The Shanghai Expo kicked off last week and what a ride we have ahead of us. Now you’re all thinking, “who gives a toss about the world Expo?” I know, I know, it’s no Olympics and frankly I liked it’s previous name: The World Fair.
The Expo is a product of a bygone era. An era of nationalism, imperialism, dialogism.
In recent years it looked like the Expo would fall the way of the International Friendship Games. But the Chinese have given the old and tired format a facelift. It’s if China saw the World Expo, lying dead and cold on the floor, and opened the barely breathing format’s trap and vomited cash into its mouth.
Consider the numbers (via Reuters)
– The Shanghai Expo grounds are 20 times bigger than Zaragoza 2008 (Zaragoza?! Come on Spain, you can do better than that)
– It has cost $4.2 billion to stage. Hold onto your knickers, that is, double the amount of money spent on the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
– They are expecting 400,000 people per day through the gates
– By October they hope 70 million people will have visited.
Now to the unofficial numbers (via numerable sources, The Atlantic, Danwei etc..)
– 18,000 houses bulldozed for the site
– Estimated infrastructure facelift of $55 billion
– People detained by police in pre-Expo raids 6,000
So this stunt expo is all about excess opening up to the world.
But politics and tense international relations play a big part. Just flicking through the pavilions and you get a real sense that like the UN General Assembly and the World Cup this is a chance to sit with your friends, and make sure Latin America sits up the front of the bus by themselves.
Here you see the site. Now consider this map as if China just got the chance to redesign the geographic positions of the world. They were given a whiteboard and a sharpie and told to re-assign the positions reflecting who they think is hot or not.
The US is given the backwater area, penned in by Europe, and joined at the hip to Africa. Subtext: “Hey US, you deal with Africa in the next century, we’ll just grab some copper and develop over here. Thanks.”
The International Organisation pavilion is plonked right in the middle of no-man’s land. No strong countries buttressed up against it. No superpower willing to click the ‘like’ button for the UN and World Bank.
Oh hey there’s China’s gorgeous upside down pagoda/pyramid. STANDING OMINOUSLY OVER HONG KONG AND MACAU. It’s like a little child screaming, “they’re mine!”.
The Macau pavilion measures 19.99m high. Not very high, but want to know why the height restriction? It turns out 1999 was the year China regained control of Macau from Portugal. Who said art trumps politics?
Also, Hong Kong’s middle level is transparent. Because, they’re like, fully, transparent and all.
Israel sits here nice and pretty with what looks like one of my father’s cologne shaped bottles. It’s Israel’s first World Expo and their exhibit has trees that whisper greetings in English and Chinese when people pass them. It’s sweet and welcoming. The Israeli’s must have been pumped to send out this emissary. But wait, who’s that in that background? Pakistan. Nice seat allocation China, nice.
Perhaps the STUPIDEST and most inappropriate positioning of the entire Expo are these two bastions of global citizenship: North Korea and Iran. Yep, right next to each other. I’m going to safely assume that someone has already called this part of the grounds, “Axis Alley”.
There are more Expo posts on the way, relating to politics, art and genuine badass quality, but for now I will leave you with this example of bad pairings…
A flats-clad Carla Bruni still stands taller than two of the world’s most biggest leaders. Whoever said that the Napoleonic complex doesn’t live on! Actually no one, but who knew Hu was so short and his first lady was such a midg.