Onsite Update #1
Welcome to Expo 2012
It took 30 hours, one shuttle, two flights, a subway ride and a high-speed train that smelled like fermented gym socks, but we finally made it to the land whose Chinese name means "Rivers and mountains embroidered on silk." It's the prototype for every country ever nicknamed "Land of contrasts": immaculate subways, a higher percentage of video gamers than anywhere else in the world, and the smell of kimchi everywhere. After catching the Seoul-Yeosu train, and disembarking at the station right in front of the Expo 2012 grounds, we waited for a taxi. And waited and waited. Like Shanghai, it's a taxi driver's retirement plan, with thousands queuing up for a cab. Though the fair is about 95 percent smaller than the size of Shanghai’s Expo 2010 in acreage (and has about 55 percent as many countries participating), the overcrowding may be worse proportionately: One estimate suggests that every day there is a demand for 35,000 rooms but only 9,000 rooms are available in Yeosu. Lucky for us, we got two of the last ones available at the luxurious MVL Hotel, which was built specifically for Expo 2012 and is conveniently located just steps from the Expo 2012 grounds.
Today, our first day at the fair, we worked like we were employed by the Foxcon iPhone factory instead of Exhibitor: We hoofed it through 44 pavilions in approximately 11 hours. While there are none with the grandeur of China's $220 million pavilion in the shape of an emperor's crown (which debuted at Expo 2012), there are still many with a touch of royal splendor.
First, we made our way to the Climate and Environment Pavilion. There, inside the pavilion’s Arctic Ice Adventure Room, we nearly got frostbite from the realistic chill. Attendees walk down a corridor covered in faux ice, where the temperature hovered well below freezing. Ten air vents shot-gunned cold air and snow that pelted your face like BBs, while a howl of winds tore through you like a dagger of cold. The ice tunnel led to another frigid room, with a wall of ice and snow and an igloo. There, on a wall of ice, a brief but hyper-realistic 3-D projection introduced visitors to a polar bear and her cub who starred in the theatrical presentation that followed in the next, considerably warmer section of the pavilion.
If the Arctic Ice Adventure Room was cold, the exterior of Tunisia's exhibit was even chillier, with bales and strings of barbed wire covering its outside. But instead of suggesting an unwelcoming attitude toward attendees, the reasons for the heavy metal covering was summed up in its slogan, also printed on the exterior: "Don't touch on my Mediterranean sea." We wouldn't have dreamed of it, but what Tunisia lacked in grammar, it made up for in sincerity. Inside the pavilion, there was the an air of incense, a collection of treasures found in the ocean, such as marble bust of Aphrodite and a bronze one of Hermes, as well as a massive mosaic of Poseidon, "Le Dieu Ocean," (“The God of the Ocean”), all sharing a provenance well before Christ was born.
Uruguay's exhibit used a blue-tile floor that shimmered like swirling water when light it, along with 12 lighthouse-like kiosks that offered information on how the country was helping restore damaged coastlines. Nearby stood Monaco’s pavilion, whose exterior featured a wave-shaped "light wall" made of hundreds of backlit plastic cups. It was a not-so-subtle commentary on how our oceans are filling up with the plastic detritus of our everyday lives.
Romania's pavilion at Expo 2010 in Shanghai resembled a partially-peeled green apple. Less fruity than the last time, its Expo 2012 pavilion is set inside curved green vertical forms (green is the national color), and uses cartoon characters that looked like woodcuts come alive to tell the story of efforts to conserve the Danube.
The exterior of the Angola Pavilion was as brightly colored as a ceremonial robe. And its video presentation — accompanied by thousands of real bubbles as if all the fish in the sea had created them — made the once-war-torn country seems as inviting as Malibu.
Using multimedia technology to show how its ancient maps of the Black, Aegean, and Mediterranean seas rival today’s satellite-drawn charts for accuracy, Turkey set its cartographic treasures in a pavilion as blue as the waters that surround it. Reflecting the nautilus-shell-like architectural motifs of the Ottoman Empire, the interior structure offered a domed projection theater whose screen and interactive floor allowed visitors to explore the way nature’s organic life forms play muse to manmade designs. Kiosks with touchscreens provided information on the country’s efforts to shelter endangered species along the Turkish coast, from bar sharks to monk seals.
Meanwhile, barracudas and manta rays glide over your head in Malaysia’s Aquarium — a 360-degree dome projection providing an underwater experience from seafaring creatures’ point of view. The country’s ninth pavilion at world expos since 1970 housed five sections highlighting its diverse eco-system, including forests of stilt-like mangrove trees, whose population worldwide has decreased an alarming 20 percent since 1980. Video screens on the pavilions floors set in “frames” of wet mud and pungent vegetation ran film of the mudskipper, an amphibious fish that can run on land and whose adaptability served as an optimistic mascot for environmental challenges ahead.
While we’ve already managed to see several dozen pavilions, we’re also a little jetlagged (and blistered from miles and miles of hoofing it across the Expo 2012 grounds). But after a few hours of beauty sleep, we’ll be back out there scouring the 140 country, corporate, and theme pavilions to find the most interesting, inspiring, and exceptional among them. So stay tuned for our next online update, direct from Yeosu, which will post to our microsite on Friday, July 20.
Charles Pappas, senior writer