UK, stripped.

I finally had a chance to visit the ongoing demolition of the Expo 2010 [Shanghai World's Fair] grounds this afternoon. Much of what I saw is destined for publication somewhere other than Shanghai Scrap. But I’d be remiss in my duties as a blogger if I didn’t post the striking state of the (once) iconic UK pavilion, now stripped, denuded, humiliated – just another Shanghai demolition, in-progress. Those signature lucite branches that used to sway in the breeze? You’ll find them cracked and broken on the ground – and at the front of the photo (for detail beneath the pavilion, click here).

For reference sake, a nighttime image taken a few months ago, during happier times (for the beleaguered pavilion), from roughly the same spot. Alas, all good things must end (and, for the record, I thought the UK pavilion was a very good thing, indeed).

My patriotic British friends will surely be proud to know that the demolition of their pavilion appears to be much further along than the demolition of most other Western European pavilions. Rule, Britannia!

[for additional images and commentary on Expo demolition work, see this excellent post at Shanghai Shiok!]

Some post-Expo transparency shall shine on the USA’s inexplicable pavilion secrecy.

My interest in reporting and blogging any further on the USA pavilion at Expo 2010 [Shanghai World's Fair] ranges from none at all to zero. The Expo is over, and the consequences – if any – for how the founders of the pavilion conducted themselves in the course of securing, funding, designing, and promoting the pavilion is in the hands of others. But, then again … this weekend I received copies of some of the USA pavilion’s federal tax forms from 2008 and 2009. I had no interest or intent in posting them, but then, at the end of the 2009 filing, I found this:

Please note that the organization – officially Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc [SE2010] – was commissioned by the US State Department to design, build, fund, and operate a USA pavilion at Expo 2010. If the State Department itself had done it, the governing documents, conflict of interest policy, and financial statements would have been – by law – available to the public. But, for reasons I won’t go into here, it wasn’t run by State. In any case, the State Department, the Beijing Embassy, and the Shanghai Consulate apparently saw nothing objectionable in hiding from the American people, how money, raised and spent in their name, was being spent.  This is precisely the kind of secrecy – totally unnecessary, over-the-top secrecy – that makes organizations like wikileaks so valuable and necessary. So, in that spirit, I’m going to make available for upload/viewing SE2010’s Form 990s from 2008 and 2009. Right-click them to download; otherwise left-click and they’ll appear in a form you can read them at Shanghai Scrap.

SE 2010 Inc. 2008 990

SE 2010 Inc. 2009 990

I should be clear: there’s nothing confidential or secret here. These are publicly available documents – a person just has to go through the trouble of getting them. So consider this post my gift to Shanghai Scrap’s readers: you no longer have to go through the expense and trouble of getting them. Now, a warning: there’s no obvious smoking gun here. These documents span a period that ends in late summer 2009 – before most of the money associated with the pavilion had been raised and spent. Still, there are a couple of item that stick out, the most glaring being the US$367,830 on legal in 2009 (Part IX, line 9b). Ellen Eliasoph, a co-founder and director of the pavilion, is also a partner at Covington & Burling – the official legal services provider for the USA pavilion. In other words, as a partner in Covington & Burling, she personally benefited from the money spent on those legal services – which may be one reason that SE2010 didn’t want its conflict-of-interest policies and financials made public.

But whatever. Have a look for yourself, let me know if you see anything, and I’ll be back at you with what promises to be a much more interesting batch of 2010 tax filings whenever they become available next year.

8 Hours at the World’s Largest [Fastest?] Demolition Site.

Some bloggers have all of the luck. While I’m in Hong Kong, listening to a guy explain that laptop battery fire is actually a “runaway thermal event,” Shanghai Shiok!‘s Christine H. Tan has been wandering around the ghostly 5.25 sq km of prime Shanghai riverbank once home to Expo 2010 [Shanghai World's Fair]. It’s something that I hope to do soon, but surely by the time I get there, much of it will have disappeared. So I’m going to do something I’ve never done before at Shanghai Scrap: I’m going to cross-post content from another blog. I do this in part because I think that the material will be of considerable interest to the people who have followed Expo through Shanghai Scrap, and in part because Shanghai Shiok! is one of the best-written and most interesting new English-language China blogs out there (think I’m exaggerating? see here and here). She also, it seems, shares Shanghai Scrap’s early and intense interest in the North Korean pavilion and Axis of Evil Square. So, without further ado, an excerpt from Christine H. Tan’s terrific dispatch from the ruins of Expo 2010

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4:00 p.m. — NORTH KOREA HAS DISAPPEARED!

