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    China Business
     Apr 30, 2010
Page 1 of 2
Shanghai Expo: The final countdown
By John Parker

SHANGHAI - The city that is China's financial hub throws off the wraps and lights up the fireworks this week for a grand coming-out party - a celebration of Shanghai's re-emergence as one of the world's great urban centers, marked with the opening of Expo 2010 and its appropriate theme, "Better City, Better Life".

Shanghai officially throws open the doors on Expo 2010 on May 1. By the time the last visitor departs the trade fair site on October 31, Chinese officials are likely to be celebrating not merely the proud result of eight years' preparation, but also confirmation that the country is now the world's second-biggest economy, with only the still vastly wealthier United States to overtake.

Expo 2010 is roughly the 52nd or 53rd event of its type since the

 

world's fair movement began in 1851 with London's "Great Exhibition" (depending on how "world's fair" is defined). It will be the first proper world's fair held in China - discounting the Kunming International Garden Festival of 1999 - and sanctioned by the Bureau International des Expositions, established in 1928 by international convention.

The Expo (short for exposition) spreads across 5.28 square kilometers on both sides of the Huangpu River waterfront, formerly a rundown district of docks and factories and well to the southwest and upriver of Shanghai's historic center, the Bund.

The river divides the Expo into two distinct areas, one on the western (Puxi) and one on the eastern (Pudong) side of the Huangpu. The Pudong site is much bigger, consistent with the government's efforts to promote development greater availability of land there and on the east side. The two areas will be connected by buses, ferries, and two subway lines, including line 13, the so-called Expo Line, which will actually run inside the Expo and is free to Expo ticket holders (after the Expo, this line will be extended across the city).

As of last Sunday, almost all the pavilions and the infrastructure around the Expo are complete. The Expo sites have been opened several times before the "official" opening for so-called "preview days", the first of which was on April 20. The preview days seemingly have served a dual purpose: they are intended to identify and work out some of the bugs before the official opening, but have also been used as a political reward for various VIP groups.

Even so, preview attendances have already notched up remarkable numbers according to official reports there were 300,000 visitors on April 24, although only 75 out of 120 total pavilions were open at the time, and 400,000 the following day.

On the night of April 30, the razzmatazz gets underway, with a big nighttime ceremony along the Huangpu featuring fireworks, sound effects, and a laser light show. More elaborate ceremonies, open to Expo ticket holders, will be held on May 1, the first day of the Expo proper. May 1 is, of course, "International Worker's Day" or Labor Day for much of the world (the United States annually marks the day in September); the choice of this date for the opening was fitting for a country that still officially purports to be a "workers' state"; more practically, May 1 is an annual public holiday in China, so the opening could be held without disrupting the economy.

Like all such events, the Expo has generated its own iconography. Images of "Haibao", the Gumby-like mascot, are everywhere - posters, T-shirts, statues, even topiaries (dressed in various national costumes). Special Haibao robots have been made that will roam the Expo grounds, telling jokes and taking pictures for tourists.

Supposedly, Haibao's appearance was inspired by the peaked Chinese character ren, which means "people". Its blue color is said to symbolize the sea - appropriate for a city that rose to global prominence as a maritime trading hub. Also fittingly in a country infamous for producing counterfeit goods, Haibao has inspired knockoffs of the "official" merchandise, which has led to several well-publicized busts. Among them, a Shanghai ring that made 400,000 yuan (about US$77,000) by selling pirated Haibao plush toys from a shop near Nanjing Lu.

The Expo logo represents a modification of the Chinese character for "world", stylized to resemble three people. According to Expo brochures, the logo "projects the image of three people, you, me and him/her, throwing their arms around each other".

The Expo area is organized into five zones: A, B and C on the Pudong side; and D and E on the Puxi side. Most of the Asia pavilions, including China's are in Zone A. In Zone B are found the Expo Cultural Center, pavilions from Southeast Asia and Oceania, and pavilions for organizations such as the Association of Southeast Nations and NGOs such as the World Wildlife Federation. Pavilions from Africa, Europe and the Americas are in Zone C.

