30.10.10

The Canadian Invasion



It's officially the weekend. Well, not officially. It's 7 minutes past 4. But I stopped working quite some time ago. The whole office did. From where I am sat I can see nothing but facebook. There is a new girl in my office. She's 20. She isn't on facebook. She's my new hero. I wish I wasn't on facebook. I should delete it I suppose.

But then what would I do at work?

I'm joking, of course.

There is going to be another Canadiana in my apartment this weekend. A female of the species. There'll be maple syrup everywhere.

Anyway, this is just a short post to wish all you lovely people a fantastic weekend. I shall be mostly spending mine drowning in Kronenbourg.

Have a wonderful weekend, you beautiful bastards.

Love, Smithy x

22.10.10

The White Pele!


Excuse me a moment while I have a little feast on my own words.

Yum yum!

Okay, I never said he was a scumbag, per se. Oh I did? What? Ugly scouse scrubber?? Nooooooo, not me. Who??

Haha!!

And then he goes and signs a 5-year-deal. Well, what can I say? I stand by one thing in my last blog, Sir Alex Ferguson is a legend. Bringing Rooney back into the fold after such an extraordinary few days will go down as one of his most impressive man-management achievements. Rooney will now have to deal with going back into the dressing room at Old Trafford and looking into the eyes of players that he, not so subtly, described as 'not good enough' to challenge for the top trophies. He'll also have to walk out in front of the Old Trafford faithful, a group who loved him so dearly and he cruelly shunned in his statement on Wednesday night as he stated his desire to leave.

I also stand by the fact that his loyalty is not with United. He is clearly looking out for himself and was more than ready to move on for greener pastures when he felt that United wasn't the best club for him. He's a chav from Liverpool. He's obviously an unsavoury character. I think that is something we're going to have to accept with modern-day footballers.

But he is one of the best strikers in the world. United should have those players in their team. And the best thing about this saga for United fans, particular the Green & Gold brigade, is that Rooney's previous beliefs that we were unable to bring in the best players in the world have been changed in the last 48 hours after meetings with the Glazers and David Gill. Does that mean we are finally going to see money being spent? Are we going to see some investment in our present rather than a constant look to the future? Has Rooney been guaranteed the captaincy? Or has he simply been given a massive contract that will make him one of the highest-paid players in Europe? Maybe it's all of them. But it will be the former that will matter to United fans and the one that we will be praying to come true.

For now, Rooney will have to work had to win back the love and trust of the United fans. The only way to do this? Shut up, stop shagging prostitutes and whoring yourself out to the rest of the world, and start scoring goals again. Let's compete this season. If you're so enamoured with glory, get off your arse and go get us some glory! And then maybe you'll become Old Trafford's hero once again.

Is my tail far enough between my legs? Not as far as Rooney's, anyway.

Love, Smithy x

21.10.10

The White Pele


It's a strange thing being a football fan. I grew up watching Manchester United and Bury. My parents couldn't afford to take me to Old Trafford every other weekend (nor could they get tickets even if they could have afforded it) so after winning a free ticket to Gigg Lane, home of Second Divison Bury FC my home-town team, we became season ticket holders. For about 5 years. We'd follow the team all over the country, home and away, week in, week out. Even now, when I hear the name of a random English town like Mansfield or Peterborough or Brentford, I think about it in terms of their shitty small-town stadiums where I might have ended up with my picture in a national paper wearing my football-shaped hat (true) or my Dad might have been smashed in the face with a football during the players' warm-up session (also true). I loved it. We all did.

But deep down I was a United fan. My Dad grew up in Stretford, in the shadow of Old Trafford's famous Stretford End and he watched United when they first were great. He watched as, from the ashes of the Busby Babes and the horror of the Munich Disaster, Sir Matt Busby built a team around Best, Law and Charlton and achieved his ultimate dream of winning what was then called the European Cup, defeating Benfica at Wembley in 1968 (a game my Dad missed after being warned not to attend by his schoolmaster as he had exams coming up, a story which I always found tragic, and still do). My parents even met while watching them play. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Manchester United.

At a similar age as my Dad had been in '68, I watched as Alex Ferguson, inspired by the legacy of the recently deceased Sir Matt Busby, built a team of kids around the Nevilles, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and the rest who dominated the 90s, winning Premiership after Premiership, culminating in the the magnificent treble of '99, defeating Bayern Munich in an incredible final to take the European Cup, now called the Champions League. I will never forget that day. It was one of the happiest of my life.

I love Manchester United. My blood runs red. Maybe yours does too, but mine has white shorts and socks. Of course I am biased, but I think Alex Ferguson has built a club around loyalty, integrity and decency. Some of the more unsavoury aspects of modern-day football have been largely absent from United and, when things like play-acting, infidelity and the rest have reared their ugly heads, Fergie has stamped them out quick-style. Even David Beckham, despite his mostly clean-cut public profile and unquestionable effort and talent on the pitch, was deemed surplus to requirements as his rapidly increasing profile didn't sit well with Sir Alex and he was carted out to Madrid. Similarly, Paul Ince, the self-styled Guv'nor (and a man who I once put down on a primary school project as my greatest role model, slightly upsetting my father) was considered too big for his boots and sent off to Italy, Roy Keane was too disruptive and sent off into retirement (well, the Scottish Premier League but it's essentially the same thing) and Jaap Stam, a fantastic footballer, was sold prematurely when he fell out with the manager. My point is that Sir Alex Ferguson believes that Manchester United the club will always be the most important thing, and he will always do the best thing by the club. He has an outstanding record of looking after talented young players (Giggs, Beckham, Ronaldo and, of course, Wayne Rooney) and because of this he demands - and receives - tremendous loyalty. Look at the players that have stayed there for their whole careers. An unusually high amount. And look how many players leave because they actually want to. The number is tiny.

But we can add to that tiny number one Mr Wayne Rooney. A man who, this week, has admitted that he wants to leave Manchester United because they 'lack ambition'. Manchester United, winners of 11 out of 18 Premier League titles, Champions League finalists twice in three years winning one of those times, finalists and winners of countless national cups over the years and consisting of some of the best young talent in world football, 'lack ambition'.

Rooney has had a difficult few months, and I have watched in something approaching horror as he has capitulated from a 34-goal-a-season machine - who I once admitted to being gay for - into a liability. He started off by criticising the England fans at the World Cup, then was photographed smoking and taking a piss behind a club in Manchester, then came the revelations that he had been shagging prostitutes on the regular while his wife was pregnant with their first child and finally, a huge drop in form. Through all this, the United fans stuck by him. He was the 'White Pele'. A player that was born to play for Manchester United, who always gave 100%, who chased down every challenge, who seemed to play football simply because he loved to do so, who scored one of my favourite goals of all time. The lifestyle choices were disappointing, but I couldn't stop loving the press conferences with Fergie where he'd talk about Rooney nagging him to play or begging him to let him be captain - Fergie always had this smile on his face when he talked about Rooney, like he was an annoying little nephew or something. It was clear he was fond of him.

So to watch his press conference, where a genuinely upset and confused man, a footballing genius who had turned a promising young footballer into a world-class talent, tried to explain why his protege wanted to leave him, was heartbreaking. And to read Rooney's statement, where he seems to cast aside the love and affection that has been lavished on him from the terraces of the most wonderful stadium in the world is heartbreaking as well. Fuck him. He doesn't deserve that love. He doesn't deserve to wear that red shirt of United if he thinks we're not ambitious enough. We're too ambitious for him. Manchester United is far bigger than Wayne Rooney will ever be. He could have been a hero in Manchester. We'd forgotten that he was an ugly scouse scrubber. He was on his way to being a legend. He was almost definitely the next captain. He could have broken scoring records, and one day be mentioned in the same breath as Charlton, Robson, Giggs, true gentlemen who knew what it meant to wear that shirt. But he threw it away.

I don't know where he'll go now and I don't really care. If he ends up at City, which it looks likely he will, it will be the ultimate betrayal, but I don't think that it would hurt United fans much more than it already does. Football is obviously changing. Perhaps it is the case that United won't be the dominant force in Manchester that they have been during my lifetime. But at least we will continue, while Sir Alex Ferguson remains at the helm, to play with honour, integrity and respect. And with players who want to wear that beautiful red shirt. He doesn't deserve to. He's disappointed me so much. I honestly thought he was different. The last of a dying breed. But he's just the same as the rest of the new generation. A scumbag.

