Saturday, October 9, 2010


Haibao salutes you, citizen!

Five weeks in Shanghai and I've managed to avoid visiting the World Expo entirely. This marks the second time in my life that I've had the Expo within striking distance and I've neglected to attend. The first was in 2005, when I lived a two-hour train ride from the Aichi Expo and felt the same type of apathy.

Reports of the Expo from my acquaintances invariably touch on the following themes: huge crowds of me-first riffraff, immensely long lines, the over-presence of corporate sponsorship, and embarrassing, reductive presentation of world cultures. I can only assume that a trip to the Expo would be an exercise in the kind of smug metatourism that was cool the first time David Foster Wallace stepped onto a cruise ship, but is now neither clever nor fun.

The one concession I made to the tourist machine was an afternoon spent the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center in People's Park, and this actually proved to be a pretty neat experience. The showcase of photographs of Shanghai in the early 20th century was alone worth the price of admission.

The ostensible money-shot of the exhibition center was a floor-spanning scale model of Shanghai, which was impressive not so much for its visual novelty as it was for what a pain in the ass it must have been to build and maintain.

Alas, the scale model of the Expo grounds was the closest I would get to the real thing.

The city model had a stylized simulation of the day-night cycle, with the Bund and the Lujiazui skyline receiving disproportionate emphasis.

I'm not even sure what this wall-sized collage thing was, but in any case I felt quite puzzled by the inclusion of Canberra, which is a relative backwater, and Egypt, which is not a city. If I were to choose a name for this wall-sized collage thing, it would be "Great Cities of the World, with Bonus Canberra and Egypt."

One floor above the scale model was a series of effusive, technofetishist displays about the Shanghai's urban and environmental progress. China is conspicuously proud, or conspicuously anxious to remind everyone, of the fact that it is headed toward something amazing.

The third floor of the exhibition center was hosting the work of a decorated "modern abstract impressionist" Chinese painter whose name I fail to recall. His paintings had a kind of fuzzy Kinkade quality to them and were mostly pretty silly.

He was quite good at painting reflections in the water, I'll admit.


  1. Ooooo cool model! I wonder what poor fools were shamefully underpaid to slave over this.

  2. Also note that Canberra is represented by the Sydney Opera House.