17 August 2009

By the dawn's early light...

Patriotism has always been an awkward subject in my life, especially in regards to the United States of America. In part, I feel that this is due to my upbringing, which involved moving around quite a bit to different countries prior to my middle school years. Sure, I always attended American or International schools instead of local schools but regardless, I spent many impressionable years in places where American culture was not the dominating force that it is in places such as, well, America. At times, I have thought about how odd it is that I have ended up living in this country and becoming an American citizen, as our family had a choice of places to immigrate to during the early 1990s. My parents have always maintained that we decided on coming to the States since my sister and I loved the United States so much.

I love this country, I really do, but I never am very open about my patriotism. I don't own an American flag, don't particularly celebrate Fourth of July in any way that ties into my love of this country and never sing the Star Spangled Banner, except at hockey games. I think that as an insider of a country, you tend to get a view of the bad parts of a country and perhaps that turns you off in regards to being all "rah rah" about your patriotism. There are many other countries I am a fan of, such as Canada, Denmark or the Netherlands and since I don't know as much about those places, I can filter out the bad and just think positively about them.

I'm sure my readers are wondering why I'm talking about patriotism in late August. There are no big national holidays this weekend, nor have I just received my citizenship. I'm talking about patriotism because I want to talk about the one thing in this country that does really help me reinforce my love for this country in a very loud, brash and mainstream way. I am talking about the United States men's national (soccer) team, which I will intermittently refer to as the USMNT from this point out.

I've often felt that people are sometimes a little surprised that I cheer for the USMNT so passionately. I spent my early teenage years as a massive Anglophile, yet never felt like cheering for England. Sure, I have my other national teams that I cheer for, but that's only when the US are not involved. After all, outside of football and hockey, I don't cheer for the US in anything. I could care less how this country does at the Olympics, although part of that is probably rooted in my overall dislike of the Olympics but that's a topic for another time. I'm not sure when I started following the USMNT as I know that I wasn't a passionate fan of them during World Cup '94. Sure, I was pissed off when Leonardo destroyed Tab Ramos' face but I wasn't devastated when the US lost on that Fourth of July. It must've happened sometime between that World Cup and World Cup '98, which was a complete farce. But even then, I distinctly remember following the fortunes of Scotland and somehow only catching the United States' opening defeat against Germany.

The run up to World Cup 2002 was definitely when I started to become very passionate about this team. Perhaps it was sensing that we were actually decent and while facing Portugal in our opening match scared the crap out of me, it turned out to be one of the happiest sporting moments in my life. Even when we went up 1-0, I thought I was going to cry but going up 3-0 was just beyond the realm of possibility.

So, I've cited examples of watching this team through the years but I don't feel like I've properly explained why this team means something to me, why outside of Les Canadiens, this is the team that I get most worked up watching, that gives me the most joy and the most anger. Perhaps it comes down to cheering for "my team", that as an American, this is the team I get and that it would be folly to willy nilly pick a random country. I'm a Canadiens fan because I've never lived anywhere near an NHL team, thereby giving me the freedom to choose whomever I'd like to choose. Perhaps another part of this is that this matters. Major tournaments for the United States only come around every couple of years and the matches matter, unlike a mid season game against the worst team in the league in hockey, basketball or baseball.

Maybe I'm really only here to say that I still have no idea exactly why this team makes me feel so patriotic but it really does. Oh, and they frustrate me at times, which is a great sign in sports as it means that I care.

05 August 2009


For the early part of this decade, I had always maintained a pretty strong dislike of Australia. A lot of it was based in the way that their sports teams conducted themselves, especially their cricketers, who always come off as pompous pricks. Some of it was also based in what I saw as Australia's horrible history with race relations, whether in the guise of the Aborigines that have been in Australia longer than any white man has, the not-so-subtle White Australia policy and incidents like the Cronulla beach riots. Over the past couple of years or so, my negative views of Australia have changed for the better, having been helped by the death of John Howard's political career. However, the biggest catalyst for my positive view of Australia is due to five men, Chas, Andrew, Julian, Chris and Craig, all members of the The Chaser, a comedy group best known for their hit television show, The Chaser's War on Everything.

