For those who’ve “been there, seen that” and were fortunate to have attended the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics last month, this was another notch on the bragging belt.
But regardless of background, everyone in the Beijing National Stadium agreed it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
What the TV audience (2 billion viewers according to Nielsen Co.) didn’t see or go through was the clockwork processing of the guests, which involved a minutely organised security and logistics plan that will undoubtedly go down in case histories of successful gargantuan events.
Herding 91,000 people (seating capacity of the now iconic “Bird’s Nest”) into an enclosed space is no joke and had to be done with unerring precision, or there would have been utter chaos. Nothing of the sort happened, thanks to cutting-edge technology.
Upon entering, crowds were directed to specific queues, according to seat location, with their belongings slipping through airport-type machines. The guests themselves also underwent unprecedented scrutiny, passing through a scanner, which matched the face with information provided beforehand. If all corresponded, the screen quickly flashed “Pass”. This only took a few seconds.
Getting lost in that huge venue was next to impossible, given the multitude of eager-to-help volunteer guides roaming different sections. Not only did viewers receive a warm welcome from the Games staff but also a goody bag on their seats, containing two flags (one Chinese, the other with the Olympic symbol), a torch light, laser light, noise maker, bottle of mineral water and scarf with a Beijing Olympics motif.
This being China, food prices were also strictly regulated within the Bird’s Nest premises. A bottle of mineral water cost only CNY3 (43 cents), beer, from CNY5 to CNY8 (73 cents to US$1.17), depending on the size, and hotdog or noodle between CNY2 (29 cents) and CNY3 (43 cents). “This was amazing as you can’t get a hotdog at such a price in New York or anywhere else,” said Business Traveller group publisher Peggy Teo, one of the impressed throng that night.
With the whole stadium grounds as the stage, Teo said every moment “produced an unexpected surprise”, adding, “You never knew what would happen next”.
For one rare moment, politics took a backseat. Teo recalled: “When the Taiwan team came in, people cheered because the team called themselves Chinese Taiwan and used an Olympic banner instead of the Taiwan flag.”
What a show of give and take – and real sportsmanship.