How could this happen? A Reporter’s Guide to the USA Pavilion Debacle at Expo 2010.

Over the last two days I’ve received a sudden and unusually large number of emails and phone calls related to the USA pavilion at Expo 2010. Combined with the growing number of negative and caustic reviews of the structure, I’m sensing that more than a few people are looking for an explanation as to how the United States managed to build a pavilion that commentators at Huffington Post have compared to – among other things – “a supply storage shed,” “a temporary NASA administrative building, circa 1970,” and “a combination Bose Sound System/Air Purifier.” I’m going to use this post as a brief guide for reporters and anyone else interested in finding out more about how this happened, as well as a brief guide to what questions still need to be answered and who might be able to answer them.

But first – if you’re looking for a quick route to understanding how the US arrived at its current pavilion, let me humbly suggest “A Sorry Spectacle,” my March 8, 2010 piece for Foreign Policy. In it, I give a concise chronology of events, the key players, issues, and documents. Additional source documents showing the total lack of qualifications of the team selected to manage the US pavilion can be found on my blog, here. What that article and those documents won’t tell you is how a Canadian architect was chosen to design the US pavilion, much less who was responsible for signing off on the  selection. Alas, the State Department refuses to answer questions on that subject. So, what follows, after the jump, is a rough chronology of the early stages of the US pavilion – the period when the design and selection would have been finalizes – with additional links to relevant documents and stories, on the evolution of the US pavilion to help reporters get their bearings, and perhaps provide some leads along the way. Continue reading

At the Atlantic: China Rules the World at Expo 2010

The Atlantic has just posted my essay and slide-show, ‘China Rules the World at Expo 2010‘ to its site. Of the many things that I’ve  written over the last year about the Expo, this might be my favorite. The essay goes into the history of Expos, and where Shanghai’s fits into that, as well as the political symbolism inherent in the pavilion layout. Also, I’ve also made an effort to write some meatier photo captions than those that typically accompany this kind of feature. I think, too, it conveys some of my unabashed enthusiasm for the event. You can find it here.

Above, from the slide-show: the Dutch pavilion, named “Happy Street,” is a series of houses built around a figure-eight shaped avenue. The unusual, whimsical structure is officially intended as an argument that the Expo’s “better city, better life” theme is best met at the most local level. However, some in Shanghai have interpreted artist and architect John Körmeling‘s design as a repudiation of the host city’s helter-skelter development pattern.

Expo 2010 has a little bit of everything, but it sure doesn’t have one of these.

I was working up an article on Expo 2010 (World’s Fair) a few weeks ago when – by accident – I came across (and then purchased) this vintage postcard showing the Vatican City pavilion from the 1964/65 New York City World’s Fair.

And the back side (click to enlarge for text).

No surprise, despite signs – once again! – of warming Sino-Vatican relations, Vatican City won’t be exhibiting in Shanghai. And frankly, that’s a pity. After all, in 1964, they not only had a pavilion, they had Michelangelo’s friggin’ Pieta exhibited inside of the pavilion (fyi: no longer impressed that the Danes have lent the Little Mermaid to Expo 2010). So, unlike Expo 2010’s tacky exhibits, promotional films, and endless rounds of 4-D programming (wind! rain! in your face!), that’s something (an artistic masterpiece of the very first order) that might’ve been worth waiting in line for three hours to see. Continue reading

Time out from Expo 2010 for some Cuttlefish Cheese Bread

We’re going to briefly interrupt Shanghai Scrap’s non-stop Expo 2010 coverage to announce that – based upon what we just had for breakfast – Starbucks is doomed. For those who don’t follow the venerable coffee company, it’s been faltering for several years now, largely due to over-expansion into questionable markets in the US (though that appears to have been reversed in the last quarter). The only bright spot has been China, where the company operates 376 stores and – according to CEO Howard Schultz – it has plans to open thousands more. It won’t be easy, though, as he readily acknowledged last week: “[I]t’s a complicated market that requires significant discipline and thoughtfulness.” Exhibit #1 in the lack of discipline and thoughtfulness category: Cuttlefish Cheese Bread, now available at the Starbucks up my street. Click the photos to enlarge.