And that's why it is so strange to be a football fan. I don't know Wayne Rooney. He doesn't owe me anything. I don't know Alex Ferguson. He'll never know how much I respect him. But I still feel that Rooney has let me down. And he has abused the respect of Sir Alex Ferguson. I don't think any United fan will ever forgive him.

I'm off to the pub to watch my heroes play football. And I'm glad that Rooney won't be among them.

Love, Smithy x

19.10.10

And Now, From Somewhere in Wales....


So much has changed since the last time I posted. And yet, nothing has really changed at all.

There are less Koreans here. Not no Koreans, just less Koreans. I was sat with the Canadian on the bus the other day, straining our ears to nosy in on the conversation of some vaguely East Asian-looking girls. It took us a while to identify the language. English, it was.

Welsh is the most bizarre language I have ever heard in my life. I wrongly assumed that it was an archaic language, spoken only in tiny hamlets between mountains. By sheep. Turns out it's spoken everywhere! My Canadian girlfriend even has to teach it! To give you an indication, it sounds like a room full of the most annoying people you have ever met, reading the Bible backwards to the tune of Auld Lang Syne. That's what Welsh sounds like.

Remember when I said I was going to be a freelance writer and part time drug dealer? Well, that didn't quite work out as I'd hoped. I'm not a very good drug dealer. Or freelance writer. Instead, I took a job at a marketing company. I'm not going to get into the specifics of what I do, but it is morally dubious and I'm quite good at it. No surprises there.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to let each of my 3 regular readers know that I'm back, the blog will be back up and running, and I will be bringing tedious and obvious satire to your lives on a weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, who-knows-how-often-to-be-honest, basis. There are many subjects that I'll be touching on in the immediate future. Rooney. The X Factor. Korea. The Canadian. The half-Windsor knot. Lasagne. For now though, I'll leave you with this question to ponder...

If everyone stopped watching the X Factor, Big Brother, How Clean is your Wedding and all the other varieties of the modern-day freak show; if we stopped buying the News of the World, Heat and all the other varieties of modern-day propaganda, designed to hypnotise us into stupidity; and if we started to concentrate on what is really important in life - love, family, happiness, medium-rare red meat - instead of worrying about all this other shit which is really none of our fucking business...would it ever not be funny that Justin Bieber is being investigated for knocking out some 12-year-old at a Laserquest?

I'm back...you miss me?

Love, Smithy x

18.8.10

smithyactuallyblogs

So I've fallen off this blog game.

In the weeks since my last post I have travelled to and returned from China, booked flights to 2 different continents and contemplated the bloody murder of several small children. I resisted. Little shits.

But I have failed in my blogging and I apologise. I apologise from the bottom of my heart to each and every person that regularly reads this blog. I will now apologise to each of those people, individually.

Sorry.

Sorry.

Okay, done.

China was cool. It was a constant battle to hold onto my money as there was a different person trying to take it from me around every corner. I don't think I've ever drank so much bottled water and paid such varying prices for the same product.

Bottle of water from a corner shop - 10 yuan.

Exactly the same bottle of water from some Mongolian on the Great Wall - whatever he wants.

It was the hottest, most disgustingly humid weather I have ever experienced. I start sweating at the sight of exercise anyway, but I honestly took about 2 pisses in 10 days. I just sweated out all the hundreds of bottles of water I was drinking.

Korea isn't much better but at least I'm inside most of the time teaching summer camp. I fucking hate it. The last time people suffered this badly at a Korean camp they were called PoWs. Never mind, over soon.

And then I'm off to the People's Republic of Canadia to check how the colonies are doing before returning to ENG-ER-LAAAAAAAAAAND home of the normally-timed football matches and the roasted meat. And the recession. And the unemployment. Oh the high, high unemployment figures. I hope you're ready for me, Job Centre.

Nah I'll be fine. Right? Yeah. Fine. Absolutely fine.

Anyway, I need to go officiate a Golden Bell quiz full of spoilt, rich Gangnam kids and their inept teachers.

Toodles.

Love, Smithy x

6.7.10

Let Me In!


The people who know me well - and even a fair few people that know me not-so-well - might have noticed that I am a tiny bit on the disorganised side. I'm regularly late, for example. I don't like to pack long before a trip, either. When I first came to Korea, I sold my car literally 24 hours before I left in order to pay for my flight. I lose my keys daily.

Things have changed slightly since I started seeing the Canadian. I'm better with my money (because she steals it from me then loans it back to me at extortionate rates), I've been known to plan the odd lesson and I'm currently in the process of boxing up my winter clothes to ship to England in advance of our arrival. Me! Sorting clothes into boxes!

It was with this new-found sense of organisation that I began researching my visa requirements prior to booking my flights to China. The Chinese embassy in Seoul does not have an English language section, but there are some regularly updated pages on another site that tell a foreigner all (!) they need to know about the sometimes tricky process for acquiring a tourist visa. I found no reasons to worry. I booked my flights.

2 weeks after booking and 3 weeks before I was due to fly, I dropped in to one of the licensed travel agents in Seoul who handle Chinese visa applications. The embassy doesn't take applications directly you see. This is one of a number of annoying rules. The agent there told me that there was a new annoying rule - foreign nationals in Korea needed at least 6 months remaining on their ARC (Alien Registration Card - it always annoys me that it is called this, as I am constantly reminded of Sting's 'Englishman in New York' whenever I say it, and also of the fact that I, for many years, thought the lyrics were 'I'm an alien, I'm a little alien, I'm an Englishman in New York') in order to apply for a visa. My ARC expires on September 2nd. I have just less than 2 months left.

I was gutted. I couldn't believe it. I was so excited for this trip, I was fulfilling a life-long dream in many ways, and it was being taken away from me because of some stupid red tape. What was the reasoning anyway? Do the Chinese think I'm going to stay there or something? Do they not realise how much I miss roast beef?? I want to go home in September!

As well as this, there were the more fiscal issues of our potentially non-refundable flights and the fact that one of those flights was an uber-expensive epic monster from London. My flights were nothing compared to the price of my mate's. I couldn't give up there.

I began ringing around travel agents and kept being told the same thing, that there was nothing I could do. I posted on Dave's ESL Cafe, the largest collection of idiots on the Internet and, shockingly, got some decent advice. There was an agency in Itaewon that would try for me. I went the next day, Wednesday July 1st. I got my passport back the next day having been refused by the Chinese embassy due to the new regulations coming into play. Oh, and when did these new regulations come into play?

Wednesday July 1st.

The dream was dead. There was simply no way that I could get a visa in Korea, besides applying for a new job and having my ARC extended to cover my new employment. Obviously this wasn't an option. Then, we started getting fantastical.

Maybe I could apply to the Chinese embassy in England? Maybe one visa is the same as the next, and what would the Chinese embassy in London care if I was nearly done in Korea? They'd issue me one, surely! Well, not surely but, you know, worth a shot at least. I had just shy of 3 weeks.

I posted my passport and my application form on Saturday. FedEx promised to have it on Adam's desk by Tuesday lunchtime. I booked Adam an appointment at the Chinese embassy for 1:30pm on Tuesday. It had to be there before then.

Since then, I've been tracking it online. It really is a fantastic service. I just pop my little code into the box and it tells me, to the second, where my package is! It's amazing! To my surprise, they sent it east. This was the first part of the journey:
Seoul - Incheon
Incheon - Anchorage, Alaska
So I'm thinking, that's pretty cool, it's in Alaska. I always wanted to go there! My passports been there, that pretty much means that I've been there! 

8 hours later it was on the move again.
Anchorage, Alaska - Newark, New Jersey
This allowed me to demonstrate my accent skills to the Canadian,

"Hey, buddy! I'm in New Jawsey. Get me a cworfee, buddy!"
"Get your own fucking coffee."

It hung around in New Jersey until 2pm the following afternoon. I spent the morning hitting refresh on the tracking screen, anxiously waiting for it to take off to the Motherland. Finally, I saw those beautiful words on the screen.
Newark, New Jersey - Stansted, United Kingdom

Ah, Stansted. The runt of the litter. Never before had I had such affection for such a pathetic little airport. My passport was in London! A day early no less. Adam might even have it on his desk the day before the meeting, giving him plenty of time to make snarky comments about my picture. Or to try and sell it to a Polack.

