The 2010 World Cup is underway in South Africa, but I’m in Chengdu, China. My friends and I are touring the Wenshu Buddhist Monastery, and we stop at a traditional tea house on the grounds. The open air café is packed, its long wooden tables filled with tea-sipping patrons. We are the only Westerners. We have to slide into empty seats between groups of Chinese, and they side-eye us as we sit down.
A moment later an older Chinese man comes over to me, a newspaper in hand. He gestures at it, then gives me a thumbs up. I take a closer look. I can’t read any of it, but I can see there’s a picture from the previous night’s World Cup match, which the US won against Algeria. I smile, and he broadly grins in return, giving me the thumbs-up sign again. I return the gesture. He shuffles back to his friends, beaming. We are clearly now friends, though no words have been spoken.
I won’t debate the merits of FIFA as an organization, but the World Cup is a really special event that can bring out the best in humanity. I can’t wait until 2018.