In case you're wondering, Bong Da is not the Vietnamese version of Ebola. It is the local name for The Beautiful Game. And yes, the Euro 2008 is a big deal in this soccer-crazy nation too.
In fact, soccer or the mention of famous soccer players is the best ice-breaker here. While we all know we have six possible shots at getting one Vietnamese word right; just say Duc (Germany) and there's high possibility you'll get, "Muenchen" for a reply.
This is in reference to one of Germany's most famous football clubs, Bayern Munich - Muenchen being the German pronunciation for Munich. My husband, whose namesake is former goalie Oliver Kahn, usually gets a good laugh out of people saying that he's the real thing masquerading as an expat here.
Other German soccer luminaries held in high regard include "Klima" (former German coach Jurgen Klinsman); "Barrack" (not Obama, but midfielder, Michael Ballack); "Lemon" (current goalie Jens Lehmann) and of course "Oh-lee-vuh" Kahn himself.
Apparently, citizens of other famous footballing nations also find it incredibly easy to get a conversation going once the locals figure out that they are David Beckham's or Luca Toni's countrymen.
A couple of weeks before the Euro 2008 started, my husband had a boys' day out with some of his local counterparts. They went to watch a live Vietnamese League soccer match at the My Dinh Stadium here. That was also when his friend mentioned an interesting bit of trivia: Apparently, the V-League matches that would coincide with the Euro 2008 would be postponed so that the players could watch the games too.
The main broadcaster here is Vietnam Television (VTV) which is working together with FPT Media. As such, all commentary is in Vietnamese. There is also a panel that discusses possible game plans and player line-ups prior to each match. It was also reported that new technology would be introduced during broadcasts that will allow announcers and football experts, including national coach Henrique Calisto, to draw on the screen while giving their opinions about matches.
Compared to the activities surrounding the Asian Cup which Vietnam co-hosted last year, there was markedly less fanfare surrounding the Euro 2008. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the live telecasts here generally take place at 11pm and 1.45am respectively. As most people turn in pretty early here, attempting to keep awake may not seem such an attractive option after all.
In fact, we too have to set our alarm clocks or have a snack spread ready to fend off the Sandman.
Nevertheless, some major hotels and bars have erected Plasma screens for patrons to watch these live telecasts. After all, there is also a sizeable expat community here for whom the Euro 2008 is a welcome distraction from work and the summer heat. It's also amusing to see match highlights headlining many European embassy websites.
Most of us, however, prefer congregating in each other's homes to watch the matches together. The reason for this is two-fold: it's twice the fun to cheer/jeer the home/rival team as a group and all that shouting keeps us all awake.
At the time of writing, however, the once vociferous German contingent here had lost steam somewhat after their team's abysmal performance against Croatia. For that particular game, my husband and I chose to watch it alone at home, while munching on mangosteens to keep awake. I can only say that I was expecting the police at our doorstep anytime and charging us - or rather the enthusiastic German supporter - for "disturbing the peace".
As this column is written ahead of its actual publication date, by the time you read this, Germany's fortunes could have taken a turn for the better. Or there could have been "an Orange Revolution" with Germany's traditional rivals, Holland, looking set to hoist the coveted Cup.
That would be an ironic twist of fate indeed given a German Bong Da joke that was going around prior to the championship. Admittedly, it also cracked me up.
And so in the spirit of the Euro 2008, I shall end this instalment with the said joke:
Q: What does a Dutchman* do after he has won the Euro?
A: He turns off the Playstation.
- Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Hanoi. She enjoys people watching as it gives her fodder for this fortnightly column. She did not cast her vote in the Spiegel Online's shortlist of Euro 2008 Hunks.
This article was first published in The Star on June 21, 2008.