In case the photo doesn’t make it clear: the bread is blue.

Now it is very much the case that several American fast food restaurant chains have done well in China by localizing their menus (KFC being the undisputed champion in that category). But this isn’t localization; this is just someone saying, “We like bread and cheese; Chinese people like cuttlefish. So … cuttlefish cheese bread! We’ll make a fortune!” Given, that would be the case if there was anything remotely appetizing about cuttlefish cheese bread. Or, as my friend Jarret Wrisley (regular contributor to the Atlantic’s Food Channel, and soon-to-be Bangkok restaurateur) tweeted earlier: “Squid Ink? Cheese? Coffee? Yuck.” Short the stock.

[And briefly: Starbucks, don’t think I didn’t notice the profiteering going on in your Expo outlets. Prices are, on average, 10% – 15% higher than in the city. But worse – and this really gets me – the Expo outlets have eliminated all sizes but Grande, forcing customers to up-size or leave. I actually found myself in an argument over this with an Expo barrista (first and last time that term is used on Shanghai Scrap) who insisted that I was being cheap, and that the prices are the same. Uh-huh.]

Fair & Balanced: Inside the South Korean Pavilion (my own Korean crisis)

Last week I posted several photos of the North Korean Expo 2010 pavilion to some mild interest from the North Korean aficionado community (oh yes there is), worldwide. At the time, I must admit, it didn’t occur to me to post images of the South Korean pavilion because – from the perspective of a US citizen – the North Koreans are just so much more interesting. That, and the South Korean pavilion – unlike the North Korean one – wasn’t open during the soft opening. Apparently, this did not go without notice, and so – while life was continuing apace for everyone else – I received a deluge (okay, six) emails asking me why I didn’t give equal time to the Free South (with three coming – suspiciously! – in the last 90 minutes). Fair enough: below, an image taken of a musical rehearsal (in the background) in the South Korean pavilion during the soft opening, earlier this week.

Again, I would’ve posted more and better, but the pavilion wasn’t open to visitors during the soft opening. Still, this image should offer some sense of the exquisite beauty that is the South Korean pavilion. And, at that, I’m going to pass out from Expo fatigue. Meatier material, tomorrow.

[Oh, and warm Shanghai greetings to the Beijing press corps which, over the last 48 hours has swelled the ranks of media in Shanghai by ten-fold, at least. For the record: we know you’ve arrived with heavy bags – and expense accounts. See you for dinner.]

Media note

On Thursday, April 29, I’ll be a guest on Minnesota Public Radio’s Mid-Morning with Kerri Miller, to talk about Expo 2010. The segment is scheduled for 10:45 AM, CST (that’s 11:45 PM, China time), and can be streamed, here; broadcast info, here.

One for the bloggers: The Tibet and Xinjiang Pavilions.

“All Expo, all of the time!” That’s the staff cheer at Shanghai Scrap HQ this week, and there’s no reason to stop now. Upcoming, later in the week: “Expo 2010 has a little bit of everything, but it sure doesn’t have one of these,” “A reporter’s guide to the US pavilion,” and “A well-traveled foreigner’s guide to visiting the Expo.” But, for now, we’d like to show some appreciation to the China blogging community by offering up some red meat. I am, of course, referring to the Xinjiang and Tibet pavilions, housed beneath the China pavilion, along with the other provincial pavilions (for information on those, I strongly encourage you to check out this afternoon’s recent string of tweeted photos from the Beijing pavilion by the Daily Telegraph’s Malcolm Moorehere, here, here, and here).

Long-time readers know that Shanghai Scrap is a reported blog. Bluntly, we don’t do opinion often, or well. With that in mind, we’re just going to present the facts and let you all decide.

Finding the Xinjiang pavilion isn’t hard. Just look for the overhead signs.

Go around the corner and … Continue reading