South American teams shine in Brazil, but will they overshadow the host?

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By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Originally published by the Other Press. Jun 3, 2014
See Sports Editor, Eric Wilkins’ picks here.

The overwhelming support and pressure for and on Brazil will ultimately lead to a national disappointment for the host team in 2014. Enough has been written about the Brazilian team to convince anyone—including myself—that they are the rightful champion, but in a tournament such as the World Cup, nothing is awarded for achievements on paper; the competition is won with actual merit and a lot of luck.

Ecuador: My dark horse pick is based around a resilient team emerging from the wakes of a tragedy. Christian Benitez, a 27-year-old striker died in July 2013 from a heart attack playing for his club team, Qatar. Pitted against the other five South American teams, Ecuador may seem like the most inexperienced. Antonio Valencia of Manchester United will have to be the electrifying player he is and score some goals, while the midfield will need to support each other in order to get through Group E, which includes the Swiss, the French, and the Hondurans.

Belgium: A team with nothing to lose, but everything to prove is a dangerous team, and I think Belgium epitomizes that statement the best in this year’s World Cup. Placed with Algeria, Russia, and the Korean Republic in Group H, Belgium is the young up-and-coming team that can give the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Germany, and Spain a run for their money. No team will take Belgium lightly, but if Romelu Lukaku and their youthful stars can come up big with some timely goals, there is an exceptional chance that the country known for its chocolate can finally be famous for football as well.

Netherlands: Spain versus Netherlands on day two will truly kick off the tournament—no disrespect to Croatia and Brazil of course. They’ve pulled consistently good numbers in the last several World Cup tournaments, and I don’t see any reason they can’t make a legitimate run again this year. Superstars Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart, and Wesley Sneijder will play significant roles on the team, and if they are able to reach their elite level in the month-long tournament they will have great success. The Netherlands has the talent and momentum is on their side.

Colombia: If Monaco’s striker, Radamel Falcao can return in time from his ruptured cruciate ligament, then Colombia’s chances may be amped up even more. But the national squad has played without him and is very capable of winning games on their own. Colombia often lurks in the shadow of Brazil and Argentina—even Uruguay and Chile—but the future looks bright for the Colombians and their no.5 FIFA ranking.

Argentina: I’m a strong believer in legacies; I think great players on great teams must perform at key times in order to earn the title of legendary. Lionel Messi is, of course, en route to earning that honour, at least in my books. All he needs is to win the World Cup in 2014. No big deal. Yet recent historical records have not favoured the Argentineans; after all, they have not won since 1986. But the hopes are high, the conditions are familiar in Brazil, and their offence is as capable as the other favourites. Argentina will come up big when it counts and prove many critics wrong in this year’s World Cup, thus earning Messi the recognition on the world stage he deserves.

From City to Ciudad

By Elliot Chan
photo by Elliot Chan

The La Mariscal district is notoriously dangerous for travelers on Sunday mornings. While everybody in Quito is in church or sleeping off a hangover, troubled locals prey on the ignorant and arrogant. Perhaps more the latter than the former, we found ourselves heading down a deserted street toward the bus terminal out of the city.

The previous night seemed endless. Only seven hours ago, the streets were packed with tourists and locals, bonding over a Grande Pilsner and a fooseball game. Memories of making cookies and soup, and smoking hookah were still fresh on our minds. We were embraced by Ecuador; we were accepted, loved and appreciated. But barely knowing enough Spanish to order off a menu, we were disillusioned.

Wearing flashy sunglasses and walking with a North American swagger, we clashed with the dilapidated buildings, the battered streets and the poorly chiseled skylines. We might just get away with it, we thought. And that was the only way to think while traveling.

Then in the distance we saw a boy walking towards us. He was wearing a dirty blue athletic tank top. But he was far from athletic. It wasn’t that he was scrawny or malnourish, he was just incredibly average. The boy approached us with no threatening notion and began speaking in his native tongue.

No hablo,” said Cody, assuming he was a merchant trying to sell us something.

But he was persistent and soon we realized he wasn’t conversing pleasantries. “Si,” I said, furrowing my brow, shaking my head and shrugging my shoulder, a universal sign for misunderstanding. “Si.

photo by Elliot Chan

 

Frustrated, the boy gnashed his teeth, “Moneys…” he looked down at his fist. Between his fingers was the neck of a broken bottle. “Moneys!” His accent was difficult to understand, but the intent was clear when he subtly directed the weapon at us. I glanced up at Cody and he looked back at me. We understood each other without a single word spoken.

We were down the block when we glanced back at the boy. He was dismissively walking away. Like a salesman accustomed to losing costumers, he displayed no visible disappointment. We cross the street to the bus station, paid the 25 cents fare and waited in the shelter at the middle of the road. We stayed silent for a moment, recollecting what had just been avoided. The rehearsal was over, the warning was heeded and what was once a vacation was now survival.

