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the remnants of my surprise Shanghai visit two years ago.

The last time I returned to Shanghai was almost two years ago, for a quick 3-day 2-night getaway. This was about a month after I started working in Grace AG. It was a last-minute arrangement as my former boss needed an urgent favour. He paid for my air tickets and I thought it was a great opportunity to spring a couple of surprises on some friends as well as to bring home the extra luggage that I couldn’t carry with me the last time.

This is my walk down memory lane…

The first surprise I pulled off was on Kay and the second surprise that I pulled off was on the youth group that I had served with. I remember my heart beating rapidly as I drove to the home church where youth service was held. I had planned to attend youth service as a regular attendee – I didn’t tell anyone and arrived without much fanfare.

It was great to see so many familiar faces as I climbed the flight of steps to the fifth floor. And it was priceless to see the shocked faces when they said hi to me. The youths greeted me like they would anyone. But it was the second wait-a-minute-that-can’t-be-Joey look that I will remember for the rest of my life. I remember Janelle poking me to check if I was real. It was wonderful to be greeted by so many hugs, smiles and conversations, as well as to share a meal with Bryan.

The third surprise I pulled off was on my cell group – the wonderful group of people who took care of me when I was there. I arrived early and remained in my car while I waited for them to arrive. I remember stalking from my car when they strolled into the premise after dinner. My heart was in my mouth when I exited the car to sneak up behind them. I walked towards them covering my face with my laptop and Kay brought me into the lift lobby.

I was the last to enter the elevator. Cindy Hong exclaimed. Christine was stunned. Teresa was speechless. They asked in unison, “Are you real?” It was still too surreal for them even when we arrived at the 28th floor; they still couldn’t believe it even after I entered the apartment. Teresa immediately called Cindy Lee (who was sick) and Yee Kean (who had a lot of work to do) to make their way to cell now.

Cindy Lee was the first of the two to arrive. I opened the door. She screamed. In my face. And I think I saw tears moments later. Yee Kean arrived shortly after. This time, Teresa opened the door while I remained on the couch. Kay pushed my head down and covered me with her jacket. Yee Kean entered the apartment and sounded really grumpy as she removed her shoes. “I don’t want to play board games. I am tired. And I want to go home”, she sulked.

Then she took her seat beside me, still unaware that it was me. “I am also tired and I want to go home too”, I parroted her. She was stunned momentarily. Then she screamed (I think). After everyone recovered from the shock of watching each other get shocked, I shared my testimony of my journey into full-time ministry since I left Shanghai in August, as well as what’s in store for me in Grace AG. I am thankful that my decision to trust and obey inspired them to do likewise.

To my surprise this time, that cell session evolved into a prayer meeting. I received so many prayers and much encouragement and affirmation from the body of Christ. I also had the privilege to pray a prayer of blessing over everyone present. On a personal note, it felt really good to be feel so loved and wanted. I am thankful for all the da-jies God brought into my life in my short stay in Shanghai.

The other incident that I remember clearly from those 72 hours there was meeting up with Kim Soon, Kay, Kurk, as well as Cindy and Christine for lunch at Vargas. I nearly lost Kim Soon as a friend because he reacted badly to my teasing (of how Liverpool lost a game the night before). I had no ill intentions of course, but I should have seen the warning signs. I won’t give details of what was exchanged because I respect him and don’t want to paint a wrong picture of him but I learnt two things over that meal:

  1. It’s not worth risking friendship over football rivalry
  2. Not everyone shares the same harmless ribbing relationship that Xianyi and Daniel Heng and I share so don’t ever assume familiarity.
  3. When you are sorry, just say and be sorry. There’s no need to cover up or make excuses. Sincerity is the greatest apology.

But all ended well eventually so I was thankful for a restored relationship. That incident really caught me off guard.

On a happier note, my cell mates had a meal together the week before I arrived and Christine randomly remarked that she would “love to have brunch with Joey again”. And as we shared a meal on that table, she said, her “dream came true”. Sweet things like these, a sentimental guy like me will cherish for a long time.

