Friday, December 17, 2010

Shanghai Social Diary

On this visit to Shanghai Expo 2010, we rode the ferries that departed every few minutes and took passengers from one riverbank to the other.
(Click here for Part II)
by Jeanne Lawrence

SHANGHAI – On another day I visited Shanghai Expo 2010 with Italian friends Lizzette Kattan de Pozzi, her husband Constantino Pozzi, their son Charlie Pozzi, and a friend Shelia Pitigala, who had come from Milan.

The family was in town to celebrate the launching of Charlie’s new hip shoe line, “Charles Philip,” now sold at New York’s Bloomingdales and in Paris and Italy, and fabricated in Shanghai.

As Lizzette is the Honduras Consul to Italy, she pre-arranged a VIP tour for us and made a point to visit the Latin American pavilions.
Charlie Pozzi, Lizzette Kattan de Pozzi, Shelia Pitigala, and Constantino Pozzi visited from Milan.
The crowds at Expo were always calm and patient.
We boarded on the Puxi, the west side, and cruised the Huangpu River to Pudong, the east side.
Bao Steel Stage, once home to a steel factory that has been moved outside the city center, was one of EXPO’s entertainment venues.
Over 70,000 volunteers were on hand to answer visitors’ questions.

We stopped first at the Italian Pavilion, whose theme was “The City of Man—Living the Italian Way.” (Who better than the Italians to give advice about how to live?) The interior was arranged like a tiny Italian city with narrow streets, courtyards, lanes and plazas.

The Pavilion was divided into five regions to show Italy’s diversity and the best of its art and culture—luxury fashion and design, music, food and wine—plus its innovative manufacturing and industrial achievements.
The Italian Pavilion was built of cutting-edge material—translucent concrete panels with embedded glass fibers that allow light through.
We received a nice welcome from our Italian friend Adrianna Mannering, who was helping with the visiting VIPs.
Lizzette and Constantino Pozzi. A former long-time editor of Italian Harper’s Bazaar, Lizzette especially enjoyed the Dolce & Gabbana display.
Lizzette with me. Prada designed the uniforms for the staff.
Italians Roy and Roberta Muscarella and Adriana Mannering were proud of their country for their pavilion as it was one of the best.
A display of Italian shoes—a product for which the country is justifiably famous. A 500-year-old Cellini bronze sculpture of Perseus holding the head of Medusa was brought from Italy.
The experimental hybrid green Ferrari 599-HY-KERS with mirrors installed to reflect its working parts.
Embroidered Sicilian altar frontals from the 17th century were made of semiprecious stones, such as red coral, and silver and gold filigree.
Among Italian masterpieces on display were Canaletto’s paintings of Venice.
This model of Rome’s Pantheon (27 BC) was made of the same material as the original Pantheon.
Milan will host the next Expo in 2015. Pictured here is a rendering of the future Italy Expo.

Next we visited the impressive Spanish Pavilion, which had taken “Habitable Construction” as its theme. It was among the best of all.

We watched a video that explored the origin of Spanish culture and highlighted Spain’s most important artistic and other contributions, including the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Pablo Picasso painting Guernica, tennis star Rafael Nadal on the courts, Andalusian horses galloping, crowds roaring during a bullfight, and basketball star Pau Gasol playing with the Lakers.

“Viewing everything from flamenco dance to bullfights, you experience so many emotions,” exclaimed Lizette. “Spectacular and strong,” she said, “like the Spanish people.”
The Pavilion of Spain dubbed “The Basket.”
The exterior was made of 8,500 wicker-and-bamboo hand-woven panels.
The fiery flamenco dancing was most impressive in a re-creation of Spain’s Caves of Altamira, which are famous for their Paleolithic wall paintings.
A dynamic, colorful six-minute video, “A Journey Through Time,” played on a huge screen and depicted highlights of Spain’s culture and history.
The running of the bulls in Pamplona.
The horses of Andalusia.
Pablo Picasso painting Guernica, his anti-war mural.
“Miguelin,” an electronically animated giant baby meant to represent the future of children and their dreams.
I thought it was a bit bizarre, yet people found it fascinating and it garnered a lot of attention, especially from the press. “Miguelin” has been donated to the Expo museum.
We stopped into the authentic Spanish restaurant and tapas bar, which won rave reviews for its huge selection of delicacies!
We thoroughly enjoyed plate after plate of the specialty, jamón Ibérico, “the best ham ever.” And then we saw the bill: ¡Que caro!

A week later, I was able to visit the China Pavilion, “Crown of the East.” Thanks to Shanghai friends Michael Darragh and Alexander Torres and their VIP access, we were able to skip the tremendously long queues.

As Expo was Shanghai’s coming-out party, the Chinese wanted to make a bold statement with its pavilion—and they succeeded. The pavilion was Expo’s biggest, tallest and—at over $220 million— most expensive structure. After Expo closes, it will become a national history museum and one of the five buildings that will remain permanently.
Expo blogger Michael Darragh (now transferred to Ogilvy in London) and Alexander Torres had VIP tickets to the most popular pavilions: China and Saudi Arabia.
The China Pavilion, “The Crown of the East,” was impressive and loomed above all the others.
A 2,000-year-old architectural system of interlocking wooden brackets (“dougong”) was used to construct the China Pavilion’s roof.
Exhibits from many provinces were in the China Pavilion. Hong Kong and Macau had their own pavilions next door.
The Animated River Scroll

The main Chinese exhibit was the talk of the show: an animated version of an ancient Chinese scroll painting, “Along the Riverside During the QingMing Festival,” so well-known it’s considered China’s Mona Lisa.

The original painting is a panoramic scene and a vivid presentation of the daily life and activities of the people living in the prosperous city of Bianjing (now called Kaifeng) during the heyday of the Song Dynasty a millennium ago.