Visitors to corporate pavilions, the World Expo museum, and the so-called Footprint Pavilion, which will trace the history of world cities, should go to Zone D, while Zone E hosts more corporate pavilions, a "space pavilion", and the "Urban Best Practices Area", which will focus on urban construction practices, sustainability, heritage management, and so forth - these are consistent with the Expo's theme, "Better City, Better Life", which has led many exhibits, even the national ones, to focus on aspects of urban life to a much greater extent than at previous world's fairs.

Early favorites to be top attractions include the Polish pavilion, with its striking lace-like exterior, and the Australian pavilion, which has a design resembling "Uluru", a rock formation sacred to aborigines. Inside, the Australian pavilion will feature a "secret machine", the subject of many rumors but which is purported to create a "spectacular audio-visual experience featuring stunning images of Australia".

This is one of several "spectacular audio-visual experiences" promised by the Expo; another is the world's largest IMAX screen at the Saudi pavilion, and a "720-degree movie" at the pavilion of the State Grid (China's state electrical supplier). This has screens on all six surfaces of a room, so viewers will be surrounded by images - handrails are provided for viewers experiencing vertigo. Both the Saudi and Australian pavilions have so far been very popular, with long lines during the preview days.

If there were a prize for "most bizarre" pavilion, it would probably go to the hedgehog-like UK pavilion, whose exterior surface carries 60,000 acrylic rods, each of which contains a seed, giving the building a haze-like appearance from a distance, even in clear weather.

North Korea is present at a world's fair pavilion for the first time, and its pavilion is among the most talked-about among Western expatriates. The design has been kept secret, but leaked images show a blend of classical and modern architecture with a prominent display of the North Korean flag; the exhibits within will probably focus on the life and culture of Pyongyang, consistent with the Expo's urban theme.

South Korea aims not be outdone by its northern rival, and its presence is so large that there is a separate pavilion just for South Korean companies. The French pavilion, stressing a romantic theme, will throw a wedding every day and display works by Manet and Van Gogh; not to be outdone, the Prada-wearing staff of the Italian pavilion will show works by Caravaggio. Denmark will bring its iconic "Little Mermaid" statue - the first time the statue has left Copenhagen Harbor since 1913. Monaco, building on the statelet's "Grand Prix" reputation, will show Formula 1 cars and the Venturi Volage "eco-car".

At the Israel pavilion, fairgoers can, for a fee, swallow the Israeli-developed "Cam-pill", a medical device that passes through one's intestinal tract, taking digital pictures as it goes. Japan will have a very large presence, including a huge building on the Puxi side devoted solely to Japanese companies.

The US pavilion, which will focus on the American heritage of innovation (though ironically designed by a Canadian architect, Clive Grout), suffered very well-publicized development problems, due both to the 2008 recession and a US law that prevents federal funding for world's fair pavilions.

High-ranking Chinese officials are reported to have specifically warned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that US-China relations would be significantly damaged if funding problems kept the US from attending the Expo, since Chinese fairgoers would interpret the absence as a direct snub. After some public prodding from Clinton and Democratic Party fundraiser Jose Villareal, the required money was finally raised, so it now appears that at least the US will not be shown up by the likes of Luxembourg and Bulgaria.

Most of the funding ultimately came from US corporations; some American, including Coca-Cola and General Motors (which, in spite of its dire financial condition, still has a huge presence in Shanghai), have their own pavilions.

Several US musical acts, including the Philadelphia Orchestra and jazz great Herbie Hancock, are planned; however, many expatriates have expressed disappointment with the relatively low-profile acts that have agreed to perform so far. The conservative musical program might reflect either the Chinese government's recent fear of controversial music acts, or failure on the US side to book anybody exciting.

