Sunday, 3 August 2008

8 8 8

Beijing OlympicsThe Olympic games, awarded to the city of Beijing (not to the country of China) are days away, and the lead up has been traumatic for the Chinese. Floods, earthquakes and political unrest have made the headlines and have left insiders wondering if the organisers have been too bold in scheduling the games to start on the 8th August, 2008. It sounds nice, 8-8-8, since eight is a lucky number (in Chinese it rhymes with prosperity) the attraction was obvious. Now the fear is that the gods are angered by such impudence.

Theory one is the four mascots of the games represent four tragedies to befall the games, somewhat like the four horseman of the apocalypse. The analogy breaks down considering there are 5 mascots, and numerology around single digits is always suspect due to simple coincidence. Plus, who gets to decide what is a calamity and what is a domestic political issue?

Theory two is spiritually deeper. August is a Hungry Ghost month and the thinking (?) goes that while 8-8-8 is auspicious, the hungry ghost festival trumps the auspicious date, so a high-profile activity is inappropriate and unlucky.

The usual Singaporean, ghost-appeasing pyrotechnics have certainly begun. What is notable this year is that more people are using the shared oil-drum burners rather then finding their own patch of grass to burn. Rows of shops have huge candles melting down to a waxy Quatermass on the block paving and the food offerings are a boon to the birds and rats. I still hold out some hope the bonfire excesses will decline with the modern secular generational transition.

As for the games, the official attitude in Singapore has always been pro-Chinese, talking down the vociferous criticism of Tibetan policies, human rights and freedoms, instead pointing out the intense national pride the games have generated and the danger of getting on the wrong side of it. It's the right approach since the games are supposed to be a non-political event but one can't help but notice the self-serving, long-term relationship building rhetoric.

Singapore has its own reasons for eschewing political gamesmanship since they were awarded the inaugural Youth Olympic games in 2010. The mission statement is "Excellence, Friendship, and Respect" and the official logo competition has just been launched. You will have to forgive the excessive use of exclamation marks in the text but you too can try to avoid the inevitable criticism such logos attract. Try to avoid any reference to Gods, legends, numerology, politics, science, nationalism, celebrities, race, religion or any single colour or colour combination with any meaning whatsoever. Good luck.