Sports can certainly bring countries and people closer together. I believe the Vietnamese Government must have been tremendously pleased and proud of its achievement in holding its first SEA Games in a unified Vietnam after being a member for such a long time. From the daily live telecasts beamed to all the Southeast Asian countries, one cannot help but marvel at the joy and cheerfulness of the ordinary Vietnamese people, young and old, at all the games venues. Vietnam has succeeded in organizing these Games and receiving the tremendous support from its people. It richly deserved to top the medal list by securing 150 gold medals, far ahead of second-placed Thailand with 86 golds. Thailand brought along the largest contingent of 937 delegates: 640 athletes, 218 coaches and 69 officials. Timor Leste or formerly East Timor, which was internationally recognized as the world's newest democracy on 20 May 2002, sent in a token contingent of 16 athletes and 6 coaches. As expected Timor Leste, the smallest participating country with a population of 800,000, did not win any medals. The Philippines, as the next host nation two years hence, was placed fourth with 44 gold medals, just one ahead of Malaysia. Singapore was stuck in the middle with 29 golds among the 11 participating countries. Indonesia, as the most populous country in Southeast Asia with more than 150 million people (maybe closer to 200 million, I think), came in third with 53 gold medals. The closing ceremony was as impressive and as colourful as the opening. It combined the modern and the traditional. There were laser beams shooting about in the huge and crowded stadium. People were full of expectancy and they exuded a pleasant sense of joy and jubilation. The colourful parachute gliders pierced through the sky in announcing the start of the celebrations. Welcome speeches, with a tinge of communist jargon, started the proceedings. They were then followed by Vietnamese music played by the Vietnamese Symphonic Orchestra, probably first trained by the Russians, who also left an indelible mark on the military as the Vietnamese soldiers march exactly like them. But the Chinese also had a strong influence in the Vietnamese language as one can see Chinese characters being displayed in public places and the traditional dresses are quite similar to the Chinese. The Games mascot, the Vietnamese water buffalo, big and strong to plough the paddy fields, was seen everywhere and of course, every medal winner was presented with the toy mascot as a souvenir. Singing and dancing accompanied the music. I particularly like the rendition of popular songs of many of the participating countries, sung in the native language by the Vietnamese performers. The innocent and colourfully decorated pretty faces of the little girls, who were adorned in national costumes and head-dresses, put up a brave attempt in doing the traditional dances of the other countries and they were a delight to watch! The laser beams spelt out the names of each participating country on the stage, at the center of which stood a giant replica of the SEA Games logo. At one stage, this logo emitted giant coloured balloons to add to the already highly-charged atmosphere. Two young singers in their twenties, a soprano and a tenor, belted out a "motherland" Vietnamese song in both Vietnamese and perfect English! Songs were also sung by the large college students choir, accompanied by the symphony orchestra. Surprisingly, I did not see or hear any traditional Vietnamese musical instruments which had graced the Opening Ceremony in abundance. But Vietnamese youths showed great potential for the future. Then the blue SEA Games flag was taken down and brought to the Vietnamese representatives by the Russian-style marching soldiers dressed in white uniform, to be handed to the two Filippino ambassadors, the Chairman of their Organizing Games Committee and the Mayor of Manila. It was then left to the Philippines contingent to showcase their tradition and culture. Fully attired in colourful traditional costumes, the Filippino dancers and musicians proudly exhibited their skills to entertain the Vietnamese spectators, many of whom may not have experienced such culture before. Instead of playing their Spanish guitars, mandolins and other Western instruments, the Filippino musicians stuck to traditional drums, gongs and symbals to tell the story as peformed by fellow dancers with colourful fans and huge umbrellas. Thankfully, they have not forgotten to remind the spectators of their famous bamboo dance as part of their repetoire! A superb 22nd SEA Games by the Vietnamese indeed, perhaps the best in the series! With economic boom and a better life for all Vietnamese, communism will slowly lose its meaning. And Vietnam will become a more unified nation proud of their achievements and heritage, where peace and prosperity will become the order of the day and its contribution to ASEAN will be more significant! I wished our BF friends of Vietnamese origin now living overseas had a chance to witness the SEA Games and see for themselves how much had changed in the Vietnam of today. Yodums for example? Till we meet again in Manila in 2005! Mabuhay!