Led by Yao Ming, no prouder people than the Chinese

BEIJING (Originally posted on Aug. 10, 2008)—My watch read “1:45” in the morning and we still had not had dinner. But never mind. Because what transpired the six hours prior was an experience that will forever be etched in memory. The 91,000-seater Bird’s Nest—home of the last Friday night’s Opening Ceremony—we were not able to enter but our excursion was no less dramatic…

The journey started at 5 p.m. Near our apartment of stay here, we were fetched by three Filipinos (one who’s worked here for two years; another who’s studying Mandarin; and one more who’s Qatar-based and is here to watch the Games). They’re Arnold, Jun and Roel. We first rode the bus to the subway station, Xizhimen. From there, we purchased subway cards then headed to the bottom of China’s earth to ride what is now considered one of the largest underground movements on this planet: the Beijing subway.

Despite not carrying Opening Ceremony tickets, we attempted to get near—hoping to watch from a jumbo TV screen there and see the fireworks. But as soon as we emerged in the roadway Gulouwai Dajie, policemen whisked everyone away from the tightly-secured cordon nearing the Bird’s Nest. And so, like hundreds of others, we walked. While strolling along their main road, we saw vehicles of dignitaries—including the speeding limousine carrying US President George W. Bush.

My clock read 7 p.m. Oh no! we thought. With barely an hour left, we had no clue where to watch this most historic moment in China. Studying the map, the nearest subway station was miles away. Trudging on, we walked for 20 minutes until finding a couple of vacant taxis that sprinted us to an area where many congregated: Ditan Park.

Yes! By 7:35 p.m.—with daylight still visible here—we made it. Thousands of people crammed the open space inside this vast greenery of a park named the “Temple of the Earth.” Security checks and guards patrolled the public arena. We found our seats (on the cement floor, of course), my wife Jasmin and I settled just 40 feet or so away from one of two massive TV screens.

As the minutes ticked and the seconds neared, our hearts pounded, our minds inflamed by the celebration, our goose-bumps all-standing. Sitting beside Australians and Italians and Greeks and hordes of other nationalities who’ve all converged to sit beside the Chinese, this was a festivity to commemorate.

Did you watch the hour-long show? And the three-hour parade of athletes? What a production! I don’t have much internet access here (other than the few minutes to send this first-hand account) so I haven’t read the reviews but, I’m sure, all critics will conclude that it was one of history’s most spectacular.

I’ll spare you the details (check out YouTube, they’ll post the official video there, I heard) but must say that it was loaded with surprises, acts of thrill, acrobatics, fireworks!!! and, yes, many, many “goose-bumps moments.”

Our RP delegation? Manny Pacquiao? He stood tall while carrying our flag; though I didn’t see GMA, unlike all the other heads of states who were shown.

How about Roger Federer? From where we sat, no louder applause was heard than when his face was shown, carrying the Swiss flag.

Kobe. Rafael Nadal. Dirk Nowitzki. Manu Ginobli. So many superstars, all lined-up one after the other on the world’s grandest arena.

Then, of course, no figure stood taller than the flag-carrier of the host nation: Yao Ming. When the Chinese flag entered the stadium and out emerged this 7-foot-6 behemoth, the thousands who congregated at Ditan Park stood up, clapped, shouted, waved flags. Our Chinese neighbors, as later translated to us, went agog, all screaming, “GO! CHINA!” This was the moment they had waited for—not the past seven years or for the past 21 Augusts—but since history was founded.

Chinese Pride.

Yes. If there’s one meaning that I’ve absorbed here so far, it’s that: the pride of being Chinese. Observing the many faces here, listening to them blabber, rejoicing in their rejoicing—you can feel how proud they are of their nation. President Hu Jintao? Unlike ours whom we clap for meekly when she’s on TV or, worse, when George Bush’s face was shown on the screen last Friday—boos erupted (among the Americans!).

The Chinese president? You’d never hear as loud a rousing reception. He’s a rock superstar here!

For, what a moment in history for this proud China.

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