Seven years ago, when Beijing won the bid to host the Olympics, I was in Tiananmen Square and completely overwhelmed by the sheer pride and emotion from thousands of spectators. Within a matter of days, taxi drivers received English tapes in order to communicate with future Olympic visitors, and the pace of construction seemed to speed up overnight.
Tonight, when I was in Beijing's Hohai, watching the fireworks, and possibly celebrating with some of the same people who were in Tiananmen with me, I thought about so many of the changes that China has undergone over the past seven years. For so many Chinese, this opportunity is the realization of a dream that's been countless years in the making.
Many even refer to this achievement as one of the most important days in their lives, and view it as a monumental national accomplishment. Organizers have clearly spared no expense to ensure a great opening ceremonies, beautifully orchestrated by director Zhang Yimou. They even had police on just about every Beijing street corner during the ceremonies as an extra security blanket.
For Beijing, hosting the Olympics is infinitely deeper than just a sporting event; as the opening ceremonies demonstrate, they're a way for China to represent its culture in a way that the rest of the world can understand.
Over the course of the evening, I lost count of the numerous people who said in broken English, "welcome to Beijng," and were elated to share their enthusiasm with me.
Granted, there are many philosophical and political differences between China and other nations that won't just disappear after a rousing game of ping-pong or basketball. Even this Sunday, President Bush's attendance at Kuanjie Church will bring up some of the more sensitive issues.
But for at least one night, filled with fireworks and festivities, I was sucked into the Olympic vortex, firmly experiencing the motto of "One World, One Dream."
Watch the video for a closer look of Beijing during the Opening Ceremonies.