The day I landed in London, it was 315 days, 6 hours and 7 minutes away.
I remember it precisely because I took a photo of the Olympic countdown clock at Trafalgar Square.
And as the countdown draws closer, we can say, it is finally here.
The summer Olympics is three days away, and all the preparations that London has been doing for the games will be put into a test.
It’s amazing when you think about the amount of time and money poured into the preparations. After all, it’s about re-branding the city’s image for the world to watch.
There is a fresh coat of paint on the city’s walls, the old monitors at the underground stations have been replaced by flat screen ones, the red double-decker buses have gone blue and white (which looks odd), there is a separate Olympic lane … the list just go on about how London has been refurbished.
Thirteen years ago, a small country in South Asia was underway similar preparations. No, it was not for the Olympics, but for the eighth South Asian Games, also known as SAF Games.
The Nepali capital was hosting the games for the second time after the city hosted the first ever SAF Games in 1983.
Kathmandu wanted to do everything, literally.
It started from road expansions and making the city look beautiful.
Houses were demolished, especially the ones next to the airport, sparking ire from the locals for insufficient compensations. Roads were being expanded and mini-parks were being created.
The city had bigger plans: many houses at a triangular intersection of the city, close to the airport, were demolished to make an artificial pond, a fountain if I remember clearly. Days ahead of the games, the plan was not even closer of getting materialized.
So blue plastic sheets were used to create an impression of a waterland, that we still hope will be there somewhere when we look at the wasted land today. It is instead being used as a place for beginners to learn driving and riding motorcycles.
But I have to say that the SAF project helped in making some of the city’s streets wider. If it weren’t for the games, maybe the city would not have taken such a bold step.
Kathmandu’s other step, among others, was also the renovation of the national stadium, the one and only big capacity football stadium that the city has. The football ground and race tracks got a new look and new lights and scoreboard was installed. It surely did look like an international stadium.
A new swimming facility was also made, especially for the occasion.
In terms of infrastructure, SAF Games forced Kathmandu to do something that it would not have done otherwise.
Also, it gave Nepalis a reason to celebrate. It gave them extra days off. It was a time for national unity, in some way.
Presumably for the first time, Kathmandu’s sky was lit up with firecrackers. It was a spectacle that we Nepalis had only seen on television. And it was happening.
We were all cheering for our national teams–from non-sports enthusiasts to sports fanatics, from locals to members of the then royal family, every Nepali was supporting for Team Nepal.
So much for the cheers and the home advantage, Nepal had the second-highest rank out of the seven countries. Our football team reached the final, and I must say it was one of the best times watching and cheering for Nepal though they lost.
Sporting events are special. For the first time I realized this. After all, it was the first international, mega sporting event in my life.
After 13 years, I am in a city that is hosting one of the mega events on this decade. I feel lucky to be in London at this time.
On Wednesday, when the Olympic torch passes through my neighborhood in London, I am going to be there soaking in the spirit.
When the games begin on Friday, I will certainly be a part of millions of people who are in the city for the games. When the Nepali players walk the arena at the opening ceremony, I shall definitely cheer for them.
Regardless of all the chaos and difficulties in commuting and what not, for a minute, I would rather stop complaining and cheer for the efforts of the city hosting the games.
After all, the wait is over. It is London 2012.