29 May 2008

Street Soccer II

The winding down of the European club season marks an annual rite of Spring here in Singapore: the Abacus Street Soccer Tournament. This is put on by the company's Rec Club, which breaks the employees into four teams for various competitions throughout the year. Last year, our teams were named after animated characters: X-Men, Justice League, and so on. My team was the Incredibles (appropriate, given my participation; those who have seen the movie will understand the reference). This year, we are named after Formula One teams: Ferrari, BMW, Renault, and my team, McLaren.

Tonight, we took to the street soccer court for the annual showdown. You may recall last year, when I scored half of our team's goals (one of the two) during our two matches, as we solidly staked our claim to fourth place. Well, I was determined to build on that this year, as I led McLaren against Renault in the semifinals.

We were overmatched, talent-wise, and we found ourselves down 3-0 at halftime. They could handle the ball, pass well, and shoot with power. We claimed none of those qualities. In fact, our loan goal in the 5-1 defeat came just before the final whistle, when one of our opponents jokingly split his legs to let a slowly-kicked ball go through, much to the surprise of the relaxed goaltender, who just watched it roll in. We would again play in the consolation game.

We actually matched up well with our BMW opponents, and I am sure the pundits would have given us the pre-game nod for victory. They put nary a shot on goal the entire game, but our plentiful opportunities were wasted in haste or poor execution. So, the scoreless draw went to penalties.

For those followers of the European version of the Beautiful Game, you know how the Champions League (Europe's top club competition) ended last week. Manchester United defeated Chelsea 6-5 on penalties, after Blues captain John Terry missed what would have been the winning penalty. Well, I was to take McLaren's first penalty, and I was not about to relive that moment. So, I dribbled up the court, using my first of three touches to set the stage, and then I surprised the goaltender by firing with my second touch. Goal! Just because the ball didn't go anywhere near the direction I had intended didn't make it count any less - it had found the back of the net. 1-0. Two McLaren saves and another successful penalty gave us the 3rd place title. The Glory!

And so, we inch up the ladder. At this rate, should have my chance to play on the championship side. I just hope they keep it at four teams again next year!

28 May 2008

A Night At The Races

The American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore hosted a Tex-Mex night earlier in May at the Singapore Turf Club. The island's race course is in Kranji, within sight of the causeway across the Straits of Johor that connects Singapore with Malaysia.

The event celebrated Cinco de Mayo (I think Americans celebrate this with more fervor than Mexicans). Cafe Iguana, a local restaurant, catered the Tex-Mex food, and we were scheduled to receive a visit by officials from the Mexican consulate, although I don't think they ever showed. The consulate did provide the festive decorations.

The event also showcased the Turf Club, which is a very nice facility (especially our huge enclosed luxury suite and a good venue to watch the races). I don't know how the horses run in this weather, but they do.

The betting is slightly different than what I am used to. Win bets are the same - your horse must come in first. Place bets are the same as Show bets in the States, however - you win if your horse comes in first, second, or third. There is no second place bet. There are other bets similar to those with which I am familiar, although named differently: a Quinella in the States is a Forecast here, and a Trifecta is a Tierce. You can even bet Even/Odd, winning if you picked correctly the parity of the horse's number.

Without doing much homework, I picked Daring Dame in the first race, and she came in a winner (well, second, but I had her in Win and Place bets). That emboldened me, and I raised my bets and took on longer odds. Perhaps partaking in the Cinco de Mayo celebrations assisted here. In any event, I did okay, down a little, but - as usual - I was THIS close in two races to having a very big payday.

All in all, it was a fun night. The Turf Club is one of the nicest tracks I have visited. Just the week after the event, it hosted the Singapore Airlines International Cup and the KrisFlyer International Sprint, two of the region's biggest races of the year. I wasn't able to attend, however, as I was in Taiwan.

12 May 2008


After missing live baseball for the first time since the Reagan Administration last year, I made sure I hit the ballparks during my visit back to the States. First up was an American League clash between the Rangers and the Minnesota Twins, on a cool, gray day in late April in Texas. I was the fortunate recipient of a free ticket, given by a man with three boys in tow (one his son, the others friends). I thought I would have a nice conversation with them, especially after he told me of he and his wife's interest in teaching English in Vietnam once his children graduated. But, I guess his tickets were elsewhere, as they never showed up at the seats!

Anyway, it was good to be back at the ballpark. And the Rangers were very good on this day - Vicente Padilla pitched a complete game shutout, as Texas piled it on 10-0 to win the rubber game of the series.

A highlight was the sight of Jerry Jones's playpen going up next door. The Cowboys' stadium looks incredible, even at its just-post-skeletal stage. While I don't like the Cowboys, I am impressed with their future home.

