A third year of total scrap; party at the Russian pavilion.

Last year, on the occasion of Shanghai Scrap’s second anniversary, I swore that I wouldn’t do a post marking Shanghai Scrap’s third anniversary. However, recent events – namely, Expo 2010 (World’s Fair) – have convinced me that an anniversary post is definitely in order. Long-time readers may recall that I used last year’s anniversary post to list the top 5 most popular posts from the last twelve months. However, due to the fact that the most popular posts from the most recent 12 months were all Expo-related, I’m going to take this (self-imposed) opportunity to list the five most popular non-Expo related posts from the last months. The purpose of this exercise – and it’s quite sincere – is to remind myself and regular readers that Expo is not forever, and I fully intend to resume blogging about other subjects, and soon (a few more Expo posts in the works, though). Until then, allow me to exhibit to you just what happens in the Russian restaurant beside the Russian Expo pavilion after the Expo closes at midnight.

There’s a whole lot more of this Expo after-hours business available for those looking for it. And, if I were a certain local city blog, I’d try to find somebody who could get in and write about the phenomenon. Here at Shanghai Scrap, we’re interested in more staid Expo-related subjects.

Anyway, for the record, the most popular Shanghai Scrap post of the last 12 months – and, as of this weekend, the all-time most popular Shanghai Scrap post – is the recent Reporter’s Guide to the USA Pavilion Debacle at Expo 2010. But, as noted above, this blog has long been about more than the Expo. So, without further ado, the top five most popular non-Expo related Shanghai Scrap posts of the last 12 months.

  1. Giant UFO Over Shanghai. [Sigh. Two years after I posted it mostly as a lark, it remains the #2 search result if you google 'UFO Shanghai'. Who knew people were still looking?]
  2. Buddhist protests and Muslim riots. [Some thoughts on the initial media coverage of the riots in Urumqi  last July. It also touches on the untenable online correction policy at the New York Times - a subject to which I returned a couple of months ago.].
  3. Why are 40,000 containers of scrap metal idling in Hong Kong and Guangzhou? [To my everlasting surprise, this was widely linked by blogs with no interest in Scrap, but considerable interest in how China operates.]
  4. Interview: Monday Night Football’s play-by-play man in China airs it out. [Tied with the criminally under-appreciated 141 Shanghai Christmas trees post as my favorite post of the year. Considerable thanks to NFL China for agreeing to it.]
  5. “I’m a big supporter of non-censorship” [My extremely unpopular but heavily trafficked criticism of Obama's performance at his November 2009 town hall in Shanghai. My critics suggested that it hailed a grand new moment in US-Chinese relations; seven months later, I'd say they over-sold it.]

A couple of quick observations. First, despite the fact that I consider this blog – primarily – a reported blog, the most popular posts – with a few exceptions (most of my Expo posts) – remain opinion pieces. Second, the foreign audience for serious China blogging (say, my 2008 posts about the iron ore trade) remains a niche; that is to say, if you’re an English-language China blogger in need of traffic, you’d best connect your China material with something that isn’t China-related (ie, the Expo, Obama, sex). Bluntly put, around here at least, the serious China blogging does less than 10% of the traffic that a one-off post about a disgusting new snack available at Shanghai-area Starbucks outlets does. And, to be honest, I’m probably with my readers on that one.

Tonight at the Latvian Expo 2010 (World’s Fair) pavilion: the flying Prime Minister

This evening I had the distinct honor of attending the opening of the Latvian Expo 2010 (World’s Fair) pavilion. It was a notable event for two reasons, in particular. First, the Latvian pavilion is the last of the stand-alone Expo 2010 pavilions to open (Expo opened on May 1); and second, and more important, the Latvian pavilion is built around something called an “Aerodium” – basically, a giant, vertical wind tunnel into which people – including, say, prime ministers – can be inserted for the purpose of levitating/flying. And so this evening, to his everlasting credit, Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, donned a flight suit and helmet, stepped into the Aerodium, and – to the obvious discomfort of his security detail – levitated/flew. Below, Dombrovskis’s flight as witnessed by the staff of Shanghai Scrap (that’s 39-year-old Dombrovskis in the middle).

