The emblem, flag, and mascot on the left belong to Gamba Osaka an Asian Football League team from Japan. I’d never heard of Gamba until Tuesday morning. It looks like pretty good team from what I can tell, but that’s not where this is going.
On Wednesday morning Marilynn and I were working on our laptops in the airline lounge at the Incheon airport in Korea when a striking looking Japanese businessman approached us. I say striking because, although normal in all other respects this man was wearing a bizarre, royal blue, plastic, stovepipe hat with Gamba Osaka written in large letters above the logo. I can’t do justice to the experience. Here is a nice looking middle aged businessman in a goofy looking hat approaching two American strangers. I only wish I had a picture of Mr. Gamba Osaka.
Mr. Gamba never told us his name or why he picked us out. We think he just wanted to practice his English, but he knelt down next to our table and asked us where we were from. His English was very simple, but he made me wish that I had the same courage to approach strangers in their own languages with the same confidence as Mr. Gamba. Some of our most memorable encounters have been with total strangers in odd places in a mixture of languages. In this case, after ascertaining that we were from the US he proceeded to tell us that he was from Osaka and that Gamba was his team. “Football is my life” he said. “I am traveling to Tashkent, Uzbekistan to see Gamba play the Uzbek champions, Bunyodkor.” How bizarre; but it was clear that he loved his team and would go to great lengths to show his support. I checked the internet this morning and discovered that the Uzbeks overpowered Gamba 3-2. There was even a YouTube video of the goals scored. It looked like a very nice day in Tashkent and there were a lot of empty seats in the stadium. I hope Mr. Gamba had a good time. It’s a long way to go to see your team get its ass kicked.
We didn’t have a lot to say to each other. Mr. Gamba had been to LA and New York a few years ago, and he was surprised and pleased that I had been to Japan and liked it very much. When he found out that we were from Seattle he wanted to know all about Ichiro Suzuki, the Mariner’s superstar from Japan. Did we know him? No, but we assured him we loved to watch him play and we were sorry that such a great player had to endure such a crappy team for his entire career in America. He felt sorry for us that the US didn’t have a good men’s soccer team “but the girls are very good – the best in the world, maybe.” I didn’t want to spoil it by reminding him that the US and Japan have had about the same results in the last two World Cups and both made it to the Round of 16 in 2010.
After about 20 minutes kneeling by our table Mr. Gamba stood up and said goodbye. We wished him and his team success in Uzbekistan and he wished us safe travels home. As he walked away another Japanese businessman seated nearby looked over at us and smiled as if to say “You never know who you’ll meet in an airline lounge, but the world is getting smaller every day.”