Thursday, January 17, 2008

Greetings Part II

Evening greetings from China!

Winding down from a busy couple of days here, last we visited we were preparing for the first day of matches. All went smoothly for the officials, the US played against a young Canadian side in their first game under a new coaching staff. The final score was 4-0, our Finnish referee Kirsi did a very nice job, and her team of Chinese officials worked well together. The second match between China and Finland was quite fun to watch, with the Finnish side sporting a couple of new speedsters up front and the Chinese side always entertaining with their quickness and combination play. Their skill clearly pleased the home team fans, who came out with their noisemakers and enthusiastic chants and put on quite a show of their own for local TV. Canadian referee Carol-Anne and the Chinese AR’s also did a fine job, and the Chinese team rewarded their fans with a 2-0 victory. We, er, I (as the 4th official) had mounds of paperwork, having to write out the rosters, 10 subs (5 per side) & misconduct – twice – plus details on everything from the weather to the condition of the pitch to the attitude of the spectators to stoppage time added to etc etc... About an hour later we emerged with writer’s cramp and ready to hit the road.

Jet lag hit us with full force after a hot shower and dinner, so it was an early night for us – I’m talking early, like about 8pm. Seemed like a good idea at the time until I was wide awake at 4:00am. Oops. Caught up on a few things for work (yes, I have a real job too), and by 6:00am figured it was time to rally. Went down to the fitness center for some light training, did breakfast with the girls, then it was down to serious business. With a group of women that can only mean one thing: Shop. Ping. Forward, charge!

Our lovely translator Sherri arranged a taxi ride and accompanied us to Beijing Road – I gotta tell you, to really experience a country you have to take a taxi ride. Makes you wonder if all cab drivers go through the rest of their lives at this sort of low voltage. Nothing, I mean nothing, fazes them. For the most part, I try not to look -- why think about your own mortality that often when no one else on the road seems to? Against all reasonable odds, we arrived safely to the pedestrian boulevard which was colorfully decked out with all sorts of New Year’s decorations. And lotsa signs for sales! We took full advantage and a couple of hours later caught our taxi back looking like a bunch of pack mules. We done good. Real good. If nothing else, our bags cushioned the ride back. Why they bother to paint in lane markings is beyond me. The horn is essentially attached to the brakes. And the gas pedal for that matter, and I have yet to see any driver check the blind spot before changing lanes. And I use the plural form of lanes on purpose because they zip across 3 or 4 of them at a time. I tried to look out the window once but all I saw was a bus about an inch or so from my face. Gracious.

Grabbed some lunch (I’ll spare you another five paragraphs about food, but there were many delicious things again), then it was off to the Olympic Stadium to debrief from the matches and get in group training. All the officials were given the opportunity to speak about the match and do a brief self-analysis. The assessor then commented on each official’s performance, pointing out strengths and things to improve upon. It went well for all the officials, and our assessor was pleased with the first day’s games.

Luckily, the rain that had been coming down all day finally let up, and the wind died down, so off we went to the practice pitch to train. The US team was still there working on distribution drills and what not, so we did about a 20 minute cardio warm-up at an adjacent park, in the middle of which was a show-horse ring (mystery smell solved, as the horses weren’t far away). By the time we finished our stretching routine, the US was cooling down and the pitch was ours. We did some anaerobic training for another 20 minutes or so, nothing too crazy since tomorrow is a match day, just enough to get the blood flowing and the lungs moving. We finished off with an hour’s scrimmage, with the assessor, a former U-20 national team player (now a referee) and two ARs on one team and the mean team of Kirsi, Carol-Anne, yours truly, Katie (Chinese AR), and some older woman who just showed up with a pair of cleats about half-way through on our team. Things were looking bleak for our team for awhile, but once we had um, two extra players (ahem), we triumphantly took the match. If any players watched us, I’d bet they’re still laughing hysterically. Good times.