I discovered the Chaser after a fleeting mention in the blog of Nick Bryant, the BBC's Sydney correspondent. I was interested in finding out who the hell the "Chaser Boys" were and why they might have an impact on Australian politics, which led to the cursory Wikipedia and YouTube searches. I watched tons and tons of clips on YouTube, laughing until my sides hurt. Eventually, I bought a couple DVDs and eagerly awaited for their return this season. I write all this about Australia and the Chaser as the very last episode of The Chaser's War on Everything concluded its run last Wednesday. I have a feeling that politicians of all stripes popped champagne corks at the conclusion of their last episode, safe in the knowledge that they'll never be harassed again with a random backing band showing up or even worse, waiting outside Kevin Rudd's home. They have, of course, had their fair share of controversy, what with The Eulogy Song, in which they make light of the fact that horrible people are almost usually praised in the media upon their death, and this year's "Make a Realistic Wish" sketch which forced them off the air for two episodes after the fake moral outrage that ensued.

In honour of The Chaser and the country that made this all possible, I present to you a list of my favourite Australian things (in no particular order):

1) The Go-Betweens

By far my favourite Australian band. It took me awhile to get into them because at one point of my life, I was naive and stupid, dismissing their music for no apparent reason. I do find it a bit odd that my starting point was '78 til '79 - the Lost Album, a compilation of their early work, a lot of which was recorded in someone's bedroom. I've focused on the earlier stuff as opposed to their work early in this decade. Anyway, I always feel like a bit of a berk when talking about music so I'll just leave you with one of my favourite Go-Betweens songs, Man O'Sand to Girl O'Sea

2) Vegemite

I've always been a cult foods junkie, searching out whatever the locals eat on a day to day basis. Therefore, if we talk about Australia, I'm not trying to find kangaroo meat or something "wacky" like that but rather the ubiquitous Vegemite. Outside of Australia, it has a poor reputation of tasting foul, which only spurred me on further to seek it out. I mean, I'll eat anything! How could I not like this stuff?

Of course, it turned out that I not only liked the stuff but that I really, really loved the stuff. How can you beat a Vegemite Sandwich? A piece of toast, heavily slattered with butter and then with Vegemite (not too much but also not just a trace amount) spread on top of all of that goodness? I will admit that I've gone through phases of eating a ton of Vegemite Sandwiches in a short time period and then not touching the stuff for months. I am in a huge Vegemite Sandwich phase right now but unfortunately my new jar of Vegemite has yet to arrive in the mail.

3) Tim Tams

As some of you may know, I have some relatives who have ties to Australia. Most of my relatives have moved back to Hong Kong after gaining their Australian citizenship but my Aunt Ronnie has lived in Australia for over twenty years now. I had a chance to see her for the first time in years back in March, due to my great grandmother passing away, and one of the first things I wanted to talk about was my recent discovery of the joy that are Tim Tams.

In a similar way as to how I discovered The Chaser, I found out about Tim Tams because people on either FlyerTalk or Airliners.net would always mention Tim Tams when someone would talk about transiting in Australia. Tim Tams, I should mention, are two chocolate biscuits with a sort of filling in between (chocolate, vanilla, etc) and then the whole thing is covered in chocolate again. Since I've traditionally not been a huge fan of sweets, I never sought them out. However, I had somehow heard that they were being distributed by Pepperidge Farm at Target and happened to remember this fact while at there once and voila, I had secured my first package of Tim Tams.

They were fantastic, of course, and for about a month or so, you couldn't get me away from my Tim Tams. Alia and I even started doing the Tim Tam Slam, which consists of biting off the two ends of a Tim Tam and then using what's left as a straw to suck up hot liquid, such as a hot chocolate, until the whole thing explodes in your mouth. Like with Vegemite, I go through phases, and like Vegemite, I'm sort of on a Tim Tam kick again.

4) The Chaser

Last but certainly not least, would be The Chaser. They provided me with so many laughs throughout the years and all of my rudimentary understanding of Australian politics stems from The Chaser's War on Everything. In addition, a lot of Aussie pop culture has been introduced to me by way of The Chaser. After all, how else would I have known who Naomi Robson, Anna Coren or Rove were or that Masterchef was pretty much the biggest thing to hit Australia in years?

So thanks for all of the laughs and I can't wait to see what new television project you guys will work on. I'll leave this with my favourite bit from this season's Chaser, their parody of Obama's "Yes We Can" song in the guise of Kevin Rudd and Australian celebrities. Before you ask, no, I don't know who any of them are.