Friday, August 15, 2008

See Beyond That Symbol

The world watched the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony on 8 Aug. I was one of them.

The show would not be complete without the entry parade. 204 countries took their turn to appear before millions of viewers with their flag bearers proudly holding their national flags. Many told me they got bored watching the athletes streaming ceaselessly pass the TV screen. Some stayed on because they were waiting for the Singapore contingent to appear.

The basis for the order of appearance was rather refreshing. Instead of the usual A to Z, the countries appeared in the order based on of the number of strokes of their transcripted Chinese names, with the lowest number of strokes appearing first. For record, Singapore was the 188th country in the march.

I was excited when participants from the first few countries waved at the camera. My excitement went down the hill when more countries with unpronounceable names started to turn up. My attention drifted from their jerseys, to their hairstyle, to their national costumes and finally I found myself checking out their national flags.

Don't get me wrong. I am not obsessed with flags. Somehow, they remind me of the times I was asked to draw the national flag in class. Those were the times you wished the national flag was simpler. I wonder if the kids around the world feel the same way too. Let's check out some flags seen during the entry parade....

The Simple:
It's always good to start with something manageable and familiar such as the Japan flag. The Japanese kids just need to trace the bottom of their water bottles to get a perfect circle. They shouldn't complaint

The Really Simple:
So you think the Japan flag is simple? Check out the Libya flag. Unbelievable! It is a green flag and I mean it. The whole flag is green with no motif or words. The school kids there must be thrilled (provided they stock up their green color pencils).

Up-side down:
The Indonesian flag is made up of two horizontal equal bands with red on top and white at the bottom and the Poland flag takes the up-side down version. Interesting!

The Twin:
Yes, there are countries with the same flag! You don't believe so? See the Indonesian flag and the Monaco flag. Now, try to spot the difference :)

The Sleeping and the Standing:
The Bolivia flag is made up of three equal horizontal bands with Red on top, Yellow in the middle and Green at the bottom. Turn it anti-clockwise and make it stand up and you will get the Guinea flag.

The Mirror Image:
If you put the Guinea flag in front of the mirror, you will get the Mali flag. Wow! That's easy!

The Complex:
I have always thought that the USA flag is complex. So many stars and so many stripes. How to ensure that you don't miss out one or two stars? I wonder how the American kids hand in their 'draw-the-national-flag' homework :(

The Highly Complex:
I guess the kids in Bhutan don't have to draw flags. If they do, they would have to ask for many more days to hand in their homework. Check out that beautiful dragon!

You see, flags can be rather interesting if you take a closer look at them. If you would like to see them all, get a world flag chart from a bookshop. You may also want to consider getting a box of country flag erasers (Hmm, do you know what I am referring to?). Well, if, for some reasons, your interest is aroused beyond the level of curiosity or hobby, consider vexillology (the scientific study of flags)!

So, do offer some admiration the next time you see a national flag. Every bit on it means something.

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