Thursday, August 14, 2008

2008 Summer Olympics

The 2008 Summer Olympics is in full swing. Even though these games are never just about sports but rather about country image building and showcasing of global dominance, I still enjoy watching the competitive nature of the athletes. I have perennial favorite games like track and field, gymnastics and swimming. Call it my Cold War upbringing, but I still smirk with pride when the US beats the PRC or former USSR. And it does warm my heart to witness the make-up of our relatively multiethnic, multiracial USA athletes. Take for example, pictured above is Raj Bhavsar who in the eleventh hour was elevated from alternate to a full fledged member for the US men's gymnastics team. He did tremendously well to help the US gain the bronze. It feels almost like saying, “see, diversity builds strength.” Take that Hitler!

One of the highlights for me is actually a non-sporting event, the “walk of nations.” Here athletes from around the world parade on the stadium tracks with their fellow countryman, often in national dress and always with beaming smiles because everyone’s still a winner at this point. Being of Vietnamese decent, I usually look out for “my people”. I remember in one previous summer game, a contingent of only four compatriots joined the parade. The announcer’s obligatory tidbit turned to Viet Nam. They announced ironically enough that three of the athletes were competing in shooting and one in karate. Hey, if the Viets are good at anything, that’s marksmanship due to early revolutionary training.
Maybe the most memorable of these walks happened at the Sydney games when North and South Korea walked together (pictured above waving their self-created Olympics flag). You see, Viet Nam pretty much followed the history of Korea with its civil war and meddling by super powers. The big difference is that Viet Nam reunified in 1975 with the victory of the communists from the North whereas Korea remains divided between North and South. Seeing the athletes from these two nations walking hand in hand got me thinking, "gosh, if only Viet Nam reunified in a more peaceful manner -- so much pain, lost and poverty could have been prevented." It was a water-welling-up-in-eyes moment. Unfortunately, even though there is a steady rise in sentiments for reunification, this year North and South Korea walked separately, divided by another nation.

There has been too many quirky things about this Olympics to detail but some of my favorites involve China’s all out attempt to clean up Beijing in order to put forth the best face possible. That has meant evacuating the “imperfect” residents, "velvet roping" Olympic attendees, and using a girl deemed more attractive to lip sync to the voice of less “photogenic” little girl. To be honest, I have no qualms with any of this. If I invested $40.9 billion to reintroduce myself to the world, I’d want it to go just “perfect” too. Besides, even with all its propaganda, who doesn’t know China is an authoritarian state.

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