As I watch the landscape rush by, the browns, the soft greens, the blues and greys. I think to myself that it is good to be back in Europe again.
There is a hush in Denmark that we never experience in Singapore. Even in the tropical forests and the mangrove swamps, there is constant movement, ceaseless sound. Here, there is a silence, a stillness trembling at the edge of what must surely be magic- the magic that has given birth to the land of fairy tales- the land of Hans Christian Andersen.
In the tropical warmth and rains of Singapore, in the noisome and vivacious sunlight, I have grown up reading the fairy tales of the cold mountains and the frosts of the Northern lands of Europe where the shadows are stepped with secrets and their princesses are beautiful, tall and pale.
It was with such anticipation, that I stepped off the plane and into the morning hours of Denmark and was whisked away to the Bella Center where CEO and the other directors were already working away.
As I made my way to the Bella Center, listening to the London 2012 representatives chatting away in the shared vehicle, my eyes found it unfamiliar to see so much sky. Looking up into the endless blue, the ground was stolen from me and I stumbled, feeling as if I were falling backwards into the sky.
The wind blew, and between the biting cold and the exhilaration, I found my words stolen away from me.
Later, almost without pause, I was swept into the auditorium to listen to the plenary session. Gazing ahead at the screen over the dotted darkness of many heads silhouetted against the light of the projections, I could not shake the feeling that someone had dipped a thumb into charcoal and made those darkened smudges.
And as the jetlag begin to creep in at the edges of my attention, the occasionally moving shadows of audience’s heads became more and more like moody storm clouds above the ocean framing the lonely vigil of the moon.
The speeches were interspersed with the lifting of the simultaneous translation headsets, the ebb and flow of chattering, people walking to the tables laden with offerings of water: still, sparkling, sparkling with lemon or lime flavors. Like a ritual, people came and went, stood and sat.
So it was for the days at the congress that we entered from all sides and left through the door on the left, shepherded by a stern and matter of fact voice, rounded the information desks and came to the buffet area where hot coffee, tea and snacks were served. Behind the drink stations many tables were arranged “café style” for the attendees to sit, regroup and work.
There in the corner to the left, somewhat near the “kitchen”, was the very prominent “Singapore office” which our delegation had put together by the strategic shifting of tables to secure power points for our laptops.
Here you would see, each morning, with the arrival of the early bus, our Singapore delegation, busy with their computers, logging on to the network with their VPNs going for coffee and “snagging” fruits, muesli bars, the essential cup of coffee and most importantly those very expensive bananas.
It’s true, bananas bought at the grocery stores there are frightfully expensive. You never heard of a banana tree in a Hans Christen Andersen story did you?
It’s something that we take for granted because, let’s face it, if you have some land to plant a tree in your backyard, in the car park of your HDB flats, next to your office (ahem… we’re lucky, we have many mango trees which pelt mangos at everyone’s cars when they are in fruit. Mangos galore! I love mangos! Mangoes mangoes mangoes!But I detract…) you could plant a banana tree. And have bananas. For free. But let’s face it, banana trees grow in this region. So you don’t have to spend $20 (exaggeration) for two bananas.
Of the things that struck me most at the IOC session was how everyone in the “IOC family” and from the NOCs were so close and friendly. It didn’t matter who they were, princes, princesses, political leaders, business leaders, sporting leaders, Olympians… they all greeted each other with smiles and hugs. I felt like a stranger, peeking in on a family reunion. Alright, to be candid, I was a stranger looking in on a family occasion.
In the hubbub of conversation and cries of recognition and greeting, I felt as if I wanted to become a part of that community. I wonder if someone watching SYOGOC from the outside would feel the same thing as I did watching the Olympic family in Copenhagen.
I remember turning to CEO and asking, “I don’t understand how you manage to start a conversation with people so easily?”
CEO smiled and said, “It’s easy, all you have to do is greet the person and introduce yourself, here, I’ll show you” He turned to the stranger next to him and soon they were chatting away as if they had been good friends for many years.
I sat there mind boggled.
When I did finally try, I walked up to two ladies, my hands turned cold and clammy and I stammered and turned red but I did manage to introduce myself and find out that they were from the IFs. They patted me on the back and said that they hoped that I would enjoy my time in Copenhagen.
But really, what do you say?
“Hi, I’m …., I’m working with SYOGOC…”
“May I know what country you’re from?”
“oh we’re from…… “
“I see, wow… (insert some comment about their country)”
“yes (looks bored)”
(in desperation)”It’s my first time at an event like this, it’s really amazing!”
At this point, sometimes, some of the ladies warm up a little and speak kindly to me. At others, the people I’m speaking to, nod a little and wander off purposefully.
It’s quite a lesson in reaching out to people and building friendships. After all, who really has time for a greenhorn/ a novice/ a tenderfoot?
When Mr. Bach from Germany got off the stage after his speech, in some awe, I hovered near the crowds of reporters waiting for a chance to speak to him. And when I finally did, my hands turned clammy again, my knees shook and in my head, I was sure I looked like an absolute fool.
But then again, standing next to a gentleman exuding such confidence, I think a little rubbed off on me- because I didn’t stammer quite so much when I greeted him. In fact he smiled at me and nodded at me.
I ran back to CEO and I’m embarrassed to say, I gushed… “I did it! I spoke to my NOC! He was very nice!!!”
There’s something about working for NOC relations & services, that in our correspondences to our point of contacts in the other NOCs we make friends and share about our countries. Those are the moments that matter so much. The excitement of knowing you might meet these people in a huge crowd- where do you start? What do you say? How do you know? You couldn’t gawk at their accreditations could you? That would be rude, but more likely, it would just be strange…
When Chairman and CEO went on to the stage to speak, all of us sat near the front to give our support. As I listened, I felt proud, proud that suddenly the audience seemed to sit up in their seats and listen attentively. I am proud that we are hosting this event, proud that we would be welcoming the world to our home.
There’s no doubt about it, people are starting to take interest in Singapore 2010, sometimes grudgingly, sometimes with great enthusiasm. We’re just at the beginning of something bigger than we can see right now.
What will it become in the future? Who can say?
The Youth Olympic Games, bringing the youth of the world together in their passions, in their aspirations in their dreams, surely this is something to look forward to, to embrace and to ignite. The youth of the world coming together with the best in them, to put in that which is finest in them, striving for excellence.
Let us watch how easily they achieve what countless talks and wars and ceaseless bloodshed have failed to achieve and let us wonder and be amazed- let us learn from them. Let us dream with them.
This is not something to sneer at, certainly not something to ignore.