Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In Praise of Armchair Travel

Next week at this time Pipi and I will be in Shanghai. In contrast to last year’s trip to Asia, where the week before departure saw me in a frenzy of emailing, gift buying, and dog-earing four separate guidebooks, this week I’m going to mostly be sitting on the couch watching soccer. Lots of soccer.

Our trip revolves around the women’s World Cup soccer tournament, so our homework is to watch as many games as possible. Remarkably, the entire tournament is going to be on ESPN.

Last night Pipi did something I’ve never known her to do before: She set an alarm to watch television. I got up, too, and I'm glad I did. The games are on in the evening in China, which is early morning here. We do have a DVR, but it has a somewhat limited capacity and more importantly, we have a deadline. There are several games on each day, so we have to get creative about watching them or we won’t see all the important first-round matches before we leave. Also, I’m hopeless about avoiding spoilers. Last night we watched a recording of Germany steamrollering Argentina. In the middle I tried to look up some information online about the German team, and managed to spoil the final score for myself. (I know it sounds dumb to take risks like that, but if you’d been watching you’d want to know how tall Kerstin Garefrekes is, too. [Answer: 6”1’.]) So I need to watch games in as close to real time as possible.

This morning there was a real nail-biter between the United States and North Korea, which we watched almost live. I’m endlessly fascinated by the DPRK. It’s such a weird country and I wonder what the women’s lives are like. I wonder what they think when they travel. In the case of this year’s world cup in China, they’re probably thinking something along the lines of, “Great, the one place they might let us go on our own. Why couldn’t Canada have hosted?” But still, Shanghai must be pretty mind-blowing after Pyongyang.

Oh, the game was good, too. It ended in a 2-2 tie. North Korea played ferociously. There’s no other word for it. They played like it was their last game ever; like they didn’t need to worry about having energy for more matches. They played like there was nothing else in their lives, which may be the case. Or maybe I’m being ignorant. For all I know, the North Korean women spend their weekends shopping for Gucci knockoffs and planning vacations in Thailand with their boyfriends. But I don’t think so. I got the impression I was getting a rare, if very controlled glimpse at a culture with a really different outlook on life.

It’s the next best thing to travel.

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