Trip to South Africa, Part 10 – Herring and Kimchi

So Monday began better than most. Waking up to yet another selection of fruits and cereal for those who didn’t appreciate cheese and chutney sandwiches, and coffee for those hung over. I never thought that I would miss Ricoffee. My parents had instilled in me a type of distain for those who drank it; too lower class or not real coffee or something. But it tastes like old scouting camps and college, and goes really well with cheese and chutney. Then began the preparation for the first game the cousins would be joining us for.

Holland vs Denmark defiantly had that big game feeling, and although no one really knew anything about Danish football, we all felt like we did. Holland is somewhat of a weird third choice team in South Africa (at least for the cup that is). Amongst the whiteys, the English folk have the poms for their second and the Afrikaners the Freaky-Deaky-Dutch for theirs. Somewhere after that comes all the African countries, mainly because we were all told to support Africa. It’s weird actually, most people in South Africa have less to do with Ghana than they do France, but we were all clearly told by every right-minded TV personality or politician that it was the right-minded thing to do.

The game had a bit of a strange background story, as a week or so before, a bunch of nutters had been caught planing an attack on the stadium, seeing as some Danish newspaper cartoonists had drawn a picture of Muhammad (Praise be to him in a don’t-blow-my-ass-up kind of way) and had the audacity to publish it. It was fairly staggering that any religion (as bizarre and stupid as they all are) would be insane enough to consider attacking a legitimate form of peaceful worship that actually does the world some good. Jealousy makes you nasty I guess. Anyway, our travels were peaceful enough as we all sang “We all hate the French” on the bus to the game.

In fact getting to and from the game was much more memorable than the actual event. Holland won of course, but traveling with the Brian, Laurie, Jonno, Mike and Kerry made the whole thing seem like what the entire world should have been doing if we lived in a perfect universe. It was also our first experience of Soccer City, Soweto’s calabash shaped stadium which is shear magic. The thing is spectacular, and brilliantly designed. Not a bad seat in the house, brilliant crowd control and quite beautiful to boot. It’s only a pity that all the people there had to be bussed.

On leaving exiting the game, surrounded by mad Dutch fans, we were informed that the bus drivers who had so politely dropped us off in Soweto, had promptly gone on strike after their last passenger had “de-bussed”. This however allowed us to experience the general confusion and panic associated with thousands of South Africans who had never been on a train before added to the shear insane exuberance of thousands of train-enthusiastic, victorious, Heineken-drunk, mental-cases from the Netherlands. I am pretty sure that more than a few Dutch fans who woke up in Hilbrow in clogs and orange dresses with gigantic fake breasts and orange wigs, are still there now, terrifying the locals, being macheted, trying to explain that they are not, in fact, Afrikaners, and some who are still quite drunk.

Yet we survived. From train, to bus station, from bus station to Sandton, from Sandton we walked or waited for rides back to the house. All in all, five hours of travel for a 30 minute drive. We polished off the night with pizza, wine and song.

The next morning Rob started out with a mission: To find as much North Korean fan apparel as possible. Rob’s favorite dictator is Kim Jong-il, and seeing as they were going to be something like a billion to one that evening against Brazil, we all agreed to support the underdogs.

So I took the boys to the former “place-to-be” in Jo’burg, and my former stomping grounds, Sandton City. Yes, that’s right, the mall! My friend Charles had lovingly provided me with the administrative access for the mall’s wireless internet access and so I would finally be able to get in almost a full days work while the boys went shopping. Hopefully they would be able to find some small trinkets to take back home for memorabilia and gifts, and I might be able to save my company. Neither group was particularly successful, but Andrew found a lovely USA scarf and I had a delicious lunch.

Charles met us back at the Adams’ family (much worth has been wrung from that joke), to join us in the evening’s adventure. Charles is one of my oldest and oddest friends. I’m not sure if he realizes how funny he is, but Rob and Andrew were convinced that he was the best “straight-man” they’d ever met. I tried to explain that he is not that way on purpose, but they refused to believe that anyone could throw around so many half-witty, half-mad non sequiturs with a straight face and not be doing it with intent. Later they would come to understand that Charles is just a charmingly deranged individual who barely grips the fragile strings of sanity, while he daringly swings, successfully, between the complex oddities of his life. And he’s one of my best friends, so that doesn’t say much for him either.

The game was absolutely fantastic! The crowd was a sea of yellow and green and other than the “Official North Korean Fans” (who were paid Chinese actors with carefully choreographed chants), we were NOTICEABLY the only DPRK fans in the stadium of 75,000. And so, of course, we were a hit. At first there was some concern that our gesture would be misunderstood, but I think the irony was thick enough that even the thickest of the South American’s were able to grasp the gag. We had chants and songs and a scarf! We screamed and yelled and sung, completely entertaining the fans around us who were fighting off the cold. Man it was cold! We were in the top row of Ellis park, at night, in the middle of Johannesburg winter at night. That slow creeping cold that when you walk out of your door in the morning you say “Christ, what a nice day! I’m going to have a great day and wear a light jacket, and even skip a little!” Then you remember that it’s Johannesburg, so you throw your long-johns and Glock into you jacket pocket before you let your enthusiasm get you killed.

The good ol’ DPRK didn’t do too badly actually. A late goal meant that we had something real to celebrate. Apparently, the next day, the game was shown on a massive screen in some grand square in Pyongyang, but no score was broadcast and the Brazilian goals were edited out. I think it was also announced that North Korea had won the World Cup.

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