Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday, Feb. 14, 2011

MNF, SINGAPORE STYLE: It was Monday and it was Night and they were playing Football. But it's anything but Monday Night Football. Sandy flew from Singapore to Hong Kong for business in mid-afternoon. Casting about for activity, I took a 50-minute walk/MRT ride to Hougang to see one of the season-opening matches in the S.League, Singapore's professional soccer league. The game pitted Hougang United (the Cheetahs, a change from last year's Dolphins) against Woodlands Wellington (the Rams).
Because it was opening night, there was some news coverage. While in line for my S$5 ticket, I took the photo above, which shows a television reporter interviewing some kids about the match. English Premier League soccer is king here, far outpacing cricket, rugby and the rest in fan interest. An indicator of that passion is the "Rooney" spanning the back of the shirt on the child in the foreground. (The kid must have LOVED Rooney's remarkable game-winning bicycle kick on Saturday versus City.)
Before getting to the game, I did a little "research". Each team is allowed to have four players of non-Singaporean citizenship on the roster. The Hougang team has players from Japan, Brazil, Canada and Argentina. The Hougang roster has players ranging from 170 to 186 centimeters and from 59 to 79 kilograms. (You can figure it out here. Or you can trust me when I say their height ranges from 5'7" to 6' 3" and their weight ranges from 130 to 174 pounds). The players certainly seem like they have some speed. No real beefiness, though. Wonder how one of those linebacker-types would do here.
Hougang Stadium is the smallest in the league with seating of about 2,500. The league's largest stadium seats 6,000. On Monday, there were 1,547 on hand. I don't think that includes any of the players and refs. It doesn't sound like many, but I think league organizers were pleased.
The game? Well, it was 0-0 at the half. Things loosened up in the second 45 minutes. A Woodlands player, Graham Tatters, was red-carded on a breakaway and had to leave the game in about the 65th minute. Even though Hougang missed the penalty kick, the home team kept the pressure on. In the 86th minute, Mamadou Diallo scored, and Hougang held on for the win. To get a jump on the crowd, I left quickly after the final whistle. I was starving, anyway. No Fenway franks were available. I spotted some people eating a pasty-looking rice concoction on a banana leaf, but they were all out of them by halftime.
I probably should have stuck around. One news account by Shamir Osman from Feb. 15 about the game noted that Fandi Ahmad was at the game. He is a Singaporean football legend. Lots of fans gathered afterward to have their picture taken with him. I missed that. By then I was scuttling of to the MRT. This proves that just being there isn't enough. It's always good to read a knowledgeable account of a game, even if you were there in person. Note: Journalism is important.
THE ODDS ARE YOU MIGHT NOT WANT TO PLACE A BET: Amazingly, there's a betting line on these S.League games.
I ask, "How can anyone possibly bet on a game that includes a sideline referee who doesn't notice when, in the closing moments of a close game, a player sets up the ball for a corner kick 2 or 3 feet outside the corner-kick quarter circle, closer to the goal?" EVERYONE could see it. Many in the stands were howling. The official who should have been literally on the ball was so far away that he didn't notice. Bizarre. I've included a screen shot related to the betting on the Hougang-Woodlands game. I have no idea if this chart reflects pre-game odds or post-game winnings. Really, no clue. But somewhere in some darkened bar in the outskirts of London at 1 p.m., someone was eagerly awaiting the results of this one. Hope they had a hunch about Hougang.

YES, HIGH INFLATION AND POOR EXCHANGE RATES HURT, BUT NOT AS MUCH AS SOME HORRIBLE, TERRIBLE MATH: I don't know much about the first two, but I know a bit about the third item and how it can destroy the value of money. I bought some groceries today at the underground (literally, not politically) Four Seasons Gourmet Market. In my two-bag pile lurked TWO navel oranges. They were supposed to cost S$1.50 apiece. (OK, maybe s a bit steep, but they did have to get here from California.) The running tally looked good until the very end when the clerk added the oranges. The total bill magically skyrocketed to more than S$70. As I was giving her the money, I said, "I think that's too much." She paid no attention to me. She churned out the change. Then she handed me the receipt. I was shocked. I didn't think the Sing Dollar had suddenly become worthless despite recent trends. Did the U.S. suddenly base its currency on Oranges, thereby sending Singapore on a quick Weimar-like descent?
Nope. It turns out she charged me for 32 ORANGES, not 2 ORANGES. I don't think the store even had 32 on hand even if I wanted them. She quickly saw the point I was making, apologized profusely and gave me an extra S$45 change (shown at right). Phew. I admit freely that this might have slipped by me during my jet-lag era, which lasted about 6 days. Now, I'm a bit sharper. Not by much, I assure you.

WHERE IN THE WORLD....? It's been a bit humbling when it comes to geography. I picked up a copy of Today, published by the same firm as the Straits Times here, and read an article about a woman beating off a tiger with a stick. The WHERE references in the first two paragraphs in the story had me at the end of every one of my wits. I have put place names in bold and added links to help any who might also have a limited understanding of geography. Here's how the story begins:

A tiger has badly injured a man at Hutan Belum in Gerik, about 200km from Ipoh, the Bernama news agency reported yesterday.
Mr Tambun Gering, in his 50s, was hunting squirrels with a blowpipe near his house at the Sungai Tiang Orang Asli settlement on Saturday when the tiger attacked him.

Of note:The Bernama news agency is Malaysian. Ipoh is the capital of Malaysia's northern state of Perak. It borders the state of Kedah and Thailand. It had a population in 2007 of 710,000. That tops the 2009 figures for Charlotte, Memphis, Boston, Baltimore, El Paso, Seattle and many more prominent U.S. cities. Lots to learn.
Also of (lesser) note: We are heading to northern Malaysia (in the state of Kedah) on Friday (with Katie and Terry). Should we be worried?

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