A shower of 600,000 red leaves, a lawn dotted with 360,000 flowers, a collection of 100,000 post cards, and a mute dialogue between a girl and a flame. Together, they created the most beautiful, romantic and emotional scenes one could ever imagine.
Fireworks are displayed during the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games closing ceremony held in the National Stadium, or the Bird's Nest, Beijing, capital of China, Sept. 17, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)
And this was how China bid farewell to the 12-day Beijing 2008 Paralympics on Wednesday night, when its 40-day mission to host the world, beginning on Aug. 8 with the Beijing Olympics opening, also ended with it.
Chinese President Hu Jintao (R) and International Paralympic Committee President Philip Craven wave to the crowd during the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games at the National Stadium in Beijing, China, Sept. 17, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)
Basking in the glory and pride of staging two successful Games in a row, the country has set its eyes on the future, expecting a better tomorrow for itself and the world at large, as indicated by the Games theme of "One World, One Dream."
The word "future," shaped in both Chinese and English by fireworks, shone over the National Stadium, or the Bird's Nest, in north Beijing, as International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Philip Craven declared the Games closed and the Paralympic flag was lowered.
"These are the greatest Paralympic Games ever," said Craven in his closing speech.
Dubbed "A Letter to the Future," the 1.5-hour closing ceremony gave a pleasant surprise to all its participants, with nearly 1,000 postmen and postwomen inviting every athlete, spectator and journalist in the stadium to write down their blessings and wishes on a post card specially designed for the occasion.
The cards, over 100,000 in all, were then cast into dozens of post boxes laid on the track, waiting to be "mailed to the future." They will in fact be delivered gratis to their destinations worldwide by China Post the next day.
But more unexpected was the way the Games cauldron was doused. The entire crowd held their breath, as a 10-year-old girl with hearing impairment appeared on the central stage and used sign language to conduct a soundless dialogue with the burning flame atop the Bird's Nest.
"Sacred flame, can you see that you are burning in my heart? Sacred flame, can you hear that I'm singing for you?" For several minutes, the girl kept "saying" it with her hands, while the flame went out slowly under her affectionate gaze.
Meanwhile, a "full moon," symbolizing completeness and lasting memory, rose in the stadium. Dressed in glittering golden costumes as Bodhisattva, or the goddess of mercy in Chinese Buddhism, 126 deaf dancers joined the girl to express by hand their undying passion for the flame.
"May this holy flame, lit with passion, turn into a rainbow that will link all people with friendship and convey love to all people," said Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the 29th Olympic Games (BOCOG), at the ceremony.
Starting to burn on Sept. 6 in the same cauldron that had kept the Beijing Olympic flame for 16 days in August, the Paralympic flame has witnessed numerous people -- particularly the athletes, volunteers and organizers -- strive hard to make the Games as splendid and successful as its able-bodied version.
In pursuit of this "Two Games with Equal Splendor" goal, a record 4,000-plus athletes competed in the spirit of transcendence and integration, and 147 delegations fought for glory on the medal table, with China, Britain and the United States sitting in the top three eventually.
With their unyielding spirit and unstoppable momentum, Oscar Pistorius, Natalie du Toit, Erin Popovich and Jonas Jacobsson shone on the track, in the pool or at the shooting range, scoring similar or even greater achievements as compared with their Olympic counterparts.
And some 44,000 Games volunteers, most of whom had served the Olympics, along with 1.4 million city volunteers, continued to render top-grade service and created a barrier-free environment for the Paralympians. Many of them missed their family reunions as the traditional Mid-Autumn Festival fell in the middle of the Games.
"It is all about spirit," said President Craven of the IPC. "The Paralympic spirit that is ever bright in our movement, found here in China, a kindred spirit."
And such spirits were celebrated and honored on Wednesday night, with awards and flowers.
Minutes after the closing ceremony began with a fireworks gala at 8 p.m., South African amputee swimmer Natalie du Toit and visually-impaired Panamanian runner Said Gomez received the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award, which was initiated at the 1988 Seoul Games to honor athletes who best represent the Paralympic spirit at each Games.
Then 12 volunteers representatives stepped onto the podium, to receive flower bouquets presented by five newly-elected members of the IPC Athletes' Council, a token of gratitude from all Paralympians as well as the IPC.
The most dramatic moments of the night arrived when it was time for Beijing to say good-bye and London, the 2012 Games host, to say hi.
The outgoing host set its farewell party on a green lawn, which resembled an envelope but could magically turn into a garden with as many as 360,000 flowers sprouting out of the floor.
Kicking off a half-hour art performance, 600,000 red leaves, a typical autumn landscape on mountains surrounding Beijing and also a symbol of unforgettable love, poured down from the 44-meter-high rim of the Bird's Nest, and showered ceaselessly on both the athletes and performers for nearly five minutes.
On his way to the podium for the closing speech, the IPC chief Craven stopped his wheelchair and picked up two red leaves. Putting one into the pocket of his suit, as if collecting a piece of sweet memory, he handed the other to Liu Qi, the Games' chief organizer. And the two shook hands warmly.
"Xie Xie Xiang Gang (thank you Hong Kong), Xie Xie Qing Dao (thank you Qingdao), Xie Xie Bei Jing (thank you Beijing)," said Craven in Chinese amid thundering applause and roaring cheers of the ecstatic home crowd, before concluding his speech with a well-expected "Xie Xie Zhong Guo (thank you China)."
In contrast to Beijing's romantic and reminiscent touch, the eight-minute London handover performance, staged right after Beijing Mayor Guo Jinlong passed the Paralympics flag to his London counterpart Boris Johnson through Philip Craven, was full of vibrant rhythms and permeated with a light and brisk air.
A blend of orchestral and rock, pop and urban, and even with a brief tea break right in the middle of the show, the London performance demonstrated the city's vitality and unique charm, as well as its readiness to pursue the same splendor as what the Beijing Games have achieved -- but probably in very different ways.
And the presence of disabled dancers and a wheelchair basketball star in the show reminded the people of the special historical links between London and the Paralympics -- it was a historic archery competition among war-injured patients at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital just outside the British capital in 1948 that inspired the creation of a new worldwide sporting movement.
In consistence with its Olympic handover version more than 20 days ago, the London performance took place on a stage transformed from a double-decker bus, the city's icon. And when it ended, the bus was restored to its original form and cruised out of the Bird's Nest, formally carrying away the two Games.
At that moment, many of the 1.3 billion Chinese, especially those closely associated with the Games through their dedication and sacrifice, might have felt a sense of loss. But it shall not be hard for them to get over it, for the legacy of the Games will last, and so will the country's faith in the future.
(Xinhua News Agency September/china.org.cn 17, 2008)