70,000 Slapshots from Sochi

It was a groggy, foggy Cambodian morning. The sun over Battambang shone blinding and hot, but the grumpy shades were drawn on me and my companions. Our son had researched, using his Infernal Little Blue Machine, and was sure that the Sochi Winter Olympics opening ceremonies would begin at 11:30 our time Friday night. (All I’d really known, to that point, was my boy’s eager reporting of bad water and poorly built accommodations in Sochi. And listen: aren’t we stunningly tolerant about Olympic corruption? It appears that (some) Russians are winning gold in this event.) Since we had an 8 a.m. taxi ride to the Thailand border planned (which, as we jostled and bumped our way out of Battambang in a right-hand-drive ’95 Toyota Camry, had become a 9 o’clock exit), we planned to be packed and sleeping  by 8:30 p.m., for which we were also an hour late with nobody to blame, which sort of made it worse, I guess.

Identifying the Spoiled Canadian, No. 98 (b): This species can become very cranky and indignant when deprived of their “Mother Corp”, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation which treats hockey as a sacred weekly ritual (with high priests named Ron and Don) and the Olympics – especially the snowy variety, where gold medals are to be expected, not startled by – as biennial show-stoppers. Canadians hold national conversational referenda on the fashion sense of their marching young ice ‘n’ snow striders, the levels of government support suitable for “owning the podium” at winter Games, and especially on the selections to the men’s hockey team. (Said ice hockey warriors are eternally beloved, so long as they win the gold medal; anything less prompts even more heated hand-wringing over the Failure of the Nation.) Any country, therefore, that fails to show the Olympics live, and especially the Maple Leaves in all their red and white and smiley glory, is underdeveloped. (This includes, most emphatically, the United States of Tape-Delayed American Olympic Coverage.)

Well, our Battambang hotel had a surprisingly large array of channels, many of them dedicated to sports, but none of them paid any attention to Sochi. Oh. (The Canadian world view, soundly spanked for its irrelevance. Again!) We did find, up in the 80s, a Chinese network, CCTV 1, that was showing the parade of athletes, though I wasn’t clear on how “live” it was. We had some sleepy snickers over the national teams from places like Zimbabwe and Morocco (surprisingly European-looking competitors, all three of them), tried to figure out the weird white costumes of the Russian snow queens swivelling down the fashion runway at the head of each country’s team, grinned at the tremendously uncharismatic President Xi Jinping greeting the large and sure-to-be-successful Chinese

I assume these are actual athletes modelling the gear, though I wouldn’t know 90% of the team if I fell into a snowbank with them.

delegation, and got sensations of vague but unmistakeable midnight pride when the Canadians strode around the oval. (My local fashionista declared an emphatic thumbs down on the red and black “Michelin man” parkas they wore, while I thought the retro toques redeemed the outfit and would sell well for whichever clothier had the contract for Sochi. But then, I’m a retro-activist and an unrepentant  Toque Guy, so my approval is likely the kiss of marketing death.)

Maybe it comes of temple-watching in tropical climes, and maybe it comes from simple travel fatigue, but we lasted all of 20 minutes of Chinese TV after half an hour of bleary channel-hopping. And now I’m poolside in Koh Chang, Thailand, nearly 7000 kilometres from Sochi but surely a lot farther in mind miles. Our fairly ritzy hotel offers a TV menu that, surprisingly, has even less interest in sports and English programming than the Cambodians did. (I did, however, spend several open-mouthed minutes in front of a National Geographic special on the migrations of the millions of red land-crabs on Christmas Island. Incredible!) My sportsman’s credentials are expiring, it seems, and my Canadian chauvinism may be in remission. Come to think of it, I missed the Super Bowl, too, and fairly painlessly (though I wrote enough about SB XLVII last February to last). Detachment from television comes easily with ocean to the left of me, swimming pool to the right, a backpack full of books, and Thai food around every corner. It’s a pleasant change, actually.

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