Posted by: David Stewart | May 16, 2010

Expo 2010: The World’s Fair, Shanghai Style

At the end of a very intense week of business in our offices in Shanghai, I spent an afternoon at the Shanghai Expo 2010, the World’s Fair for this year.

Like the Beijing Olympics two years ago, this event has been seen as Shanghai’s international coming out party. Preparations have been evident around the city for the past three or four years.

And what a party it is: The entire downtown area has been transformed with night lights – it seems that practically every surface has been festooned with race lights, pulsating LEDs or video screens. One skyscraper looked like a giant game of Tetris was being played out on it.

The Expo site itself is massive – at one point, we walked most of the way across the main site and it took us over a half hour of fast walking. The only other World’s Fair I can recall attending was the one in 1986 in Vancouver, British Columbia. That site was rather cramped between False Creek and downtown, leaving little room for pavilions. This site is next to the Wang Poo River (OK, it’s officially the Huangpu, same pronunciation) but spans a tremendous stretch on both sides of the river.

Shanghai Expo 2010


Disappointingly, we couldn’t get into the host country’s pavilion, since the reserved time tickets are handed out at the beginning of the day, and if you are not there, tough luck.

Shanghai Expo 2010

There really is no way to experience more than a taste of the event in an afternoon. Reserve at least a week if you really want to catch the “hot” pavilions plus areas on both sides of the river.

Shanghai Expo 2010


I was traveling with a friend from our Shanghai office (Kevin) and one from the UK (Richard).

We decided we ought to visit our home country pavilions. The queue outside USA was daunting, so we skipped over to the British site.  Above you can see the “Seed Cathedral” and the surrounding terraces. The theme connected with England’s love of nature and the outdoors, but upon first sight, Richard asked, “Is this what people’s impression is of the UK, a fuzzy blob?”

But the fuzz you see in the picture is actually 60,000 acrylic rods which wave in the wind, and are connected into a central nave, where each rod terminates in a seed.

Shanghai Expo 2010 Shanghai Expo 2010


It’s really a cool idea; but to make sure you don’t think they are too serious, they had comic actors dressed in various roles entertaining in a very dry British style.

Creative pavilion designs prevailed. Right next to the UK was the Netherlands, a happy spiral of little houses, each containing samples of Dutch culture, fashion or technology.

Shanghai Expo 2010


The Germany pavilion had a similar spiral theme, starting with large photos of various parts of the country, moving to products and industries around the country. At the pinnacle of the building was a performance piece that has been written up in the local press, a video-covered ball which “responds” to sounds that the crowd makes.

Shanghai Expo 2010


After a Poppa John’s pizza, we checked out the USA pavilion and the line seemed more bearable now. All of the money for USA had to be raised from private sources, and unfortunately, the big sponsors are trumpeted more than the country or her people. But a two-minute video address by US President Barak Obama was by far the most popular moment, if the number of camera flashes from the audience was any indication. Fortunately, the corporate pitches were balanced off slightly by features on Habitat for Humanity and the University of Washington.

I’m quite impressed by the scale and excellence of the whole Expo. Impressive!


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