Have you ever found yourself in a hotel room, searching for a sporting event on TV only to find Arab phone sex line networks, Yemeni soap operas, Russian shopping channels and a host other unwatchable programming?
Two of my life’s passions are travel and sports. There are only a few places in the world I have no interest in visiting and I can watch just about any sporting event, save auto racing, and a few of the more obscure Olympic sports. My sports addiction is so intense that I actually try to avoid traveling during the four grand slam tennis tournaments each year, the World Series, the Stanley Cup and other major sporting events.
But when you plan a big trip, such as the three-month reporting trip I’m on now, you have to come to terms with the fact that you’re going to miss some of the matches and games you want to watch. You can find websites airing sporting events, but have you ever tried following a tennis ball on a computer screen with a slow Internet connection? Good luck.When I lived overseas, I had a Slingbox, which gave me remote access to a friend’s U.S. DVR, but even that is sketchy if your Internet connection is slow. I was OK with missing most of the first week of French Open tennis while in Greece, but as the matches became more important in the second week, I started hunting for a place to stay that might have a channel showing the event.
I found a beautiful, affordable two-bedroom apartment in Samos at a place called Sirena Village and when they told me they had a satellite TV subscription with more than 500 channels, I almost wept in joy. Surely of those 500 channels, one of them would be showing the French Open, and the Euro 2012 soccer tournament, right?
Shortly after checking in one day last week, I started methodically flipping through the channels in search of the Roger Federer-Juan Martin Del Potro match from Paris. The hotel management hadn’t lied – the room did indeed have more than 500 channels – 517 of them to be precise. But it took me a full 90 minutes to flip through all of them and the French Open was nowhere to be found.
What did I find? Dozens of home shopping channels in a variety of languages, scores of religious programming from the Middle East, an evangelical Korean channel, Persian music channels, more than a dozen networks offering phone sex with “Arab women,” an Italian poker channel and a host of unwatchable programs from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Poland, Romania, Syria, Yemen and a host of other countries. Oddly enough, there were almost no Greek channels.
At first, I was just angry. There were 517 channels, but only four I’d actually consider watching: BBC World, France 24 in English, CCTV and Al Jazeera International. But later, when I decided to indulge my curiosity in this truly bizarre satellite TV package, I was able to laugh at the absurdity of it all. I had more channels from Kurdistan than from the U.S. I had the Somali Network, but not CNN. I had Dubai Sports 3, which seems to show no actual sporting events, rather than ESPN or Eurosport.
One of the only American channels listed in my guide was The Pentagon Channel, of all things, but thankfully it didn’t come in. I had a Persian language-shopping network called MI-TV, based in Dubai, that was peddling what looked like a blatant rip-off of the Ab Lounge. I had a channel called Iran Beauty that featured a woman in a chador making what looked like wedding favors, and I had not one but two Afghan channels, both advertising PO boxes in Fremont, California.
I spent a few minutes watching what looked like the Sudanese version of “Meet the Press,” trying in vain to divine what was going on. I had no clue, but I was fascinated by the moderator, who wore what looked like a small Christmas wreath, rakishly on the side of his turban, like a rapper with a Yankees hat worn terribly askew. In fact, there were dozens of channels broadcasting in Arabic and all of them seemed to be airing talk shows or prayer shows.
Oman TV featured a rotating slideshow; an Iraqi channel called Al-Iraqia featured a cooking program with an obese chef who made omelets but mostly just pontificated; a channel called Al-Mustakillah featured a blurry image of a wailing cleric with the URL for the channel’s Facebook page; Deejay TV showed grainy footage of the Eagles playing “Hotel California”; TV Quran showed pages from the Quran with a narrator reading them; a Persian channel featured an obnoxious puppet show; a channel called Al Fayhaa featured a folk band that reminded me of an Arab version of the Village People; and Yemen TV showed what appeared to be a children’s talent show, where all the little boys wore traditional costumes with big daggers tucked into their belts.
Oh, and there were all kinds of sex channels, but none showed actual nudity or sex, just vaguely Middle Eastern looking women advertising phone sex lines. There was Arab Girls TV, Arab-69 TV, Hot Arab Sex, Arab Jins, Arab XXX, Arab Sex Club, and the Arab Babes channel, to name just a few.
The Italian networks were winners too. One advertised a phone sex line by featuring a young lady in shorts and halter top, dancing, with her backside facing the camera, mostly bent over a hand shaped chair and an Italian shopping network featured a montage of Italian housewives recoiling in horror at the site of rats and other bugs and rodents to sell some sort of pest control product. I had 517 channels and was determined to watch all of them.
Friday brought the start of Euro 2012, but alas, none of my channels were showing the matches. Luckily, soccer is significantly more popular than tennis here, so there was no trouble finding the match at a bar. I know that I shouldn’t be trying to watch sporting events while traveling, so I’m ready to be roundly condemned in the comments section. But it’s easy to cut yourself off from the world of sports for a week or two, but three months is another story. My name is Dave and I’m an addict.
Luckily, I found a wonderful Brit named Wendy, who runs the Rendezvous Café in Kampos, Samos, and has been allowing me to watch the French Open on Eurosport. God bless Wendy and my 517 obscure channels from around the world. Thankfully, I have both the God Network and Church TV to help me give praise.