In the animated version, every person and animal in the painting appeared to be talking or moving. The effect was magical and mesmerizing. I could have stayed for hours, but my friends were eager to see the rest.
A famous ancient Chinese scroll “Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival” featured scenes of farmers, boatmen, imperial officials in sedan-chairs, and camels along Silk Route.
Artists used multimedia technology to animate some 1,500 people and animals in the scroll and even added background sounds.
It took 70 people two years to complete the work; perhaps this breakthrough technique is the future of public art.
The Chariot and Horses Sculpture

Also on display was another Chinese national treasure, the well-preserved “Bronze Chariot and Horses” sculpture believed to represent a carriage belonging to the first Emperor of Qin, who unified China in 221 BC.

It was unearthed in the city of Xi’an along with the iconic “Terracotta Warriors.”
The bronze sculpture was unearthed in 1980 in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province. Colorfully painted, it has more than 4,000 gold and silver decorations.
We took an amusement park-type ride through a fantasyland full of Chinese imagery.
We exited into a spacious garden with wonderful vistas of Shanghai
Another view of the Chinese Pavilion.

Next we explored the lavish Saudi Arabian Pavilion, whose $164 million cost was said to be second only to China’s. We bypassed the line (sometimes as long as nine hours) to enter the “moon boat,” so-called due to its shape—like a giant oil barge.
The Pavilion showed a prosperous and modern Saudi Arabia. Watching on one of the world’s largest screens, we took a breathtaking virtual “fly-over” tour of the Kingdom that included oases and deserts, seas and villages, and cities with modern architecture and traditional bazaars. It was truly like being there in person, and we were enthralled.
The Saudi Arabian Pavilion.
At the entrance we saw this man in robes, who seems to be straight out of Central Casting.
The enormous entrance to the “Arabian City” featured walls and fountains with Arabic geometrical latticework and Islamic designs.
Visitors walked up the double spiral corridor, filled with natural light from the domed skylight, to view the exhibitions.
Photographs of King Abdullah meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao illustrated the new relationship between the world’s biggest oil exporter and its fastest-growing customer.
The centerpiece was the 360-degree IMAX, the largest (as big as two football fields) and the most advanced in the world.
We stepped onto a conveyer belt that circled the room so we could view the panoramic IMAX movie.
Our breathtaking virtual journey took us over thousands of miles of the Kingdom.

The highlight of the Swiss Pavilion was the outdoor ride in a gondola, a sort of ski lift. The entrance to the ride was a ramp lined with telescopes for viewing simulated sights of Switzerland—cities like St. Moritz and Zermatt, Alpine mountains and meadows, lakes and other natural scenery.
The Swiss Pavilion.
Walking up the ramp afforded visitors wonderful view of the other pavilions.
Inside an IMAX film showed some of Switzerland’s beautiful scenery.
The gondola ride proved one of the most popular.
From the gondola, we viewed Alpine wildflowers fields and Shanghai’s Lupu Bridge, one of the world’s longest arched bridges.
After the ride, we lunched in the authentic Swiss restaurant. We chose Raclette, the national specialty of melted cheese and boiled potatoes.

In the week before Expo closed, I paid two last visits to the Expo: one day to the Puxi side, where corporate and environmental pavilions were located.

The crowds were thinner and the waits were shorter (and I seemed to be the only non-Chinese in the crowd) as tickets were limited during this final week.

The Shanghai Corporate Pavilion—the “Dream Cube”– was designed by Ed Schlossberg, husband of Caroline Kennedy, NYU professor and founder and principal at ESA Designs, which specializes in interactive design. Ed created an impressive interactive tour that tells a story of transformation and change.

NY architect/designer Deborah Berke was among colleagues who flew to Shanghai for the Pavilion’s opening. “It combined Las Vegas, ancient Rome and modern China all in one top, 21st-century light show,” she commented.
New York Architect Deborah Berke and other colleagues came to support New Yorker Ed Schlossberg on the opening night of the Shanghai Corporate Pavilion he designed.
A principal at ESA Designs, Schlossberg specializes in interactive work.
For the “Dream Cube” Schlossberg used cutting-edge technology.

On Expo’s closing day, October 31, I stayed until the night closing and I finally got to visit the African Pavilions and explore nations with which I was unfamiliar. The visitors especially enjoyed doing their last minute shopping at the African bazaars and learning about these exotic countries.

It was a bittersweet occasion. Though we had complained about inconveniences during the years of construction and the visiting crowds, we still lamented the closing of EXPO 2010, which had created a lot of excitement and bustle for Shanghai.

It was eventually reported that an astounding 73 million people had visited the extravaganza. Moreover, EXPO 2010, was extraordinarily planned and executed.
Taxi drivers were required to wear white shirts and a tie, and a fleet of nearly 4,000 World EXPO Volkswagen hybrids made getting a ride easy.
By the end of the day the crowds on the Puxi side had dwindled.
Seeing it without the crowds this last week was a bit sad as it meant Expo was almost over.
Most of the visitors were Chinese and the majority from the provinces. This was their first time to see the cosmopolitan Shanghai and to get a glimpse of another world outside of China. I imagine for many this will be a highlight of their life.

Although I made the effort to visit many times, there was still much I missed. I told friends I wished it had been up for another six months, and many felt the same, although many are happy that the crowds are gone.

The next Expo is in Milan 2015. I’m making my reservations now.
My last night at Expo ...
The last night at Expo, I stopped at convenience store, where the cupboards were bare.
Looking at the empty entry gates and their cone-shaped umbrellas gave me an eerie feeling as I exited, realizing that Expo was finally, officially, over.
My final view from the Expo site was the colorfully lit Lupu Bridge.
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.