The Hive

Davo from Brisbane

Davo from Brisbane

Early this month I knew why Ki Sung-yueng/Ki Sung-yong was not present in the crucial Brazil 14 final matches (his last match was in March against Qatar, in which Korea won 2-1).

OK, maybe he was in fact injured. But throughout this month he had been more than injured. He had become Korea’s most hated man. For saying something that everything else had said.

In June, former national coach Choi Kang-hee was the most hated man in Korea (believe me, not all Koreans hate Kim Jong-un). I hated him too for his stupidity of talking trash to Iran – and for fielding weak midfielders when Korea had Ki, Kim Bo-kyung, Koo Ja-cheol, and Lee Chung-yong. I still had some sympathy with his decision to abandon Park Chu-young (which, in hindsight, he shouldn’t have done especially after the spring’s code red), but he had the stupidity of fielding all his four forwards – Lee Dong-gook, Ji Dong-won, Son Heung-min, and Kim Shin-wook at once.

Piling up forwards is not attacking play. Attacking play is putting on two forwards supported by two attacking midfielders (I’m not a fan of 4-2-3-1 – especially for Japan and Korea). Senegal had proven in the last African Cup of Nations the folly of hoarding strikers just because they seemed scary.

And so, in February 2012 Ki wrote Facebook status along the lines of “Gee coach, thanks for taking me although I play for second-tier league.” Because mighty Choi commented that the Scottish Premier League is a second-tier league – lower than the K-League (Yeah? I’d see how the Hibs fare against Jeju United. Oh.)

Then Ki put on his Rip Curl beanie and murmured “Now everyone knows the value of overseas players. Leave us alone or somebody gets hurt, mate.” I know it’s bit mixed message. So did he want to be called into Team Korea or not?

OK class. Why the shit hit the fan, then?

There you go. Sung-yueng disrespected his superior. Publicly. What do you mean publicly? He didn’t do it on Twitter with @choikanghee and #celtic #respect #내가 제일 잘 나가 right? Just personal Facebook status, eh?

You’re as puzzled as I do. But true to forms, Koreans got angry and showered Ki Sung-yueng and his wife Han Hye-jin with online abuses. Many asked for barring him from Brazil 14, on the ground that his arrogance and frivolity will damage team chemistry. So Ki deleted his FB page (some footballers and athletes had also closed their Twitter accounts), but then a sportswriter reported that he had another account and said it “Very serious problem”.

I believe that expression of racism or homophobia by a footballer is a serious problem. Reckless driving and tackling are serious problems. Brawling is serious problem. Getting even with a coach BY SCORING GOAL AND PLAYING WELL is not serious problem. After that, Han was abused online with comments such as “Please stop your husband from getting online! He is shameful! Can’t you be a good wife?” and “What kind of man marries a much older woman like you?”. When asked by reporters why Han was targeted for something her husband did, the answer was “because we can reach her online.”

Accidentally, few weeks ago I saw a translated digest of Japanese news on ice skater Miki Ando admitting that she has a baby. Most of the comments on Yahoo! Japan and Twitter was that one word – slut. People really wrote that.

I just finished a book that my sister studied in college, The Asian Mind Games by Chinese-American business consultant Chin-ning Chu. A mid 1990s’ book when Japan’s implosion was not evident enough, when Korea was still at dawn, and when United States was not quite sure what to make of the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum. The book is subtitled “A Westerner’s survival manual” but I could use it as well. Being an overseas Chinese, I’m as clueless and perplexed as an Asian-American with what actually Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans think and why.

In a way, so does Ki. He became a teenager in Australia and Brisbane Roar had offered him a place, no doubt to kickstart the making of the first Asian Socceroo. He chose to become a Korean footballer, finished his high school in Korea and joined FC Seoul the next year.

And like Ki, I also refused Australia feeling that our home is in Asia. But well, he had learned the hard way the true meaning of being a Korean. Even though Choi was unpopular, he was a superior, an older man. And young and old Koreans hate a young man who disrespects his superior far more than they look at their personal merits (they really don’t think about the weighing at all. The older one is always right).

For the Korean media, Ki’s mistake was to write the status. They said if he disliked Choi, he should have kept it to himself. Well he didn’t write “F U Mutha I gonna kill ya and raip yo ho gal how do ya lik dat”, which is terrible. But was Ki wrong to air his TRUE feeling? Rather than pretending everything OK and cursing about Choi just like what others Taeguk Warriors might have done? Not for me, not for him. Plus it’s Facebook status. You might as well like it.

If the KFA tut-tuts him, that’s fine. There’s something called organizational discipline. But it’s the public that judges him. Online. The KFA has decided that there’s no penalty for him, now it’s the turn of KFA to receive the wrath. Well, that he’s a bad example and other players will act bad too yadda yadda.

I really, really hate the East Asian culture of bitching people online behind avatars and nicknames, while maintaining the poker face on the street. As Chin-ning Chu said to me, that’s Asia, honey. Everything has to be concealed.

We are used to cocky athletes, angry athletes, trash-talking, behaving badly athletes. Ki Sung-yueng is not one of them. He’s not Rooney, or Suarez, or Terry. He deserves better respect from Koreans. Personally I think this controversy is stupid (it happened in February 2012! Why you people made a fuzz of it just in July 2013?!). What also makes me mad is how Korean papers make it by default that it’s Ki’s fault for doing something horrible. But well, it’s something Koreans have taken for granted. They are more open than the Japanese. They are more exposed to American culture and values than the Japanese. But they are still a hive, thinking in unison and abuses a rebel. Online. Where they can hide behind avatars and nicknames, and where nobody sees them.

