Sunday, August 10, 2008

All eyes on Beijing

The Olympics kicked off on Friday (8-8-08). It was a crazy day in the IHT newsroom, as we geared up for two weeks of sports coverage mayhem. Sports are not exactly the IHT forte-- the regular Sports page tends to be a bit haphazard. But during the Olympics, IHT is quite serious about the sports coverage, with thirty or so journalists in Beijing.

I watched the opening ceremony on Friday night from the newsroom. It ran from 8 p.m. to midnight, Beijing time. (I think it was embargoed in the States til Friday night EST-- I am amazed NBC managed to block access online for the most part.) Everyone was appropriately "wowed." China put on quite a show for their debut on the world stage.

At the same time, it seemed a bit over the top. So many performers, so many moving parts, and SO many fireworks. My favorite part was near the beginning with fireworks in the shape of giant footprints going off across Beijing, as if an invisible giant were walking through the city toward the National Stadium, or Bird's Nest. Update: But now I read that was partly faked.

I left the newsroom during the parade of Olympic teams through the stadium. The roads of HK were eerily empty for 10 p.m. on a Friday night. Everyone was inside watching the ceremony! For the first time, I saw people really excited about the Games, and proud to be in China during the Olympics. So, mission accomplished with the ceremony, China!

I found this article in China Daily very illuminating, in terms of China's hyper-awareness of the eyes of the world: Opening ceremony draws worldwide attention. It's all about how the ceremony was received by the international press:

The British press spoke in praise of the spectacular Beijing Olympics opening ceremony unanimously, calling it the best ever and a stunning display of China's rising confidence...

A presenter with Eurosport hailed the Games as "bigger than anything imaginable", calling the ceremony an "extraordinary" and "extravagant" presentation.

The Financial Times said "the most certain victory of the Olympic Games was duly ratified on Friday night when China won the gold medal in the opening ceremony competition - presumably for all time".

The paper noted that no country in the world ever has - or will - match the Chinese in effort, human power, synchronicity, and ingenuity...

The Guardian said the ceremony that opened the 29th Olympic Games on Friday night outdid all of its predecessors in numbers, color, demonstrating to the world that the new China intends to make its presence felt...

The tabloid Daily Mail said Hollywood "will study the DVD of the performances for years to come and plunder Beijing's visual tricks".
Have I mentioned that China's really, really proud? Xinhua News Service is claiming the ceremony was watched by "4 billion eyes." Maybe if you count each eye and glasses... The far-fetched audience number reminds me of the Oscars and the one-billion viewers myth.

The day was darkened though by the news of a suicide attack on an American couple in Beijing that left the father-in-law of an Olympic volleyball coach dead, as well as weekend bombings in Xinjiang, the same city where suspected terrorists killed 16 policemen last week.

My life will be all Olympics all the time for the next two weeks. I'll be working 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday through Friday. Does that count as an endurance event? Can I get a medal?

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