Archive for February 1, 2011

Waxing Philosophical about the Asian Winter Games Opening Ceremony

When my husband and I first moved to Astana a year ago, we were watching the Winter Olympics broadcasting out of Vancouver, Canada on our t.v. in all its richness, color and Russian commentary.  This year we were in our living room with friends, our tv long since banished to a corner in our bedroom and our cable connection cut off.  Who needs tv when you have Internet?  Well after discussing with many people yesterday about the Opening Ceremony, I wish I had our t.v.  back up and working.  I guess I missed something REALLY spectacular by all accounts from my Facebook friends, my students and people who actually attended this grand event.  However, as much as the Asian Games organizers put into the well choreographed production, the logistics of security and transportation left much to be desired.

From what I gathered the president of Kazakhstan was in attendance, the first and foremost VIP plus the new president of Kyrgyzstan along with a sheik from Emirat and of course the President of the Asian Games along with China and Korean representatives from their respective countries.  The arena holds 30,000 people and there were 6,000 participants.  Apparently a famous Russian composer, Igor Krutoy used poems by Fabian and other old stories from Kazakhstan’s history to weave together a fantastic program.  A singer from Korea, a Kazakh opera singer who studied in Italy and many other musicians and dancers were part of the glamorous performance.

Different numbers of how many countries who are actually represented at these winter games range from 15 to 27 countries.  Some come from the most unlikely places where they have never seen ice or snow like India, Pakistan and Iran from what I was told by my “informants.”  Whenever anything related to Kazakhstan was announced the crowd chanted “Go Forward Kazakhstan” in either Russian or Kazakh.  Since I wasn’t there I don’t know for sure which language, but I can be certain that it was not in English.  My students told me that there was an Olympic like flame that went through many cities throughout Kazakhstan. Even a Kazakh athlete in a wheelchair had carried the burning torch through Timertau. I guess that is a fairly obscure city in Kazakhstan where one of my PDP students is from.

The Opening Ceremony production, which ironically was produced by this Russian composer, looked back to the history of the Kazakh nomads up to present day. It showed about Oguz from the ancient Turkish tribes and many other famous Kazakh warriors and leaders. The show began at 6:45 and officially ended at 10:30 p.m.  After that was the grand fireworks display witnessed throughout the city of Astana, it beamed brightly into everyone’s living room as well.

Meanwhile those attendees who had seen such a fantastic display of Kazakh patriotism and pride inside the arena had a difficult time getting home in the frosty, cold air and winds of Astana.  If it were me, I would have just walked home since I only live about two miles from where this extravaganza took place.  Apparently the busses were so packed with people leaving (remember there were over 30,000 people in the stadium) now they were all ready to go home to get ready for their work week.  Many people waited over an hour to get on the busses.  Several smart Kazakhs had either left early or went out another entrance.  One of my PDP students remembered that she and her husband had gone to the 10 year birthday of Astana and there had been such chaos getting home that they were convinced to give this event a pass and watch it on t.v.

Functionality and logistics had gone out the window when it came to letting people into the stadium as well.  According to my students security was so tight that they checked through everyone’s bags to make sure no alcohol was allowed in.  If anyone was caught with alcohol on their person or on their breath, they were summarily thrown out of the arena.  Yes, security was tight, so much so that one of the bridges was closed crossing from the old part of the city going into the new part.  That made it difficult for my dinner guests to arrive on time because traffic was all snarled up as a result.  They finally showed an hour late but I thought this did not bode well for the Asian Games organization to have people arriving late to the ceremony.

From other accounts, people were held back from their seats and there was the frightening experience for some of witnessing a near stampede mentality just to get in.  One American woman was elbowed in her face and she is still hurting.  What a miserable way to “enjoy” the ceremony when there is little decorum in the hallways just outside the event.

Last night I was talking, over leftovers at my flat, to one volunteer who got to the stadium early and another VIP friend who was whisked through to their seats, they did not encounter any of these problems.  The former has a badge to get into ALL events.  She is all suited up in red, whereas there are other volunteers in blue and white uniforms.  The expense of the “volunteers” uniforms must have been immense for both cities where there were supposedly 3,000 volunteers in Almaty and 1,500 in Astana.  One Kazakh woman in my noon English class said that the athletes uniforms cost 380,000 tenge (about $2,500) each.  That must be for the hockey players, I can’t imagine that all the Kazakh athletes would have a kit that expensive.

Here is where I get philosophical.  My VIP friend said that she was recognized by security guards because she has a high profile here in Astana, she encountered no pushing or shoving.  That would be true of all the other dignitaries as well.  However, what about my American friends who were part of the near stampede or those other American friends who were wanting to get on every packed bus for one hour before they got on one to take them home?  There are the elites and then there are the common people in this fine country of Kazakhstan.  In every country you have your garden variety types who become hurt or desperate or cold because the logic of something so massive has not been thought through in every detail.

Tomorrow I will pick up on that theme.  But from where I work, you can see that the “presentation” is more important than the actual execution or implementation of the theme.  Not to say that the Opening Ceremony performance inside the arena was not perfectly done, I’m sure it was.  I am just saying that there are so many other details outside of that, that can and should not be ignored.  People of Kazakhstan, outside of Astana and Almaty are hurting, cold and desperate.  Patriotism with all the glitz can only last so long before hopelessness and despair enter…

(to be continued)

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