Monday, July 14, 2008

The Next Olympic City

Vancouver, in British Columbia, Canada will be hosting the 2010 Winter Games.

And it has already started the promotional wheels moving... in Beijing.

At the Beijing Urban Planning Exhibition Center, east of the Qianmen subway station, is a giant pavilion promoting Vancouver and its province, British Columbia.

Unfortunately you have to pay 30RMB for the privilege, and be submitted to a security check, but it's interesting.

You can't miss this series of giant wood arches and then a massive hunk of BC jade weighing 5,000kg. Apparently BC has more jade than China, but is of a lesser quality. It can be cut into thin tiles that I've been told look cool when backlit.

The exhibit is divided into the five natural elements - earth, wood, water, fire and metal. And each shows how they are related to BC.

For example in wood, they display different samples of wood found in the province, including the stump of a giant red cedar that was blown down in the windstorm of 2006 in Vancouver's Stanley Park.

BC also has a wealth of minerals including copper and zinc, and one of the biggest mining companies in Canada and the world is Teck Cominco.

As Vancouver is right by the water, there is also a strong fishing industry as well as recreational, fresh seafood and water sports. There is a port in northern BC called Prince Rupert that was built thanks to help from Cosco, a Chinese shipping company that helped push the project forward. Now shipping times from North America to Asia have been cut significantly.

And for fire, my guide enthusiastic guide Bryan said it was metaphorical meaning of the people, and the multiculturalism that Canada and especially Vancouver has. One-third of the population is Chinese which not many are aware of.

The end of the display is a bit awkward, with the Hudson's Bay Company, a Canadian department store, selling Canadian as well as Olympic souvenirs. Bryan admitted he was supposed to steer visitors to the gift shop, but didn't feel comfortable doing it.

There was also a cool interactive machine where you could use your hand to guide a virtual plane around BC, and on the wall a cartoon mural of the Olympic mascots, Quatchi and Miga, as well as Paralymic mascot, Sumi.

Upstairs, protected by security, is a big space that can accommodate up to 300 people and can be divided up into smaller spaces for presentations, cocktails, dinners and lectures. The aim is to bring Canadian and Chinese businesses together under the Asia-Pacific Gateway initiative from the Canadian government.

It's a good introduction to Vancouver and British Columbia, but very business oriented. At the Torino Games in 2006, the Canadians constructed the Canada Lodge, where people could play street hockey out front, which got a lot of attention.

But perhaps this being Beijing, where everything right now is about security, playing a favourite Canadian past time like ball hockey is the last thing security officials want to wonder is a threat or not.

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