Sunday, August 10, 2008
2,008 drummers from the People's Liberation Army beat drums in a tradition dating from 1600 BC
It was fitting that soldiers should play such a major role. They are everywhere here in Beijing, either to protect or intimidate the city's visitors, depending on your world view.
Bug-eyed with culture shock, we were sucked into the new Republic of Olympia - a £20billion world of majestic sporting architecture inside a giant compound, closed off from the rest of this vast and unknowable land. 'Welcome, World' ran the front-page headline in the China Daily and Confucius himself was rolled out to provide the main greeting: 'Friends have come from afar, how happy we are. All those within the four seas can be considered brothers.' This shameless rewriting of Chinese isolationism for a two-week carnival is all part of the hosts' wish to be an economic powerhouse while remaining a repressive one-party state. If you were a Beijing resident, you were either one of the lucky ones inside the 91,000-seat arena for an unveiling of startling beauty and drama, or cleared off the streets around the latticed structure where the cauldron for a new age was lit after the former gymnast Li Ning had run round the inside of the roof on a harness, and ignited a staircase of flame. It was a moment of sheer genius.
To say these Games would be a landmark in world politics was no idle claim. The ceremony proved it. Steven Spielberg had resigned as artistic director for opening night, but his dream-like visions were apparent in the brilliant orchestrations of the chief choreographer and acclaimed film director Zhang Yimou. Hollywood will study the DVD for years to come and plunder Beijing's visual tricks. Another sign, this, that China believes it can match any country in any department. This was a feast for the eyes cooked not from the books of ancient culture so much as the latest Microsoft manuals.
Sprays of fireworks shoot up from the roof of the stadium in a 20-second burst at the start of the ceremony The lustrous Silk Road unfurled on the floor of the Bird's Nest stadium in a dazzling series of light projections was intended to tell us that Chinese potency is rolling out across our world.
An anti-aircraft gun was trained on a night sky rendered infinitely more photogenic by nightfall. Smog, mist, call it what you will shows less embarrassingly in the dark. With a worldwide television audience estimated at 3billion, China's rulers were paranoid about portraying a poisoned city, suffocated by industrialisation. Representatives from London 2012 must have blanched at the scale of Chinese ambition. Will our high-stepping Pearly Kings and Queens match the gymnastic display by hundreds of Chinese squaddies in white silk outfits?
Can a modest Olympic Stadium at Stratford, East London, compete with the entrails-on-the-outside splendour of the Bird's Nest, which exploded with fireworks at 8.08pm on the eighth of the eighth, 2008? Over to Boris Johnson, when he arrives for the closing ceremony and London handover. Maybe the Tory back benches and a column in the Daily Telegraph were safer bets after all. The Princess Royal greeted members of Britain's 313-strong team, including the 14-year-old diver Tom Daley, set an ambitious target of 41 medals by a government desperate to recoup its £300million lottery investment. London will at least be less propaganda-ridden. The regeneration of the East End hardly equates to China trying to knock America off its perch as No 1 superpower. President Bush, who was present, finally joined the PR war with a belated appeal to the Chinese government to 'put its people first'.
Carnival of the academics: Scholars wearing the bamboo plumes and traditional gowns adopted by followers of Confucius perform movements reflecting his thoughts.
As a member of the Team Darfur coalition who have so angered the hosts with their protests over Chinese policy in Sudan, Lomong was never likely to draw a wave from President Hu Jintao.
Chinese athlete Li Ning, the tiny figure pictured on the right, lights the Olympic flame
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Because of their gorgeous appearance, the peacock has long been famous outside of its native countries of Southern Asia and Malaysia, and was kept for centuries by people first in China and then in Europe. The Phoenicians brought the peacock to Egypt more than three thousand years ago. Peacock feathers are popularly used in unique crafts and decorations.
Frock horror: The low-rise jeans complete with bikini bottom are only for the very svelte. Most frightening of all, the ensemble is only held up by an elasticated thong or ribbon. It should come as no surprise that the clothing company behind the bikini jeans is based in Brazil, famed for its hordes of svelte, cellulite-free glamazons.
Unforgiving: The bikini bottoms are held up with ribbon ties at the sides and designers decided to introduce the designs as customers wanted very low trousers - but had difficulty keeping them up.
The Wieliczka Mine is 135m underground and is decorated with hundreds of religious statues carved from the salt. There’s even a cathedral and, if you time it right, you can catch a concert in the Blessed Kinga chapel.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
The catwalk becomes a dogwalk for shamelessly pampered pooches with fashion and jewellery designers creating a diamond dog-collar worth half a million pounds. The mind boggles.
They are keen both on ancestor worship, and on the Confucian idea of filial piety, roughly the parent-friendly notion that children owe unquestioning gratitude to their parents. These two ideas, ancestor worship and filial piety, falls on the day known as Qing Ming. It's got such a pretty name because it falls in spring, 107 days after the winter solstice, and 15 days after the spring solstice, usually around April 5th by the western calendar on which the Chinese visit the tombs of their ancestors to remember the dead; a time for the living to pay their respects to those family members who have preceded them into whatever it is, if anything at all, that comes to us after life.
On Qing Ming, they weed and sweep the tombs of their ancestors, pray to the dead, make graveside offerings of food, drink, flowers, and incense for the ancestors' ghostly pleasure, burn representations of bank notes, and paper images of houses, cars, servants, treasure chests to ensure the dead have all they need in the Other World.
The ancestors are given time to "eat" the food offerings, then the living family members gets a chance to tuck in. Qing Ming is also an occasion of having a picnic with the dead and it's just the right time for people to go outside and relax, indulge themselves in the blue sky, green trees, breezy grass and beautiful flowers.