Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Opening Ceremonies

The Olympics are finally here.

Friday night I joined friends and a few hundred other people at the Casa Italiana Coni, in Beijing's Haidian district, to watch the opening ceremony and eat pasta and gelato while sipping Italian wine.

The party was to start at 7:30pm. We anticipated much traffic so we got into a taxi at 6pm. As we drove north from Central Beijing we were surprised to see few cars on the road, mainly taxis and buses. The third ring road, one of the main beltways around the city, was blocked off and our driver had to take an alternate route. The Casa Italia is only a couple of miles from the Bird's Nest, the site of the main Opening Ceremonies. As we came close to what was then the most secure place in the world, holding over 90,000 people, we saw guards wearing helmets and bullet proof vests. This is not something we usually see around Beijing, where some military personel look scared when I approach them to ask a question.

The lack of traffic meant that we moved quickly and arrived at the venue before 7pm in spite of the distance and a difficult to find location that required our driver to stop several times to ask for directions. When we arrived at the Casa Conti there wasn't yet a line and we were able to obtain our tickets quickly, after the attendants looked at our passports and matched our names to the list of people submitted by the Italian Embassy. We took advantage of our early arrival to get front seats.

The ceremony started at exactly 8pm. As we saw the fireworks exploding over Beijing some of us took deep breathes until we confirmed that it was only fireworks, not acts of terrorism. Ooohs and aaahs swept through the room as we watched the performers. Many of the people in the room live here in Beijing but we were still in awe at the magnitude of the performance.

As the athletes marched into the stadium, cheers went up whenever someone in the room had some allegiance to a country whose team was entering.

Hours later, at midnight, friends and I poured into taxis to head back towards the center of town, back towards home. When the ceremony was ending we again heard the explosion of fireworks going up all over the city. It was a glorious celebration, a glorious evening.

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