Thursday, May 6, 2010

Anxious for World Praise

The 2010 Shanghai Expo opened to great fanfare on the evening of April 30, complete with a massive fireworks display and many state leaders in attendance, the most prominent of whom was French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is desperate to win political points with China now that Sino-French relations are back on track.

During the live broadcast, President Hu Jintao and his wife dressed in a fuchsia suit, stood in front of a massive blazing red background as they greeted state leaders one by one for a photo op. Couldn't someone have told Mrs Hu to wear something more appropriate colour-wise?

There was a lot of news about how more money was spent on the Expo than on the Beijing Olympics -- $45 billion versus $40 billion. While both numbers are mind-boggling, most of the money was spent on infrastructure in both cities and hopefully Shanghai will be an improved city after the six-month event.

However, the biggest challenge now is dealing with the hordes of people on the site.

The first three days were horrific for organizers, with massive lineups. There were reports that people had to wait four hours to get into the UK pavilion, probably because of its unique building, made of flexible rods each containing seeds. The rods move with the breeze like a giant fluff ball from far away. Afterwards the pavilion will be dismantled and the seeds distributed to schools and universities across China to study.

The opening three days were also a headache because they were the May Day holiday, the only three days people have off... until the October National Day holiday, when there will be another crush of people. Then there is also the pride factor of having been one of the first few hundred thousand people to have visited the Expo.

Apparently Chinese state media are not allowed to report on the negative aspects of the Expo, and so the are left to report on how Shanghai residents will benefit from the Expo, rather than those who were forced off their land to make way for this event; how people made friends while waiting in line; what constitutes a mascot; and how passports are the hot items at the exposition.

The New York Times had a field day with its article on Chinglish in Shanghai, how the city is trying to fix the translations on signs to avoid embarrassment. The slide show is all the more amusing. It's a reminder of how Beijing was trying to spruce itself up before the Games two years earlier.

And speaking of the Olympics, the pavilion for Beijing was already panned because the capital couldn't think of any other way to present itself than to revive the five Olympics mascots, Bei Bei, Jing Jing, Huan Huan, Ying Ying and Ni Ni to work their magic again. The theme of the Expo is "Better City, Better Life", about looking forward to the future of cities, rather than back. Besides, there are hardly any traces of Olympic fever in Beijing anymore. Whoever thought of bringing back the Olympics mascots should be sacked.

Then there was criticism in the Chinese media about how the United States didn't put much effort into its pavilion, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton having to push it through at the last minute, because the US had just missed the deadline on confirming its participation.

She had to drum up sponsors as since 1991 the country's presence in expositions can only rely on corporate and private funding. This again puzzled the Chinese, who believe these pavilions are a matter of national pride and no cost should be spared to present a good image of the country.

Then for most people in developed countries, they have lost interest in expos and with one happening practically every other year it's hard to keep track.

China is so anxious to showcase itself to the world, but the audience doesn't know what to make of it. On the one hand they hear reports of China's rise on the global stage, and yet on the other they hear about the severe measures it takes on curbing human rights and freedoms for the sake of national security, sending chills down their backs.

While it is unfair to measure up China according to western values, how else can you define it relative to what you already know?

Which is why China is so anxious for the Expo to be a success and hope its negative aspects will be forgotten.

Now if they can only figure out how to ease the massive lineups for everything, that will be a great accomplishment in itself.


Anonymous said...

Dear ' Beijing Calling': I always love to read your articles. They are very interesting. So lively. I hope you are good in Beijing. Take care.

ks said...

in consideration of the calamities , the sufferings of people in the poor regions this extravaganza needs to scale down somewhat. oversea chinese are raising funds to aid the earth quake provinces. but it is only enough to sustain the firework for less than five minute. a chinese saying: if you have a flower you don't need to wave it to spread its fragrant. may be a dose of prudence and frugality is in order.