Friday, December 10, 2004

Soccer related causalties

You always know when there's a soccer game going down of the type "Việt Nam versus whatever". Every roadside stall in site has the accessories for patriotic fans. They sell the flag, which comes in red and yellow. (You can tie it around your motorbike, or use it as a bandana.) They also sell ribbons, which also come in red and yellow. They probably sell a lot of other red and yellow things - the stalls literally become a blaze of colour. Possibly even makeup. A lot of women like to paint the flag on their cheeks.

The reason for all this small business activity is The Tiger Cup: the ASEAN football competition held every two years. This year, both Malaysia and Việt Nam host matches. Having a very patriotic and very Vietnamese fiancee, I guess I've got to support the home team. (Mind you, I have a soft spot for East Timor - the perennial underdog. And one reason why Australia and New Zealand haven't been invited to ASEAN yet is that they'd kick everyone's asses. But I digress.)

Having games here is good. It lets people shout and cheer and feel good about themselves. They don't get many other opportunities to do these things. It's when they hit motorcycles afterwards that I feel uneasy. You see, Việt Nam still uses the motorcycle as the main means of transport. And when the Vietnamese win a game, many of them want to jump on their beasts, wave flags around, do victory laps around the city and hoon. And when you've got a million or two in Hồ Chí Minh City doing this in one night, people get killed. They don't wear helmets here, even when they're driving fast. On the other hand, the resulting congestion doesn't allow you to go very fast.

And I've seen it before. Last year, at the Sea Games, a sort of mini-olympics for (you guessed it) ASEAN. Last year, my fiancee and I took a taxi home - on the same night that VN beat the pants out of Malaysia on the field. The driver did a wrong turn and ended up on Tôn Đức Tháng street. A very, very wide street, where we found lots and lots of spectators on either side of the street and the center divide as well. And we found ourselves in the middle of an impromptu bike race at 90 km/h. We're coasting along at 20, while adrenaline hyped men and women zoomed past while playing at victors. I recall we nearly got hit twice by racers. I think 19 people died that night over the whole country. Or it could have been 30. Rumours, rumours.

Of course, you could have too much of a good thing. Tonight, Việt Nam won against Cambodia - thrashed them, in fact. Nine to One. I actually saw the last two goals outside a Lotteria (a fast food place). The Cambodians were so demoralized that they didn't even react at the last goal. Utter humiliation. Even if you don't feel sorry for them, you'd concede the game was NO FUN anymore. That's why the drive home felt fairly safe. As safe as traffic is in this part of the world.