Posts Tagged ‘History’

[The following post appeared May 20, 2011, on The Mantle.]

BRATISLAVA – At least, that’s the thank-you letter Finland should send Slovakia.

I’ve never been to a Helsinki block party. But earlier this month, for a solid fortnight of the World Hockey Championship, Bratislava sure felt like one. By the end of their two-week drinking binge, I wanted the pickled Finns to grab their gold medals and get the hell out.

Team Captain Mikko Koivu wasn’t the only Finn to raise a cup in Bratislava. (IIHF)

I wouldn’t describe myself as a “hockey fan,” as that requires a curious affection for gap-toothed smiles – particularly among those who had involuntarily eaten a puck traveling about as fast as my car. However, I sure do love a good story. Living in tiny Slovakia, I hoped to live one through their hockey.

Slovakia spared little expense to throw a memorable bash as host of the 16-nation tournament, held every year. Hockey is a passion for this nation of only five million, with toddlers barely beyond diapers carving figure-eights on rounded hockey skates. Slovakia won the world title in 2002, and finished an eye-opening fourth at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

I cheered these underdogs every step of the way, as I did their thrilling World Cup run. Meanwhile, Slovak star Marian Hossa helped lead the Chicago Blackhawks to the NHL Stanley Cup last year; the towering Zdeno Chara may soon do the same for the Boston Bruins.

The 2011 world championship would mark the first time Slovakia, independent only since 1993, had hosted alone. Finally, a chance to distinguish Slovakia from Slovenia. Hype began months ago. The wolf mascot, “Goooly,” was stationed at area malls, digitally counting down the minutes and seconds. As full-blown hockey fever hit, the national flag of red, white and blue fluttered from many cars. I came this close to buying my sons foam fingers and Dr. Seuss top hats in Slovak tri-color. I’ll take four more dust-collectors, please.

All this while officialdom weathers the arrows of the latest in a never-ending drumbeat of corruption that mars the post-Communist era, not only in Slovakia, but across the entire region. This scandal, naturally, was over the massive facelift performed on its main hockey stadium, plus the gleaming new hotel built illegally next door.


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So cliché: a Jordan living in Jordan, eating at The Jordan. (Photo: mjj)

HONG KONG – I’ve picked up a couple of peculiar habits during the month I’ve been out here. For one, the dreaded “Hong Kong foot.”

Serves me right, for walking around the university pool and locker room barefoot. I’ll spare you the details of how it’s corroding my left toes. Once that thing starts to fester, hermetically sealed inside sock and shoe on another soupy day, it becomes like a tropical rain forest in there. Where all sorts of creatures thrive.

But that’s it for new physical afflictions. (Beyond the hyperhidrosis.)

Culinarily speaking, however, I’ve developed a more serious habit.

Curry. It surrounds me in Hong Kong. Mostly vegetable, some meat, some seafood, in all sizes and shapes. Not just Indian, but Malaysian. Indonesian. Vietnamese. Thai. You put me in any Asian restaurant out here, and my eyes are magnetically drawn to the curried offerings. Naturally, I had to try the “Jordan Curry House,” here in my eponymously named neighborhood.

What is it about this spice – in its milder form, thanks – that has me in its clutches? Maybe it’s as simple as yearning for forbidden fruit. But I’ve also come to see it as a metaphor for multi-cultural Hong Kong, then and now. (more…)

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