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London 2012 Culture Director: sense of family welcome in Beijng
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09:34, August 09, 2008

By Bill Morris Director of Culture,Ceremonies and Education, London 2012

"You're welcome", "It's my pleasure", "Enjoy your stay!" Far too often these are phrases parroted without meaning. The guide to customer service demands it so, with or without joy or sincerity, out it comes...."Have a nice day" grunts the ticket clerk without even looking up to see who's day it is...

But not here in my first full week in Beijing in the run up to the 2008 Games. I've travelled to sports venues far and wide, to some great restaurants, impressive cultural venues and to some of the City's most famous landmarks, learning plenty to nourish London's Games in 2012. One of the unifying features is the genuine quality and warmth of welcome. Even through the international cultural barriers most of us can spot the real thing from a fake. Here there seems to be an infinite source of one hundred per cent proof welcome. Wide open smiles and eyes that say it with more meaning than any service manual can demand.

Foolishly I left my mobile phone on a seat at the Birds Nest Stadium the other night whilst attending the hugely impressive dress rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony. Only when returning to the hotel late in the evening did I discover the error. And yet waiting for me under the door of my bedroom was a note from the reception desk. Not only had my phone been found, but "Frank", who's main job is at the new National Centre for the Performing Arts, had kindly picked it up, tracked me down from recent calls and arranged to deliver it back to me first thing in the morning. That's what I call service!

And even more reason to be grateful to Frank when he urged me to pay a visit to his new work place. A suggestion I took up earlier this week when the International Olympic Committee held a grand reception event in the main Opera House.This astonishing egg-like building nestled in a shimmering carpet of water, is as much a bold statement of the new Beijing as the Bird's Nest stadium or the CCTV Headquarters. If the architecture is cutting edge, the facilities inside are world class.

One of my responsibilities for London 2012's Games is the four year Cultural Olympiad which starts soon after Beijing hands over the Games to us. Two of the UK companies who are joining our programme have recently travelled to Beijing and performed in the new National Theatre. The Royal Ballet and our National Youth Theatre both played to packed houses as part of the 2008 games cultural programme and both raved about the experience – not just the cultural experience but the warmth of the reception. They found audiences who were genuinely delighted that they'd made the long journey and who were inspired by the unique cultural experience they'd brought with them.

The "Olympic family" is another term which can be over-worked but there's something tangibly special in the atmosphere of an Olympic city. After many trips to Beijing over the last two years, I felt it especially powerfully arriving last week. The meeting of nations not just for the greatest sporting festival in the world, but for cultural events, community festivals at Live Sites and a city on show makes for a potent cocktail. But no matter how great the facilities, how much work has gone into the preparation, or how outstanding the performances, it is that sense of family welcome which really marks out the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. I saw it the other day when I briefly became an honorary Kazakh. As part of my Observer Programme for the games I was able to join the Team Welcome Ceremony which is offered to every competing nation in the Athlete's village. After their long journey the Kazakhstan athletes were clearly moved, not just by the gifts and speeches, but by the local children's choir.

In far more prosaic circumstances I felt the same sense of family welcome in our local supermarket in Xidan earlier today. Well, what does a man do when he has no idea what kind of washing powder to buy? My Mandarin is sadly lacking and the staff in the store spoke no English. Like a scene in an improvisation comedy we enacted a mime show to demonstrate the need for powder that goes into a machine. After a few blank looks the shop staff were soon joining in the show with gusto – pulling imaginary doors and throwing in all manner of virtual laundry. With this silent movie increasingly interrupted by laughter other customers joined in the performance and I'm beginning to realise where the term "Soap Opera" comes from.

From this tiny vignette to the biggest show of all, and the main reason I'm here. London 2012 has formed a powerful relationship with the Ceremonies team from the Beijing Organising Committee for the 2008 Games. We did this firstly because we work with BOCOG on The Handover – a short but important sequence in the middle of the Closing Ceremony that marks the moment when the Olympic and Paralympic flags are passed from one host city to the next. Our relationship, however, has become one based more on friendship and welcome than just on professional collaboration.

Director Wang Ning, my opposite number in BOCOG, and his energetic team are putting the final touches to the most spectacular and elegant Opening Ceremony. Yet they've found time at many points over the last two years to entertain us, to advise us and to share their huge knowledge so that London can benefit from it over the next four years. Most of all they've provided a welcome we'll remember as long as we'll think of their highly memorable ceremonies. To Ning and his team I say "Good Luck" for great ceremonies and successful games. To all of Beijing, in response to your welcome, I say Xie Xie.



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