The Axis Of Evil At The Closing Ceremony Of The Guangzhou Asian Games...

OK, so who did the seating plan?

My photo position for the closing ceremony tonight, whilst great for the fireworks, was directly in front of the North Korean delegation. Real, live, in the flesh, North Koreans. Can you imagine!?

I've long been fascinated with the place, but those delegates from the world's most secretive state didn't like it one bit when I took their photo.

Not entirely unexpectedly, I got the old hand in the lens treatment.

And one of them said, "...you know, it is Korean custom to ask before taking photo!", to which I replied, "well, you know it is also photojournalist custom to take natural unposed photos of people in real life situations!" He didn't get it.

So I took out the long lens instead.

"Why are you taking our picture?" 

"Because there is intense global interest in your country right now, as your leader seems hell bent on starting world war three", I replied as athletes from the renegade nuclear state filed by on the stage below us. The cadre replied, "You must come to our country to see that this is all lies and propaganda from your country!"

For those who don't already know, it should be noted that North Korea shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong this week, killing two marines and two civilians. Seriously, war on the Korean Peninsula has not been this close since the end of the Korean war in the 1950's.

This man from the hermit kingdom videoed the entire closing ceremony without a tripod. Strange. But hey, what's that pin on his lapel?

It's North Korea's 'Great Leader', Kim Il-sung, (수령), of course.

And hang on. Who are those guys in beige suits sitting behind the North Koreans?

My, my, what a coincidence. It's none other than delegates from the Islamic Republic of Iran!

Don't believe me? Let's zoom in on that pass around his neck.

Funny that. Trading nukes in the stands in Guangzhou?

Down on the field of play, Iranian athletes from the "Islamic" Republic certainly seemed to be having a whale of a time with some Chinese volunteer girls in mini-skirts. Not a burka in sight!

But back to those shady guys from Pyongyang.

Watching me, watching you, watching me.

Me and this guy played a cat and mouse game. Every time I tried to take a snap of him, he would conceal his face with his camera.

As the athletes filed by....

... the delagation took off their jackets to conceal their juche-flavoured Kim Il-Sung pins.

But wait, it gets even better. What's that guy's pin in the row in front of the North Koreans?

Alas, I didn't get a clear picture of the man's face, but what exactly is that flag on his lapel pin?

Zooming in, we can see it's the Syrian flag!

So now we have the delagations from Iran, North Korea and Syria all sitting cosily together! A full blown 'Axis of Evil' corner of the Haixinsha Square Stadium in Guangzhou. Like I said, who organized the seating? Is China providing a convenient locale for some serious networking and arms trading? And if so, why? Or maybe these guys from pariah states all band together naturally as they feel left out - ostracized by the rest of the world, like reject kids in the corner of the school playground. Or maybe they already know each other well. Scary thought. But seriously, why place the media position right next to them? An oversight on the part of the organizers? Maybe, but so many questions in my head...

Then, as the ceremony wound up, things got really interesting. Down on the stage below, a handover was taking place between China and South Korea. The sacred flame torch of the Asian Games was being passed from the mayor of Guangzhou to the mayor of Incheon, South Korea, as the next Games will be held there in 2014. First the Olympic Council of Asia flag was lowered, then the national flag of South Korea was raised. And, right on cue, just as the South Korean national anthem started to play, the entire North Korean delegation got up from their seats en masse, and walked out in protest.

They headed straight for the toilet.

Then they hung around outside for a bit, before leaving altogether. The event had become South Korean, and like a jealous kid, they wanted no part of it.

Childish. To think that this petulant country has nuclear weapons is a sobering thought.

Other memorable moments, (un-related to North Korea) include... riot police...

...volunteers...

Love those small pastel-coloured plastic stools!

A stern-looking paramilitary policeman contrasting to the happy clappy volunteer colleagues.

They sang a nice song though. When I get back to Hong Kong I'll post a Youtbe link here.

Oh. And one last thing before I go back. As I predicted two weeks ago, China totally cleaned up in the medals.

Yawn...

ALEX HOFFORD : GUANGZHOU ASIAN GAMES CHINA PHOTOGRAPHER

All images and text © Alex Hofford / Image Solutions Ltd. 2011 | Web design in Hong Kong by Ugli © 2011