Important message not quite lost in translation

by Ed Odeven

BEIJING — Olympic blunder No. 1: For any writer making his first trip to the Olympics, the individual will make his/her share of silly mistakes: getting from Point A to Point B in time, misreading the event schedules, etc.

For me, it was after Friday’s Opening Ceremony.

I showed up at the gargantuan Main Press Center (MPC) for the post-ceremony press conference. It was scheduled to start at 1 a.m.

It began at 1:20, so I sat comfortably in my chair in this large auditorium and contemplated the meaning of life (just kidding, Jack; for my boss, that is his favorite question). I waited for the press conference to start.

When it started, a panel of the five key figures, including Zhang Heping, the director of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Games, offered their gratitude for the support they received and the joy they felt by being a part of this grand spectacle.

As they started speaking, though, I realized I had forgotten to ask for headphones to have the words translated into English. At that point, though, there were no more headsets available.

So I listened intently to a passionate speech I could not comprehend. Next time, I’ll get the headphones first and then sit down.

Fortunately, a transcript was available for the media — especially the half-awake members of it — after the news conference.

I particularly enjoyed reading general director Zhang Yimou’s comments about the differences in making a film and staging a show being watched by billions around the world.

“Of course this is very nerve racking, much more nerve racking than the movie,” Zhang Yimou said. “I was sitting at the edge of the chair all the way through the program. The thing that made me nervous was the lighting of the torch because nothing could go wrong there. Even though we worked very hard and made all the preparations, one will never know when things go wrong. I’m really grateful of my teams today. All the actors and performers performed extremely well, quite perfectly.

“As for representing the Chinese traditional culture, actually the second part of the performance was talking about China today. We built a new nest in the ‘Bird’s Nest’ (National Stadium). We talked about Taiji (“a complex interconnection of all things in al possible contexts,” as defined by Wikipedia) just now. This is also something happening to China today.

“If you go in the morning to the parks, you will find a lot of people in the parks doing Taiji. In fact, it is a scene of the present day. It’s an old tradition but also is very widely practiced today and very popular among Chinese people. We also showed the spaceman coming down to the earth. This is a symbolic demonstration of something that is happening in the modern world.”