The Pearl River. It shone like a million stars as Guangzhou declared the XVIth Asian Games open to a thunderous roar of firecrackers, fired from the southern bank of the river on Friday night.
In one of the most innovative opening ceremonies — that even surpassed the grandeur of the Olympic Games — the people of this city paid glowing tribute to the river, which has quietly flowed here for centuries and helped this beautiful city come up on its banks.
The grand presentation was also a reminder of China's forward march over the last two decades in every sphere of life.
As the skyscrapers overlooking the country's third-longest waterway glowed in the darkness and a convoy of ships (floats) — each carrying the national flag of the 45 participating countries and replicas of their historical monuments —snaked through the calm waters, one was left in awe as to how the organisers could conceptualise such a breathtaking display and deliver it with clockwork precision.
Such is the work ethos of the people here that anything less than perfect would have meant failure.
Be it the costumes, props, pre-ceremony ritual of sailing along the river, performance by artistes, fireworks, everything was executed to perfection on the banks of the Pearl.
And when Premier Wen Jiabao arrived, there was nothing but appreciation all around for the man, whose country turned over a new leaf in sporting history on Friday.
During the course of the fortnight, athletes from across the continent would strive to stamp their class, but it will be China who will tower over them in this arena as well.
They have already beaten the world in the Olympics, and the Asian Games is expected to be just a sideshow for them.
From now on, everyday will be nothing less than an Olympic test for the rest of the participating countries --- India included.
Even as a ship, aptly named “Harmony”, set sail to mark the start of the Games — following the march past of athletes — be assured there would be nothing harmonious in the sporting arena and China would try to lay their hands on every medal possible.
India might be fielding the biggest contingent in the Games history, but they also know that a top-five finish here would be impossible, with the likes of South Korea, Japan, Kazakhstan and Thailand standing like impregnable walls.
The next 15 days will tell whether India's success at the recent Commonwealth Games was an indicator of a growing sporting culture in the country.