I went about the rest of my day with a spring in my step. It was far from guaranteed that I would even get a visa granted in London, but at least I was giving myself the best possible chance. I patted myself on the back for being so organised as to get it to him early, and began mentally drafting my letter of gratitude to FedEx, congratulating them on a job well done and a truly remarkable service.

I woke up this morning and checked again. Maybe it will say delivered? Or maybe it's 'on the van', that old chestnut? What did I see?
 Stansted, United Kingdom - Paris, France
The fucking French. Again. I've still not forgiven them for keeping me off an Easyjet flight from Paris when I was 16. Now they've stolen my passport. There'll be hell to pay now, Frenchie. I got on the phone.

"안녕하십니까? 페덱스 입니다. "
"The French have nicked my passport!"
"한국어는 1번을 누르세요. For English press 2."
I pressed 2.
"The French have nicked my passport!"

This went on for some time. The conclusion at the end of it, according to my friend Su Min on the end of the line, was that "Maybe there is a problem with your package". She would call me straight back. This took over 5 hours to happen.

In the meantime, I hopped onto the FedEx website and noticed they have a Customer Service chatroom. Cool! I gave it a go, and copied and pasted the conversation for your pleasure.
A FedEx agent will be right with you...

You have been connected to Kee-Suk .

Kee-Suk :  Hello Smithy. thanks for visiting FedEx.com, I am researching your question now...
Smithy:  okay
Smithy: tracking number is 8691 4625 7828
Kee-Suk :  I will be happy to help you Smithy. May I have your tracking number, please?
Smithy: yes. its 8691 4625 7828
Kee-Suk :  Maybe this pkg arrived in London already . So we will monitor this pkg's status on 06 July local time.
Smithy:  but it says that it is in paris
Kee-Suk :  yes...
Kee-Suk :  not paris
Smithy:  it isn't in paris?
Kee-Suk :  yes..
Smithy: yes it is in paris?
Kee-Suk: This pkg has been held in GB for delivery on 06 july....Please tracking again after 1800pm today..
Smithy:  okie dokie
Smithy:  thanks
Kee-Suk: Thank you for using FedEx.com, Smithy. Have a great day!
Smithy: i will if my passport isn’t in paris.
Anyway, I went about the rest of my day sweltering in 30° heat and worrying about my passport. I felt uncomfortable enough being on the other side of the world without a passport without the French getting their grubby little fingers on it. And then I got an e-mail.

THE PASSPORT IS IN THE UK.
- Adam

It was in his little hand. As we speak, he is at the Chinese embassy delivering my passport and offering sexual favours to whoever makes the decisions around there. There's nothing I can do but hope and trust in his ability.

And according to FedEx.com, my package spent only 1 hour 24 minutes in France. Which is about 1 hour 23 minutes more than I'd ever want it to.

Just playing, The French. You know I love you.

Billy doesn't though.

Love, Smithy x

2.7.10

An Open Letter To The Chinese Embassy in Seoul

RE: Recent changes to your visa application process preventing foreign nationals with less than 6 months remaining on their Alien Registration Card from acquiring a Chinese visa.

FUCK YOU!

Love, Smithy x

28.6.10

The Golden Generation

 
England qualified for the 2010 World Cup with a near-perfect record of 9 wins and 1 defeat, the highest number of goals scored in the whole of the European groups and, in Wayne Rooney, a player who was finally justifying his hype on the international stage after scoring 9 goals during qualifying. With Fabio Capello at the helm, we had the level-headed, disciplinarian coach that was needed after the 'Stevie G, JT, let's-all-be-mates' era of Steve McLaren, and the Italian seemed to have finally battered those preening, prancing, millionaire playboys into something resembling a strong international force.

Last night, England were defeated 4-1 by Germany. Not only did we get beaten by a better side, we were dominated from start to finish, save for a brief period towards the end of the first half. The 'Golden Generation' - a tag which is genuinely laughable now - have surely played their last tournament as a group, and they exited in the least dignified way possible - destroyed by the fucking Germans.

Where did it all go wrong? Let's look at the main suspects in the case. 

The Players - Our final 23 players that travelled to South Africa included Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Barry. These are world-class players. That expression gets bandied around too much I know, but they objectively are. Besides Barry, they've all played in Champions League finals, they all play week-in week-out for the best teams in the best league in the world and are extremely vital components of those teams. Starting 11. First on the team sheet. I've read some nonsense about the fact that the Premier League is full of international talent and that it is this talent that is making our very average English players look better than they are. No, that's bollocks. Look at Wayne Rooney's record for United this season. He kept us in the title race on his own, literally on his own most of the time as he was playing as the lone striker for most of the season. He is a fantastic finisher, an incredible passer of the ball and has probably the best football brain of anybody I have ever seen play. Did we see this in the World Cup? No. We didn't see it from any of them. They were all shit.

Last night, we didn't pass the ball well, we defended terribly and we didn't create enough chances. Rooney was resorting to wild shots from outside of the area, Gerrard passed the ball to their keeper on more than one occasion and the support wasn't there to get Jermaine Defoe in behind the defence where he can do the most damage. Honestly though, when we were 4-1 down and a change was finally made, Rooney should have come off for Crouch, not Defoe off for Heskey. Heskey is a fucking donkey who can't score goals. Why is a striker at the World Cup who can't score goals?

Matthew Upson and John Terry were completely at fault for the 1st goal - completely, embarrassingly at fault - and didn't do much better for the rest of the game. Terry seems to have it mixed up in his head that throwing yourself around and not being scared to get the ball in your face translates as being Terry Butcher, but it doesn't. You have to defend. You have to be aware of your position. He was the senior defender in that back 4 and he should have been running the show. He wasn't.

And while we're on the subject of John Terry, I think we should talk a little about team morale or, more specifically, the lack of anything even approaching team morale. John Terry, you may remember from a few months ago, was caught cheating on his wife with the mother of Wayne Bridge's child, Bridge being his former teammate at Chelsea and current England teammate. This led to a divide in the camp, with all except those who sympathise with that kind of behaviour (i.e. Ashley Cole) supporting Bridge. After a short debate and John Terry being stripped of the England captaincy, Bridge decided he would rather deny himself of the chance to play in the World Cup than be stuck in a training camp with John Terry and ruled himself out of contention. Bridge would almost definitely have been in the final 23 had he been available for selection. The fact that he wasn't there and Terry was cannot have gone down well in the camp.

Terry further endeared himself to the players by breaking one of the cardinal rules of being in a football team - what is said in the dressing room stays in the dressing room. Terry needs to watch Band of Brothers. He needs schooling on the code of man. He came out for a press conference, publicly belittled the manager and betrayed the confidences of other senior players by suggesting there was going to be some kind of Terry-led revolt against Capello at a meeting that evening. This, obviously, didn't materialise and Terry was forced to apologise. Another knock to morale.

It's too easy to say that these players were at the World Cup and so should inherently be fighting in the same direction. Of course they all want the same thing, but they have to be moulded into a team. You put 23 grown men into a closed environment away from their friends and families for a month and there are going to be problems. Add to this the fact that these are highly competitive, highly-paid men who act like spoiled brats and are afraid to let their loved ones anywhere near John Terry unless he shags them, and you have a perfect recipe for a fall-out. Something was obviously wrong. We may never find out what, but I think Wayne Rooney had something to do with it.

Why? He is one of the best players in the world when he is enjoying his football and a petulant piece of shit when he isn't. He was scowling, screaming and sulking in every game he played in, even refusing to shake Capello's hand after being (deservedly) subbed during the Slovenia game. Alex Ferguson spoke to him during the group games and said he felt something was wrong. Anyone watching the team could see there was something wrong.

We could point to injuries (particularly Rio Ferdinand and David Beckham) and we could point to the fact that for the first half against Slovenia and the 20 minutes before half time last night we looked slightly dangerous, but at the end of the day the players didn't perform and they have to accept that. Most of the so-called Golden Generation will never play in a World Cup again and they have to accept that they simply didn't use their talent when they were required to.

The Manager - the build-up to this World Cup felt so much different for me than all the others because of Fabio Capello. I was confident in our manager. I thought that if there was anybody able to cope with the difficult task of organising a winning World Cup squad then it would be Capello. He had done perfectly up until the tournament, managing tricky situations like the John Terry affair and David Beckham's role in the squad with dignity and professionalism whilst maintaining the football side of things to a tee. I never thought he could be to blame were we to fail.

