Got an unexpected call from a friend yesterday asking me out to watch the World Cup matches for the day. I really wasn't that keen on the football, not least because these were just the first matches of the group stage and not the final boom or bust affairs. But not wanting to let him down I said I'd come. "We could watch all the three matches," he suggested. "But it's up to you."
Remembering that the third match was to kick off at 2:30am, I quickly said that I had to go to church the next morning and probably wouldn't stay up that late. So he gave me the name of the bar and said we'd meet up at 8:30pm.
That was how I made my second ever visit to a bar (which doesn't make me a saint but a complete bore). And this visit was almost as unpleasant as the first when my cousin took me to a late night sojourne. The concoction of dim light, loud music (or, in last night's case, football commentary and cheering), alcohol and tobacco was never my favoured recipe. The last ingredient was particularly offensive. The moment I entered the bar, I was smothered by the stink of cigarette smoke. This was my first such experience after smoking was banned in all public placed under the Smoking (Public Health) (Amendment) Ordinance which came into effect in 2007. You'd think that people would abide by the law, but obviously bars (and I'm sure other night life premises such as karaoke establishments, massage parlours and night clubs as well) are outside the jurisdiction. It was so bad that after the final whistle of the first match which saw South Korea cruise to a surprisingly comfortable win over Greece, I had to tell my friend, himself a smoker and had been freely taking drags on his cigarettes throughout the match, that I simply couldn't stand it anymore. He then took me to another bar - one frequented by foreigners and they turned out to be the people who showed more respect to the law. Those couple of hours were more bearable. The air was less stale, and the match between Argentina and Nigeria was of marginally better quality than the first one. People were absorbed in the atmosphere in different ways, cheering and cursing in response to what they saw on the screen, making their views about football, the opposite sex and life at large very public between sips of alcoholic drinks. But I felt completely alienated. I derived some interest in observing the people's behaviour, including listening to my friend pouring out accounts of his private life with remarkable starkness, probably under the influence of alcohol, but all the time I was conscious of my role as an outsider.
The time finally came for the second final whistle, and I excused myself. My friend said he'd stay behind for the third match, which wouldn't start for another two and a half hours. I was wondering how my friend would while away the time, but he said he'd be fine and walked me to the MTR station.
My friend's parting words were "let's watch the next weekend's matches together". I wondered whether he had said that merely out of politeness. I also wondered what I should say if he really means it and asks me out again next week.