Thursday, December 16, 2010

Shanghai Social Diary

Los Angelinos Patty Pappas, Candy Hirsch, and Emm Wang Ni at the British “Seed Cathedral” Pavilion.
by Jeanne Lawrence

SHANGHAI—The first thing I did when I returned to Shanghai from summer vacation was to revisit EXPO 2010, the World’s Fair.

Over a six-month run, with 246 nations participating, it had 73 million visitors (exceeding China’s goal by 3 million). It’s been a success in every way—but the huge success meant waiting in very long lines.

With planning and construction of EXPO-related projects that immensely improved the city, the fair made for some exciting, whirlwind years in Shanghai.

Now I think the city is ready to take a break—but I’m still saddened and nostalgic now that EXPO has run its course. I’ve filed my first EXPO story about the May opening, but I want to share a few more highlights of this amazing time.
The theme of Shanghai EXPO 2010 theme was “Better City, Better Life.” Its mascot, Hibao, was based on the Chinese character for “people.”
I was at EXPO for the May 1 opening and the October 31 closing, but not—thankfully—on October 16, when over 1 million people visited.

I met up with San Francisco’s “Sister City” delegation “when it arrived. Mayor Gavin Newsom (as of November, the California Lt. Governor-elect) and SF/Shanghai Committee Chair James Fang headed up the group.

Former Mayor (now California Senator) Dianne Feinstein forged the connection between San Francisco and Shanghai 30 years ago, when she visited China in 1980.
At the ribbon cutting that kicked off EXPO’s “San Francisco Week,” Mayor Newsom said, “We were the first in the U.S. to support EXPO, and Shanghai was honored by our commitment. A World’s Fair is an important event.”

He noted that the San Francisco Palace of Fine Art was built when the city hosted a World’s Fair in 1915.
Headed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, the Sister City Committee arrived for the SF Week ceremonies and to celebrate the 30-year relationship.
Adam Silberman with Monica and Jessica Lim from Shanghai. San Francisco was the only U.S. city to sponsor its own week at EXPO 2010.
San Francisco fashion designer Anthony Cruz Legardam, who donated his time for a fashion show in Shanghai, and me.

With the San Francisco delegation, I visited the General Motors Pavilion (SAIC-GM) a joint enterprise by General Motors and China and one of the most popular corporate attractions.

The pavilion was about visions of the future for cities and transportation infrastructure, ways to handle congestion and pollution, and its concept car.

It is “a vision of future driving that is free from petroleum, free from emissions, free from crashes, free from congestion and at the same time fun and fashionable,” said Kevin Wale, president G.M. China Group.

My question is why do we have to wait 20 years? I’m ready to buy one of these concept cars now!
The exterior “skin” of the General Motors Pavilion, which resembled a huge metal bowl, was made of 4,000 recycled aluminum panels of different sizes, angles, and surfaces that evoked an automobile body.
We anticipated an adventure when told to strap ourselves into the seats (so comfortable I wish they would install them in neighborhood theaters).
An 11-minute animated film, “2030 Xing,” showed an idealized future city—with mini-cars and Star Trek-like train stations—without traffic congestion, carbon emission, or accidents.
After the movie, drivers in futuristic jumpsuits put on a show for us with pod-like concept cars called EN-Vs (Electric Networked-Vehicles). I’d buy one for zipping around town.

A cocktail reception for the San Francisco delegation was held at the Portman Ritz-Carlton, which in 1989 was one of Shanghai’s first five-star hotels. The following evening businessman David Lo sponsored a gala dinner for the group at the Shangri-La Hotel.
California’s new Lt. Governor-elect Gavin Newsom at the San Francisco-Shanghai Sister City reception. San Francisco Ballet Principal Ballerina Yuan Yuan Tan with her dad KeQin Tan. A Shanghai native, she visits her parents here often.
Gorretti Lui, Leo Lin, former SF Mayor Frank Jordon, and Dave Tagnotti.
Yuan Yuan Tan, Lilly Huang, me, and KeQin Tan.
In the Sister City spirit, Legardam collaborated with Shanghai Professor Zhang Zufang and her team and fabricated the clothes in Shanghai.
Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was the star model—a fashion lover who doesn’t mind a turn in the spotlight! Jared Portman and the Shanghai Centre’s GM Byron Kan. Jared’s dad, John Portman, was the architect for the Shanghai Centre, where The Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel is located.
Deanne La Rue, Adam Silberman, Charles Grieve III, a friend, and Dick Silberman.
The Chanticleer Singers from San Francisco.
SF Mayor Gavin Newsom and Shanghai Vice Mayor Tang Dengjie exchange gifts onstage.
One award was given to Weili Dai, a Shanghai native who moved to SF 30 years ago, cofounded Marvell Semiconductor, and recently donated $20 million to her alma mater, UC at Berkeley.
SF Port Commissioner Rodney Fong and David Perry were among the trip sponsors.

As I have reported, we almost didn’t have a USA Pavilion, which would have made our country the only major power not to participate.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threw her support toward raising $61 million from corporations and the private sector; though support was late, the pavilion opened on time.

Compared to the Saudi Arabia pavilion which cost $160 million and the Chinese Pavilion which cost $220 million (the two most popular pavilions), ours was neither the most expensive nor the most impressive, but thankfully we were there.
The U.S.A. Pavilion volunteers, or “ambassadors,” were considered among the best pavilion guides; what’s more, they spoke fluent Mandarin.
A mammoth gray steel structure, the U.S.A. Pavilion was meant to resemble an eagle stretching its wings in welcome.
People of all ages waited.
Carolyn Chandler, Samantha DuVall, my daughter Stephanie and I visited the U.S.A. Pavilion by night.
The Statue of Liberty greeted us when we joined the line.
Kudos to the organizers of “Dance America!” an outdoor show performed daily next to the line; it made the wait much more enjoyable.
While in line, visitors could also watch a loop of Jam Session: America’s Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World, organized by Washington’s Meridian International Center.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived and met with the many VIPs and members of Committee 100, founded to encourage a stronger relationship between the peoples of the U.S. and China.

