HANOI: A rainy afternoon and an overcast evening failed to dampen spirits as the 31st SEA Games were officially declared open in Hanoi, Vietnam on Thursday (May 12).
The atmosphere began building outside the My Dinh National Stadium as early as two hours prior to the ceremony. Undeterred by the sleet-grey skies, fans snapped selfies and posed for pictures amid the imposing backdrop of huge hot-air balloons with flags of the 11 participating nations.
The Games were originally scheduled to take place in November but were delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But there has undoubtedly been a buzz in the air over the past few days as Hanoi geared up to host the event.
Throughout the city, banners and flags advertising the regional meet have been put up, with giant cutouts of the mascot Saola easily recognisable around various corners of Hanoi's old quarter.
While the stadium was filled to about half of its full capacity, this was by design.
Local media had reported that tickets would be allocated to government and international officials, foreign embassies in Vietnam, as well as fans. A section of the stadium was kept empty to host performances during the ceremony.
In front of various dignitaries including Vietnam President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the ceremony began with a flag salute and the Vietnamese national anthem. Also in attendance was Singapore National Olympic Council president Tan Chuan-Jin.
The first chapter of the opening ceremony, entitled "Friendly Vietnam" featured various performances highlighting the unique cultural identity of the country. These included Lotus and Dong Ho folk woodcut painting dances.
The second chapter of the ceremony featured streamlined marching contingent of the various Southeast Asian nations.
For the opening ceremony, a total of 31 people were in the marching contingent for each of the nations participating in the Games. In addition, a maximum of 100 people from each country’s national Olympic councils were allowed in the stands.
The 31 Team Singapore officials and athletes marching included chef de mission S Sinnathurai, assistant chef de mission Asmah Hanim and representatives from a range of sports including Athletics, Esports and Silat.
Marching out in front of a virtual backdrop showcasing notable local landmarks such as Marina Bay Sands, and Singapore Sports Hub Team Singapore was led out by flagbearer and three-time silat world silat champion Sheik Farhan.
"The past two years have been tough. It’s hard to believe that after three years, we are here at the SEA Games," he said.
"Walking with my teammates and fellow countrymen into the My Dinh Stadium felt surreal. I felt immense pride carrying the flag for my nation."
More than 400 athletes will represent Team Singapore at the Games, competing in 33 sports.
Prior to the opening ceremony, several sports had already been underway including diving, silat and football. Silat exponent Iqbal Abdul Rahman had clinched Singapore's first gold medal on Wednesday after he won the artistic men’s tunggal (singles) finals.
"It has been a good start to Team Singapore’s campaign in Hanoi. Our diving and kickboxing teams have competed and returned to Singapore safely. Many athletes have also arrived and are settling in well with the help of the organisers and volunteers," said Mr Sinnathurai.
"We are hopeful that this evening’s spectacular opening ceremony will set the stage to an exciting SEA Games in Hanoi in the coming weeks ahead."
The SEA Games are centred on Hanoi with action also taking place in 11 nearby northern provinces.
It is the second time that Vietnam has hosted the Games - the 2003 edition was hosted by Hanoi as well Ho Chi Minh City.
After the lighting of the Games cauldron came a rousing rendition of the catchy Games theme song Let's Shine.
And as flurry of fireworks illuminated the Hanoi night sky to loud cheers, it was perhaps a yet another reminder that even in the gloomiest days, there is always light ahead.