Friday, August 8, 2008


Somehow in the last few years it has come to my attention that the number 8 is lucky in chinese. I forget why but I think it has to do with the word for 8 sounding like a positive word so there is a connotation that 8 is also positive. I remember reading years ago about astronomical sums people in Hong Kong would pay for license plates and phone numbers with lots of 8s in them. I remember reading months ago that the olympics was to start on 8 8 8 at 8:08. I just watched the 2008 drummers start up the opening ceremony.

Fireworks started in China and unlike some other things, they've done a great job of keeping at the forefront of the technology. They also have a positive genius for coordinating masses of people and things.

The announcers mentioned that the drummers were smiling so they wouldn't look so intimidating. While it was very impressive, I didn't get intimidation from the performance so much as a sense that these are folk with a different way of looking at the world. Why build some fancy automated machinery to do menial tasks when you have a billion people at your disposal to do them? Or do both. At one time it's very empowering to be a part of a group that large, but being one of many can also make you feel invisible. Like staring into the sky and knowing there are more stars than you can conceive of or watching the surf of the ocean and realizing the tides were there before you and will be there after you. Some days this is a comfort; other days it's enough to send a jolt of panic to the heart. I think the Chinese do better than most at embracing one's minor role in the face of abundance. On one hand the details matter to an excessive degree, on the other you're still just one of many. The queen is dead; long live the queen.

Being someone who has trouble getting more than 5 people to the same party even with the promise of free beer, it's hard for me to imagine coordinating 8 people let alone 2008 or god forbid 20,008. Pagentry on this scale is awe inspiring to me. While it could be considered wasteful - remember how much flak they got for The Gates in NYC ?- I don't categorize it as such. Probably the most powerful thing I learned by minoring in Anthropology/Archaeology was how visceral is the human need for celebration and pagentry to help mark time, cement friendships, and display power. Our brains notice difference and make special note of it. The occasional change from the every day that we mark as special helps us locate ourselves in time and space.

Things done on a grand scale often require innovation above and beyond the norm, so often grand gestures can have positive fallout that can change the world. Would we have personal computers, and thus blogs, if it weren't for the race to the moon? Maybe, maybe not, but certainly not with the same urgency. There's some sense when people discuss evolution of people or technology that it happens at a steady pace. Personally, I think things stay the same with minor modifications and improvements for long stretches of time, then there occur bursts of change that throw us off track, for better or worse, but causing a sea change in the fundamental nature of things all at once before resettling into a new norm.

One thing that's freaking me out though, is that in all of the massing of people - they're all men. In the people representing the 57 cultures, the signing, and the dancer (who just looked great on the flimsiest floor in the world), there were women but everyone else appears to be male. And I don't think the drummers were all cross trained to lift type boxes or giant oars. The scope and scale of this is almost unimaginable. The announcers who have been helping interpret the symbolism just confirmed that no performers repeat. One costume each. "Well, we have the people." the organizer said. Yeah, but they're all boys. Those drummer costumes had room for breasts, why not a mixed crowd? In an era of one child, can't the girls get some equal access to making the family proud? Well, here come some ladies in ballgowns and face paint. Hrm. The dudes get the pedestals. But a 9 year old girl gets to fly a kite over a sea of green men. The tai chi master is a woman, the school kids are mxed, but it looks like all the tai chi disciples are men. I have no idea what to make of that.

Still and all, its stunning stuff. They have both fire and water emerging at the upper reaches of the birds nest stadium. I honestly don't think you could get this many Americans to do this. Some, yes, but based on my time in a drill team, we independent folk couldn't run full tilt into a circle of dancers without catastrophe or at least breaking rank in display after display. These are people with a great awareness of themselves in relation to their neighbor. It's impressive enough that I'd buy an imported Chinese bootleg copy to watch again later.

1 comment:

CrankyOtter said...

Yes, I'm commenting my own blog and not other comments. It's an update and I don't know how to do cuts in blogger, if they are possible.

One of the things I don't like about our olympic coverage is the over selective editing. There might be 60 competitors, and we'll see 5 - the two americans and 3 medal winners - even if they have all afternoon to show the event out of prime time.

And then they fill the extra time with "human interest" stories. Some are nice, but they're all prepped in advance, go on way too long, and I'd rather see the olympians who are working like never before to do the best thing they've ever done. I wouldn't mind shorter stories. Especially since I find most of them pandering.

Like during the opening ceremonies, the Chinese olympians walked in and the cameras spent 90% of the time focused on the little boy walking next to Yao Ming with the flag. Yeah, he was an earthquake hero, saving 2 lives at age 9 because "as a hall monitor it was his responsibility". But there were 600+ olympic athletes doing that full lap around the stadium and we saw the faces of maybe 50. "oh, the little boy just steals the show!" No, you've given it to him. FOCUS PEOPLE!!! It's the olympics! Focus on the olympians and give them some respect by at least showing me their faces.