The single most impressive national pavilion is, naturally, the massive China pavilion, "The Crown of the East", which dominates the entire site. Its theme is an "exploration of the Orient", inspired by traditional Chinese philosophy and stressing "harmonious co-existence" (reflecting President Hu Jintao's notion of building a "harmonious society"). The building's inverted pyramid structure is based on traditional temple architecture, with a roof featuring elements made to resemble traditional dougong or temple brackets, used for more than 2000 years.

Overseas visitors to Shanghai will find it hard to avoid media encouragement to head along to the Expo sites. An official magazine, "Shanghai 2010 Expo", has been running since 2004; the "EXPOShanghai" newsletter, a free weekly, has already seen more than 60 issues; Shanghai Daily, the state-run English newspaper, carries "Expo Daily", a special insert section; and other extensive coverage is found in "City Weekend", "That's Shanghai" and the various other English-language publications circulating in town. Nor will there be a shortage of foreign media; organizers announced at the end of March that they had received more than 12,000 applications to cover the event, from 547 overseas media organizations, in addition to 713 domestic ones.

A website with daily updates and information about every conceivable aspect of the fair. [1] Augmenting this traditional web presence is the virtual-reality "Expo Shanghai Online". [2] The basic concept of Expo Online is that participating pavilions will submit a digital version of their displays, allowing Internet surfers to tour the pavilions virtually, seeing the same objects that they would see if they were actually at the event. Based on a recent visit to this website, however, only a dozen or so of the nearly 200 pavilions have actually submitted the extensive necessary data to the virtual site, so in all probability, the virtual site will only show the outside of the building for most of the pavilions - and to be sure, the external appearance of the pavilions is very interesting in itself.

As with the Beijing Olympics two years ago, the Shanghai authorities are taking no chances whatsoever with security. Police are everywhere; metro station entrances are guarded by pairs of PLA soldiers in dress uniform; plainclothes policemen lurk on the metro platforms. The specific concern about the metro system is probably motivated by a July 2008 bus bombing in Shanghai, which killed at least three people; the "Turkestan Islamic Party" later claimed credit for that attack. The metro stations have also been fortified with airport-style security, including bag inspection, which has been aggravating Shanghainese commuters for several weeks now (you don't have to take your shoes off, though). The Expo site itself is surrounded by a double security fence topped with electric shock wires.

Massive preparations
Shanghai's preparation for this event is on a truly enormous scale, starting in earnest in 2002 when the city formally won the right to host the fair on the fourth round of voting (its main rival - Yeosu, South Korea - will host the next event in 2012). The work involved extends far beyond the site itself; it is not too much to say that the entire city has almost been remade in preparation for the Expo. Spending has reported climbed to as much as US$45 billion, more than for the Beijing Olympics.

Transportation infrastructure, which will be used long after the Expo is over, was a dominant spending item, notably the Shanghai Metro, the city's underground rail system which only opened in 1995. The number of its active lines has more than doubled to 12 from five just in the past three years, with many existing lines extended and a vast expansion in the number of stations, track length and the area served - almost the entire inner city is now within three blocks of a station. The metro system now has 268 stations and more than 420 kilometers of track. If nothing else, Shanghai has proved to other Asian cities that it IS possible to build a useful metro in a reasonable amount of time (are you listening, Bangkok? Ho Chi Minh City?). Visitors can take the metro straight from either one of Shanghai's airports directly to the Expo site, although they will need to change lines at least once.

There was also massive highway construction; the city has three ring roads and they will be mostly complete in time for Expo. These expressways are part of China's National Trunk Highway System, an up-to-the-minute controlled-access highway network closely modeled on the US Interstate Highway System. It is so similar that American expats sometimes understand the system better than locals - on one occasion, the author had to guide a baffled Chinese taxi driver through a confusing interchange.

Continued 1 2  


Shanghai, the becoming thing
(Jan 6, '10)


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