Just to be clear: the Prime Minister is, in fact, a Prime Minister, and so the staff of the Latvian pavilion took extra care with his flight. But when it came time for the staff to take flight and show the full capabilities of the Aerodium, they didn’t hesitate at all. Photographic proof, after the page jump … Continue reading

In Memoriam: Gary Heyne’s Iraqi Adventure

Over the weekend one of Shanghai’s sweetest and best loved characters, Gary Heyne, passed away [obituaries here and here] [UPDATE: my friend Jim Fallows has penned a lovely remembrance of Gary, here]. Many folks knew Gary as the brewmaster and partner at the esteemed Boxing Cat Brewery. And that’s how he wanted it: he was a great brewer (according to people who understand what that means better than I do), and an amazing conversationalist. Truly, I don’t think anybody who ever spent more than thirty seconds with the man ever forgot him. Now, as it happens, I’m not much of a drinker, so I never got to know Gary the Bar Stool Philosopher as well as some folks. But I am a writer. And writers tended to have a special relationship with Gary. First, because he was incredibly well-read. But also because Gary Heyne had a book that he wanted to write. Or, more precisely, he wanted somebody to help him complete the book that he’d already started.

I’m not sure how many Shanghai-area writers he approached about the project over the years, but I suspect that I might’ve been among the first: the 11,000-word manuscript, adamantly titled “Get Sent,” arrived in my email inbox at 8:50 PM on March 23, 2007. For lots of reasons, I wasn’t the writer that Gary was seeking, and I’d mostly forgotten the manuscript until this weekend’s sad news. So, for his friends in Shanghai and around the world, I’m going to post the short first chapter. If you knew Gary, it’s going to make you laugh with recognition: everything ‘G-Man’ is in there. If you didn’t know Gary, you’re going to wonder why I didn’t agree to work on the book with him. The chapter will start after the page jump, and in honor of Gary, a total gentleman in all things, I feel obligated to warn you that it contains some adult language and situations. Continue reading

Deep inside of Oz’s awesome Expo 2010 (World’s Fair) pavilion – A Shanghai Scrap Exclusive!

The other morning I received an out-of-the-blue email from Pete Ford, Creative Director for the Australian Pavilion at Expo 2010 (World’s Fair). He was going to be in town, he told me, and he wondered if I’d be interested in a “front and back of house” tour of his creation. Absolutely! As I’ve noted elsewhere on this blog, the Australia pavilion is one of the best of the national pavilions at Expo 2010; it’s also a bit of a technical marvel. The centerpiece is a theater-in-the-round featuring a – how to describe this? – a rotating set of movie screens that surround several set-pieces that emerge from a stage. The screens, meanwhile, feature projections showing scenes from Australia and – this is the real kicker – views of the set-pieces inside of them as if the screens were windows rather than white surfaces, providing each seat with a unique view of the show. That’s no small trick. See below.

So last week, without hesitation, I met Ford at the entrance to the pavilion. It was, like every day at the Aussie pavilion, a busy day: lines wrapped around the building, folding over and around each other. As Ford led me up the ramp, past artworks specially made for the pavilion, we were jostled by the dense crowds rushing through the wide corridors, and he laughed: “I knew it was going to be busy – but MAN!”

Ford, and his company, think!OTS, aren’t newcomers to Expos. As we walked through the pavilion exhibits, he told me that his first was Expo 88 in Brisbane, Australia, and that think!OTS designed the Australian pavilion for Expo 2005 in Aichi. “So it was easier for us to begin work on this one,” he explained. Formal work began 3.5 years ago, but the current pavilion wasn’t a given: think!OTS first had to be selected in open competition against other firms and groups. Obviously, it was.

Outside of the theater itself, I asked Ford how he came up with the idea of screen spinning around a prop that emerges from a stage floor. “I was drinking beer,” he told me. “And I was holding the bottle, and the coaster, and I had the idea of the coaster going ’round and ’round the bottle.” Continue reading

The Mighty Gross Huangpu River

Late this afternoon, while leaving the Puxi side of the Expo 2010 (World’s Fair) grounds, I happened to pause at a bus stop which – to my great surprise – provided this (presumably) inadvertent commentary on Shanghai’s Huangpu River.