But then things started to change. David Beckham injured his Achilles and was ruled out of the tournament, yet Capello said that Beckham would still be travelling with the team. Why? I mean, I love David Beckham more than most, but I don't know why he was there. Morale? I mean, he's not Gazza. He's not the world's most fun person or a huge contributor to team spirit. It stunk of special treatment, and could well have been a source of resentment within the camp.

Then came the farce of the final squad announcement. BBC Sport did their little live text fiasco so we could all spend time staring at computer screens instead of living our lives, and the squad was being leaked player by player. Instead of one announcement naming the 23 players as every other country did, we were finding out which players were excluded from fucking Twitter, mysterious 'sources within the FA' and the tabloid press. That is not the way these things are done. And the teams were getting leaked during the group stages. I was really surprised by that from Capello. I thought he was better than that.

Then came the tournament proper and reports of unrest in the camp. The tabloids were talking about Capello's aloofness, that he would walk by players without saying 'hello', that he was forcing them into their rooms too often. I don't buy into any of that, personally. So what if poor little Wayne Rooney doesn't get a 'hello' off the gaffer? Man up! You're not a baby. He is a 65-year-old man, a legend within the game, and he can do what he likes. And you should be resting up in your room. You're at the World Cup not Butlins!

But, that being said, he made some tactical errors. We waited far too long to see Joe Cole, a player who always does well for England and could add creativity that we were lacking; he chose the wrong keeper for the first game and the fact that Robert Green had no experience at this level showed when he let in that ridiculous goal against the septics; and, as I already mentioned, Rooney should have been taken off last night, not Defoe.

He has 2 years left on his contract and so could be England manager until the end of Euro 2012 but I would be shocked if he is. Pressure will be too strong to lay the blame at his door after this tournament and I think he will leave, with a great big golden handshake from the FA, as they all do. It's a shame. He could have been a great manager for England. I think his reputation is too strong to be tarnished by this, I just think he may have underestimated the pressure of the job. There is no job like it in football.

The Press - When I was young, and even when I was not-so-young, I wanted to be a sports journalist. Not anymore. I think they are complete scum.

At a tournament such as the World Cup, the journalists travel with the squad, are given unprecedented access to the players and the training sessions, and a regular audience with the management in the build-up to the games. They are also responsible, as with all journalists, for setting the tone of the coverage and, in turn, the mood within the country they are representing. The English press seem to have one default setting - set 'em up and knock'em down.

It started more slowly this year. Since Euro '96, probably the last tournament in which we looked like genuine contenders (we certainly had the best song) England have been built up by the press (particularly The Sun) as certain finalists, probable winners, and when that hasn't happened people have been shocked. This year they seemed to cool it. We had failed to qualify for Euro 2008 and it would have been foolish even by their standards to predict we would win this tournament. But that didn't mean they had to be sensible journalists, oh no! Far from it!

They were straight in with the boot after the Algeria game, asking questions of morale and trying to stir up unrest in the camp. There were obvious problems, the whole world could see it, but prodding and probing John Terry into making a fool of himself is helping nobody. In the build-up to the Germany game, the press were bombarding players with questions about penalties. raising issues that don't need to be raised, creating nerves upon the ones that must have already existed. I've watched a lot of the press conferences during this world cup (footytube is a beautiful thing) and I've been embarrassed at some of the questions that have been asked. Asking the England captain about his club future the day before the first game of the World Cup is not helpful. Suggesting to an idiot like John Terry that the manager is making mistakes is not helpful. Blowing minor incidents into front page headlines is not helpful.
Look, I get it okay? I'm not stupid. I know that journalism is an industry and that these guys need to make a living and sell papers. But we're all English aren't we? We all want the same thing. We should be supporting our team, and the press need to accept their role in that support. I love my country and I love the English, but Joe Public is a fucking idiot and he needs to be held by the hand and led in the right direction. If the press created a positive spirit around the England camp, created realistic expectations and held back a little on the vitriolic criticism they spit out on a daily basis, then maybe the players wouldn't be so terrified of playing for their country. Maybe they won't get booed by their own fans who have been brainwashed into thinking that the World Cup victory is some kind of divine right of theirs, and so attack the team when it is not delivered to them.

The Fans - I have touched on this elsewhere so I won't go into it too much again. I just want to share an experience I had recently whilst watching South Korea get knocked out of the World Cup by Uruguay. I spoke to many Koreans in the build-up to the game, and they were all saying much of the same thing - that they hoped Korea went through, but they knew that it would be difficult. They knew they might well lose. They were managing their expectations.

When it came around to game-time, the atmosphere in Seoul was fantastic. We went out and got stuck in with the crowds, eating fried chicken and beer with the locals for hours until kick-off finally arrived at 11pm. By this time there was a carnival atmosphere in Seoul and the fans were ready for a party. And then Uruguay scored. What happened? Did they start throwing their beer cans at the TVs? Did they boo? Did they start screaming at their useless players and calling them overpaid prima donnas? No, of course not. That's just what the English do. Instead, the Koreans rallied around, got some more drinks in and starting singing again. Korea got one back before the game was finished off by Uruguay in the 2nd half, but the fans never once turned on their players. Cries of "괜찮아요!" (it's okay) could be heard all around, and people quickly got back to having a good time. They knew that they'd been knocked out by a good team. They weren't bitter.

Now, I'm not directly comparing the South Korean and England teams. I obviously recognise that there is more individual talent in the England team than the Korean one and so we should be expected to do better. But what evidence do we have to support these expectations? We have not been past the quarter finals since 1990 and we haven't won the thing since 1966. We are not an international powerhouse. We have to accept that. We have to manage our expectations and allow the players to enjoy themselves because this is when they play their best football. I don't buy into the ridiculous notion that you've paid a fortune to get to South Africa and you've not been repaid. So fucking what? Don't go then. If you want guaranteed entertainment, go watch Toy Story 3. If you choose to go and support the national football team, you have to support them, whilst accepting that you are more than likely not going to see them lift the trophy.

What the fans deserve in return for their money is their team to try their hardest, I get that. But I don't think we have been knocked out due to a lack of effort. There was a fear within the team - not nerves, fear - and I think The Greatest Fans in the World™ need to accept that they helped create that atmosphere as they booed the team off the pitch after the Algeria game.

This post has become slightly more convoluted than I wanted it to be. Especially since I am supposed to be planning lessons. I just started typing about an hour ago and I've only just looked up now. I've just been pouring my thoughts out and I'm sorry if it doesn't make any sense. But today I feel like my dog died, I lost my job and my girlfriend broke up with me all at the same time. I am heartbroken. I waited 4 years for this tournament, suffered through the dreadful summer of 2008 watching the Euros pass us by, and I was so sure we were going to do better. I watched it at home last night, away from the bars and the crowds of the city, knowing as I did, deep down, that we were going to get knocked out. But to go out in that style, to play so lifelessly and so heartlessly was truly depressing.

I could go on about the injuries we suffered before the tournament. I could say that Matthew Upson shouldn't be anywhere near an England shirt and wouldn't be if Rio was fit and Ledley King didn't have weird knees. I could go on about the fantastic and perfectly obvious goal that we had disallowed at 2-1 last night and what a difference that could have made to the game if we'd have drawn level before half time. I could go on about the ridiculous system that FIFA have in place, not only denying everyone of the goal-line technology that the game deserves, but also of putting in place inexperienced referees to take charge of a last-16 World Cup match between England and Germany.

I could say all of these things.

But I won't.

Because football, when all the bullshit is swept aside and the fanfare has died down, is a sport which is beautiful in its simplicity. 22 men. 2 nets. 1 Ball. The most goals win.

England did not play well enough at any time in the last 4 games to justify their position in the semi-finals and that is why we did not get through. Germany deserved their win. They played a smart, counter-attacking game and took advantage of what was some absolutely dreadful defending. Fair play to them.

But when it all comes down to it, the thing that hurts the most is that there is only one loser here. As I lay in bed last night with tears in my eyes, unable to sleep until ridiculous o'clock this morning as I played the games over and over in my mind, trying to decide which of these 4 suspects can be blamed for the loss, I couldn't help thinking that it was all of them.

There is something institutionally wrong with our national game and I wish someone could pinpoint exactly what it is. But if one good thing can come from this absolute abomination of a World Cup campaign, then I hope it can be a shift in perceptions away from England as a world-beating team. And an ability to manage future expectations.