The Rangers whet my appetite, but I was on my way to the best baseball city in America: St. Louis. I caught the Tuesday night game against Cincinnati, again in chilly weather. The first Reds batter hit safely, and then Redbird pitchers got 24 outs without allowing another hit (including the leadoff batter in a bizarre run-down double play to end the first inning). The bullpen took the one-hit shutout into the ninth, only to give up a two-run homer in the 7-2 win. Unfortunately, the bullpen's performance that night was just a hint of what was to come.

The Cubs came to town the following weekend, and we had seats in the Champions Club along the third base line for the first game of the three-game set. Only a half game separated the hometown nine from the northsiders for first place in the National League Central, which added some urgency to this early-season series (as if you needed that between these old rivals). As usual, the park was a mix of Cardinals and Cubs fans, with the normal sea of red (a Cardinals home game crowd resembles a college football crowd, with its to-a-man affinity for the home colors) nearly matched with large swaths and random sprinklings of blue.

That Friday happened to be my brother Alex's birthday, and he came up from Amarillo for the game. I was able to get batting practice tickets, which allowed us on the field for both team's BP. After, we got to hang out in the clubhouse and drink free, cold, free beer. It was great!

The game itself was pretty tight, but a couple of glaring miscues by Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano (no, not Roosevelt), much to the delight of the home crowd, gave the Cardinals a 3-1 lead (he looked like a pitiful little leaguer out there). As baseball allows, however, the same Soriano crushed a two-run home run in the top of the ninth to tie the game. Only when Skip Schumaker hit his own two-run homer, of the walk-off variety, in the 11th was the game decided. Cardinals Win!

I get subtle reminders every once in a while of the things I miss. And I find that there are some things I don't miss at all. But, I really, really do miss baseball, especially going to games. Keep sending me your descriptions of the games you attend, from scores to highlights to food consumed. I just love it.

11 May 2008

Back in the US...A

It has been a while since I last wrote. Unfortunately, it is because not much of interest has been going on. I am transitioning to two new bosses (one Abacus, one Sabre), so work has taken up much of my time. My last trip before going back to the US in late April was in February, to Ko Samui. My personal heavy season of travel, however, has begun. I was back in Dallas and St. Louis for a golf trip and much needed baseball fix, and the next four months will see journeys to Taiwan, Korea, Colorado, and Napa, as well as two visits from American friends/family and the Singapore Grand Prix. I hope to fit in a short trip to Phnom Penh and maybe the Philippines somewhere in there.

It has been more than a year now since I first touched down in Singapore. When you don't think about it, you can forget just how long and grueling travel over the Pacific can be. I find that going eastward is fine for me - I immediately acclimate to the US time zones. Coming back, however, is murder. I arrived Sunday night, and I didn't feel completely normal until Wednesday. I must be getting old.

Anyway, the trip was fantastic. I saw old friends and family, played golf and watched baseball, enjoyed the stormy late Spring weather, and ate American food only as you can get it in America.

I flew United this trip, which leaves out of the beautiful new Terminal 3 in Changi Airport. This really is an amazing piece of architecture. The airport authority has designed it to be a destination for locals, with many restaurants and retail outlets outside of security (even a grocery store!). Currently, however, you don't see too much daytime traffic going through there. United has two flights out per day - 6.45 and 7.15. This doesn't give you much time to browse the shops or get some breakfast. Most of the flights are early morning or very late evening - I counted four departing in the 9.00 pm hour, while 11 depart between 11.00 pm and 1.00 am. Until more daytime traffic arrives, it will be a quiet time for the shops and eateries.

My itinerary took me to Hong Kong, San Francisco, and Dallas-Fort Worth. The Hong Kong-San Francisco leg was tough, 12 hours packed on the window in the back of a 747. I had two older Chinese men seated in my row, and when the one in the middle spilled water on me a couple of hours into the flight, I was pretty indignant. Perhaps as a lesson in humility from above, I spilled coffee on him about an hour before we landed. Fortunately, most of the coffee spilled on me, although it was quite hot and led to some discomfort for about a day!

The quick layover in San Francisco allowed me to grab some See's Candy - my favorite - before heading to Dallas. And at 4.10 pm, 22 hours and 25 minutes after I took off in Singapore, I was in Texas.

The trip over, however, was better than the trip back. A short flight from St. Louis to Chicago was followed by a 15 hour flight to Hong Kong. A four hour layover and four hour jump to Singapore rounded out a 25 hour day - 27 door to door. As mentioned, I wasn't right for three days.

But, it was all worth it. More to come...