Brian Fallow

The Economics Editor of the NZ Herald

Showing off in Shanghai

The New Zealand pavilion at the Shanghai Expo should attract lots of attention thanks to its unique roof garden, writes Brian Fallow.

A world expo, let's be frank, is an exercise in showing off.

For the host city, it is a chance to show that it has the wherewithal and organisational skills to pull off such a major undertaking.

And for the countries taking part, nearly 200 in Shanghai's case, it is a chance to portray themselves as beautiful, progressive and welcoming. Each in its own way, of course, in pavilions which are ever-changing but somehow always the same.

The Shanghai Expo, which opened on May 1 and runs until the end of October is on a vast scale - as it needs to be to accommodate the hoped-for 70 million visitors.

The New Zealand Pavilion hopes to attract 10 per cent of them and its chances of doing so look good.

For one thing its roof garden, which runs from the peak of the wedge-shaped building down to ground level, provides a rare patch of greenery amid the rather sterile environment of the Expo's public space.

The wedge-shaped building also incorporates some shade for those waiting in line to go in. That should prove an advantage when summer comes.

The relative length of the queue should, too. When I was there it was taking 15 to 20 minutes to get into the New Zealand Pavilion, compared with waits of two hours or more for the US and major European pavilions.

Access to the China Pavilion, a striking inverted pyramid, is rationed not by queuing but by the need to book a ticket in advance.

Another nice touch at the New Zealand Pavilion are regular performances by a kapa haka group to entertain the queue - a definite hit.

At the entrance is the biggest lump of pounamu you are ever likely to see, made into a water feature. The Chinese appreciate jade and to see and touch a 1.8 tonne greenstone boulder is impressive.

Inside visitors are guided along 100m or more of images - still and moving - of New Zealand. They have been chosen to balance the beauty of the great outdoors with indications of modernity, inventiveness and technological sophistication.

When it came to blowing up to mural-size photographs of a pastoral scene the Shanghainese firm involved had to be persuaded that yes, the sky can be that blue.

There are also audiovisual representations of episodes in a day in the life of a typical Kiwi family. Organisers have avoided any heavy-handed emphasis on this country's Asian community (even though it is projected to match the Maori population within 15 years or so). References to connectivity between this country and China are more subliminal - the father of the family is shown in a business meeting with Chinese people.

But the pavilion's main point of difference is the roof garden which is intended to represent a journey from the mountains to the sea.

Its path winds through a patch of montane grasses and boulders, some native bush, the obligatory hot pool, pasture and cultivated land, before ending with a handsome pohutukawa back at ground level. The tree suffered a certain amount of browsing damage from visitors in a dummy run opening of the pavilion. But if their intention was to propagate from the surreptitiously obtained cuttings they are out of luck. It is artificial, though very lifelike.

By contrast the centrepiece of the Australian Pavilion is a film shown on a high-tech cylindrical screen. It shows scenes of Australia interspersed by cutesy-pie cartoon segments, which might be thought to rather egregiously misrepresent the position of Aboriginals in Australian society.

In addition to the national pavilions are some generic or "theme" pavilions which are worth checking out.

One, the Pavilion of City Being, offers a short panoramic film, shown on a hexagon of screens surrounding the audience. It is made up of vignettes of life in half a dozen cities, Buenos Aires, Nairobi, Mumbai and so on, but is memorable chiefly for ending with scenes of Shanghai accompanied by the stirring but unexpected strains of Land of Hope and Glory.

The Chinese version no doubt involves some changes to the lyrics.

One thing about all the queuing and walking Expo requires is the opportunity it affords to observe the Chinese people at their leisure.

An ability to nap anywhere is one obvious difference.

Another is in the concept of personal space. Stand a polite foot or so back from those ahead of you in a queue and you invite someone to duck in and occupy that "vacant" space.

Is this a big city, devil-take-the-hindmost thing? Or does it arise from living in a country which is, quite simply, full?

Harder to accept is something I noticed a couple of times: young boys slapping their mothers to get their attention and retrieve something from their bags.

I am not talking about a light tap when it was too noisy to be easily heard, but a definite slap.

What was shocking was not the blows themselves - badly behaved children can be found anywhere - but the patient impassivity with which they were received.

"Cut that out, kid," one wanted to say. "The lady is your mother, not some beast of burden"

Whatever happened to filial piety? The phrase "little emperor" seems apt indeed.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand operates three direct services per week from Auckland to Shanghai with Pacific Economy return fares available from $2058 per person.

Expo: For information about Expo 2010 Shanghai see expo2010.cn/.

Shanghai Municipal Tourism The Administration's website is at meet-in-shanghai.net.

Further information: China National Tourism Organisation is on the web at cnto.org.

Brian Fallow visited Shanghai and the Expo as a guest of Air New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf01 at 29 Dec 2014 04:38:32 Processing Time: 786ms