My final lasting impression of those three days in Shanghai was heading to Loushanguan Lu to buy a bag for Huiyi from a local store that carried Korea-looking items. As I drove out of the car park, a drunkard suddenly appeared in front of me – so I had to jam brake the vehicle. Thank God I didn’t hit him. But he remained standing in front of me and kept egging me to hit him. Honestly, I wasn’t really annoyed because I just wanted to leave the car park, but on hindsight it was an extremely daring deed committed. It was the first time I encountered something bizarre like that in my two years in Shanghai.

But the craziest thing wasn’t him acting crazy but the parking warden and the security guard who did absolutely nothing about it. “Bear with him – he’s drunk”, said the former, matter-of-fact. “Call the police – we’ll be your witnesses”, said the latter, nonchalantly. No wonder I wasn’t all that surprised by the recent videos that came out of China – the inhumane running over of the little girl, and the intoxicated lady who got molested in broad daylight – to seemingly oblivious bystanders.

On my flight home, I remember looking forward to returning home quite badly and realised that Huiyi and I would really struggle to survive another long-distance relationship. It’s a miracle in itself how we managed to pull through 15 months of that!

I know this post is random and appeared from out of nowhere but it feels good to finally transfer these memories out of my system. I really miss Shanghai. Hope I get a chance to return someday.

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rooney should “respect the club” and leave.

I’ve been a United supporter since 1994 and I’ve seen Ferguson build countless squads. A lot of media furore is going on now about Ferguson declaring that Rooney wants out. Of course, hordes of people from our rival clubs are gloating. But frankly, there’s nothing to worry about.

Come on, we’re talking about Sir Alex Ferguson here, the famed gaffer who has sold Ince, Kanchelskis and Hughes in the same season, only to replace them with kids. We’ve also seen him sell of the rock-of-a-defender Stam and goal-machine Van Nistelrooy. In recent times, we’ve also seen Ronaldo leave. I was personally sad to see the former World Player of the Year leave for Madrid, but hey, life moves on at this great club.

Now, I’m a Singaporean and I have never been to Old Trafford, or stepped foot in England. The closest I’ve been to this team was to see them emerge out of Changi Airport, watch them train in the National Stadium, sit beside the legend Giggs and P.Neville in a meet-and-greet session and drove four hours from Shanghai to Hangzhou to catch them in action. I’ve stopped collecting jerseys and magazines because they just got too expensive to keep up. My only investment and sign of loyalty is to subscribe to cable TV just to watch United in action every week. And of course, every once in a while, post something that’s related to United on Facebook.

For crying out loud, 90% of United fans in Singapore won’t even be able to tell you where the Stretford End is if you showed them a picture of Old Trafford. But does it stop us from feeling for the club? I guess emotions have seeped into this harmless weekend activity, as we lend our support to a club which doesn’t really need our support.

But I’m posting this because I think United is more than just one fan. United is more than just one player. United is more than just Yanks. United is more than just one team. We’ll make it without Rooney, as we’ve made it without Beckham and Keane. We’ve even made it without Cantona – oh the reason for my love of #7, United and through passes. Look boys, we will survive! Fergie > Rooney < United.

What we must hope for now is to fetch the highest possible price for Rooney, regardless whether we spend the money or not; that’s secondary. It’d be nice to buy Akinfeev, Sneijder and Benzema with the extra cash, but honestly, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care who owns or manages the club. I don’t even care who plays for the club or if the latest jersey designs are nice. I care for my weekend dosage of entertaining and sometimes heartbreaking football. I won’t find that with other clubs, not because they play horrible football (like Liverpool) but because I do not have affections for them.

When Cantona retired, a lot more supporters (like me) were devastated. How were we going to replace such a talismanic figure? He revolutionised the way we played football – with flair and arrogance. Let the Scousers laugh at us. Let the Wastelanders mock us. Let the media make an earthquake out of this. United has and will always move on. We never look back, only forward. I couldn’t care less if Rooney retracts his words. I care more for the team. I like what Ferguson told Rooney, that he should “Respect the club”.

