocktail parties) has never won anything in football or basketball. Nebraska is perhaps the worst basketball school in the Big 12, and their best days in football are behind them. Nebraska can’t win in football with the Big 12’s mildly more stringent academic regulations than the Big 8 had. In the Big 10? No chance. If they joined the Big 10 today, both would be in the 5-8th place range in football and would compete for dead last academically.

If the Big 12 is doomed, I suppose the main question is why Kansas isn’t being sought by another conference. Kansas unquestionably boasts one of the three most important college basketball programs in the world. Kansas won a BCS Bowl game 2 years ago. In fact, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska are the only Big 12 teams to have won BCS Bowl games, and only Kansas and Texas have done so over the last 7 years. Kansas and Oklahoma State are the only Big 12 teams to win a basketball championship, and OSU last won in 1946. Kansas is also in the top half and of the conference and in the top 100 nationally in academics. The Big 10 should be all over KU instead of Missouri or Nebraska, although I would hate to be forced to watch so much Big 10 “basketball,” sweating out 39-36 games over Wisconsin.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with the price of tea in China, or more importantly, Texas Tea in Dallas. The Big 12 is likely done. Trusting Texas and associating with Missouri always comes with a price. The other conferences will pick over the Big 12’s carcass, leaving only Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, and either Colorado or Baylor. The Mountain West is licking its chops to add KU. The Mountain fucking West. Kansas Basketball could end up wandering the Utah desert.

Of course, there’s another scenario, a NES/NAS exclusive that nobody else has discussed. Missouri could leave the conference, and then the Big 10 could fail to invite them. Neither side wanted Missouri in the Civil War, so why should anybody want them now? Nebraska can go Big 10 (they only need one more team to get 12 teams for a championship game. Or, if they want 16, they could go east with Notre Dame, Syracuse, UConn, and Pitt). The current Big 12 South minus Baylor could all shuffle off to the Big 10. Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State could form “The Big Midwest,” and build toward a top-tier conference. The Big Midwest could become the aggressors and pilfer the top schools from lesser conferences. The BM (hmm, might need a different name for the conference) could nab Memphis, Louisville, Cincinnati, Arkansas, TCU, Boise State, Rice, Tulsa, and BYU. That brings the conference to 11. To get to 12 for a conference championship, The BM could add a defeated, tail-between-its-legs Missouri. This conference would have competitive football with Boise, TCU, K-State, Louisville, Cincy, (sometimes), (hopefully) Kansas, and (hopefully not) Missouri. It would have solid hoops with Kansas, Arkansas, Louisville, Memphis, BYU, Tulsa, Kansas State, (sometimes) Iowa State, and (hopefully not) Missouri. Plus, while not the Ivy League nor even the Big 10, it would be alright academically with Iowa State, Rice, Kansas, Tulsa, BYU, and (not likely) Missouri.

In closing, I’d just like to say the following to Missouri and Texas (both the universities and the states): Fuck you. Really, I should close every post that way.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Shameless Self Promotion

I was gonna write a post tonight about a couple different things, solid ideas. Both required a bit of hashing out. A semester ended and started at work this week. This means a lot of paperwork and planning for old Jae-hak. Between work obligations and the fact that I’m right in the middle of Super Metroid, I didn’t have the time to hash out these ideas. Sorry.

I was gonna run a quality rerun instead. One (coming soon) originally ran in “The Point,” so if you are not currently in Northeast Kansas and a reader of this publication (and if you live in Larry or Topeka, you goddamn should be a reader of it) then it’s new to you. It’s a solid article.

I also considered dumping the thing I wrote two weeks ago about Korean convenience store drinking. I didn’t, because it remains crap. Trust me, lazy as I am, it’ll show up one week when I have nothing else to post.

Ultimately, I’m not running anything this week, other than this particular post that you are reading right now. This very minute. This one. Yep, still this one. Am I to 900 words yet?

I’m trying to get a couple local writing gigs. That’s the real reason I’m not posting anything new. I don’t want to step on my own toes, as my last post got massive positive response. Seriously, I’m humbled by the positive response to the last post. Comments of praise came early and often (then trailed off) from people that I really respect as writers. I figured I should delay the inevitable and bask in that for another week before getting back to our regularly scheduled girl and bar stories.

For the record, I presume the Koran electorate must have read my last post, as they shocked the pundits and voted against the president’s party on Wednesday’s elections.

I’m going to Busan this weekend. That should lead to the sort of shenanigans that generally rule the day here at NES/NAS.
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