HONG KONG—The 16th Asian Games opened in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou on Friday amid huge fanfare and tough restrictions for local residents, who were forbidden to watch from their own homes if they had a view of the stadium.
Athletes and officials boarded boats at the start of the evening, floating off on a ship called "Harmony" through a sea of glitzy neon and lasers, to the strains of uplifting music, official media reported.
Opening ceremony director Chen Weiya said he wanted the parade to have a carnival quality, complete with drummers, lion dancers, local opera, and tai chi performers lining the banks of the Pearl River, which runs through the city.
But ordinary Guangzhou residents said they were left out in the cold by the extravaganza, which set out to rival both the Beijing 2008 Olympics and the Shanghai World Expo in expense and glamor.
"[Security] is very tight," said one Guangzhou resident. "There is a policeman standing guard every three or four paces."
"They have sealed off streets all over the place, and the ordinary people don't have much opportunity to see what's going on," he said.
Official media reports said tens of thousands of ordinary Guangzhou residents "welcomed the Asian Games to their city and played their own parts in a spectacular interactive 'festival of harmony' with athletes and officials."
Ordered to leave
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao officially opened the Asian Games in Guangzhou on Friday, amid a gala performance which sought to pay tribute to the region's seafaring history.
More than 6,000 performers converged on a constructed island stage covered in water in the Pearl River for a dazzling display of fireworks, acrobatics, specially commissioned music, and dance.
But a resident surnamed Zhang said that local people who live near the stadium had been ordered to leave their homes for the duration of the opening ceremony.
"No rooms are allowed to be let, and if you live in property you own, you have to leave it for the night," she said.
"There are no benefits here for ordinary people. Instead, it's brought us a lot of inconvenience."
She said many of the restaurants in the district around the Games were doing hardly any trade at all, and business owners were complaining bitterly about it.
An employee who answered the phone at a normally busy hotel in downtown Guangzhou said all the rooms had been requisitioned by security personnel.
"On the night of the 12th, they will close all the windows and open up the doors of all the rooms," she said.
"There are guards on every floor and in the corridors to maintain security ... This will continue until the opening ceremony is over."
"Guangzhou is going to let off ... fireworks, in order to outdo the Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai World Expo," said a resident surnamed Shen.
"How is that meaningful? Really, they are just burning money."
Guangzhou-based lawyer Liu Shihui said he had been contacted by police from his hometown, and that other people from out of town were sent home ahead of the Games.
"The national security police called me and said they would come to visit me in Guangzhou," Liu said.
"I also have a friend from Shanxi here in Guangzhou, and he was sent out of the city by the Guangzhou police."
Meanwhile, around 6,000 residents of Liede village, on the opposite side of the river from the Asian Games village, were also required to leave their homes, with scant warning or clarity about arrangements.
A Liede resident surnamed Ma said the order to stay away on the big night had come out only at very short notice.
"A lot of things haven't been decided yet, and we've had nothing in writing for a lot of arrangements," Ma said.
A Liede village official surnamed Fang said she had read in the newspapers that no one would be allowed to leave the village after 4 p.m. on the day of the opening ceremony.
"Some of them [think it's a lot of trouble], but it's for the Asian Games. What can we do?" she said.
"The subway trains won't be allowed to stop at Zhujiang New Town," she said.
A taxi driver surnamed Liang said large numbers of police were patrolling the streets of Guangzhou, carrying out spot checks on his passengers.
"Any [taxis] going into the five-star hotels have to be stopped and checked," Liang said. "They even check the underside of the car and the trunk."
He said that large numbers of volunteers, police, and security guards were carrying out the checks.
"They will tell you it's to cooperate with the work of the Asian Games," Liang said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin sevice and by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.