Gents, we’re on good ground. We have good talent coming through. Every time he was on the pitch, Chicharito looked so much more dangerous than Rooney this season. I won’t comment on unproven potential like Bebe or Obertan, but I will make an exception for Cleverly. He’s got United written all over him. He’s direct, creative and most importantly, he plays with an arrogant swagger, knowing that he can trust in his own ability.

Even the biblical adage hold true; new wine cannot fit in old wine skin. Similarly, not all old wines taste great – some are just really expensive vinegar! Let Rooney go. He will realise that there’s no other club in this world who has fans that will stick with him through thick and thin and adore him wholeheartedly. I won’t bother about his off-the-field behaviour; I will only state that if he is not keen to play for the world’s greatest club, then he should just leave. We don’t need uninterested players, but players who realise what it means to play for the shirt.

Rooney should understand one thing though, that if he wants out, he must leave the country. It’d be travesty if he joined any other English team. Rooney would make Tevez look like a hero if he swapped red for blue. That would be career suicide for him and I wouldn’t be surprised if he received death threats from the real fanatics if he tried that. Assuming he will leave us, what Rooney must do now is to play his heart out for the team whenever he’s not frozen out by Fergie, and leave with his head held high – just like Ronaldo, who incidentally was the only player who turned up for the Champions League Final against Barcelona; he wanted to win the lot again before he left. I have no ill-feelings about Ronny and I think I, like most United fans, would welcome his return with open arms. So Rooney has to learn to do this well.

At United, we’re never about one player. We will make a player but a player will never make us. I would support United even if they got relegated. It doesn’t matter. If Rooney stays, good; if he goes, good. But honestly, I don’t care. Forget about Rooney, everyone. We’re United and we’re bigger than that.

I like what I read on another United blog:

Adversity may be looking us in the eye, but we will spit in it. We may be about to take a huge emotional pummelling, but as we fall to the canvas all bloody and broken, we will look up at our detractors and enemies… And we will laugh at them. Yes, the joke will be on us, but we are galvanised by history. Things may be about to get ugly… But that’s life… …The wheels have started to turn. If he stays we will rejoice. But if he goes we will be ready to roll up our sleeves and we will build again.

We’re not arrogant, just better. Our history makes us strong, your hate makes us stronger. GGMU!

what happened to “Goal 2010”?

Eight years ago, the Football Association of Singapore claimed that Singapore would qualify for the World Cup in 2010 and subsequently created a project “Goal 2010”, which they embarrassingly retracted after a couple of years, when they realised its near-impossibility.

It’s halfway through the FIFA World Cup and while the Final 16 have been determined, my interest for this competition has hit an all time low. People have been asking me which team I am rooting for and I replied them all the same – “Singapore”. I find it strange (and quite ridiculously, to be honest) to cheer for another country’s colours; I struggle to find the passion to follow any team’s progress and I’m surprised at how apathetic I have been toward this entire competition.

I remember submitting an article on Goal 2010 during my second year in polytechnic for a module called “News Writing”. I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing then-Tanjong Pagar United coach, Tohari Paijan. He was such a nice bloke and was extremely hospitable to an 18-year-old kid on an academic assignment. There was nothing in it for him yet he brought me along on one of the away matches – against Woodlands Wellington. I met him at Queenstown Stadium in the late afternoon and witnessed the final preparations before I hitched a ride in his car to Woodlands, went into the locker room to meet and greet the players (then Under-23 vice-captain Ratna Suffian and current national team player Daniel Bennett) and even sat on the team bench during the evening match! It was a fantastic and memorable experience, I must say.

So if you don’t mind, I thought it’d be pretty interesting to revive something that I penned two World Cups ago. I ascertained then that we were not going to make it to the World Cup in 2010 and my prophetic writing came true – I was right on the money (just like majority of Singaporeans who also found Goal 2010 an unachievable target).

***

GOAL 20??
2nd April 2002 | by Joey Asher Tan

The current crop of young players, whose attitudes come under serious scrutiny, jeopardise the chances of GOAL 2010. As these are the players who will eventually take over the mantle of the national team, the fear of insufficient quality in the squad may seem much more real than it really is.

