Monday, August 11, 2008

olympics opening ceremony

Beijing held its formal opening ceremony on 8.8.08 for the 2008 Summer Olympics. The ceremony, held in the National Stadium known as the Bird's Nest, was attended by thousands, and watched by millions more on television. Featuring more than 15,000 performers, the ceremony was reported to have cost over $100 million to produce. There were many highlights to the nearly 4-hour performance; I'll talk about a few of my favorites:

1) 60-seconds Countdown and Fou Drum Performance:
The opening ceremony proper began with a contemporary drum sequence by 2,008 Fou drummers on a backdrop of a giant LED paper scroll, representing the first great Chinese invention, paper, and displaying animated graphics. The LED-embedded Fou drums and their glowing drumsticks were lit up by the drummers. In formation, the drummers lit their drums to form giant digits (in both Western and Chinese numerals) to countdown the final seconds to the Games and herald the start of the opening time of 8.00 pm, local time.

2) Fireworks
A trail of 29 colossal firework footprints were seen going off at the rate of 1 per second, one after another, from outside the Stadium, marching along Beijing city's central axis into the national stadium. They symbolized each of the 29 Olympiads, and celebrated the invention of gunpowder, which is one of the Four Great Inventions of ancient China.
One should know that the ceremony was directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou and was noted for its focus on ancient Chinese culture, and for its creativity. (Side note: In 2006 the Beijing Organizing Committee initially chose American film maker Steven Spielberg, Yves Pepin, head of the French entertainment group ECA2, and Sydney Games opening ceremony director Ric Birch as special consultants. In February 2008, Spielberg pulled out of his role as advisor in protest over China’s continuing support of the Sudanese government and the escalating violence in the Darfur region.) Some parts really did feel like a movie though. Actually, I read in an article that part of the series of giant footprints outlined in fireworks processed gloriously above the city from Tiananmen Square was in fact computer graphics, meticulously created over a period of months and inserted into the coverage electronically at exactly the right moment. (

3) Olympic rings
Next, twenty "fairies" were suspended in midair as they hovered near giant Olympic rings, each holding 45,000 beads. The Olympics rings were then lifted up high vertically to show the complete Olympics emblem, seemingly by magic.

3) Painting Scroll/ Chinese Writing (Calligraphy)/ Blocks
A giant scroll slowly unfurled. At its center was a piece of white canvas paper, which then ushered in a performance of black-costumed dancers whose bodies were dipped in black ink. They performed a dance while leaving their squirming trails on the block of white paper, reminiscent of Chinese ink and wash art. (Later, the giant white paper was lifted vertically to reveal a drawing of mountains and waters with a smiling face as the sun.)
The giant scroll was then transformed into a fluid array of 897 movable type blocks that formed three variations of the character 和 (harmony), representing the third great Chinese invention: the movable type press.

The blocks changed swiftly into a small-sized version of the Great Wall (very cool), which then sprouted peach blossoms, the Chinese symbol for openness. At the end of the sequence the tops of the "movable type" blocks came off to reveal 897 performers, who waved vigorously to the crowds.

4) Arrival of the astronaut
This section symbolized modern space exploration with a gigantic, 60-feet, 16-tonned ball structure representing the earth. 58 acrobats tumbled rightside up, sideways or upside down on its surface, which was then transformed into a glowing Chinese red lantern.

The Chinese singer Liu Huan and British singer Sarah Brightman, standing on the central platform, sang the 2008 Olympic theme song: You and Me.

5) Parade of Nations: Athletes' Entry
Finally, the athletes taking part in the 29th Olympiad parade of nations marched out to the centre of the Stadium.
In accordance with Olympic tradition, the national team of Greece entered first; the host country came last. As Chinese is written in characters and not letters, the order of the teams' entry was determined by the number of strokes in the first character of their respective countries' Simplified Chinese names. This made Guinea (几内亚) the second country to enter following Greece as it only takes two strokes to write the first character in the country's name (几). Australia (澳大利亚) marched 202nd, just ahead of Zambia (赞比亚), which was the last country to march before China. The athletes marched along the tracks toward the center of the stadium, which was encircled by white-capped Chinese cheerleaders welcoming each contingent. As they did so, they would step on colored ink before treading on the Chinese painting done earlier by the children and the performance artistes (I loved this idea!)

According to the Nielsen Media Research, the 2008 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony was also the most watched Olympic Opening Ceremony ever held in a non-U.S. city by American audiences. This was despite the fact that American broadcaster NBC did not televise the ceremony in the United States until 12 hours later on time delay, and some Americans ended up watching clips of it earlier on YouTube and other online video websites.

All in all, great show! A little intimidating though... (check out wikipedia for more detailed info)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

new yorker cover from a few weeks ago...

I meant to post this earlier, but what do people think about this cover...really?