Post-Olympic Rambles

Well, after all that hoopla, the Olympics are over.  Finally.  Thank Buddha.  Now things here in Chai-na can can get back to abnormal.

I’ve been racking my brains trying to think of something original or insightful to say about the whole two-week eggstravaganza, but alas, it’s all been said, hasn’t it? 

I can only tell you how my own personal reactions, for what they’re worth. 

First, the opening ceremony.  I must confess that I found it quite dull on the whole.  Fell asleep halfway through.  It didn’t help that we were watching it on CCTV.  There was minimal contextualization, the editing was pitiful, and the overly-self-congratulatory style of the announcers was a huge turn-off. 

My overall impression?  It looked and felt to me like a big militaristic display of mass conformity.  Kind of like the Mass Games of North Korea, though not nearly as beautifully choreographed (if you want to see the Mass Games, watch Nicholas Bonner’s documentary film “A State of Mind”). 

The Mass Games in North Korea is about pure athleticism, with minimal technology to back it up.  The opening ceremony was heavy on technology.  To the point that the technology detracted from the pageant itself.  And the “history lesson”—there was something disturbing about how it essentialized and exoticized Chinese history.  What sort of message were we supposed to take away from it all? 

That China has 1.3 billion people.  That’s one for sure.

Then all those fireworks.  Huge masses of people.  Fireworks.  Huge masses of people.  Fireworks.  Repeat ad infinitum.

It was like being invited to the home of a baofahu, or a nouveau-riche, who shows you his Ferrari, takes you on a tour of his enormous mansion, lets you soak in his Olympic-size Jacuzzi, boasts about his newly acquired Picasso and makes sure that his wife is wearing all her best jewelry.  It was, simply put, over the top.  Especially in an age when frugality is a global imperative. 

The extravagant display made me think of the debate in ancient times between the Mohists and the Confucianists.  The Mohists criticized the Confucianists for supporting extravagant rituals, while the Confucianists felt that all the pomp was necessary for maintaining harmonious relations.  I think China needs to bring back Mohist thinking.

Incidentally, after downloading a copy of the NBC version and watching that, I found the opening ceremony much more spectacular.  The angles and the editing were far better, and the commentators really made sense of the whole thing, even if some of the mollycoddling made one wince.

The games themselves?  They were fun to watch.  I have to admit that I hadn’t seen that much sports (or television for that matter) in years.  Every spare moment we had the TV on.  I didn’t catch Michael Phelps win his eight medals—by far the biggest story of these Olympics—but I did watch Usain Bolt break the records in the 100- and 200-meter dash.  That was pretty amazing to watch.  I saw quite a few of the basketball matches, and cheered the dream team on to their inevitable victory (though Spain kept the last match interesting to the end).  I saw some of the women’s gymnastics, and yes, I agree that He Kexin looks way underage, and probably is, but who cares?  She’s a fantastic athlete.

Then there’s the issue of athleticism in China, which has been covered ad nauseum in the media already.  I think that the Chinese athletes proved that they are as invested in the games emotionally and spiritually as are athletes of any other nation.  Sure, they might receive far more support from the state than most others, but that doesn’t mean they’re robotic slaves, right?

And what about all those gold medals?  A real obsession here in China.  Again, it reminds me of the baofahu and his wife’s jewelry, not to mention his own gold watch and rings, which he flashes in your face repeatedly just in case you didn’t see them shining.  By the end of the games it was so painfully obvious to the world that the Chinese state put incredible resources into winning as many golds as possible.  And for what reason?  For the same reason that the baofahu needs his gold watch—it’s a sign of arrival.

And a sign of a very neurotic and unconfident person, perhaps.   Which gives one pause for thought.

Finally, that closing ceremony.  What can I say that doesn’t repeat what I said about the opening ceremony?  The best bit by far was the promo for London.  Jimmy Page still rocks after all these years.  And the bus dance—fantastic representation of a polyglot world city.

And then there were the Chinese leaders.  If we hadn’t seen them walk to their seats, I would have thought they were wax figures, substituted for the real macoys as a security precaution.  Could they have been any more rigid?  There was something disturbing about the lack of warmth in their faces.  Then again, one can imagine how much pressure Hu and his cohorts were under in case anything went wrong.  But nothing did, at least nothing big, so you have to give that to them.

Anyhow, I’m glad it’s over.  It was like a lovely, yet oddly disturbing dream, one that momentarily took us away from the stark realities of life here in the real China.