The FAS (Football Association of Singapore) has placed a somewhat unrealistic target to reach the World Cup by year 2010. The Southeast Asian lynchpin, Thailand, which consistently defeats Singapore, is lying at the bottom of their World Cup qualifying campaign, and still without a win. The struggle of Thailand only serves to mirror how long the distance Singapore must journey before qualifying for the World Cup finals.

Recently, Bora Mulitinovic claimed that he would reject the opportunity to coach Singapore. “Think about Argentina. Monday – football, Tuesday – football. In South America, they eat, sleep and drink football. It is their life,” he explains, “Then look at Singapore. It is clean and pleasant, a nice place to live in. But when you find a small patch of grass to play football on, there is a sign saying it is prohibited. That is why I wouldn’t coach Singapore. The philosophy and priorities are different”.

Indeed, his outspoken standpoint epitomises the gloomy mentality of Singaporeans – how many would actually consider a professional football career?

Tohari Paijan, coach of Tanjong Pagar United, states, “Majority of Singaporeans are Chinese, yet the S-League is dominated by Malays. We must convince the Chinese community to consider a career in football”. He believes Singapore can reach the World Cup, but not in year 2010. “The youth are not convincing enough; all they want is fame. Singapore’s young players have no aim and no ambition; they must ask themselves what they want in life. There are simply too many distractions for them”, declares Paijan.

R Suriamurthi, coach of the Under-16 squad, shares similar views with Paijan, “Times have changed. Back in my time, we eat, sleep, and breathe football, and even train up to five hours a day, sometimes training even three times a day. We just want to play football”. He compares this with the youth of today’s football, “Now training is just one and a half hours, that’s all the football they do. After that, we have no control over them – their diet, their sleep – we have absolutely no chance to monitor them at all. The youths think they have everything. It’s not like Alice in Wonderland; you don’t attain skills overnight”.

There are many things beyond a coach’s control. They have no say over policies and procedures. “The education system in Singapore is great, but this system is not suitable for footballers”, Suriamurthi explains, “There’s simply not enough time for training. My players also have to worry about homework and exams. It’s very stressful for them. Some of them also have girlfriends, handphones – and all these are distractions”.

Paijan states again, “Singapore lacks the proper infrastructure. Look at the condition of the pitch. Where is the groundwork?” He also questions the mindset of those players who don the national jersey, “Players must be willing to die for the team. They must put their heart and soul into the team. But where is their sense of belonging?”

Visions, goals, and targets – all these are values that must remain constant. “Jan Poulsen’s contract expires in two years. If a new coach comes in, he will want to run everything in his own different ways”, Paijan elaborates, “If we get a Brazilian coach, will we play samba soccer? If we get an Argentine coach, does that mean we will play tango football?” He frustrates, “Everyone has solutions, but the problem remains unsolved. Singapore is not willing to sacrifice her resources”.

Furthermore, Singaporeans must stop comparing the S-League to the English Premier League. This is simply because we do not have world-class players and excellent infrastructure. In Paijan’s words, “There’s no fight; the English Premier League is light years ahead of the S-League”.

Money will not buy a championship. Two world record transfer fees were splashed out for Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane, but Real Madrid is now languishing in 14th position in the Spanish Primera Liga. That is precisely why Paijan places his faith in the youth policy. Tanjong Pagar United have since nurtured highly-rated young players in the mould of Ratna Suffian and Daniel Bennett.

On top of talent and technical ability, Tohari Paijan and R Suriamurthi also stress the magnitude of attitude. Tohari’s players echo his opinions; Ratna Suffian, vice-captain of the Under-23 squad, asserts, “There is a lot of talent out there, but attitude is much more important than talent. Discipline is also crucial for a player’s development”.

Daniel Bennett, who shone in the recent exhibition matches against Liverpool and Manchester United, also reinforces Ratna’s views, “Without attitude, talent is nothing”. Bennett, who qualifies to play for the Singapore team, is an exceptional talent. It is imperative that Singapore does her best to hang on to this colossal asset. A true-blue homegrown player, he steadily rose through the ranks of Tanjong Pagar United’s youth academy. “Robert Lim discovered me in the Milo Cup, and he brought me to Tanjong Pagar”, Bennett recalls.

