I’m back in Shanghai, spending the summer with my parents. The must-see event in Shanghai right now: the World Expo, of course. And so I headed over to the MASSIVE Expo lot with my dad today. Can I just emphasize the word MASSIVE? I don’t know how many miles or kilometers it was, but it took my dad and I pretty much three hours to get from end to end and we only stopped in the pavilions with no lines. Here‘s the official map, so that you can get a better idea for the lay of the land.
(I have pictures but no chord, so I’ll have to add some of those later)
Expo was a lot like the country pavilions at the Olympics–which is to say not that impressive. Example: Lativia house was filled with giant colored pigs, which maybe had something to do with urban development, but it was never really made clear to us. Most people were just taking pictures with them. And on them.
There were some, if not interesting, then at least hilarious moments. North Korea and Iran were, for example, right next to each other, away up in the corner away from all of the other houses. It felt like a sort of metaphorical time out until those two countries learn to play nice with the other folks.
We didn’t make it into a lot of the pavilions because the lines stretched for hours and hours, and frankly I don’t care enough to wait for that long. So we went where there were short lines: North Korea, Lao, Myanmar, Belarus. In retrospect, most of the pavilions I went into were either Communist or dictatorships. Or Communist dictatorships. Ironic that those would be the shortest lines in China.
New Zealand and India, although I didn’t go into either pavilion had the coolest exteriors. India had a wind turban on the roof, along with a bunch of plants and solar panels. New Zealand was entirely made out of flora. And while it felt like a lot of the other pavilions had made some effort to be sustainable (e.g., there were a couple of other partially green roofs and the odd solar panel) these two were the only ones that really embraced it. Oh, and also the Netherlands, which apparently has some sort of water filtration system that takes water right out of the river (super disgusting polluted water) and cleans it so that it is totally drinkable. However, we didn’t make it in there today and when my Dad went on an official tour last week it wasn’t working. So we’ll have to see if that actually comes to be.
Other interesting sights:
- Estonia’s outer wall was composed of these little plastic squares which shook in the wind, so the entire exterior of the building was in constant motion.
- Iran had the words “city of justice and benevolence” clearly displayed on the outside.
- North Korea kind of subtitled their entire pavilion “People’s Paradise”
- Denmark brought the REAL little Mermaid statue and had it sitting in the middle of their pavilion.
- The Chinese pavilion is in the very center, overshadowing the much smaller Hong Kong and Macau pavilions. And then Taiwan was across the street. Another metaphorical time out?
- Skype was invented in Estonia, and they want you to hear all about it. Who knew?
The winner of my expo experience was by far the African pavilion. Not only was there no line, but most of the country booths were creative and engaging. They were all sort of investment ads, but the displays were still really beautiful. And the live performance was amazing. Plus countries like Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were there. Which was really unexpected. And there was the ever necessary picture of Mugabe and another one of an Ethiopian Leader and Mao. Which seemed a little bit out of date.
That was another really interesting thing: how all of these countries tried to connect their histories to China. Brunei pointed to sea trade going back for a millennia. Lithuania claimed that they had been trading amber with China for centuries. Iran had a map that showed the Chinese empire and the Iranian empire actually being neighbors at some point.
Back to Africa though. It was unexpected and a really nice change that at this global event where size and technology is so valued, the more simple African pavilions were much more enjoyable and–even more importantly–accessible than anything the US or China could produce. Maybe I will feel differently after I visit more of the pavilions, but Africa was definitely the highlight for me today.
In sum, as interesting as the whole experience was, I cannot help but think what a waste it is. After all, in 6 months on October 24th it all comes down. And probably not in a very sustainable way. And then what are they going to do with this massive strip of concrete? Let’s hope there is some sustainable urban development planned, but I really think that is rather unlikely.
Wouldn’t it be more sustainable to not move and rebuild the World Expo every couple of years. Is it really worth the average of $13 million that the pavilions cost each country (Saudi Arabia spent more than $60 million!)? What is it’s purpose and is it really achieving that purpose? As the nation state diminishes in importance, do we need another event talking about how great they are? Can’t we get all the same information from the internet? Is the World Expo in any way shape or form making the world a better place?
Sadly, I think the time and place for World Fairs may have passed. And it is time to let them go.