It’s true: despite monumental efforts to improve Shanghai’s riverfront (including wonderful work at the Expo site), the river which runs through this great river town remains highly polluted. I actually did a bit of looking into this subject a year ago, and if you’re interested in the details, you might consider paying the fee necessary to access this paper. Gross river, indeed.

[ed. note: The staff at Shanghai Scrap believes that there's rather too much writing about Chinglish in the foreign media and blogsphere - especially by people like me who really have no business making fun of someone else's foreign language ability. And that's why we maintain a "One Chinglish Post Per Year" policy at Shanghai Scrap. Needless to say, there was very little discussion about whether or not the above entry should be this year's example; not only is it funny, it is -arguably - an apt commentary on a pressing environmental issue. Congratulations, Expo 2010.]

[Addendum: Additional Shanghai Scrap thoughts on Expo 2010 English, from 2009, here.]

Hillary Clinton on the USA Pavilion @ Expo 2010: “It’s fine.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stopped by the USA pavilion at Expo 2010 (World’s Fair) this morning and, according to numerous media outlets (among them, the New York Times and the Washington Post), had this to say when asked her opinion about the USA pavilion which she was instrumental in building/saving: “It’s fine.”

Not great. Not spectacular. Not even good. Just plain old “fine.”

To be clear: responsibility for the uninspiring design and programming of the USA pavilion does not belong to Clinton, but rather to Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc, a non-profit organization designated to design, build, and fund the pavilion by the Bush State Department (with the steadfast, key, and ongoing support of the leadership of the US Consulate in Shanghai). For those members of the media looking for additional details – including names named – on how the United States ended up with what the Washington Post’s John Pomfret suggests “resembles more a convention center in a medium-size American city than a showcase for the United States,” I direct you over to this helpful ‘Reporter’s Guide to the USA Pavilion‘ and “A Sorry Spectacle,” my March 2010 summation of the situation at Foreign Policy magazine. Further information can be found under this blog’s Expo 2010 – USA Pavilion category.

[Addendum: Both the New York Times and the Washington Post quote Frank Lavin, Chair of the USA Pavilion's Steering Committee, in their reportage from the Clinton visit. This is unfortunate. In June 2009, at a point when the USA pavilion non-profit was nearly broke, Lavin - a former ambassador to Singapore under George W. Bush - publicly claimed that the US Congress had adopted a resolution in favor of his non-profit organization's effort to build a pavilion at Expo 2010. However, Congress did no such thing, and Lavin's statement was quickly retracted - though without apology to the pavilion's donors, much less, Congress (Shanghai Scrap's coverage of this disreputable moment in USA pavilion history, here). In the wake of his lie, Lavin disappeared from public view. Many - including me - hoped that - in the interest of his and the pavilion's dignity - he wouldn't reappear. Too bad that he did.]

Traveling … and off-line until May 24

In the midst of all of the Expo madness, I find myself on the road working on a couple of somethings completely unrelated to the Expo. So, despite my best intentions this week, I’m going off-line until next week. For now, I leave you with an image taken inside of the (wonderful on the outside) Shanghai Corporate Pavilion. Came across it while going through some photos on a flight earlier this evening. Despite appearances, the folks in the theater are not doing the wave or engaged in a prayer meeting. Rather, they’re manipulating the light array in the theater ceiling – at least, that’s what the animatronic woman on the screen (see back of photo) said was happening.

Before signing off I feel obligated to note that, despite the All-Expo, All-of-the-Time theme that appears to have overtaken the blog, it is my hope to return soon to some of the other topics that defined this blog for its first three years of existence. That is to say, the staff at Shanghai Scrap has no intention of keeping this up for another five months. See you next week with some high-quality posts, including – and we’re very excited about this – a very cool insider’s tour of one of Expo’s very best pavilions.