My friend Shirley Young (a C-100 co-founders) mentioned the special photo wall exhibit “The Chinese in America; We are Family,” sponsored by C-100, so I made a point to see it.

I recognized portraits of many distinguished Chinese-Americans—architect I.M. Pei, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, scientist David Ho, astronaut Roy Chiao, skater Michelle Kwan—but there were many more.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to Shanghai for an official visit to Expo.
Aware of the importance of having a U.S. presence at EXPO, Hillary Clinton was instrumental in helping to raise the money $61 million.
Jose Villarreal, Commissioner of USA Pavilion; Shirley Young, Governor of the Committee of 100; Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of the State; and Yue-Sai Kan and Ed Chen, C-100 members.
“The Chinese in America—We are Family” was a video wall of individual photos sponsored by Committee 100.
Thousands of people have uploaded their photos and indicated their family heritage, surname, Chinese heritage locations and current U.S. residence.

The three films presented in the U.S.A. Pavilion emphasized that we are country of opportunity and diversity; where people come together to make positive changes in their communities.

A Chinese friend was touched. “The show communicates America’s values: how you work to help each other, even around the world. I like that President Obama showed his respect for China in the film.”
Once inside the pavilion, in three separate rooms, we watched three different movies about America. In the first room, images of the U.S. were flashed on a screen.
The film included a cross-section of Americans such as Kobe Bryant, Tony Hawk, Magic Johnson and Michelle Kwan.
In the second room, we were grateful to sit on bleachers and enjoy the air-conditioning while we watched another film.
It was a multi-dimensional, hi-tech presentation with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcoming the visitors.
In the film, children and adults expressed their future dreams for America.
Afterwards, we paraded to the third room where we viewed the movie “The Garden,” an 8-minute, 4-D movie.
Gradually she wins over her neighbors, who help her realize her vision.
The message was to show the American spirit of perseverance and the desire to build community and make positive changes.
Visitors enjoyed the last stop at the store that sold U.S.-themed souvenirs. I bought US/China sunglasses as collectors’ items.
The cowboy hats were a hit too.
All ages enjoyed the interactive exhibitions in the corporate sponsorship room. “Corporations…this is what America is about,” I overhead a visitor comment.
San Francisco friends Carolyn Chandler and her daughter Samantha DuVall visited us in Shanghai for a two-week visit, and, of course, we spent a day at EXPO.
I learned one trick to miss the EXPO crowds was to go after lunch and stay until closing as it was less crowded and cooler.
Samantha DuVall, Carolyn Chandler, and Stephanie Lawrence.
The exterior of the pavilion of Turkey was inspired by one of the first known settlements in the world—known, in Turkish, as "Catalhoyuk.”
Inside, a panoramic movie showed the geography of Istanbul, its everyday life, and its beauty.
The snacks were a big hit.
Coca Cola Pavilion.
The Netherlands Pavilion had its “Happy Street.”
There were around 100 sheep in the green fields that were such an attraction they had to be replaced after the first month.
The World EXPO Cultural Center, a new 18,000-seat arena, is one of the EXPO buildings that will remain permanently.

In my apartment house, I met architect Gunnar Hubbard here from Maine for an AIA symposium) and his photographer wife Amy Winton and their two young children.

Of Scandinavian ancestry and blonds, the family attracted much attention as many Chinese have never seen blonds. “We now know what it feels like Jennifer Aniston,” Amy exclaimed. “People treated us as celebrities.”
The blond-haired children created quite a stir at EXPO.
Many Chinese visitors were from the provinces, where sightings of foreigners are rare and of blonds even rarer.
Chinese families politely asked permission to take photos with the children and when the parents assented, it seemed that hundreds of people lined up for their photo ops!

Here are photographs of a few friends from all across America who came to visit Shanghai EXPO 2010.

My next column, EXPO Part III, is about the World Fair’s closing days. My coverage of the opening is here.
They lunched alfresco at the popular “M on the Bund” restaurant, which offers one of the best views in town.
Film producer John Heymans and his wife, Nizza, came from New York for the Shanghai Film Festival.
The 1936 Duisenberg Town car that appeared in the “Shanghai Triad,” “Shanghai Grand,” and “Shanghai Story,” were among the props exhibited in a hotel lobby in connection with the festival.
The LA group later enjoyed shopping in the downtown boutiques.
New Yorker Chas Miller, the executive director of Sir John Soane’s Museum Foundation in London.
Daniela Wambold of NY and Malika Cantor of Belgium, both enrolled in Cambridge University’s Chinese program at Peking University, managed record-breaking19 pavilion visits in one day.
Sharon Hoge arrived from New York. We met up one night—with the aid of cell phones and texting. Otherwise we’d never have connected!
Designer Geoffrey Bradfield, who’d flown from New York to meet clients in Shanghai, found time to spend a day at EXPO.
Roric Tobin, Yue-Sai Kan, and Geoffrey Bradfield. Yue-Sai is one of Shanghai’s leading hostesses and entertains constantly.
San Diegans Abby Silverman Weiss and Ray Weiss. After EXPO they climbed the Great Wall near Beijing.
At Changfent Park, Abby and Ray watched the famous Dragon Boat races that take place all around China.
The spectacular fireworks, which China invented, signaled the start of the Dragon Boat Festival.
Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence. New York based Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in Shanghai and San Francisco, and wherever else she finds a good story.