Friday 30 July 2010

Expo, Expo! Read All About It!

A few weeks ago, I was in China. You may have forgotten – I’ve nearly forgotten. But it is so. I spent one of my four days in Shanghai at the Shanghai Expo. This was my first time at an Expo and it was fascinating. It’s an odd mixture of 19th century thinking – the expo’s roots are in the World Fairs (like in Meet Me in St Louis) that became popular after the Great Exhibition of 1851 – and cutting edge architecture and design. Fairly cutting edge, anyway – you could see the effects of the recession here and there.
The Expo presents the world in miniature, like a commercial version of Legoland. Almost every country in the world has a pavilion that supposedly represents its essence. Or convinces the Chinese to do business with it. Whichever works. There are also pavilions representing NGOs and international entities like the UN. You could spend days there and not see everything, not least because (unless you’re a VIP) the queues are pretty crazy. Apparently people were queuing for up to nine hours to go into the Saudi Arabian pavilion. The big draw there was meeting a sheikh. I passed.
With so much to see, how to decide which pavilions to visit? One arbitrary route is as good as another, I guess. In the end, I chose to go to the pavilions of countries I had visited or was planning to visit on my Grand Tour.
So, first up: Ireland. Ireland is all about grass, seemingly.

After lunch in Italy, I went to South Africa (wine, football)

and Zimbabwe. There is something painfully symbolic about the movie on pause, the empty showcase and the image of a scratched ‘Welcome to Zimbabwe’ sign.

Next was Argentina. I probably won’t make it to Buenos Aires this trip, but this was a coin-in-a-fountain kind of gesture. If the gods are smiling I will make it to Argentina before long. Argentina smelled of steak (great idea!), had a tribute to Evita (stupido idea) and lots of flashing lights.

Canada’s exhibition design came courtesy of Cirque du Soleil. Very razzle-dazzle.

I made my way to Asia via the raised footpath, where I took photos of Russia,

and Denmark. I liked the Danish pavilion very much, essentially one long, looped bike path. But I was told that the concept ran into some trouble because the locals aren’t in the habit of using brakes when they cycle…. Oops.


We had to queue in the rain, but I amused myself by taking photos of the umbrellas.

I liked the fact that the displays were upside down on the ceiling…

Singapore … pretty boring really.

New Zealand was delightful, with a rain forest on the roof.

And then – well, then, I was going to go to Japan but I ran out of steam. And I rationalised that I would be in Japan in a couple of days, so…. And I didn’t need to visit the Chinese pavilion because I was actually in China.

For the most part, the exterior design of the pavilions was far superior to the interiors. The theme of the Expo was ‘Better City, Better Life’, but references to same were very sketchy. I guess that’s not really what it’s about though: it’s really for countries to strut their stuff in front of the world. What is interesting is that the pavilions do reflect, I think, a sense of nationality - though not necessarily in the ways intended.

I saw the following I sign on my way out. It made me pause - are many extra-terrestrials visiting the Shanghai Expo? I guess it's the next logical step.

(If you can't see the writing clearly, the signs say 'Entrance for Regular Visitors of Urban Planet'.)

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