Wed, Jun

L.A. Culture: The Giant Bell And The Blue Pacific


GELFAND’S WORLD - There are a few things here that are unique. Over the weekend, we enjoyed one of them. The background: In the bicentennial year, the government of South Korea gifted the United States a friendship bell, dedicated to observing the long history of solidarity between the two countries, particularly the relief of Korea from the Japanese occupation. Over the intervening years, the U.S. and South Korea have maintained an alliance dedicated to resisting North Korea. More recently, the two countries have ratified a trade agreement.

One result of this long relationship is that numerous Koreans have settled here in southern California. One of them was the Reverand Kwang Duk Lee, who founded the Korean Culture Center near USC 51 years ago. This is an area which was active in the Korean independence movement before the war.

As spokesperson Christina Lee explained, they were planning to do a big 50th anniversary celebration, but everything was postponed due to the pandemic. On July 8 of this year, the celebration was on.

I must digress to point out that it was one of those almost-perfect days with a clear blue sky, a cool breeze coming off the ocean, and below us, the Pacific in one of its bluest moments. And there, on this Los Angeles hilltop, Korean-Americans and their children gathered with the rest of us to celebrate the KCC and our national friendship.

But why do I say that this was an only-in-Los-Angeles event? It's because L.A. has developed into a multinational, multi-ethnic culture which now includes pretty much every country you can find on the map of Asia. And that is in addition to the dozens of European groups that have settled here, starting more than 200 years ago, and accelerating in the era of the Soviet Union. I should point out that officially, it doesn't stop there. During the Hollywood Fringe Festival, performances were prefaced with an announcement that the HFF recognized that the festival performance spaces were situated on land that had sheltered earlier Americans before the coming of the white men.

So here we were, and the melding of our numerous cultures became evident. The first clue was the playing of the national anthem by a slightly elderly group who performed on harmonicas, as the crowd sang along. I said to myself, "Only in L.A."

But the fun didn't stop there. Up in the Northridge area, a woman named Hiza Yoo runs a school which teaches traditional Korean music and dance. One group from that organization entered the central area wearing bright, shiny, traditional costumes, and rolling large drums. The performers were wearing multiple shades of green and blue, all accept for one young woman named Dorin Kim, who was in red and pink. Kim was the center of the drum line and led the performers, more or less as one member of a string quartet or a chamber orchestra can function as the conductor.

Later, a different group from Hiza Yoo's school performed a traditional fan dance. The name sounds like something out of an Italian opera, but in Korean style, it is performed by females clad from head to toe in ornate costumes (including headdresses) who hold fans and do dance moves  ranging from spins to poetic hand moves.

Governmental leaders from local cities which have substantial Korean populations -- Gardena, Carson, Rancho Palos Verdes -- handed out awards and citations. In turn, they were handed traditional Korean kites and colorful string wound around whatever it is that you wind kite string around.

This is not meant to sound like this was just a frivolous party. The ongoing diplomatic and military relationship between the United States and South Korea has been necessary to maintain the uneasy peace on the peninsula. As in the Ukraine situation, the existence of nuclear weapons is becoming a serious concern. We don't know exactly where the east Asian situation will go, but for one beautiful afternoon we could celebrate peace and unity together.

The Sports Beat: Going for Three?

Americans have excelled at the international level in sports that we invented such as basketball and the American version of baseball. In soccer (what the rest of the world calls Football or Calcio) our men's teams haven't been able to buy a goal (well, figuratively speaking). We've done fine in Olympic sports, but that is another matter.

And then came women's soccer. The modern Womens' World Cup competition stems from 1989, and was hosted by the United States. The final was played right here in the Rose Bowl. When the dust settled, the United States narrowly defeated China in a tie-breaker.

If the question had merely been "soccer?" one might have expected the finalists to have come from Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Britain, and so on. The 1989 final was a clue that things are different in the women's game.

When confronted with American excellence on the women's soccer field, we tend to nod sagely and refer to Title 9, the part of federal law which required some modicum of equality between men's and women's sports at the collegiate level. Since youth soccer was already going strong, the extension of soccer at the middle school level to competitive soccer at the collegiate level was, if not obvious or preordained, at least a strong possibility. And it grew. And since soccer did not have a lot of competition for team sports when it came to American girls, we got some remarkably fine athletes, really some of the best of the best.

Other nations which love soccer and field competitive men's teams are also with us nowadays, ranging from Sweden and Japan to Brazil and Germany.

But the U.S. Women's record is truly remarkable. If you look at the combined record of FIFA Women's World Cups, there have been a total of 8 tournaments played, and the United States has won 4 of them. And this in a sport where our men are lucky to make the tournament some decades.

he remaining victors: Germany twice, Japan once, Norway once.

So now the hard part. The U.S. won the past two world cups, defeating the Netherlands in 2019 and Japan in 2015. As a result, the sports press is cooking up the controversy over whether the US Women can win a third straight title, which has never happened in any World Cup, men's or women's.

That's a lot of pressure, considering that there is going to be some rebuilding after running up those two consecutive titles. In addition, the U.S. team has lost a couple of its best players to injuries in recent weeks, including one of the best defenders of all time. In World Cup play, there is an opening round robin which gets rid of two out of each group of 4, but then the rest is sudden death from game to game (much like the bracket in March Madness). That means that any two defensive lapses over the course of a game can send you home.

Anyway, this World Cup begins July 20, and will be played in New Zealand and Australia. This means that a game that is scheduled for 6 PM in Wellington will be at 11 PM here. This is a big improvement over those tournaments where the games went on at 3 AM here on the coast.

So best of luck and great skill to Megan Rapinoe and all the rest of the team. I don't think it's fair to judge this group on whether they win a third straight title, but I suppose if you wanted to be looking at a challenge, it would be hard to beat this one.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)