Friday, May 28, 2010

Norway at the Expo

Today was the Norwegian Day at the Expo in Shanghai. My arrival in the metropolis of the East was smooth and it was delightful to be in a warm part of China. Yesterday after checking-in at the hotel in the North of the city I went for a walk to the Bund at Sunset. For dinner I was surprised at the restaurant, as I did not manage to find the few Chinese characters I know for meat, namely beef and mutton. Luckily more people here speak some English than in the remote West and I followed the recommendations of the waiter.
We met with other NTNU alumni in the French concession to go to the Expo by bus. Our guide was a Shanghainese lady full of energy telling us the advantages of this city compared to the capital Beijing, namely better weather and better food. The entrance took its time as the delegation of the university was more than 150 people, including some guests from Chinese universities cooperating with NTNU. After clearing the security check, we went to the Norwegian Pavilion were a private guided tour was organized. The motto of the pavilion is “Norway, powered by nature”. The pavilion is made of pine and bamboo, as a symbol of cooperation between Norway and China. Around the pavilion various screens show elements of life in Norway, including its breathtaking scenery and modern technologies.
After this one-hour tour, a Norwegian brass-band was playing outside the pavilion, waiting for the next guests. We split from the remaining NTNU delegation to have some tea with fellow alumni in a nearby café before exploring the site on our own. Large crowds had already gathered everywhere and queues seemed endless, even the Latvian pavilion seemed to attract many people, maybe because of last night’s report on CCTV 9 about its attractions. The Ukrainian pavilion included a fine restaurant in traditional style and some inspiration about life in the city. After more than twenty minutes waiting, I managed to enter the Estonian pavilion, where various philosophical ideas were shared. The other European pavilions had a large attraction power for the local Chinese people, and as I had already visited most of those countries during my stay in that part of the world, I moved on to explore Asian pavilions.
The Thai pavilion is nicely decorated, resembling a Buddhist temple. The sultanate of Brunei shows highlights for both tourists and investors of this “Gateway to Borneo”. The Philippines showcased elements of cultural life in the archipelago, including music instruments. The Cambodian pavilion was a replica of famous tourist sites like Angkor Vat, full of statues and imitation of traditional walls. As Malaysia and Singapore were highly popular there, it was time to walk further towards the Exit Gate number 4. Events were not only happening in the pavilions. On the road there was a parade with some people in typical Mongolian costumes performing traditional dances. I had my first glimpse of the Chinese pavilion and the nearby Taiwanese in the heavy rain. As entries were restricted and required advance booking, it could not be visited on this day as my schedule was limited. From the elevated pedestrian walk, I could also observe the Indian, Pakistani and Nepalese pavilion, which were pieces of art already from the outside and of course crowded at that time of day. The queue for the Sri Lankan pavilion was somewhat shorter and offered a great offer for lunch. Besides food, one could admire Buddhist sculptures and replicas of housing; in addition a small temple had been built inside it to offer a quiet space for prayers.
Turkmenistan was also present. Pictures of the current president were hanging on some walls. The pavilion offered a glimpse of life in this country, with handicrafts and pictures of landmarks. The joint Asia Pavilion II sheltered a few countries with a smaller representation. Palestine was highlighting Jerusalem as a city of peace and selling large Christian crosses as souvenirs. Yemen displayed traditional Yemeni housing. Afghanistan portrayed itself as a land of opportunity. Jordan revived its Roman heritage and tourist attractions on the coast. The Republic of Korea and Japan pavilions were amongst the most popular and the queue was too long, I even had to forget about the Kazakhstan pavilion as the time to the next event was going shorter. Mongolia was showing a big yurt and the history of the country with portraits of Genghis Khan and even showing a map of the largest extend of the Mongolian empire, including China and many countries as far as Europe. Bangladesh was welcoming visitors with some traditional costumes. Timor-Leste highlights the importance of nature for human life. The Maldives look like a great tourist destination, and reminded us that that may not live for very long unless humankind really steps up its effort to fight global warming and other environmental damages. Whereby the Republic of Korea pavilion was crowded, the Democratic People’s Republic was less visited and therefore a rare chance of learning more about this country from the country itself. Some replicas of sights of the capital were displayed, especially a beautiful fountain. On a wall was written “Paradise for People”. The souvenir shop sold books about Juche philosophy, Karaoke music and some documentaries about various highlights of the country like cities or the Arirang games. The Kyrgyzstan Pavilion displayed a yurt and some information about life in the mountains. The Tajikistan pavilion was decorated with giant grapes, a large portrait of the president could be seen as well as documents about its religious history with both Islamic mosques and Buddhist statues.
It was then time to meet again with the NTNU delegation and we went to a reception at the Intercontinental Hotel which had been built especially for the Expo. The Chef is Norwegian and the food was mostly Norwegian with some Chinese influence. After dinner, the rector of the university gave a speech and there was a short presentation of the university for our Chinese guests. Afterwards we went back to the Expo site and went to the Red Hall for a concert by famous Norwegian artists. The hosts were Kaare Magnus Berg from NRK and You Jia from Dragon TV. Before the music began, His Royal Highness Prince Haakon of Norway gave a short speech about environment and sustainability. The Trondheimsoloists orchestra was conducted by Tan Dun, they performed pieces by Grieg. The violinist Eldbjörg Hemsing played the first violin in a special symphony called “The Love”, composed especially for the event, combining elements of Chinese Opera, classical Chinese and Western tunes and some hip hop. After the break, former Eurovision Grand Prix winners Secret Garden performed the theme song of the Norwegian pavilion “powered by nature” and Sissel Kyrkebö sang tunes by Stefan Nilsson, Jon Lord and Edvard Grieg. The next highlight of the show was a combination of Kung Fu and traditional Norwegian dances with Frikar and Qingpu Wushu, while the Trondheimsoloists were adding music to their performance.
After the show, there was still some time before the closing of the Expo site. Trying to by a ticket for a second day, I was told that there tickets were already sold out, but that I could try another sponsor at the Expo site. Walking there at night is a delightful experience as most pavilion display splendid lights. Queues were getting small at even the most popular pavilions although some had already closed. As I reached the Macau Pavilion, the last people admitted were queuing but no more people could join. Luckily Hong Kong was still open, even if maybe no more than 50 people would be behind me in the queue before closing. At least I will have been able to visit one Chinese pavilion, even if it is a small one knowing that there is no guarantee that I will be able to enter tomorrow. The most interesting element is a three-dimensional movie showing highlights of life in Hong Kong, like architecture, landscapes, nature and food.

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