Israeli President Shimon Peres was among more than 80 foreign leaders and international dignitaries who appeared at last Friday's opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. At 85, he was also the oldest incumbent president attending the Games.
The president, who harbors a profound interest in poetry and philosophy, greeted the Olympics with a poem glorifying "the same dream, of glory, of harmony, of peace" before departing for Beijing; and further elaborated on China, the Games and sports from a unique perspective.
'What impressed me most at the ceremony were people's smiling faces'
Mentioning the grand opening ceremony, President Peres said he could not find the words to describe such a grand and picturesque event. "Everybody looked like a child with a heartfelt smile on their faces when watching the fine spectacle at the site," he said. "The opening ceremony of the Olympics is something of a declaration, sending a clear message to the world that China is stepping out of its thick and heavy history of more than 5,000 years and moving into a modern era," he added.
He also touted the National Stadium, or the Bird's Nest, in a poetic manner: "birds are singing, flying; birds are nurturing their fledgling young." The aged president moved many Chinese people not only with his words, but also with his deeds. Since the day of the opening ceremony coincided with the Sabbath—a weekly day of rest or time of worship - President Peres followed tradition by walking all the way to the Bird's Nest, fortunately not a long distance from the hotel he is staying in.
When the symbolic scroll of a Chinese painting was unfurled at the opening's art performance showing the legendary three thousand pupils of Confucius chanting in concert the famous Confucius Quotes, Peres could not help but comment, "Confucius has passed away, but his thoughts never will."
'If possible, I'd like to be a gymnast'
When asked to make some comments on the war which erupted during the Olympic days between Russia and Georgia, Peres pondered for a while before saying that "in the past, people could fight with each other for the ownership of land, but now land is not as important as the progress of science and technology. Therefore today's war is not occurring in the battlefield, but in the classrooms and schools."
He added that Israel is strong in science and technology, but not in sports. As for the Olympics, he said that the sky would not fall if you lost in the Games, but what is more important is that you never lose hope. "The real victory in the Games is not confined to winning gold medals, it also rests in good sportsmanship and the culture you are representing," he explained.
President Peres was a sports fan in his youth, keen on swimming, basketball, and especially gymnastics. "If possible, I would be a gymnast," he joked.
'A stronger China, a more balanced world'
President Peres has maintained a close relationship with China since 1956 when he acted as the assistant to the Israeli Defense Minister in the tenure of the country's founding Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion.
The founding father of the Israeli state used to write to Shimon Peres saying "please look at China in a far-reaching way; it is a great nation and will be the world focus one day." Following Ben-Gurion's instructions, Peres has been devoted to the promotion of Israeli-Chinese relations since the two countries established diplomatic relations 16 years ago.
He also believes the rise of China will definitely contribute more to the entire world, stressing that a stronger China can help build a more balanced world.
His ideals are also seen in his poem dedicated to the Olympics, which he expresses are meant to promote fraternity and peace between peoples. One excerpt reads:
"Win, don't kill; Lose, don't hate; Hope, don't regret. Go home with an olive branch between your lips: together in harmony."
By People's Daily Online