This losing England team were many things. But the Golden Generation they, most certainly, were not.

And now, they never will be.

Love, Smithy x

23.6.10

The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
    That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
    In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
    Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
    Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
    A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
        Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
    And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
        In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

                                - Rupert Brooke

Who Is She? She's Nice!



I went to sleep at 11pm and woke up at 3:30am. I ate a breakfast burrito. I watched a 2-2 draw between South Korea and Nigeria which put the Koreans into the 2nd round. I went back to sleep for an hour.

Since then I have been walking around like a zombie, trying to remember where I am and what the hell I'm supposed to be doing here. My co-teacher just left (she's preggers so she does that a lot nowadays) so I'm hoping to sneak out a few hours early to catch some shut-eye before the England game tonight. I'm nervous as hell. Bloody Slovenia and I'm nervous. It's ridiculous isn't it?

In the meantime, I have some more ludicrous ESL videos to show you. These three might well be the picks of the bunch. One in particular left myself, my co-teacher and the entire class of students staring open-mouthed at the TV. Did we really just see that?

Okay, here's number one -

video

What I love about this is the swagger of the young lad as he walks down the street with his woman. You get the feeling that he just became a man, if you know what I mean. She, on the other hand, seems rather less ecstatic about the experience, suggesting that she never dreamt that her first love would be an Asian kid in a yellow sweater who is two-thirds her size. The lad seems rather pleased with himself though as, when the random woman tells him that the girl is pretty, he just nods and smirks like, "Yeah, I hit it. And you'll be next if you don't watch out, toots."

Here's another -

video

Okay, a few things. Firstly, shock horror, the fat boy's eating crisps. Secondly, chubbs is supposed to be the native speaker in this situation, so who the fuck is Doolie? And thirdly, massive over-reaction by whitey in the flat cap, and why is he asking the names of random young girls? Well, I will tell you why -

video

Because he is a pedophile on a mission who doesn't seem to care about people finding out his passion for young un's. Look how blatantly he asks the names of these kids. In broad daylight! And, "He's nice"?? How is that ever appropriate to say about a strange child that you can only see from behind? Doolie should fix up, run inside the store and dial 119. Then some 12-year-old Korean police officers can come slap him on the wrist and tell him not to do it again.

Seriously though, what is that video about? Is it supposed to warn the kids about kidnappers or something? To tell them that the white man is not to be trusted? Or do the makers of the video really thing that that is what happens? That grown men can walk up to pre-pubescent girls, ask them then name of a pre-pubescent boy, declare them to be "nice", and there be no problems? We couldn't quite believe what we were watching in class. The cry of "변태!" (pervert) from the kids must have been audible for miles around. 


Crazy.


Anyway, I'd better go. I need to leave like a ninja. I'll blog again tomorrow after the game.

Believe

Love, Smithy x

20.6.10

England Fans Are Idiots

So, after England's 0-0 draw with Algeria, Wayne Rooney did this -

video

Should he have said it? Probably not.

Is it a sign that still, at 24 years old with a wife and baby son, he is a petty, immature little boy? Certainly, yes. He's a professional footballer. They don't reach maturity till their late 30's.

But was he right? Yes. He was absolutely, 100% right.

I keep hearing all this bullshit that England fans have spent thousands of pounds to go to South Africa and this gives them the right to vent their frustration blah blah blah. No, it doesn't! You never have the right to boo your own team. It's counter-productive for one thing. What do they think is going to happen? It isn't going to inspire the team to do better. They need to know that their fans are behind them.

Rooney is getting slammed in the papers and I'm sure it will come to no surprise to him. He's issued an apology of sorts but its fairly empty. The standard 'overpaid prima donna' insults are being wheeled out and people are pointing to the England fans' passion as the reason they are entitled to hurl insults at their own team. It is no excuse. It is appalling. The fans should be ashamed of themselves.

All the Americans, Canadians and Koreans I've spoken to about it can't get their head around the concept. Why would you do it? The supporters are there to literally provide support, aren't they?

The one English person I've spoken to thinks Rooney should be sacked from United. Which isn't an overreaction at all, is it?

I would ask those booing morons to think about how much they want England to win the World Cup. I'm sure they would say that they want it a lot. A hell of a lot. Some would probably say they want it more than anything else in the world.

I would then ask them to imagine how much Wayne Rooney wants to win the World Cup. The fans are football fans who don't have the talent to play the game. Rooney is a football fan who has worked his entire life to become one of the greatest footballers on the planet and compete at the highest level possible. Imagine being a professional footballer. Imagine playing at the World Cup!

However much we as fans want England to win the World Cup, Wayne Rooney and the rest of the players want to win it 10 times more.

It's no wonder the players are so scared of playing for their country. They get booed at Wembley, they get booed at the World Cup. The press whips the country into a frenzy and when the players don't deliver what has been promised by the papers, the fans take it out on the players.

Same old England. Same old shit.

If we don't go qualify from the group stages then I won't be surprised. The team hasn't played well, Rooney in particular has been very disappointing, and criticism of their performance is justified. But the fans in the stadium have a job to do and booing the team is not part of their job. If we don't win against Slovenia, those fans should shoulder a share of the blame for the damage they will have done to an already fragile team morale.

And I couldn't care less how much money they've spent.

Love, Smithy x

18.6.10

Death By Football


This World Cup is killing me. And not just because the games have been, on the whole, pretty dreadful, and that the damn vuvuzelas make it sound like the entire female population of South Africa have left their vibrators on simultaneously. I am a man who needs his sleep and this World Cup is depriving me of it. I'm turning into a zombie. The games kick off at 8:30pm, 11pm and 3:30am respectively and, with a huge dose of Sod's Law, all the England games and most of the other games I want to watch are starting at 3:30. It's killing me.

This afternoon, my fatigue manifested itself as a fit of manic laughter at the most inopportune moment as I was sat judging an English competition at my school. This mostly consisted of kids discussing issues that are 'important' to them or, more realistically, ones that show them to have strong moral fibre. We had a speech about the school's annual rose festival for example, and one on the importance of learning English and Korea's need to globalise. And then there was the girl who sang a High School Musical song backed by her mobile phone. Watching a terrible singer trying their hardest is one of the most awkward things in the world, and I couldn't stop myself from giggling. As I looked away and tried to hide my grin, I saw my friend Eun Mi covering her face with a piece of paper and literally crying with laughter. It was terrible.

I'd only just recovered from this when a group of children came out to do a performance of Hansel & Gretel. It was rather boring and mostly muttered and my mind was starting to wander when I heard something that grabbed my attention. The word Hansel had been Koreanised into 한젤 (Han-jael) and had been annoying me anyway, but one of the girls who was performing kind of mispronounced it and it sounded an awful lot, to me at least, like she said handjob. Maybe it was because I was tired, I don't know, but for the rest of the performance all I could hear in my head was Handjob & Gretel, Handjob & Gretel and I was pissing myself laughing. Nobody could understand what the hell was going on and the kids must think I'm a right nobhead. But it's not like I could say, 'Sorry guys, carry on. I just thought she said Handjob & Gretel and that is hilarious to me.' Handjob & Gretel. It's still making me smile 2 hours later.

I also had the opportunity to rub Korea's 4-1 pounding by the Argies in the face of one of my students today who likes to remind me on a daily basis England's shortcomings. He's a pretty lazy student, cocky, plays on the football team and the girls love him. He doesn't ever speak English to me, or Korean for that matter, unless we're talking about football. And this only started after the England-USA game. I've been opening most of my classes by asking about the previous day's games, and on the Monday after we drew with the US, I did the same.

"Yeah, England were not so good on Saturday. I think we'll be okay,"  I said.
"Maybe not"  says the cocky kid who never speaks.
I said, "Yeah, we just need to beat Slovenia and Algeria and we'll be fine."
"Yes teacher, you have to win," he said, fixing me with a menacing glare. "Or your World Cup is die!"

Little shit.

So today, I started the class and wandered over to him.

"Did you see the game last night, Min Su?" I said.

He didn't look up.

"Korea didn't do so well, eh? You must beat Nigeria or your World Cup is dead. Not die, as you previously said to me. Your jive talk was grammatically flawed."

Min Su, looked up at me with an expression bordering on pity and closed his textbook, which was only open in order for him to draw what appeared to be some cartoon breasts on the inside cover. He stretched his arms out above his head and yawned, before scratching his scalp with his pencil. Then, with his other hand, he removed his glasses from his face, fixed me with a smirk and said,

"Yes teacher. But I'm very handsome, right?"