After five hours wandering around the site, I had to admit that I was disappointed. The Expo was over, I complained to my friend. So far, I had mostly seen piles of scrap metal, a few uprooted benches, some beaten walls. I wanted to see actual demolition. At the very least, I wanted to see a pavilion so stripped that it was unidentifiable.

And then I came upon this:

No signage, no trimmings, nothing. Just the bare bones. I knew which pavilion it was, simply because I had been there many times; my friend, on the other hand, had no idea until I told him. A ‘before’ shot of the pavilion, taken in April this year:

North Korea really knows how to strip a pavilion bare. As far as I could tell, it is the only country that chose not to linger at the Expo.

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Read the rest of Christine H. Tan’s dispatch from from the world’s largest demolition site at the Shanghai Shiok! blog …

End of Expo: Why Expo 2010 Mattered

The personal and professional interests of the foreign media in China have never had much in common with the average Chinese people with whom they cover. Sometimes, this is a good and necessary thing: if the foreign media won’t cover Chinese dissidents, who will? But often, this produces absurd results that distort – for readers and viewers outside of China – what matters to China.

Take, for example, the near obsession that China’s foreign correspondents have with Jia Zhangke, a very good Chinese filmmaker who makes “serious,” socially conscious films that have almost no audience in China, but which win awards abroad. This year, during the Expo, the New Yorker (to choose just one English language publication) devoted thousands of words to Mr. Jia. Fair enough, I suppose, except for the fact that – at the same time Jia Zhangke was appealing to a decidedly small audience of hyper-educated New Yorker writers, readers, and editors, the turnstiles at Expo 2010 – the Shanghai World’s Fair – were rotating at a rate that eclipsed Jia Zhangke’s entire Chinese audience by noon, every day, May to October. If New Yorker readers wanted to know something about why people were rushing through those turnstiles, they’d have to look elsewhere because, aside from a few blog posts, the magazine published nothing on Expo 2010 – the biggest and most expensive event that ever took place in China (and, some argue, anywhere). Of course, the New Yorker, and its terrific China correspondent weren’t along in this choice of coverage – they were joined in the decision by most of the China-based foreign media (and their overseas editors). What a pity.

If you believe the official figures, Expo 2010 was visited by more than 70 million people, many millions of whom waited in long ticket lines, outside of the gates, in the heat of July and August (to be sure, quite a few visitors also received their tickets for free), for the chance to wait in long lines within the Expo grounds. The obvious question is: what was the appeal? The less obvious question is: why didn’t the foreign media probe this question? More precisely, rather than ignore the phenomenon, why didn’t anyone pause to ask what was it about contemporary China that drove so many people to do something that most foreigners – especially foreign reporters who are lock-step disdainful of crowds and mass events enjoyed by Chinese – had no interest in doing? Continue reading

End of Expo: The ‘Americans are Potato Chip Eating Losers’ Pavilion (especially compared to us)

Considering that Expo 2010 [Shanghai World's Fair] included exhibitions by some two-hundred countries, it’s remarkable that the six-month event was all but devoid of politics and negative depictions of other countries and cultures in the national pavilions (excepting a pretty heated film in the Palestinian pavilion). I’m not sure who or what place everybody on their best behavior, but whatever (or whoever) it was, that entity clearly had a sense of humor when it came to policing the oft-overlooked, and mostly awesome Urbanian Pavilion. In brief: the massive Urbanian pavilion, which I only visited for the first time recently, follows the lives of six families in six countries. As visitors enter the monstrous space, they are introduced to these six families via life-sized wax figures. Below, the American family, the Reids of Phoenix, Arizona:

