Endless Unison Amazes and Dazzles in Beijing

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Last night after a long time closing up the cafe I relaxed on the couch and turned on the TV at 8:08 pm. It was time for that gathering that does indeed bring the world together–or at least to the same channel–for sixteen days: The Olympics. I knew I could count on the Chinese for a true spectacle, as self-conscious as the government is to impress the world with the venue, and the air quality, so I listened to Matt Lauer and Bob Costas do the play-by-play.

As each of the hundreds of countries marched by in their particular costumes, Lauer would have an anecdote to relate about that faraway place. “Flying into Bhutan’s airport, in the Himalayas, was a hairy ride,” he said. Costas almost got himself into trouble when the ridiculous outfits being worn by one European nation passed by. “To each his own, ” he said, barely concealing the entire viewership’s collective mocking of their loud pattered mid-length skirts and silly hats.

But it wasn’t this gigantic parade that really made for a memory. It was the show that followed. In China, everything is a little bigger, and this was no exception. First two thousand and eight drummers covered the field, on top of special light boxes that they could uncover and flicker to create a quilt of amazing light from above. Each move they made, as one giant group, was the same, each movement, choreographed through endless practice–it was a breathtaking show of uniformity, each black-haired drummer doing exactly the same thing.

Later the same gigantic center of a stadium holding 91,000 people was covered with Tai Chi masters. Two thousand and eight of them, all doing identical moves in unison, no, robot like unison. As they say in Japan, nobody wants to stand out, perfection is in following exactly the same routine, and boy they had this one down.

It made for great television, this spectacle of identical movements, and at the end of the night, even Matt Lauer, who’s done a lot and seen the world, had to admit he was impressed. So far score one big one for China.