I’ve probably been avoiding writing about Expo because I’m still trying to figure out what I think. After all the hype, it arrived on May 1. We decided to wait a bit to go, until there were reports about what is worthwhile. But with low turnout in the first month, and nonetheless reports of extremely long lines at some pavilions — several hours to ride a cable lift in the Switzerland pavilion, more to play mini-golf in the Malaysia pavilion — I wondered if it was just a huge mistake.
I’ve been a couple of times now and I’m still wondering about the whole thing.
The site spans both sides of the Huangpu River, and we have spent most of it in the Urban Best Practices Area on the Puxi side, which is smaller and less crowded. This is what interests me anyhow — green technology, ecosystems, what the future portends. Indeed, the city of Chengdu has an exhibition of its Living Water Garden, which demonstrates how water plants can help clean water in industrial situations. But it wasn’t clear to me that anybody was taking in anything beyond the fact that they were in a pretty garden. Who and what is an Expo for, anyhow?
I’ve heard that the GM pavilion is interesting, and perhaps it is, but facing a several-hour wait, we weren’t that interested after all. So instead, figuring it was as close as we will ever get, we wandered into a Saudi pavilion that shows how they put all those people making the hajj into a city of tents that are all air-conditioned!
And then we spent quite a while in two pavilions that seem to serve as bookends. The first, called in English the “Footprint Pavilion,” held out promise of discussing our carbon footprint. But then we walked into a room of gorgeous cave murals from western China, then to another room where I found myself standing on the Acropolis; in a central area, I found myself surrounded by people strolling around in togas as I stood in the middle of the Roman forum. History, I get it. Mankind’s footprint.
But upstairs, doubt intruded. What the heck is the gem wall of gloom?Turns out it’s a model of a prototype of a walled city, in which the wall mechanically rises and falls, buildings rise and are leveled again, and shrubs burst into tall palm trees and subside again. Why? Who can tell.
I wandered past a fake David in Florence, peeked into Amsterdam, and filed past films of Mohenjodaro and bits of Tenochtitlan, trying to get my bearings. And then I arrived in Troy. I know it was Troy not only because it said so, but because of the enormous horse with a hinged door that periodically squeaked open, revealing hidden soldiers brandishing their swords behind the heads of the oblivious crowd passing through. Okay, so the Trojan horse is not exactly historical, but mythological. I didn’t get really fussy until I saw what the archaeologists are uncovering: medieval shields and a crown bearing a cross?
Done with history, or a fantasy of history, we moved onto the Future Pavilion. At first I felt nervous as I saw models of perfectly sterile buildings and films in which deer frolic happily among children playing harmoniously.(I wish I had counted the number of times we saw the word “harmonious.” No, really, I don’t.) By the time I got to the Control Tower, a pulsing tower of light, I felt sure I was trapped in a scary Star Trek episode. You read for yourself:
As my son said, what about all the issues we face to get to this perfect world? (Oops, would that include political issues? Whoa, now.) My plan was to wait for Captain James Kirk to arrive and save me.