What the World Cup Sounds Like

Hua's note: Anmol—who blogged this week on South Africa's fidgety loyalties and R. Kelly—just texted me from the 13th row of the Uruguay-France match. Meanwhile, I am sitting at a desk in Cambridge, MA, flanked by moving boxes. Next week: a couple new contributors, Pete watches the World Cup in strange places, what footballers do in their free time, and more. In the meantime, here's hoping that you've found an Authentic Brit (or Real American) to watch tomorrow's much-hyped restaging of the Revolutionary War, this time with commemorative t-shirts.

What Time is it There?
By Hua Hsu

The hallucinations were a problem.

It was 2002 and, in a vaguely heartening moment of slow-cooking historico-regional tensions sheathed in The Name of Something Greater, the World Cup was being co-hosted by Japan and South Korea. A great look for Asian football: South Korea ran riot all the way to the semifinals, Japan made it to the knockout stages and soon European clubs began investing in their many compact, double-take strong midfielders. But it was terrible for those living around the East Coast, where many matches began at around 3 or 4 am. At some point during the knockout stages, the lack of sleep finally ensnared me. The Predator—or, more precisely, a hallucination thereof—stood in a dim corner of my living room, next to my roommate's collection of mesh caps, silently judging me.

I was too drained to do anything but shift my sight-line back toward the television. Orange might be the color of madness, as any Van Gogh-quoting Dutch football enthusiast can tell you, but there was a sustenance in that wiry, astonishingly measured intensity of all those Korean fans on the TV, a vast, inscrutable ocean of red shirts and permed black hair. At some point, during a goal or an egregious booking, I can't remember which, the night's still was broken by a solitary shout, issuing from somewhere on my block. I regained my sense of having senses and surrendered to a nap on my couch. I barely remember anything of the 2002 World Cup beyond those red shirts and the neither-night-nor-morning-yet-both mania my mind associates with them.

Many will surely recall 2010 simply as a sound, the aggressively ambient buzz of the vuvuzela. Unlike the whistles, chants and (in 2002, at least) dull, inflatable thunder-sticks you might hear elsewhere, the vuvuzela produces a consistent, more suffocating soundscape. It's kind of a perfect sonic representation of how many of us will experience this World Cup. The vuvuzela produces a sound that is constant, unerring, temperate, insert winged insect reference here. Like the steady, never-asleep streams of data swarming through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.—this will be the first World Cup where we are this effortlessly linked—the vuvuzela's buzz is only truly notable when it's absent. It rarely crests or dulls, it's just always there, like new Web pages being loaded, the purr of fluorescent ceiling fixtures, the rainforest-like sound of hundreds of keyboards being finessed in unison.

The understanding workplace might encourage the merging of these ambiences, as this somewhat adorable office memo from "somewhere in Beijing" illustrates:

Latest Notice: The Company During the World Cup

Notice is made of the following:

1. During the World Cup, the start of work will be delayed from 9:00 am to 10:30.

2. Red Bull has been added to the company's refreshment room for employees to revitalize themselves. However, quantities are limited to two bottles per person per day. Please observe this rule when you drink.

3. During the World Cup, the company will run a prediction contest. Competitors will guess the champion, and the contest winner will be awarded an XBox (check your email for participation details).

4. During the World Cup, every day on which Brazil has a game, the company will organize a group to watch the game at the Goose and Duck, and will cover all drinks (those interested in taking part should apply with Xu Li in Administration before June 11).

5. If Brazil becomes the champion, the entire company will dine at the Golden Jaguar! (on the evening of July 12).

The above measures apply so long as they do not affect work.

And China isn't even in the World Cup. Which possibly explains the remarkable "lack of research" that went into this campaign advertising Sina.com.cn's World Cup coverage: it features a Chinese sportscaster whose face has been digitally "blackened." And he appears to be wearing a Native American headdress. Of course he is.

One wonders if the less tolerant among Beijing workplaces will instead view the World Cup as an opportunity to overtake their no doubt Dong-adoring rivals? The obsessed and the principled will quit their jobs altogether, as Mexican striker Javier Hernandez's father did in order to follow his son to South Africa. But most can't afford this luxury; most people don't even work at places where the bosses stock Red Bull to get you through the group stages. Instead, many will watch the World Cup surreptitiously, during suspiciously long lunch breaks with their suddenly useful European colleagues or in tiny windows adjacent to Serious Matters. We will be folding our leisure time into our work hours for the next few weeks, the vuvuzela's inescapable drone an evocative reminder that whole swaths of the globe are watching this same event at a deeply uncomfortable time of day, connectivity the only defense against madness. A cult hero, a curling strike, a worldwide trending topic; a voice in the wild, an overturned bowl of popcorn somewhere down the street.