Sunday, May 1, 2011

Culture Immersion

Sunday night, seven of us squashed damp into a five-seater tops, typical Hello Kitty decorated Thai car, and headed to my very first professional "football" [soccer] game. Chiang Rai United vs. Pattaya United.
We parked, schlepped through rich, red dirt transformed into man-eating mud, bought pineapple wedges and squid-on-a-stick, and then made our way inside of the stadium. As our we filed through the metal detector and our faces were peered at to make sure we weren't escaped convicts trying to sabotage a football game, it was beginning, those few minutes leading up to the match that drive your excitement insane. A ticket-taker next too me abandoned his post so as to dash up the stairs ahead of me and get a glimpse of the action that was about to ensue on the field below. He was what you would call back in the South a "punk", or in the seventies "a greaser." Black hair gelled up an impressive six inches above the head in a shark fin, skinny jeans, leather jacket, all that jazz. He was the poster kid for a Thai teenager boy enjoying a football game. I wished that my camera was in my hand, ready to frame that moment, instead of buried deep within my raincoat.
Chiang Rai United's color is orange, and we made our way through a crowd that wore it proudly, uniformly, and patriotically to find seats. As we ate our common Thai game food (i.e. squid-on-a-stick), the game began, and the crowd became alive in an instant. About five seconds in, I realized: Thais are passionate about their football. Total maniacs for it. The crowd around me displayed feelings of comradeship and ownership toward Chiang Rai United, their team. Comradeship because deep down, every die-hard Thai fan counts each player as their very best friend. After all, hadn't they always supported them? Been to every single one of their games? And then ownership because they didn't think twice about shooting up and flinging outraged curses at their "very best friends" when they goofed a play up.
Thais are proud of their team. Most of the football teams' names in this country end in "united", and that's exactly how they feel. Our team scored the first point, and the crowd was ecstatic, jubilant. They chanted "Chiang Rai!" like it was a war cry underneath a shower of orange confetti, threw their hands up in triumph and emotion. With each pelvic thrust--which there were a lot...--, they staked their claim in this celebration. With each happy dance executed they proved that they were just as much a part of the victory as the player himself that had sent the ball flying into the goal.
It only took two points, and then the orange jerseys began to be ripped off and waved round and round above heads and bare backs like lassos. I don't think even Shakira can shake her hips quite like an aged, Thai father celebrating at a football game. With each point scored, the crowd showed that they were just as much a part of the action by jumping to their feet as if they had won a personal victory.We had the joy of an entire stadium roaring around us, and a legitimate Brazilian in our party with childlike enthusiasm; the excitement was contagious. We were soon singing the cheers along with the impromptu band near the bottom of the bleachers, outcries of "Chiang Rai"s shouted by over a thousand people pulsed through the sound waves around my head.
When your specific job, appointed by the organization you're partnering with and your mom, is to immerse yourself in a culture and to build relationships--being in a foreign country halfway around the globe for two months can be a blast.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely love it! Guess you'll have some interesting moves to show us next time I assign you to "dance and exercise for 20 minutes with Mom, Laura, and Merry". ;)