The girl sat next to him swooned.

Cocky Little Shit - 2
Andrew Teacher - 0

I need to get more sleep.

Love, Smithy x

16.6.10

What Is Love?


 I've been neglecting this blog somewhat because, shock shock, horror horror, I'm actually busy. I'm staying up till stupid o'clock every night watching as much of the World Cup as possible (in short, most of the games have been pretty boring, England will be fine, the vuvuzela can fuck off), and I've been planning stuff! Me! Can you believe it?!

As I hinted in my last post, I have been accepted onto the Journalism course of my dreams at Cardiff University and I have deferred entry until September 2011. The application process was a little stressful and I had a fair few pieces of writing to get done for that, but it was exciting, and I was delighted to get in. I'm going to use my year until then saving money and trying to get some writing experience. Although I'll probably end up on the bins.

As well as this, I've been assigned an after-school programme with Mr Kriska which I'll be doing for a month. I've had to do a bit of planning for that and it is officially the least organised thing I have ever been involved in. Including my dissertation. I'm officially sick and tired of working in the Korean public school system and I want out. Which is handy. 'Cos I only have 4 weeks left at my school.

The other thing I've been planning for is...CHINA! Bloody China! I'm going at the end of July with my homosexual Jew-friend Adam, who I have already decided will be bullied relentlessly by me the entire trip. He's flying from England to meet me in Beijing and we're parting 10 days or so later in Shanghai. What we will do in between is something of a mystery - all we can agree on is that ducks must be slaughtered, crispified and eaten - but I'm extremely excited about it. When I was little China was such a mysterious place to me, I never ever thought I would visit it. I'm thrilled that I will be.

So that's it, I'm sorry it's been brief. I have a few blogs building up about the World Cup and I'm going to write the definitive guide to being an "English Teacher" (note the inverted commas) in Korea but for now, I'm a little busy. I will get them done though.

One last thing before I go. For those of you that care - Eminem has made a good album. I's been about 8 years since his last one, but a good album it is. Very good in fact. And he's managed to squeeze in a sample of Haddaway's What is Love? which is an impressive feat by anybody's standards. Eminem has said everything on Recovery that I wish he'd said on the, quite dreadful, Relapse and it is probably the best rap album of 2010 so far. It's actually a rap album too, not some poppy shit. Eminem raps over Just Blaze! Man...

Go get it when it comes out. Or be a cheapskate like me and get it now.

Love, Smithy x

4.6.10

One Can Only Hope For More Erection Days


Summer has hit Seoul and the relentless battering of heat and humidity coupled with a plethora of outsized bugs will have me whinging until I leave in August. It's nice to have a change though. I've been whinging about the cold for long enough and then for a short period I could whinge about the yellow dust. Now it's the heat. I'm English, what can I say? We complain about the weather.

At least I'm still here though! No North Korean insurgents on the horizon just yet. Besides an increased military presence in the skies and a general feeling of unease for a few days last week, the furore over the Cheonan and the predictions of impending war have died down. There will surely be more to the story but if they can leave any more action until the end of August then I'd greatly appreciate it. If you're reading this, Kim Jong Il, hook a brother up will you?

I woke up yesterday to the news of a shooting spree in Cumbria by a Derrick Bird who seems to have been described by everyone who knew him as a nice, normal guy. He woke up one day, took a couple of guns that it would seem he legally owned, shot a few acquaintances and then drove around shooting complete strangers in the face with a shotgun. It's unbelievable. Cumbria is a beautiful part of England where I spent a lot of time while I was growing up and it sort of makes it more tragic that this happened in such a tranquil place.

I'm sure there will be uproar about firearm ownership in England just as there was after Dunblane in the 90s but the truth is, we have gun laws that we can be proud of. It is very, very difficult to get a gun in England and, save from going back in time to prevent the vile objects from ever being invented, there is not a great deal more the Government can do. You can't legislate against madness of the like that clearly took ahold of Derrick Bird. At least in England, if a person goes fucking mental for a day, the chances are he probably won't have a shotgun. In America, if you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, you can pop into Walmart and pick up a 12-gauge with your pancake mix. So in that regard, I agree with David Cameron. Although his lack of sincerity in his statement of 'grief' annoyed me a little bit and I think his comments on Cumbria's community spirit are a tad patronising. Stay down south you posh little mong.

In other news, Wednesday was election day in Korea which made for some interesting pronunciation errors by my co-workers and allowed me and the Canadian to take some kimbap and mandu down to Yongsan Park for a bit of a picnic. It was great to get out of the house and see some actual grass for a change (although I managed to burn my stupid ginger face in the 28° heat) and a mid-week day off might well be the way forward. Mr Kriska was saying yesterday that a 2-day on, 1-day off, 2-day on, 2-day off week might be the perfect work situation and I think he might be right. Got to go find me one of those.

I'm 25 tomorrow. My youth is over. Fantastic. All I've got to look forward to now is the onset of arthritis and the rest of my hair falling out.

Nah, I'm playing. I don't really care to be honest. My Canadian girlfriend is 42 or something so I'll always have that youthful jump on her. There have been a couple of exciting developments that I may mention later with regard to my near-future, but it would be a little premature to discuss them yet. Lets just say that at 25 I'm feeling fighting fit and ready to tackle the next chapter of my life. I've just got to avoid any nuclear bombs and giant dragonflies and get back to the safety of the UK, where people are apparently running around popping each other off like it's the bloody Wild West. Is there no hope...?

I'll be having fried chicken and beer tonight and then all-you-can-eat Brazilian steak tomorrow. Then I have to hit the gym on Monday. I'm getting old, you know?

Love, Smithy x

26.5.10

The North-South Divide


Before I arrived in South Korea, just over 2 years ago in May 2008, I knew next to nothing about the country or their neighbours to the north. My knowledge was limited to the Manchester United midfielder Park Ji Sung, the 2002 shared World Cup Finals with Japan and the fact that the residents of the Korean peninsula have been known to consume dog. I knew nothing of the history.

Since I became settled, gained Korean friends and work colleagues, and became ever more assimilated into the culture, my curiosity as to how this country came to be how it is grew steadily. I began to read studies on the history, analyses of the people and online news articles on the region with increased regularity. There was much for me to get my teeth into.

I arrived in Korea over 50 years after the end of the Korean war which left the formally unified nation split between the Communist, Russian-backed north and the Capitalist, USA and Allied-led south. Since the war ended in 1953, the two countries have taken drastically different paths with the south growing into a major world player with a top ten global economy, and the north cutting itself off from the outside world and becoming one of the world's most isolated countries.

Little is known about the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il and his country, and what is known by yours truly has been gleaned from the work of others much smarter and more eloquent than I. A lot of what has been written is simply conjecture; when visits to the country are so strictly supervised that your camera's memory card has to be checked or confiscated on departure, how can the average man ever truly learn the full story? What can be said with some certainty, however, is that the Kim dynasty, preceded by Jong Il's father, Il-Sung, are masters of manipulation and fear-mongering, and have succeeded in becoming a feared and strangely powerful nation, despite what is believed to be abject poverty and a severe lack of allies.

It is presumed, from North Korean defectors and South Korean intelligence, that a huge percentage of the population are below the poverty line. A famine in the 90s led to the death of hundreds of thousands of people and even the army - a huge force consisting of some 20% of North Korean adult men - are existing on a few hundred grams of rice a day. Media is strictly regulated, mobile phones are illegal save for a select few and information is so closely controlled that the 1988 Seoul Olympics, which took place only 100 miles or so from the capital in Pyongyang, were a mystery to all regular North Korea citizens. North Korean propaganda ranges from the dangerous to the downright ridiculous and raises questions about how a sane person could even consider it to be true. Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are believed to have supernatural powers - their births were heralded by double rainbows and Kim Jong Il is capable of 11 hole-in-ones every time he steps on a golf course, for example - and their people are forever reminded that they live in the most wonderful country on Earth. Impossible to believe for us, of course, but imagine you'd been kept captive for over 50 years - many people for their entire lives - and had this drilled into you every single day. You might well start to believe it yourself.