Tomorrow I will be the referee for China versus Canada at 14:00 local time. We’ll get to the stadium a bit early to make sure we have plenty of time for a good pregame, check the pitch, get a head-start on the paperwork, and put our game faces on. I’ll bring all of your good thoughts with me and do my best to get it right.

Until next time,

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Greetings from China!

After twenty-two hours of fly time, a quest to find a referee’s luggage, a blissful arrival at a lovely hotel, a smoking travel converter, and a triumphant search and rescue mission for a power strip adapter, oh, and one serving of chicken feet later, I am happy to send everyone a big hello from The Grand Royal Hotel, which will be home for the next several days during The Four Nations Cup scheduled to take place from January 16-20 in Guangzhou, China. The invitees to this year’s event are the USA, Canada, and Finland, all hosted graciously by China and the Chinese Football Association. All the teams have brought some new players to check out while they give some veterans rest & rehab and continue preparations for the Olympics to be held this summer in Beijing.

The weather is wonderful, perfect for soccer. Mid-sixties, a bit overcast. Games will be held at the Olympic Stadium, just down the road from the hotel. I’ll spare details from the flight other than to say it was uneventful – for a really, really, er, really long time. Upon arrival, we went to pick up the Canadian referee, who was visiting the airport for a second time in a futile attempt to be reunited with her luggage, which was lollygagging in Shanghai. Happily, she had all her match gear in her carry-on (whew!), which made day 3 in the same clothes a bit easier to take (well, not really, but gotta look on the bright side, right?).

The relief felt when the van finally pulled past the bright lights and shooting fountains of the hotel entrance was enormous, and the top priority was a comfy sleep. The next morning greeted us with a combo Western and Chinese buffet breakfast, and it was excellent. This area of China, Guangdong Province, is famous for Cantonese cooking and particularly dim sum. If you haven’t tried dim sum before it can be best described as tasty little morsels variously steamed, stir-fried, baked, grilled, and served up the way Spain serves up tapas. Fantastic. Traditional Western fare plus lots of fresh fruit and good-for-you carbs made the choices seem endless. Yum.

My plan was to explore the city a bit and get a run in before our technical meeting, so I went back to my lovely room to send in this blog. Cleverly (so I thought), I had brought along a Dual Wattage Travel Converter as part of a “universal” (ironic hint #1) adapter kit. The adapter for China didn’t fit. No problem, there were about 4 different outlet versions in this business-district hotel, so I just popped in another. British I believe. Done. I judiciously read the pamphlet to make sure it was on the correct wattage (ironic hint #2), and plugged in my humble little laptop to give it some juice. Well, fat lot of good that did. Checked on some email, made some jasmine tea, and sat back down only to be greeted with the equivalent of a car backfiring while a cloud of smoke poofed out of the top of the contraption. Good heavens, I haven’t been here a day and I just about burn the place down. Ah, to travel the world. I decided the best option was to unplug the beast, make sure it didn’t melt into the desk while it cooled, and drift along the currents of denial for a bit.

The technical meeting was held and in addition to meeting all of the local Chinese officials, we received our assignments for the first day of matches tomorrow. I will be the 4th official for Carol-Anne Chenard (Canada) at 15:30 between China and Finland. The US will take on Canada in the first match at 13:00, officiated by my old Finnish friend Kirsi Savolainen. Looking forward to get things underway.

Right, assignments done. Off to train a bit and grab some dinner. Wound my way through another bountiful buffet, lotsa good stuff, when there they were. My favorite dim sum dish of all time, introduced to me over 20 years ago by a Chinese college roommate and a statistical impossibility to have too often – yes my friends, those delights are chicken feet. While my Italian relatives shudder in horror at the thought, I stray from my culinary history and partake in the fried and stewed little delicacies. They take hours to prepare so must be enjoyed without haste. And enjoyed they were. My fellow officials were aghast, and my Chinese hosts overjoyed, promising to take me to a bona fide authentic Guangzhou dim sum restaurant, where the specialties are, allegedly, stewed goose palms and steamed frogs. Can’t wait.

Until next time,
Sandra Serafini
aka fini :)