Soon the bus arrived and we squeezed in. Unfriendly eyes watched as we maneuvered our heavy bags. At the rear of the bus on the opposite side of the door was a three feet by two feet area dedicated for standees. As passengers rotated in and out, we eventually worked our way to that little spot out of the stream of departing and incoming human traffic.

photo by Elliot Chan

 

We smiled at each other for a moment of ease. At first it felt like a fortunate turn of events, but then the bus pulled into another station and a large swam of Ecuadorians making their daily commute entered. We crammed against the window, stretched onto our tippy toes and hung on for dear life.

Toddlers accustomed to the commuting fashion thought nothing of it. Between and around our legs they were playing a game of tag. Cody looked up and gave their guardian a dirty look. But the kids continued squirming around beneath our view, laughing and thinking nothing of us foreigners.

“I’m falling over,” said Cody, his fingertips clinging to a horizontal bar above. “I would rather be in your position.”

“I doubt it,” I said, my face pressed against the window. But as terrible as it sounded, for a moment I felt a breeze and breathed fresh air. After a blissful exhale, an idling truck beside the bus spewed out a black cloud that slowly dissipated. A helmetless biker rode through the smog and coughed so wildly that he almost lost balance and careered into a pedestrian.

photo by Elliot Chan

 

I looked over and saw agony in Cody’s face. It was comical, but if he saw humour in the situation, he did not show it. The bus lurched and came to a halt. The doors opened and more passengers boarded. “You fucking kidding me?” Cody had a temper and it often got the best of him. As his only companion, the job of consoling him fell upon me.

“Relax,” I said, remembering that there was nothing more embarrassing than being a frustrated tourist. “We are almost there… I think.”

It took us 40 minutes to travel over five kilometers. The bus pulled into the terminal and the people poured out like water from a broken faucet. We were the last drops. After taking in a moment to recuperate and gather in the new environment, we were due for a siesta, but all we could afford on our budget was a bottle of water. I splurged and purchased yellow imitation Gatorade. I was alive. I deserved it.

photo by Elliot Chan

 

We purchased our ticket to Cuenca, a colonial city eight hours south of Quito. It cost us 10 dollars and a good night sleep—but it was worth it. It was always worth it. When people back home interrogate me, questioning my ability and reason for traveling, I summed up my answer with beaches, culture and cuisine, but mundane routines was what really get me going. Back home, walking down streets and taking buses are not great survival feats worth bragging about. Elsewhere, every day is a guaranteed adventure. After all, some travel to escape, but I travel to discover and discovery is a great inconvenience.

Respectful shrines or highway distractions?

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More roadside memorials may equal fewer accidents

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in the Other Press. Jan. 7, 2014

We often see them at intersections and long stretches of highway: roadside memorials set up in remembrance of those lost as a result of traffic accidents and collisions. These shrines commonly take the form of a cross, some flowers, some candles, perhaps a picture of the departed. They give no details of the crash, no signs of the carnage, and there’s rarely even any damage to the roadside. Regardless of the cause, roadside memorials offer people a chance to mourn the loss of a loved one, in addition to cautioning other drivers and reminding them about the dangers of the road.

According to Canadian Motor Vehicle Traffic Collision Statistics, an estimated 2,227 fatalities occurred on the roads in 2010. These numbers seem meaningless to us as we rush through traffic, disregarding the speed limit signs. Associating numbers with people is not an easy thing to do. People just don’t personify numbers that way, so it’s hard to sympathize with a number. Like Joseph Stalin once said, “The death of one is a tragedy, the death of a million is a statistic.”

Some consider roadside memorials to be a distraction; drivers shouldn’t have to feel wary when they navigate through a hazardous stretch of road, they should be focussed on what they need to do, instead of worrying about those who have died. But what better way to remind drivers to stay focussed, than to show the consequences of negligent driving? We often get so concentrated on the things we need to do and the places we need to be that we forget about our morality. After all, the most important thing about being alive is living.

Roadside memorials shouldn’t only be sites for mourning the dead; they should be visual reminders alerting us that we are still alive, and that the safety of us, our passengers, and other people on the road is alive as well. Don’t let the deaths of others be in vain—we should always learn something from the mistakes of others. That way, the story of our lives won’t result in tragedy and our memories won’t wind up in a statistic.

On the highways around Quito, Ecuador, drivers and passengers can often see blue hearts painted onto the road. In Spanish, those blue hearts are referred to as “Corazones Azules,” and each one symbolizes a death upon the road. This campaign was initiated after a school bus crashed in 2007, with very few survivors, to remind drivers to drive safely in all conditions. More than 40 blue hearts now mark the roads of the accident-prone country built upon the lip of the Andes Mountains. Canadians should take inspiration from that idea; small, unobtrusive markings may do more than mere speed limit signs and police radar.

Fines, warnings, and criminal recorders may take those who violate the rules off the streets—but it’s more important to put the humanity back into the drivers. We all have places to go, but for now, let’s avoid the hospital, the morgue, and the cemetery.