My arrival on the peninsula came a few months after the election of President Lee Myung-Bak, leader of South Korea's conservative Grand National Party who, among a number of other controversial acts during his early months in power, declared an end to the previous leader's 'Sunshine Policy' towards the North. Kim Jong Il saw a massive reduction to the billions of dollars worth of aid provided by the previous regime and so declared President Lee, among other things, a traitor under the control of the US, North Korea's greatest enemy. Since then, there have been a number of events that have threatened the fragile peace in the region, climaxing in the bloodshed and consequent unease of the last few weeks.

North Korea have always been regarded as the ROK's 'unruly neighbours' who have maintained a policy whereby they misbehave so that they can be rewarded for not doing so. Whenever they felt that attention was not being paid to them, and financial aid was required, then they would test an underground nuclear weapon or refuse to join the 6-party talks on denuclearisation. Suddenly, attention was again paid to them, and Japan and South Korea provided aid so that no further escalation would take place. Because North Korea hold 2 very valuable bargaining tools - nuclear weapons and China.

It is widely suspected that North Korea hold 8 or 9 nuclear warheads, none of which are yet small enough to attach to the head of a missile (this doesn't make them a great deal less dangerous though, just ask the residents of Hiroshima, Japan) and shares it's largest border with China. The Chinese have been their only superpower ally over the decades and have essentially propped up the Kim regime. An aggressive North Korea and a retaliatory South Korea - when nuclear arms and Chinese involvement are added to the equation - makes for a very scary prospect. This would effectively be the United States against China, a confrontation that would be impossible to contain.

So North Korea has always been placated. Their misbehaviour has never brought anything other than stern rhetoric from the UN and others, and the sanctions that have been placed on them in the past leave little room for expansion. Besides, as it is already one of the least trading countries in the world and still maintains an annual military budget of $6 billion, it has been suggested that the regime is not in fact funded by the paltry sales of goods to China and South Korea, but more by sales of illegal arms and drugs to Iran and South East Asia. There is little Kim Jong Il is afraid of, because there is little anybody can do to punish him.

On the 26th March this year, a North Korean submarine fired a missile at a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, tearing the ship into two pieces and killing 46 young Korean navymen in the process. This was, without question, the most aggressive act of violence between the Koreas in decades and a great threat to an increasingly fragile peace. The north have denied any involvement, but the evidence is cut and dry. Like I read somewhere the other day, I'm sure the guy who left 1번 (number 1) written on the side of the torpedo isn't exactly being wined and dined back in Pyongyang right now.

As with the nuclear testing, the missile firing and the general "we will raise an ungodly war if you fuck with us" type of posturing that has gone on over the 2 years since I arrived, I was ready to dismiss these latest events as simply another - admittedly large - speed bump in the peace process and, after some more sanctions and harsh words, the whole thing would die down again. But this feels a little different. 46 soldiers were killed that day. The torpedo was fired by an underwater submarine, unprovoked, to cause mass death and destruction. That it is an incredibly aggressive act. It couldn't realistically go unpunished. And it hasn't.

Lee Myung Bak announced on Monday that the south would be responding in the harshest possible way besides a retaliatory attack. They have ceased all trade with the north. They have banned North Korean ships from its waters. They have resumed 'psychological warfare' (essentially they will transmit propaganda across the DMZ and drop leaflets into the north informing the people of the Cheonan incident), begun joint anti-submarine exercises with the US and have stated that any further attacks will be treated with a military response. These are the public statements. Less well known - and I have only heard these things through word of mouth and Internet gossip, might I add - is the fact that military presence along each side of the land border has tripled, the North Korean army is being prepared for defence and that it is known within the US Army base in Yongsan that this situation is only just getting started.

I'm not really one to panic. But there are a number of issues that have got me slightly on edge. Firstly, Kim Jong Il is an old, reportedly sick - perhaps dying - man. He is an egomaniac beyond comprehension who has developed an almost religious worship from his people despite leaving them to die of hunger and repressing their freedom. There has been a power struggle to find his successor with none of his sons considered strong enough to take over the role of Leader. An unstable Government is far more dangerous than a stable, deluded Government. There are rumours that the military were behind the Cheonan incident and fired the torpedo without an order from the very top. An unstable military is even more dangerous than an unstable Government.

Secondly, I live in central Seoul. And I mean central Seoul. If you drop a pin into the centre of a map of Seoul, you'd pierce my apartment. Or, in other words, if you drop a nuke into the centre of Seoul, it might land in my toilet. I would have no chance of getting away from an attack on Seoul.

Thirdly, I am being paid less and less every day. The won is tumbling, and whilst I have a very slender understanding of economics, I can get my head around the fact that ₩1200-$1 is bad and the predicted ₩1400-$1 by the end of June is very bad. I may have to leave my money in Korea when I go home and hope it recovers. It will certainly get worse before it gets better.

Finally, Koreans are talking about this. In all the time I have been here and all the many times I have asked a local about North Korea, I have been laughed at, told not to worry and that this sort of thing happens all the time. Not this time. People are, if not worried, then certainly curious as to how this is going to play out. It was being discussed in the lunch room today, in fact. This doesn't feel the same as all the other times. There will be some reaction.

But what reaction will there be? Well, since I have a rather flawless record of predicting current events, let me tell you how this is going to play out. It is extremely unlikely that there will be an attack on Seoul and there will be no invasion of South Korea. The North Korean army, large though it is, does not have the weaponry, the strength or the skill to fight a war with the ROK and the US. It will never happen. I think there will be a breach of the DMZ in recent months, with shots being fired either way, perhaps in retaliation to the rather petty South Korean tactic of blasting propaganda across the border. Besides a few pot shots, there will be no damage caused.

Look to the ocean for the real drama. The disputed maritime border is a major reason why everyone waited so long for a reaction to the Cheonan incident. It occurred in a grey area which, under North Korean reasoning, were their waters. This type of misunderstanding will happen often over the coming months - particularly with US/ROK paranoia about North Korean submarines. This will not lead to war, however.

At some point, the Chinese Government will realise that no good can come from continuing to prop up a flailing, unstable and volatile North Korean government and will distance themselves from future relations with Pyongyang. At that point, either the UN will offer money to North Korea in exchange for regime-change and we may even see reunification, or North Korea will back down, apologise for the Cheonan in exchange for continued Chinese backing, and things will go back to the way they were.

The alternative to these scenarios, and the one which I - and the rest of the world - must fear the most, is a dying Kim Jong Il who realises that the end is inevitably near and wants to go out with a bang, sticking it once and for all to America, South Korea and the rest of the world that he perceives to have wronged him. He then takes one of his nukes, loads it up into one of his shitty Soviet bombers and aims it at Seoul. He wouldn't even have to get very close to cause the most horrific amount of damage. More than 20 million people live in the Seoul Metropolitan area. That's about 50% of the country's population.

There is no way of knowing how the next few days, weeks and months will pan out. But I won't be surprised if we're witnessing the end of the last 50+ years of extended armistice. Things are about to change on the Korean peninsula and hopefully it can be done without any more lives being lost. But despite all the chest-beating and political posturing, and Hillary Clinton arriving to put her thing down, the fate of these two fascinating countries lies in the hands of the Chinese Government. And a 5'2" maniac with a bouffant.

Love, Smithy x

25.5.10

My Big Fat Greek Disappointment

 

Dining out on western food in Korea is like a sleepover at Gary Glitter's house.

Risky.

There have been rare exceptions, especially since moving to Seoul. There is a burger place near my flat which is good. And an overpriced Bulgarian joint. And...

Okay, I've run out of others. The Mexican food is shit. The Italian food is beyond shit. You can get decent Indian and Middle Eastern food but I said western food, didn't I? Burger King is good.

The problem that this country has (although reducing the word 'problem' into the singular form is misleading) is an intense, fierce nationalism that extends into every walk of life.

So how does this manifest itself for the average, English foodie?

Well, poor service in restaurants, essentially.

Some Korean food is awesome. You can plonk me down in any smoky samgyupsal restaurant in the country, give me a grill over a barrel, some fatty pork, a few bottles of sugary, weak beer and some rice wine and I am a happy fucking camper. But service? It doesn't exist. Why should it, in a restaurant where they don't even cook for you? If you need assistance, you holler yogiyo at the top of your voice and - if you're lucky - someone will forgo the fact that you're white and come give you what you need. It's an effective, if - by western standards - impolite, system.

Because of this lackadaisical nationwide attitude towards customer service, in an a la carte restaurant like the one I visited last night a Korean waiting staff will struggle to perform their task effectively.

