Last night I went to the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the Bird’s Nest with among others Gary, courtesy of Dell computers. It was an amazing event, probably the best show I have ever seen. I am very happy that I could be part of this: I was celebrating in Beijing the night in 2001 that China was awarded the Games and now 7 years later I was at the Opening Ceremony!
Getting to the Bird’s Nest was a bit of a hassle. Originally we were supposed to park next to the stadium, but at the last minute the whole parking situation was changed (for security reasons?), so we had to walk for about 30 minutes to get to the stadium. Worse, however, were the security checks. Especially check number 4 (out of 5) took ages to get through. It was hot and there was hardly wind, not the best weather to stand in line for an hour! But that’s the way it is, security is a top priority during these Games so it’s just part of the game. One thing was strange, however. Nobody checked our passports or ID cards, even though all the tickets were supposed to be in a person’s name and we were told numerous times we could not get in without proper ID. I assume this will be the same for the closing ceremony, for which I also had to hand in passport pictures and passport copies in order to get my ticket.
The show itself was fantastic, it lasted for about one hour and had Chinese history as a theme. Zhang Yimou spent over 2 years to design and direct the show, and it paid off. It reminded me a bit of the North-Korean mass games, but this was much more high-tech and had a much better art direction. I think China can be very proud of pulling off such a show.
After the show all 204 countries (>11000 athletes) walked around the stadium with their flags. On TV that’s always quite boring, but being in the stadium I enjoyed every minute of the 2 hour parade. The best for me was of course the Dutch team, wearing an orange shirt and sitting in one of the first rows they all waved at me 🙂 Interesting was the mystery man in the Dutch delegation, I happened to take a picture of him before he was taken away. Also Team China led by Yao Ming was impressive, and the stadium was screaming from excitement when they entered.
The finale were the speeches of the IOC and the BOGOC (Beijing Olympic Games Organizing Committee), the Olympic Flag and the Olympic fire. Li Ning was chosen to light the fire and he literally walked around the inside of the roof of the stadium to get to the Olympic Torch. Very well done.
During the Ceremony I followed what was happening in the stadium on Twitter. I sent a lot of messages out myself as well, and got many many replies. The Twitter backchannel was very useful for me, I got a lot of information about what was happening by checking Twitter every now and then. I think backchannels will become more and more important during big events like the Olympics. We also looked at Wikipedia, to find out which country would be next to enter the stadium and who was carrying each flag.
While the show was in progress I did two live radio interviews with Dutch radio. I hope I sounded OK, because I could hardly hear what the presenters were saying and I probably talked a bit louder than usual as well. I was thinking that next time I’ll probably just turn off my phone, but then I cannot Twitter either (solution: buy a phone just for Twitter). I also tried to stream live footage on Qik, but that did not work… I could not get the special Qik phone (a Nokia N82 that the people from Qik.com gave me) to connect to the internet. A pity, but I’ll try again over the next days and try to show some other events here.
All in all it was a great night for everybody in the stadium. Some minor negative things were that it was quite hot inside, but that did not matter too much (beer was cheap anyway at just RMB 5 per Tsingtao!). Getting back to the bus afterwards was a hassle, it took a lot of time because roads were sealed off, but I guess that’s unavoidable when you organize a show with an audience of over 90,000. I very much enjoyed the night at the Bird’s Nest!
For some of the pictures that I took during the opening ceremony see here.