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Lessons from Shanghai|
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A REGIONAL audit committee meeting that I attended in Shanghai last week offered an unasked for bonus – the opportunity to visit the World Expo being held in the city at two sites in Pudong and Puxi.
Despite Shanghai emulating London’s drab and drizzly weather and the mind-boggling mega-queues at the popular country pavilions, I found the World Expo unexpectedly thought-provoking.
Spain was the first country pavilion my colleagues, my husband and I visited. Covered by more than 8,000 wicker panels, the basket-shaped Spanish pavilion was more than just visually arresting. Since wicker weaving is common in both Spain and China, this politically astute choice of material underscores a cultural tradition both countries share.
Furthermore, the wicker panels were handmade by craftsmen in Shandong province. Any plaudits that Spain received for its wicker pavilion would also be a tribute to Chinese craftsmanship.
The highlight of the Spanish pavilion was a gallery where the realism of the visuals was enhanced by Sensurround sound effects. Projected seamlessly and successively on all walls were scenes depicting the Spanish lifestyle – a flamenco dancer, Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, a match and horses galloping across a field.
Visual creativity was the hallmark of Italy’s Pavilion. Inspired by the children’s game of "pick-up sticks" – which is known as "Shanghai" in Italy – the rectangular-shaped pavilion was segmented by broad white angled lines representing "pick-up-sticks". Inside the pavilion, fixed randomly onto a double-height wall were life-size musical instruments, including a grand piano – leaving visitors marvelling at this ingenious feat of engineering. Also attached at varying heights on the opposite wall were sublime examples of Italian haute couture.
Predictably, the longest queue was for the China pavilion. Resembling an inverted flattened pyramid, the China pavilion comprised layers of traditional "dougong" or interlocking wooden brackets. Painted bright red, the dougong is a distinctive feature of ancient Chinese architecture.
Within the pavilion, one memorable feature was a reproduction of a long horizontal hand scroll entitled "Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival". What made the painting outstanding was the addition of 1,500 figures – perfectly proportioned, dressed in the clothes of that period, and walking; the last feature made the painting come to life.
Unlike the country pavilions in Pudong, the corporate and thematic pavilions in Puxi attracted much smaller crowds. Those interested in hi-tech will find the Korean corporate pavilion and the Pavilion of the Future absorbing.
In Puxi was a prime example of China’s irreverent creativity – 50 larger-than-life-size bright red sculptures of kung fu icon, Bruce Lee. Standing on one leg, his other leg was almost vertical.
Balanced on each of the 50 upturned soles was a miniature global architectural landmark – the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the Sydney Opera House, the Bird’s Nest in Beijing and the China Pavilion.
Entitled "China Kung Fu", this art installation by Shu Yong brings to mind Sui Jianguo’s "Discobolus" – a sculpture of a man in a stance of a discus thrower in ancient Greece. Instead of being naked, the statue is dressed in a Mao suit, a stimulating pairing of western and Chinese symbols.
To me, the most impressive aspect of the Shanghai Expo was the organiser’s meticulous planning and the cleanliness of both sites.
Transport is one example of the organisers’ devotion to detail. Golf buggies were available to convey visitors from one pavilion to the next. Buses transported those who wanted to go from Pudong to the Puxi expo site and vice-versa while a 7.2km ferry ride on the Huangpu River offered unsurpassed views of both the Bund’s art deco buildings and the skyscrapers of Pudong’s financial district.
Even more stunning was the cleanliness of the toilets and the expo sites. Although 51 million visitors have traipsed through the Shanghai Expo since its opening on May 1, and although we were at the expo in the evening on a day when the number of visitors hit a record high of 486,000, the public toilets were spotless, functional and odourless while the grounds were free of litter.
Clean toilets and litter-free grounds may seem trivial accomplishments. But the transformation of China’s public toilets and roads reflect Beijing’s ability to change deeply-rooted behaviour and underscores the country’s tremendous and highly effective implementation capability.
It is this implementation capability that will set China apart from the other BRIC high-growth pacesetters of Brazil, Russia and India.