All we need is a just one good young player to rise up each season. If the S-League can unearth a Ratna Suffian or a Daniel Bennett every season, then there will be light at the end of the tunnel. The Singapore team needs match winners; one Indra Sahdan Daud is simply not enough.

Get the infrastructure right, keep Jan Poulsen in Singapore for a long time, invest heavily in the football academies and centres of excellence, look out for promising talent in the S-League, and most importantly, correct the players’ ailing attitudes, and only then, Singapore’s dream of the World Cup finals will be realised much sooner than later.

the therapy of shouting.

First and foremost, I must say that VY and I had a pretty bromantic evening watching Man Utd beat Spurs and return to the top of the summit where they rightfully belong. I’ve always enjoyed his fellowship, not just because he’s frank and spontaneous, but also because I enjoy pondering over his radical perspectives on certain issues. We are both dreamers and visionaries – I think that’s where we click. Above and beyond the VictorY we enjoyed (pun unintended), it was the brotherhood and conversation that I will remember more.

We shouted many times during this match and we screamed three times over two converted penalties and a delightful little lob – it was a natural expression of a dichotomy of emotions experienced throughout the course of a 90-minute match. This got me thinking about how football is synonymous with yelling – it has to come together. Perhaps that’s why the mid-week middle-of-the-night matches are a little more excruciating to watch because we don’t want to wake the other people who are already sleeping soundly in the house; the best we could do is to shout into a cushion, muffle our voices or simply shout without opening our mouths. If I had to watch a game of football in absolute silence, I’d rather not watch it.

Men turn into part-time football talk show hosts at every live soccer game. We discuss tactics and question managers’ intelligence, reminisce history (and when and how we started supporting our teams), speculate the final score and scorers, laugh at players, joke about Liverpool (sorry, couldn’t resist), applaud great moves, raise our hands and shout “Mine!” at every throw-in or bury our faces in our hands and let out a string of substitute expletives at the miss of an open goal. We do all that because it enhances the experience of watching football with someone; and yes, it’s always better to watch a live game with a buddy.

Aren’t these the reasons why we even watch football? Why do we sit behind a TV screen cheering for teams and players that have absolutely no effect on our quality of life? Why we would spend prime time on a weekend evening just to watch the Premier League or risk coming to work groggy and being screamed at by intolerant bosses on a Wednesday or Thursday morning just to watch the Champions League? For crying out loud, most of us aren’t even able to execute 10 percent of the moves that we see on the screen yet we criticise the players as if we were the ones who trained them. I think it’s because we love the game – the game is lovely; we need to express ourselves and we do it best when we shout. For men, it’s almost primal and barbaric, but hugely gratifying.

That’s precisely why I’ve decided to install MioTV in my room, instead of in the living room. Next season, I want my buddies and I to scream without reservations or fear of disturbing my family members. I want to shout with freedom and I want to express myself; I want to be therapeutised. There you go, I’ve justified the transfer.

So gentlemen, go ahead – scream at the top of your lungs, give (manly) high-fives, exchange (manly) hugs and get decked in your favourite colours. Do whatever it takes to bring yourself a little nearer to the football in England, even though you have absolutely no bearing on the eventual result. Do it – you’ve had a hard week and you owe it to yourself. Keep watching, keep shouting. For one day they may just be able to hear you. Really.

the best four-letter word in Korea.

He never stops running, ever – After a good night’s sleep dreaming about running, Park runs out of bed and runs around the kitchen making breakfast like Morecambe and Wise on crack. He then runs himself a bath, runs laps at Manchester United’s Carrington training ground, runs back home in the evening and then runs to the shop because he’s run out of milk.” (Source: Sport.co.uk)

What a candid and fitting description of possibly the most famous Asian footballer of all time!

The majority of us are convinced that Park Ji-Sung was purchased to sell shirts. Regardless of his stellar performances, the everyday skeptics would never recognise Park’s contribution to Man Utd’s tactical extension. While being with a successful team has enabled him to become the first Asian to ever feature and the only Korean to ever win the Champions League final (against Barcelona and Chelsea respectively), we should also remember that he’s the captain and highest scorer of an undefeated national team in the World Cup 2010 qualifying campaign and the only Asian team that has reached the World Cup semi-finals. Park is also the first Asian to ever captain Man Utd (even for just a few minutes) and to win the FIFA Club World Championship.

