insight - Shanghai Expo
Written by Nick Walton
Like the Beijing Olympics before it, expectations have been exceeded, minds blown, and the masses seduced by offerings from all around the world.
But as with all good things, the Shanghai Expo – the modern-day World Fair and the city’s first bold step into the international limelight – is coming to an end on October 31. Its last month promises to be its best yet.
At an estimated cost of US$45 billion (even more than China’s other recent jaw-dropping party, the 2008 Olympics) and with 189 countries and 52 international organisations setting up shop, the Shanghai Expo has well and truly mesmerised the masses, from across the Middle Kingdom and the world’s far-flung corners.
??In the spirit of World Fairs of old, which gave birth to many a renowned landmark – including the iconic Eiffel Tower (created as a welcome arch for the 1889 Exposition Universelle), and London’s Crystal Palace (built for the Great Exhibition of 1851, the first ever Expo) – the first thing visitors to Shanghai Expo will notice upon arriving is the showcase of architecture. Playing an increasingly important role (and an immense point of national pride), pavilion architecture has come a long way since the time of big top tents, and the pavilions in Shanghai are the most cutting-edge ever seen.??
One of the most eye-catching, for both punters arriving at the Expo and for the thousands of commuters who traverse the Lupu Bridge that passes above the expo ground, is that of the event’s host: China. Its striking red structure, named the Oriental Crown, represents a showcase of sustainable building practices, ranging from passive design to rainwater harvesting, and will be one of only five permanent structures that will remain after the fireworks of the closing ceremony die away. Another eye-catching pavilion is Singapore’s Urban Symphony-themed structure, a 1980s space station-esque complex that hopes to showcase the Lion City’s knack for urban planning, water technology, and environmental services.
??At over 6,000sq m, the USA National Pavilion looks remarkably NASA-ish as well, and is one of the largest national pavilions at the Expo. Located at the West Expo Gate, the Clive Grout-designed pavilion has proved to be one of the most popular attractions at the show, and has already seen over one million inquisitive visitors. The pavilion of the United Kingdom, which has already been given the rather affectionate nickname the ‘porcupine’ (officially it’s the Cathedral of Seeds), shows just how far design has come since those early days at Crystal Palace. Developed by Thomas Heatherwick, its centrepiece is a six-storey structure with some 60,000 slender, transparent rods protruding from it. These act like fibre-optic filaments, drawing on the daylight to illuminate within, and resonating light during the evening.
??With similarly organic lines, Qatar’s pavilion resembles the Barzan Tower in Doha, and offers both a modern and sustainable take on historic architecture, while the pavilion of the United Arab Emirates, created by Foster & Partners, resembles a huge golden sand dune, taking its inspiration from the fabled Empty Quarter. It is one among several pavilions that will be dismantled and rebuilt in their home countries. Other must-see (if not necessarily visit) pavilions include Brazil’s rain forest-green bird’s nest, made from recycled woven wood; Taiwan’s Sky Lantern; Italy’s transparent cube; Romania’s green apple; and Japan’s solar-powered dome.
??For many the Expo is a visual amusement park with, as the saying goes, ‘something for everyone’, even if you’re not inside a pavilion. “We love to see all the futuristic designs,” says engineering student He Junyi, who has already visited the Expo twice. “It won't be long until all these amazing buildings are dismantled, so it’s important we enjoy them while we can.” He plans to leave the USA pavilion until last. “The line is always too long for that one, but I do enjoy taking photographs of it”??.
Each pavilion also has its schedule of both business and cultural events, and with the closing ceremony drawing ever nearer, many have kept the best performances until last. “The build-up of excitement during the Expo’s first five months will peak in October as the closing day gets closer. We expect to welcome even more visitors to the New Zealand Pavilion,” says New Zealand Commissioner General Phillip Gibson. Within the modern New Zealand pavilion, attractions include a 1,800kg pounamu, or New Zealand jade boulder, which has proven a popular good luck charm among local Chinese, and a magnificent pohutukawa, also known as the New Zealand Christmas tree.??
“Throughout October there will be daily performances in front of the pavilion by M?ori cultural groups, featuring the famous haka dance,” says Commissioner Gibson. “We want all visitors to feel welcome. They can talk to New Zealand staff, see and interact with magnificent images, and touch interesting objects.”
Events play an integral part of the Expo. It’s not just enough to have a portable museum dedicated to a distant culture; that culture needs to be illustrated through songs and dance, and through festivals and pageantry. Thus, a plethora of events is scheduled for October, from thigh-slapping indigenous dancing and delicate tea ceremonies to crowd-pleasing musical performances, and even the odd celebrity visit.
??Tennis fans will love the cross-over events between the Expo and the Shanghai Rolex Masters, when Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and many other leading players will compete at the nearby Qizhong Tennis Centre (October 9–17), in-between visits to their national pavilions.
??At the 2,000sq m Turkish pavilion, dubbed the Maze of Dreams, traditional Ottoman-era military music will be played by a resident Janissary band, between performances by an Istanbul-based Nefes dance group. Between October 28 and 31, expect a traditional ‘Catalhoyuk’ fashion show to be held each evening with the theme of ‘Reflections’.??
Visitors to the glass-encased Irish pavilion on October 13 will be able to listen to the works of acclaimed poet and author Thomas McCarthy, winner of several international awards, including the Annual Literary Award from the American Irish Foundation.
??Hong Kong, as a Chinese gateway to the world, has also proven popular with Expo visitors, and will be offering a wide range of events in October, including performances by the Hong Kong Police Band, stagings of Cantonese opera (18–22), and popular Cantonese films throughout the month. Opera Hong Kong will perform My China Heart in Celebration Square on October 20, and on October 21/22 the city’s famed Fringe Club will present contemporary jazz, featuring Ted Lo and Eugene Pao.
In addition to the various cultural and entertainment events held by the various pavilions, several Expo-organised showcases promise to give insight into China’s traditions and culture. Three dance shows – ‘My City, My Hometown’; ‘Winds Through the Continents’; and ‘Impressions of China’ – will be performed daily by a skilled Chinese troupe, while ‘Window of the City’ consists of acting and dancing themed around global diversity. One event that has proved extremely popular is the Shaolin Martial Arts Show, which will be held outdoors in October, featuring the amazing discipline and agility of the famed Shaolin monks.