Pomp and Circus Pants

(Photos to be augmented/replaced after I copy D’s shots to my hard drive)

To wrap up my ever-so-timely Olympic coverage, here is my report on the Closing Ceremony (24 August). Just think: a hundred years ago and more, most news was this old by the time people read it... So I’m not slow, just following an old tradition.

D and I met my colleague HC and took the subway together to the Olympic Green. We had the plan of looking around there and grabbing something to eat before going into the Bird’s Nest, but while we saw some interesting things (separate post), the food options were so limited and crowded that we ended up abandoning that part of the plan. We spent most of our time in the chaotic Olympic Mega Store picking up souvenirs and waiting in line to pay for them.

It’s a long walk from the Mega Store to the National Stadium, and the closer we got the bigger the crowd was.
Once inside, we found our seats, which were on the second level, much better than where we sat for Athletics. HC had a ticket downstairs, but eventually RR showed up to sit next to us.

The first thing we did was check out the swag bag that was on every seat. It contained a big program book, an electric mini replica torch, an orange fan, a little noisemaker drum, Chinese and Olympic flags, and a bottle of water. After we got situated, I braved the concession lines to get some beer and snacks. It was pretty much the same stuff as they had at Beach Volleyball, and even though the show hadn’t started yet, they were already out of some items. I got a couple of sausages, a couple bags of chips, and a couple glasses of Tsingtao.

We all knew that one part of the ceremony would be presented by the London Organizing Committee to set up the next Summer Games. Speculation was rife as to what the UK would choose as a symbol of their culture. Surely the Beatles were out, as we couldn’t imagine Sir Paul signing up. The Rolling Stones, maybe? That got my vote.
Before the start of the show, there was a coaching session on when to wave the fans, when to turn on the torches, when to cheer, and so on. D and I both decided we would rather take pictures than participate, but the majority of the crowd was more with the spirit.
We were intrigued by the giant drums visible down on the floor. They strapped drummers onto both sides, and we could see the rigging, so it was obvious that they would be going up in the air.
It all started the way you expect a big show in China to start: with dramatic music and a huge number of performers entering en masse.
And, of course, fireworks.
When these fanciful drum/parachute contraptions came in, my first thought was “Designed by Dr Seuss” and I know I’m not the only one who noticed.
Then the lightcycles came in, and my first thought was: Tron. Others have noted this as well.

When it comes to spectacles like this, too much is never enough, so next we had acrobats on high-tech spring stilts.
All in all, it was rather like four or five different Cirque de Soleil shows splattered Pollack-like onto a massive canvas.

This was one of the audience participation segments.
I was relieved that when the athletes entered, they did not make the slow, country-by-country march, but just streamed in. That hour-and-a-half part of the Opening Ceremony was pretty tedious to watch.
After the athletes were in, they had the dousing of the torch. It was directly over our heads, so we couldn’t see it other than a vague yellow glow through the ceiling material.
You may ask yourself: After they put out the torch, what more is there to do? As it turns out, lots.
We could see a red London double-decker bus waiting in the wings.

At first, the London portion of the show seemed okay. Maybe the bus is a bit of a cliché, but certainly China has leaned on its clichés during the Olympics, making the most of symbols like the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, and so on.

Little did we imagine that the bus was actually a Transformer!
It opened up and there was Jimmy Page playing the opening riff of “Whole Lotta Love.” So it was not the Stones, but Led Zeppelin. Interesting choice, and why this particular song, given its sexually suggestive lyrics? I guess LOCOG is trying to present England as the Land of Sexual Innuendo. Is this some sort off subtle, subversive criticism of the uptight Chinese? Or just desperate lack of imagination?
From there on, the London segment just got sillier and sillier. The singer who belted out Robert Plant’s part of the song was good, but then we got a strange cross-section of Brit celebs. David Beckham kicked a football into the crowd of athletes, waved, and disappeared; we had a violinist and cellist; and it kept going downhill from there. It was a virtual London Cliché Checklist, with the umbrellas, lollipop ladies (crossing guards for the Americans), and token representatives of every British trend you can think of. Later I spoke with some of my colleagues who are here from London, and when they saw it (from the comfort of an Irish pub on Dongzhimenwai), they hung their heads in shame.

After the London hand-off was done, things got ultra-Chinese. Clearly this show was designed for the domestic audience, though there were a few English-language bits to keep the foreigners engaged.

After seeing a couple of Spring Festival Gala shows on CCTV, I have learned that the Chinese capacity for dramatic, sappy, uplifting ballads with positive messages is effectively bottomless, and five minutes or more per song is perfectly acceptable. You have elaborate costumes, spectacular staging, fireworks, appearances by all the minority ethnic groups, traditional folk songs done in a modern style, references to Chinese history and culture, large groups doing choreographed moves, and every available Chinese celebrity who is not involved in any sort of scandal. Jackie Chan singing? Yikes! Anyway, in another country you might get one or two of these songs, and they would be kept short and snappy, no more than a few minutes each, but here they had eight or nine of them, and each lasted ten minutes (so it seemed). Maybe this is the downside to not having atrophied attention spans.
But aside from the length, the staging was pretty darn amazing. A tower rose out of the circular platform in the center, and a squadron of performers swarmed over it and performed choreographed moves.
It was kind of like the Millennium Show that Peter Gabriel was involved with in London, scaled up by the factor of the Chinese population.
Giant banners!
More aerial work than you’ve ever seen in one place!
More fireworks! A cast of thousands! Fireworks!
“We Are the World”!

Anyway, it was quite a spectacle, and I’m certainly glad I got to see it in person.

Beijing, Beijing! Wo ai Beijing!

It took a long time to get out of the stadium. We followed the herd to the subway.
This is an alternative entrance to the station we used all the other times. I had never seen this area open to the public before.
We had to wait for a couple of trains before there was room for us.
For once, the exit from an Olympic event was relatively smooth. We took the subway to Dongzhimen, then caught a taxi to a restaurant for much-needed food and refreshment. Several colleagues (including the aforementioned Brits) were already there.

And that brought the Olympics to a close. Next chapter: Paralympics. Plus a little out-of-town getaway and the great unknown.


  1. Your memory is excellent.You remember clearly things happened a couple of weeks ago? From your describnation above,I suppose you were more than happy that day,aha:)
    But if everyone acts like what you said"following an old fashion", there will be no press coverage any more! Just kidding…
    I'm very confused by "pomp and circus pants". What does that mean?Isn't it supposed to be "pomp and circumstances"?

  2. The memory part is easy when you have a couple hundred pictures to remind you!

    "Pomp and Circus Pants" is a joke from "Pomp and Circumstance" exactly as you guessed. Many years ago a singer I know made an album called Pomp and Circus Pants and I always thought it was a fun name.