When I lived in Shanghai, I used to play football every Sunday morning with a team of Singaporeans and I squirmed when they called me Park; I don’t know if it was because of resemblance or because of my constant running (no, really), but I’d like to think it’s the latter because a few of them keep telling me to stop running!

I became a fan of Park Ji-Sung when I visited South Korea last July – it was there that I realised how massive Park was, and how, when I use his name (in vain), it gets me places. I thought, “Hmm, I should just introduce myself as Park since I’m already used to it”. And so I did. With all the broken Korean an-nyong-ha-se-yo that I could speak, I introduced myself as Park whenever I met a South Korean, be it the innkeeper or the owner of the amusement park. “My name, Park.” Without fail, they break out into a hearty chortle every single time.

It sets them at ease immediately and builds up a sense of familiarity between two strangers. With that audacity to shamelessly pretend to be the national hero, I received massive discounts, unexpected favours, patient answers to annoying tourist questions, and most precious of all, I experienced the South Korean hospitality and smile in the warmest way possible. And being shrewd, you can imagine how I continued with that introduction for the rest of the trip. I have so much to thank you for, Ji-Sung. And I didn’t even need to run!

The more I watch Park play, the more I enjoy his honest, hardworking and tenacious contribution to Man Utd. He has consistently proven his credentials and deserves all the accolades after scoring in big matches and against big teams like AC Milan, Arsenal and Liverpool. He willingly covers every blade of grass for his teammates and has rightfully earned the nickname,  “Three-lung Park”. He’s not quite at legendary status, I think he has confirmed his status as a United great and will surely enjoy a “cult hero” treatment in the stands and in our living rooms for the rest of his career.

“I didn’t think that (Park was bought just to sell shirts)… …When I went to see him play in those Champions League semi-finals for PSV Eindhoven in 2005, I thought this is a player who understands football. He is intelligent and disciplined and he can play different positions.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

“When Ji first arrived in Manchester he never talked and people didn’t know much about him. But when we arrived in Seoul you can see he is the King of Korea! They shake, they cry, they scream when they see him. It’s amazing. He’s like the David Beckham of Korea. I’m very happy for him because he’s a really good friend and on the pitch he always gives 100 per cent for the team. That’s why people love him.” – Patrice Evra

“I know that some of the Korean players are doing very well in England… …And Park has started very well. I think he has made his name at Eindhoven first and in the Champions League has convinced. When you play against him, he’s a very hardworking player who sacrifices for the team but as well has good skill and scores important goals, unfortunately, against us. I’m convinced by his quality. He has a top level attitude.” – Arsene Wenger

“When we were scouting Park at PSV, I went to see him at the quarter-finals against Lyon. What we identified was a player with a great understanding of space. When his team had the ball, his movement was clever. We saw a player who could penetrate in the last third of the field and that is why we bought him. Since then he has developed his tactical and technical ability and he has become a very important player for us. He has had a fantastic career with us. When a local lad like Ji-Sung has left his country to play for Manchester United and excel at the highest level then it is obvious he will receive adulation at home. He has been the star of the national team for a while too. This is a football nation and when they see Park doing well and then when he comes back, the reaction is understandable.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

We used to dread Park’s inclusion on the team sheet but now we feel more confidence with him in the starting 11; he has indeed proven to worldwide audiences that hard work pays off after all. He is an inspiration for all Asians – if he could do it for Man Utd, surely one of the billion others could.

I’ve spent a fair amount of money on Man Utd and this was the first time I received financial dividends. If you ever happen to be in Suwon (Park’s hometown), look out for Park Ji-Sung Road – this unprecedented road-naming for a living person honours Park’s sizable contributions to South Korea through football. Remember also, to use the most powerful four-letter word – P-A-R-K.

Keep watching, keep believing and keep working hard. For one day, worldwide success (and local discounts for your fans) will surely knock on your door.

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