Now compare, for a  moment, the Reids – their shopping cart filled with boxed breakfast cereal and potato chips only, with the representative Chinese family – I think they are the Zhangs (I wasn’t taking notes) of Zhengzhou. Rather than pushing a shopping cart filled with junk food, they are depicted holding a clean-cut birthday party for their aged grandfather. I’ve lived here long enough to know that this is no more typical than a Phoenix, Arizona shopping cart outing, but whatever:

Now, as an American, I take only minor umbrage at this comparison (I know my countrymen, after all). And I would take no umbrage but for the fact that the Urbanian pavilion was designed by a Dutch firm, Kossman.dejong, and not a Chinese one. In other words, what we have here is 1) a starry-eyed comparison of two cultures, neither of which are native to the designers, and 2) a Dutch commentary on how to kiss your client’s ass (Shanghai Expo aka Shanghai gov’t, which, surely has more work to commi$$ion from these liberal-minded Dutch designers). With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at this Dutch provocation against US interests. Continue reading

End of Expo: A Small(er) Country Perspective

Was Expo 2010 worth it? Depends, I suppose, on who you are. If you’re from a small-town in China, and your only experience of Expo was had on a blazing hot August day when you had to stand in lines for hours with several hundred thousand of your closest friends to see a half-baked exhibit on German polyester – probably not. But, truth is, for many of the organizers and participating countries, Expo 2010 wasn’t about the ticket buyers, it was about the government officials and business executives who planned to use it as a six-month meet and greet to take place behind closed doors, in VIP suites. So, in search of this perspective, I sat down for a chat with Juan Pablo Cavelier, the General Manager and Director of Colombia’s Expo 2010 pavilion. In fact, I sat down with him in Colombia’s VIP area – pictured below.

Colombia’s participation in Expo 2010 was far from assured: the country was one of the very last of the 200+ to RSVP for the event. Nonetheless, under a very limited schedule, it managed to build a first-rate pavilion for less than US$10 million. Compared to the tens of  millions spent by some countries, this was a modest sum. But for a country that wasn’t sure it wanted to participate, it was serious money that needed to be justified – at some point. Some excerpts, then, from a wide-ranging conversation (some of which will be published elsewhere) on just how Cavalier will that.

Scrap: Colombia was one of the last countries to confirm for Expo. I suspect that, among the reasons for that late confirmation, were questions about whether or not a pavilion would be worth the money spent on it. So now, as the Expo wraps up, I wonder if you could tell me – was it worth it? And why? Continue reading

End of Expo: Malcolm Moore, Expo Critic, Is Undeterred

If one were to make a list of the most memorable essays, reviews, and reports written about Expo 2010 [Shanghai World's Fair], Shanghai Expo: take a stroll down to Axis of Evil square, the cutting review of the event’s opening day by Malcolm Moore, the Daily Telegraph‘s Shanghai correspondent, would have to be placed near the top. It’s a scathing piece, concise, hilarious, and worth reading if only for Moore’s memorable put-down of the event as “a limp prawn sandwich.”

Still, as an unabashed Expo enthusiast, I did my best to convince Moore that he was getting the Expo story all wrong. I suggested pavilions worth visiting; I recommended restaurants worth trying; I organized an Expo  pub crawl and treated him to two bottles of delicious Moldovan wine. No luck: Moore remained undeterred. And, even worse – from the perspective of someone who thoroughly enjoyed reading Moore’s disdain for the event – he lost interest entirely, and moved onto other stories (along with most of China’s foreign correspondent community).

But surely, Malcolm Moore still has an opinion, and so I reached out to him earlier this week in hope that he’d be up for answering a few last Expo-related question. Malcolm, a gentleman if I ever met one, answered graciously, and at length. Interested readers will note two things: 1) he hasn’t changed his mind at all, and 2) he writes very, very well.

Scrap: On the occasion of the Expo’s opening, you wrote that it as had “all the soul and charm of a limp prawn sandwich.” Six months later, do you stand by this assessment? Or has familiarity suggested another food item to which the Expo might be more accurately compared?

Moore: Yep. Six months later and after a further 15 or 20 or so trips to the site, I stand by my initial assessment.

The whole thing was conceived and organised by government officials, both Chinese and foreign, and let’s face it, government officials are not famous for their creativity and verve. Continue reading