The ballad of a jersey hunter

My love, my darling, I want you, so much

In April 2006, I bought a replica of Japan home shirt for the 2006 World Cup. The Adidas shirt was available earlier in a sports chain, some kind of Foot Locker if you will, than in Adidas official outlet. Nike also stocked South Korean away and home shirts and even shorts, although I chose to save my money. As every Japanese fan knows, the 2006 kit was a big shame (get used to it, said Italian and French fans in 2010. Maybe that’s why England stick with Umbro, haw haw).

In 2010, I was expecting for both Adidas and Nike Indonesia to stock the merchandise of my favorite teams. I didn’t live in Jakarta so when I found that the outlets supplied only kits for Brazil, France, Spain and so on, and when a national sports chain sold Puma t-shirts featuring African teams, I asked friends in Jakarta to check out Nike there. My priority was for Korea since I had registered myself as a South Korean fan (not only heartbreak of 2006, but because five English blokes had registered themselves as Japanese fans). They said the result in Jakarta was zilch.

Google yielded result of random trade forums where some dudes claimed to have that royal/deep deep blue Japanese shirt, pictured in less royal fashion – hung with a plastic coat hanger on a housing door, rather than folded neatly on table’s top. I hesitated to call them so I let it go. At the end of the day, I bought a generic blue polo with knitted fake JFA logo. It wasn’t an official polo. It is a fan polo shirt. And I struck luck – I found an official 2010 World Cup t-shirt featuring South Korea.

Hmm…sometimes I’m wondering about Korean expats. How did they get their Reds stuff? Straight from Korea? Or something from Singapore? Didn’t know since every match they stayed inside Korean restaurants rather in public bars like Western expats do.

On Easter Holiday I went to Bali and hoped to find better luck in a place populated by Western and Asian consumers. First of all, what I found was that Nike and Adidas stores in Bali focus more on selling swimming and running gears rather than football stuff. I literally fumed when I found a sports warehouse and found ADIDAS’ MEXICO AND PARAGUAY HOME SHIRTS. WTF, I yelled. Anyway, since it’s the time for Euro 2012, so Adidas stocks kits for second rate European teams like um, Scotland (have to appreciate their sympathy for Japan), Denmark (Japan beat ’em 3-1. That’s second rate stuff), and hosts Ukraine. I did found a large mug with a picture of a football wearing hanbok, with texts “South Korea” under it and “Chukbae!” on the other side. A leftover of summer 2010.

Now I’m comfortable with online purchase of PC games, I thought it comes to this – look for online sellers of Japan and South Korea kits. And maybe Singapore and HK and everything. Even twice in Singapore I refrained from buying their merchandises – and when both teams’ shirts were not available, I thought it was because it was already out of stock (on second thought, I went to Singapore months BEFORE AND AFTER the Asian Cup 11. Shouldn’t they were still on stock along with Australian shirts I used to hate?)

And yes, I’m a little bit late. Most online stores, usually based in the UK, say that Japan 2010-11 home are out of stock, and only XL size is left for the nice white away shirt. Based on experience, you should wear only fitting clothes, not clothes that, in a word of a teenage girl, makes you look like a dumpling. Right, what about t-shirts? Many stores sell $20 shirts which is nothing more than plain white t-shirt printed with flag and name of a country. That’s why every imaginable nation, including East Timor and Afghanistan, are in stock. There are indeed not many alternative merchandises for Japan and South Korea – I was looking for more fashionable stuff like hoodie, cap, jacket etc. A sport jersey has many drags – you don’t wear it for first dates and in Western countries, it’s forbidden in many pubs. It’s a very expensive item which is less usable than a t-shirt. So I guess people wear it to stadium, in the mall, when playing football on the park…and what else?

I settled for an home t-shirt with “Okazaki 9” on the backside. Dude scored the goal against Denmark and hattrick against Saudi in the Asian Cup. I couldn’t make credit card purchase so I signed up with PayPal. And had to wait for a couple of days before they verified my credit card account. I ordered that Okazaki jersey, and then came the reply – turned out it was out of stock. My money was refunded and as sign of apology, I got free airmail coupon for my next purchase. So I bought that away white shirt, which was only available in XL. Maybe I could treat it like an ice hockey shirt or something. But then, same – it’s out of stock.

What now? Buying that ugly 12-13 pajama shirt (which I will if they do great in Road to Brazil 14 and the Olympics), or settling for t-shirts? Even on my further quest, I was almost scammed by a Chinese website claiming to have 2010-11 Japan home shirt for $60, which fortunately had a very questionable checkout page.  Finally I went to a United States shop and bought Adidas’ Korea t-shirt for $5 (I know, KFA uses Nike, but as the official kit supplier of FIFA World Cup, Adidas is entitled to produce other merchandises) and a plain blue t-shirt printed with text and image “Japan – 2011 Champions”. It’s a plain blue shirt, but since maybe Adidas and JFA don’t sell something outside Japan to celebrate the Asian Champions and the Women World Cup champions, I have to appreciate some guys in Alabama for doing so.

The shipping and duties etc. cost more than the goods, but it’s still under $100 for two items. After waiting for about ten days, I got the shirts yesterday. Which I could wear to many places in pride.