Shanghai, the showpiece of China’s economy, is ready for its close up
As the Shanghai World Expo 2010 draws to a close in October, we look at the event’s most popular pavilions and how the six-month event has changed life in the city.
Walking around the city, one cannot miss the ubiq- uitous symbol of the Shanghai World Expo, the wide- eyed blue mascot, one hand on hip and giving a thumbs up with the other. The mascot with bangs shaped like a wave, is called Haibao—Mandarin for ‘jewel of the sea.’ Haibao was inspired by the Chinese character ‘ren’ meaning people but to most expatriates, he looks more like a version of the American clay animation character Gumby.
The World Exposition 2010 marks the first time a developing country hosts the worldwide event. The first Expo was held in 1851 in the United Kingdom and was then known as The Great Exhibition. It has since evolved to become the world fair we know today. Be- fore Shanghai, the last expo was in Zaragoza, Spain. The next one will be held in Yeosu, South Korea in 2012.
The expo is also distinct in another way for being the most expensive one to date. Shanghai went all out for the event, even overshadowing spending for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Authorities say the city spent US$4.2 billion on infrastructure upgrades although costs have also been reported to have ballooned to US$58 billion.
Months leading up to the event, Shanghai was a city in a state of flux. The sight of round-the-clock con- struction was common. Roads were blocked and traffic routes changed to accommodate renovations. Entire buildings and shop fronts were removed or refurbished in the span of mere months. Shanghai built a railway station, airport terminals, subway lines, parks, prom- enades, roads, and upgraded other public areas.
Those developments came with more than just a price tag in yuan. There have been reports of people being forced to relocate their homes and markets shut down to make way for the expo sites. Security around the city is also tighter now with regular checks made on residents to see if all their documents are in order.
There are currently 192 countries and 50 interna- tional organizations participating in the expo. When the global financial crisis hit, some participants had to rethink their pavilion designs to cut costs. The US was reported
to have had having second thoughts on joining the expo because corporate sponsors couldn’t raise enough money. America’s participation was only confirmed in July last year.
Each pavilion sponsors cultural and trade activities from flying in Michelin-starred chefs from Europe to staging concerts by famous jazz artists. There are also regular events for schools and trade groups who want to attract Chinese investors.
In a nutshell, the event is an opportunity for Chi- na to display its growing economic clout on the world stage. For foreign countries and companies spending millions of dollars to join the event, it’s a chance to par- take in the Chinese economic miracle. It is a way for foreign businesses to develop ties with Chinese com- panies and generate local interest for their products as more Chinese become affluent.
However, the benefits of the expo on trade will be hard to measure directly. The money spent on the pa- vilions seems extravagant considering they will all be dismantled after the closing ceremonies.
If nothing else, the expo will help make Shanghai a more recognizable international brand in terms of tourism and business. More importantly, the improve- ments made on the city’s infrastructure will go a long way in making the life of its some 18 million residents easier, realizing the expo’s theme of “Better City, Bet- ter Life.”
Not A Small World After All
For visitors who want to catch the expo, you can get updates on how many people are currently at the expo grounds on screens found in the subway trains in Shang- hai. Typically, more than half a million people go to the expo during the day. After 5pm, the numbers drop sig- nificantly to around 300,000 people. A majority of the visitors of the expo are locals from all over China.
Tickets cost 160 yuan (about US$23) for all-day tickets and 90 yuan (about US$13) for night tickets starting from 5 to 11 pm. There are also three-day and seven-day admission tickets that cost RMB400 (US$ 59) and RMB900 (US$ 133), respectively.
It is best to wear comfortable clothing and shoes. The expo grounds are vast and it is impossible to cover everything in one day even with shuttle carts to take you between zones for a fee. Visitors are not allowed to bring their own drinks inside but can bring cups for the free water stations located in the grounds. The expo is also a good excuse to taste global cuisines from Belgian fries to Polish sausages, to African food.
Each pavilion is striking because of its unique ar- chitecture and display. The Philippine pavilion can be found in Zone B beside the Thailand pavilion, near the Singapore and Australian pavilions. Its theme is “Per- forming Cities” and it highlights Philippine customs, art, food, and performers.
Be sure to check out some of the most popular pavilions if you can: China, UK, Saudi Arabia, United States, South Korea, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Tai- wan, and Japan.
Print ed: 09/10