The restaurant in question was the Itaewon-based Greek joint, Santorini, a name that should have probably raised doubt in my mind after they served me an undercooked pork Souvlaki at the Seoul International Friendship Festival a few weeks back. The occasion was the 2-year anniversary of Miss Canadia winning the lottery in a Busan nightclub, and we wanted to eat something a bit nice. I knew the food was never going to be exceptional, but I wanted to sit with a glass of wine and stare into her eyes for a bit while I nibbled on a bit of pita.

It didn't quite work out like that though.

We ordered a main and a starter each. The waiter looked at me like I'd asked him to serve me parts of his wife but hey, it was a special occasion and I was starving. Besides, one of the starters was tzatziki and bread so there was only one real starter - spinach and feta pie.

I had a Heineken ("Which beers are draft?" "None of them") and planned to get some wine for my main. I had no time to even unwrap the paper napkin from my bottle before the starters arrived - garlic yoghurt and microwaved dough followed by microwaved grease (not Greece) and spinach pie in a grease (not Greece) marinade. The pie came with garlic yoghurt. This annoyed me as I'd only ordered the $8 tzatziki and bread in order to taste it. The menu didn't state that the tzatziki came with everything. And it wasn't even tzatziki.

My mind started racing. This isn't very good, is it? Maybe I should say something to the waiter abou-

No, there's no time. The mains have arrived. I had barely started on my very average starters and my piddly little 'service' side salad when they tried to squeeze onto the table two gigantic plates of kebabs, sauteed potatoes, pita bread and yet more garlic yoghurt. I was so angry. I threw my hands up into the air and threw the waiter a look that I hoped expressed my disgust at him and his entire family.

"We've now got two starters and two entrees at the same time. Why?" I said.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he gushed, with a psychotic smile on his face.

Still left the fucking plates though, didn't he? What good is you saying sorry if I'm still stuck with the fruits of your mistake? Knobhead.

"What the fuck was he smiling at?" I muttered to the Canadian, who was gallantly trying to raise my spirits through this debacle.
"I think it was a nervous smile", she said, with one of her own.
"Well he should be fucking nervous", I spat, garlic yoghurt spilling from my mouth like a rabid dog, "because I've just decided where to stick the kebab skewer when we're done with it."

To be fair, the entrees were quite good. I have a sneaking suspicion they had been re-heated due to the speed they arrived, but I have no qualms about shoving tasty pork, sauteed potatoes, onions and garlic yoghurt into a pita bread and stuffing my face with it. I'm fine with that. But we had a stack of 6 dirty plates on our table throughout the whole meal, even though we had about 3 visits from the restaurant's walking waste disposal unit (literally the fattest Korean woman I have ever seen) to glumly fill up the glass of water I wasn't drinking. It was nearly overflowing by the third time she came round.

I satisfied myself with some biting comments (in a lowered tone to the Canadian) and scratching the word 'penis' into the credit card signature box instead of my name (before realising that I'd more dissed myself than the restaurant). I can never bring myself to complain in restaurants. I couldn't even do it at the previously excellent Kebapistan in Busan when my iskender was smothered in ketchup rather than spicy tomato sauce, our bread was stale and we were joined by an inquisitive cockroach for the last 10 minutes of our meal. But then again that place was run by a big, fat Turk. With a big, fat chopping knife. And a bad attitude.

Anyway, I spent the rest of the night with a pint of Hokey Pokey from Baskin Robbins and a few hours in front of the tele with La Canadiana and the dog. And indigestion.

I won't be going back to Santorini anytime soon.

Love, Smithy x

10.5.10

Nostradamusmithy


A few weeks ago, I predicted that United would win 3-1 in their tricky home game against Spurs. Guess what happened?

We won 3-1.

After this irrefutable evidence of my being a psychic, I predicted that Chelsea would draw 1-1 the following day with Stoke City, thus allowing United back into the title race. Guess what happened?

Chelsea won 7-0.

Yesterday, United played host to Stoke City in the final game of the season while Chelsea welcomed Wigan, knowing a win would secure the title regardless what United did. Only by Chelsea dropping points and United winning could the title remain in Manchester where it belongs.

My predictions?

United 4 - 0 Stoke City

Chelsea 1 - 1 Wigan Athletic

The reality?

United 4 - 0 Stoke City

Chelsea 8 - 0 Wigan Athletic

I was far from pleased, as you can imagine.

The thing is, I've known since the week of horror (going out of the Champion League, losing to Chelsea and drawing with Blackburn) that our title run was over and, if I'm honest, I've never really believed this season that we'd win the league. Chelsea looked awesome in the first few months and they'd have sewn the title up weeks ago if it weren't for some slip ups that they made against lesser teams. They've scored 7 goals 3 times this season and in their last game they scored 8. That's remarkable. I guess they deserve to be Champions.

But my god, I hate Chelsea.

As a United fan my entire life, it is in my blood to loathe City and the Scousers and believe me, that hatred is very real. But I reserve a special kind of contempt for Chelsea. It could be the fact that they received a financial injection from a Russian gangster that allowed their spending to be unrivaled until City did the same with some Arabs. It could be that they're based in central London, and I generally don't like people from that region anyway.

But I think that it's mainly due to their strange talent for selecting the most disgusting individuals in the world to play for them. People hate United because we have been the most consistently great team in the Kingdom for the last 2 decades, but we don't really employ dickheads. Chelsea, on the other hand...

Well, put it this way. After Chelsea's 1st goal went in last night after 6 minutes, I knew that the dream was dead and I decided to busy myself in other ways. I finally decided, after a debate that had been ongoing all season, in which order I'd shoot the Chelsea players if I was given a gun containing 5 bullets. If you're interested, the results are as follows.
  1. Ashley Cole
  2. Frank Lampard
  3. Ricardo Carvalho
  4. Michael Ballack
  5. The C**t
Save the best 'till last, you know?
    There are a few scumbags that didn't make the list, and I invite you, dear readers, to provide me with your alternative 'Top 5'.

    My God, I hate Chelsea.

    Congratu-fucking-lations.

    In other news, another of my predictions is about to come true as David Cameron will surely be our next Prime Minister. I say 'our' rather loosely as I've felt incredibly detached from this election, being on another continent as I am. That's not to say I'm sad about that. I think the whole thing has been a complete farce. I'm glad to be detached from it.

    The reason we have a hung Parliament (and, as my mate Bakercake said, maybe they should drop their pants and let us be the judge of that) is that there is no single party that is offering real change. They're all fucking idiots. The one piece of truth that has emerged from this whole debacle is that electoral reform is needed to create true democracy in the UK. Look at what is happening now. The party with the most elected seats, the Tories, will be doing a power-sharing deal with the party with the least elected seats, the Liberals. How can this be so? And our next Prime Minister will be David Cameron who, as the election has shown, does not have the confidence of the majority of the country. And how can the Liberals and the Conservatives share power? Their politics are absolute polar opposites. Liberal leader Nick Clegg is selling his soul in order to get a job in David Cameron's government. It's a disgrace.

    Am I the only one who things Labour are getting a bad rep? Gordon Brown is not Prime Minister material, that is clear to all who can see (not including him though, eh eh?) but he is not a fool. He was a damn fine Chancellor when he held the position in Blair's government and was left to deal with the disgrace of a country that the war criminal left him. He should step down and there should be a new Labour party leader. But any bi-partisan Government should be between Labour and Conservative. The Lib Dems have been given a clear no-no by the voting public. They got 11% of the seats. How can they be in power?

    At least the BNP's Nick Griffin got his arse handed to him. Hopefully that's the last we'll see of him. If not, he can stand behind The C**t while I show Chelsea what time it is.

    Oh a happier note, I attended the Seoul Friendship Festival yesterday which is Korea's latest attempt to persuade its guests that it is not the racist, bigoted country that it appears to be (even though it is). Regardless, this provided me with a welcome break from rice and kimchi and I gorged myself on Turkish kebabs, Greek souvlaki and baklava,  Iraqi stuffed peppers, British sausages (courtesy of Gavin) and Paraguayan chicken pies washed down with Vietnamese beer and Argentinian red wine. Very happy, I was. And we rounded it all off with Iron Man 2 at the IMAX and a $5 pizza for tea. Lovely stuff.

    And then the Chelsea thing happened. Bastards.

    Happy Monday!

    Love, Smithy x