Strange but true World Cup experiences

A fan holds up a sign before the start of the World Cup match between Brazil and North Korea in...

A fan holds up a sign before the start of the World Cup match between Brazil and North Korea in Johannesburg on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:30 PM ET

JOHANNESBURG – It is three hours before the Brazil-North Korea game here at Ellis Park Stadium and you can see your breath when you talk.

Inside the media centre, South American reporters are huddled so close to a giant heater you’d almost think they were trying to make love to the thing.

What’s the big deal? It’s only minus-one Celsius.

Oh well. These frigid conditions go hand-in-hand with covering the 2010 Grey Cup.

Sorry. Wrong Cup.

I meant the FIFA 2010 World Cup.

Memo to Toronto Sun sports editor Bill Pierce: Hey, buddy, sure could use one of those QMI Olympic parkas Steve (Beezer) Buffery and the boys were bundled up in during the Vancouver Games in February. How fast do you think you could get one of those suckers to me here on the other side of the world?

Never mind. We Canadian scribes can tough it out. These Brazilians, well, not so much.

Frankly, they’d probably rather be over in Rio.

Who wouldn’t?

Unfortunately, Brazil isn’t hosting the World Cup for another four years. Besides, the fickle hand of Mother Nature is just another chapter of the South African experience that has been quite the adventure after less than a week.

Without further ado, here’s a look at the good, the bad and the bizarre that we’ve encountered over here.

BABY, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE

Welcome to Canada House, the Johannesburg-area home yours truly has rented along with fellow Canuck scribes Morris Dalla Costa of the London Free Press, George Johnson of the Calgary Herald and the Toronto Star duo of Cathal Kelly and Chris Young.

A fine five-some if ever there was one. It’s a great house, just a four-minute drive from Nelson Mandela’s place. And our landlords, Megan and Gareth, couldn’t be nicer.

Just one problem.

No heaters.

In order to get the place comfortable, the first guy up in the morning has started turning on the elements on the stove to get some warmth circulating through the joint.

I’m not joking. I couldn’t make something like that up.

WIRED UP

With 18,000 murders having been committed in this country last year, barbed wiring is prevalent on the fences surrounding many residences.

Too prevalent for Morris’s liking.

On Saturday, at the conclusion of the England-U.S. “Hand of Clod” game in Rustenburg, Morris, George and Cathal were leaving the facility when a stadium worker advised them to take a path that, allegedly, would lead them out.

In the dark of night, Morris felt something. He looked down to find barbed wiring snaked around his leg.

Fortunately he wasn’t hurt.

Good thing it wasn’t electrical wiring.

STOP BUGGING US

One of our colleagues was sitting at the back of a media shuttle in downtown Johannesburg the other day when he noticed things creeping around.

Upon further review, they were cockroaches. On the floor. On the windows. Even on him.

Introducing The Cockroach: The Official Bug of South Africa 2010.

HANGING AROUND

The Moses Mabhida Stadium, nestled along the shores of the Indian Ocean in Durban, is one of the most spectacular sporting facilities yours truly has seen in more than two decades on the job.

The coup de grace of the place is a giant arch that runs directly over the stadium. Visitors can actually take a cable car that travels along the arch, allowing them to see the pitch below and a magnificent view of the city in the distance.

On a flight from Jo’Berg to Durban Sunday, one Aussie heading to the Australia-Germany game couldn’t wait to see the arch.

“I want to bungie jump off that thing,” he proclaimed.

After watching his beloved Socceroos get crushed 4-0 by the Germans, he might have had aspirations of tying that bungie cord into a noose.

TAXI SQUAD

The cabbies in Johannesburg certainly have a lot of personality.

When Morris and I arrived in Jo’Berg last week after our 23-hour odyssey from Toronto, our driver, who went by the name “Mr. Jim,” watched as some idiot tried backing up a freeway ramp.

“Beer bad,” Mr. Jim proclaimed.

One day earlier, Canadian scribes were in a cab when they passed a bunch of police cars on the shoulder of the freeway with their lights flashing.

“Another dead,” the cabbie proclaimed matter-of-factly, as if it were an everyday occurrence.

Yikes.

PARK PLACE

Not far from Canada House in the suburb of Norwood is a main street with a cluster of quaint restaurants, bars and other various retail outlets.

Just to make sure your car isn’t stolen while you pop in for a quick cappuccino, there are a series of security guards sprinkled along the road, all wearing yellow vests. Once you come out, you slide the guy a few coins as a tip.

If your car is still there, that is,

CHICKENING OUT

What’s all the fuss about bringing vuvuzulas into the stadiums?

What about the poor Nigeria fans, whose efforts to bring live chickens into Ellis Park Stadium for the game against Argentina Saturday were thwarted?

Understandably they were bitter.

“We always bring chickens to matches,” one told a South African radio station. “At the World Cup in France in 1998 we had no problems bringing them in. If the French let us, why can’t the South Africans?”

Maybe because they’re not bird brains.

SMALL WORLD

George and I are on a shuttle van from the Durban airport to our respective places of lodging when another passenger overhears us talking about hockey. She quickly discovers we are Canadian writers.

“Do you know Lori Ewing (of the Canadian Press)?” the woman asks. “We used to play soccer together a long time ago.”

I tell her Lori is a friend.

George does one better.

“Lori and I had our photo taken together on the Great Wall of China during the Olympics,” he says.

Both Lori and George covered the Beijing Games; Lori for CP, George for CanWest.

We email Lori.

“Does the woman have frizzy blond hair?” Lori responds.

Yup.

“Small world.”

Is it ever.

GET A LIFE

There is a new transit system in Jo’Berg called the Gau Train, which was built for the World Cup.

A lot of kinks still need to be worked out.

On one particular day we see that there are eight kiosk machines where you get tickets for the train. Trouble is, six of them are broken.

The lines are huge. People are bitter.

And to rub salt in the wound, some yahoo is videotaping the lineups on his personal camcorder.

Why?

Wouldn’t want to run into that guy in the public john.

The rules on the Gau train are quite strict, according to signs plastered inside the cars.

No hoodies.

No insider trading.

Huh?

QUICK THOUGHTS

Most people we’ve met here are overwhelmingly nice and accommodating.

Jo’Berg, for the most part, is a cold, dirty, scary place.

Durban, on the other hand, is a warm, picturesque city.

Guess which one we favour?

IN CLOSING

George and I were in the media centre cafeteria waiting in line when we spotted a guy behind a pillar putting on long johns.

Suddenly I don’t have an appetite any more.

Gotta go. The Zamboni has finished scraping the pitch and the second half is about to start.

Thanks for sending me here, boss.

What’s next year's plum assignment? The Iditarod?

Hope all is well back in Canada. And no, I don’t need to know what the temperature is there.

Sincerely:

Zize


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