Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Shanghai World Expo 2010 - The European Pavilions Part II

Here's part 2 of the European Pavilions at the World Expo 2010. You will see that there are really no common themes here even though some of the countries are practically neighbours. After so many years under the Euro Zone, Europe remains as diverse as ever - and I think that's a good thing.

This is one of the weirdest pavilions at the Expo - the Luxembourg Pavilion.

The Switzerland Pavilion - this looks like an entry for the "Ugliest Contest". The main structures are a few concrete cylinders in various sizes which open up at the top to support a large platform. To it looks a bit like a missile silo or a deep sea oil rig. The little circular discs hanging down the side of the structure didn't help much. Right at the top visitors can take a ride on ski lifts. That's probably why it was so popular and there were thousands of people waiting in line.

The Spanish Pavilion - one of the most interesting looking pavilions at the Expo. The exterior is covered in wicker panels which was an attempt at using a sustainable material, but I felt that the effect was not entirely successful. The wicker were not very resilient to the elements and are beginning to show signs of heavy weathering just after a few months. The form though is very evocative of the Spanish spirit - proud, strong, and flamboyant. Reminds me of flags flying in the wind, and bull fights. Strange ?

The Finland Pavilion - another drum-shaped design that seems to be quite popular here. The entire building exterior is covered in fish-scale shaped panels made from recycled paper and plastic. It has a nice matte texture. This is a much more successful example of sustainable material, unfortunately the architecture was rather uninspiring. However, in some strange way it does evoke the quietness and loneliness that I imagine Finland to be.

The Austrian Pavilion. It looked like something starchitect Zaha Hadid would have done, albiet at a much smaller scale. This was actually by some relatively unknown young architects SPAN and Zeytinoglu from Austria. Like many of Zaha Hadid's work - the form is interesting in a sculptural way but lack soul or emotional resonance. Great sculpture must have the ability to connect with the viewer, but I don't feel any connection here. Would be great for a night club ?

The Czech Republic Pavilion - just a box.

The Bosnia and Herzegovina Pavilion.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Shanghai World Expo 2010 - The European Pavilions Part I

The World Expo was an International Exposition started in Europe, and it is no wonder that over the years European nations have been its strongest supporters. This time it is no different, and the Europeans are out in full force. All the major countries are represented, including even some of the obscure ones. Unfortunately the European pavilions are some of the most popular at the Expo, and unless you are prepared to wait 3 to 4 hours it is impossible to get in. As I only had 2 days and didn't want to waste time (I'm not very good at waiting in line anyway !), I mostly enjoyed the pavilions from the outside. Here are some samples of my photos.

The Italian Pavilion. Like many other pavilions, this is essentially a decorated box. The entrance area is clad in glass, but the rest of the structure is in covered in stone. Architecturally there isn't much to talk about.

The French Pavilion. Another decorated box - this time clad in a structural external screen which is a popular architectural devide in the past decade. The screen has a curved lattice which makes it a little bit different, but other then that nothing too exciting.

Only through the screen can you see the scale of this huge structure. Look at the size of the figures !

The Polish Pavilion is also a decorated box - but what a beautiful box ! The skin is based on paper cut patterns which is a Polish folk tradition, and creates a cultural link to the Chinese who also have a strong paper cut tradition. I like the simple folded form and the ingenuity of using the beautiful patterns on the skin which would be familiar to any Chinese visitor. Based on some photos I've seen on the Net, these patterns are also reflected in the interior design and looks really beautiful. This pavilion is worth a visit if you can make time for it.

The Portugal Pavilion - clad in cork. It looks a bit like the Canadian Pavilion.

Wait for Part II of the European Pavilions.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Shanghai World Expo 2010 - Expo Food Part I

The Expo Organizers have figured one big thing out, and that is you can’t have a good Expo without food ! Food is everywhere, and it is good to see that cuisines from the participating countries are featured on the menu. For many of the Chinese visitors, this would be their first taste of food from a different country.

There are many food options at the Expo – from typical fast food to fine dining restaurants. Most of these are contained in purpose-built buildings dotted around the Expo Site. Some of the pavilions even have their own restaurants inside, like the German Pavilion serving their famous pork knuckles, and the French Pavilion with, of course – a French restaurant.

After half a day of walking through the Asian Pavilions, I was quite famished. Being in China, I decided to stick with Chinese food, and I was really thrilled to see a restaurant promoting the famous Nan Xiang Sio Long Bao. I had wanted to try this at the original Nan Xiang Restaurant at Yu Garden – but the queue was famously long unless you are prepared to pay a lot more in the upstairs dining halls. Thankfully the crowds at the Expo dining outlets are not so bad – I noticed that many of the Chinese visitors had brought their own food and were having picnics under the shades everywhere.

The restaurant was quite full with lunch time crowd.

You order at the reception counter and collect your order at the food counter. The service was really fast ! I guess they got the system down pat after serving so many people.

I ordered the Sio Long Bao and a bowl of Yu Siang Noodle Soup (Fish Fragrant Noodle Soup). The order came in a bamboo steaming tray, and they looked great. I've had Sio Long Bao in other places like Malaysia and Hong Kong, and had always liked them – but this is Shanghai – the birthplace of this famous delicacy and it’s got to be different. And it was – the skin was so thin – it was a wonder that it did not burst during the steaming. And the liquid stock inside the bun was really delicious – clean, porky and fragrant.

The Yu Siang Noodles – contrary to what the name suggests, doesn’t actually have fish inside. It’s a Sichuan dish which uses strips of pork that is cooked with fish sauce to give it the fishy taste (Read Fuchsia Dunlap’s excellent book on Sichuan Food). It was good !

I also tried this Japanese peach drink with liquer. It was quite interesting and refreshing. It only had 1% fruit juice, but 5% alcohol.

The total meal came to RMB 75. Not cheap but not a rip off either.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Shanghai World Expo 2010 - The Sweden Pavilion

Sweden – home to Volvo, Ikea and Absolut Vodka, one of the top design capitals of the World. I was tempted to visit the Sweden Pavilion due to the country’s cache in cool, functional and attractive designs. The pavilion looked promising from the outside – a rectangular box that has been sliced in a few places to allow views and light to enter the building. The façade is clad in metallic panels with perforated patterns which is popular with many of the pavilions at the Expo. This was my longest wait to get into a pavilion – 1 hour. The mainly Chinese visitors were very patient and orderly, though I did get the occasional elbow from a couple of less patient ladies.

The entrance canopy was quite impressive – a high volume space with a complex crisscross structure of metal beams. An escalator brings you up to the entrance level which is a narrow passage lined with pictures of attractive Swedish personalities. Hanging from the ceiling are some attractive lights. After the passage you are in a smallish hall with lots of large photographic murals. These are done to show 2 pictures from different angles. From one angle you see a beautiful pristine landscape. From another you see the devastation that can be wrought by human activities. A reminder that humans have a big hand in Environmental Degradation. I liked that the message was presented in a low-tech way, more effective compared to a cold LCD screen.

Then you enter into the main exhibition space which is very brightly coloured. At the centre is a bar which looked like a kitchen. The whole place looked like an Ikea Showroom. As for the exhibits, there wasn’t much to look at.

After the main exhibition hall, there was a smaller hall with exhibits of Swedish innovations. Then that was it. You then go down through an escalator to the exit which has a shop and café selling Swedish product. At the exit a Chinese visitor asked the guide “Is that all ?” I kind of had the same thought.

The exit.