Saturday, June 26, 2010



by Wayne Robins

I wanted to watched the end of Uruguay vs. South Korea in one of the densely Korean sections of my neighborhood in Queens, N.Y. So I headed to the H-Mart (formerly Han Ah Reum) supermarket on Union Street in Flushing, where I go a few times a week and do most of my family's grocery shopping. It was startling to walk in and find the store almost completely empty: It is usually packed elbow to elbow on Saturday mornings, but I knew there had to be a crowd around a TV somewhere. I looked in the home electronics shop that can only be accessed within the supermarket, and sure enough there were plenty of TV sets on, but the teenage girls behind the cosmetics counters were watching some K-Pop contest show, a variation of "Busan Idol." I darted into the cafeteria-style Korean home cooking restaurant also within the H-Mart, and near the front there was a tiny TV surrounded by a dozen anxious soccer fans: I'd found my viewing zone.

After trailing 1-0 at the half, South Korea had evened the score before I arrived, and the crowd was anxious and hopeful, exhorting their underdog team with every unpredictable bounce and roll. (It should be noted that almost all were H-Mart employees, who are mostly either Korean or Latin American. The Latin Americans appeared non-commital. It was impossible to tell whether were rooting for their employers team, or whether common language had them pulling for heavily favored Uruguay. (There is a notable Uruguayan presence in frantically polyethnic Jackson Heights a few miles southwest). The game was being watched on Spanish language Univision with the sound down; the play by play came from a Korean-language radio station.

A few of the Korean employees went back to work after Uruguay scored a goal, making it 2-1. But South Korea continued playing with great skill and undeniable heart, and as time was running out, nearly tied the score with a dribbler that got away from the Uruguayan goalie and in what appeared to be heart-breakingly slow motion, nearly rolled into the net. Close, but no cigar. When the final whistle blew, everyone dispersed back to work, fatalistically accepting the result. I bought fluke fillets for dinner at the H-Mart fish counter, possibly still thinking of the fluke it would have been if South Korea advanced.

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