Thursday, July 12, 2012

Yeosu World Expo 2012, Korea: Part I - Perusing Pavilions

You know, I was thinking about the Olympics earlier today. A soft, proud smile creeps across my face whenever I reminisce on the way Canada performed in Vancouver in 2010. Of course, I wasn't in Canada at the time, but rather cheering in a way that can only be described as embarrassing from my apartment in Oslo. I suppose the real irony of the situation is that I was actually living in the old Olympic village, which was established in 1952 when Oslo hosted the winter games. I suppose deep down I could just feel the spirit of the building, and that's surely why I obnoxiously mumbled Canada's gold count to foreign students passing me by. It's peculiar in a way to observe the fact that I will be abroad for my second straight Olympics, as of course I'll be spending the London games here in Korea. In fact, I haven't actually been home for the last two World Cups either. In 2006, I was in Dublin, Ireland doing a wee bit of studying at Trinity College and University College Cork. Moreover, during the World Cup of 2010, I was travelling across a number of countries in Europe. The highlight was probably watching Germany destroy Australia in a Munich beer hall. Although, I remember watching the World Cup final at Exit Festival in Novi Sad, Serbia and that certainly wasn't bad either.

Apparently, whenever a major international sporting event occurs, I pack my bags and leave my homeland. Perhaps unconsciously I'm looking to make Canada's presence felt internationally during such events. More likely, I've done quite a bit of travelling in the last few years with a general disregard for the occurrence of sporting events. Alas, what I'm getting at is that these sorts of events present the opportunity for nations to showcase their talents, and reaffirm their sense of identity and pride. It seems to me that's exactly what happens at World Expos. It seems to me I just made a perfect transition into my trip to the 2012 World Expo in Yeosu, South Korea. Put on some popcorn, feed the baby, get your reading glasses, and let's get this show on the road.

Firstly, I'm not going to taunt all of you by going into a deep, insightful, historical analysis. The World Expo or World's Fair is, of course, an opportunity for respective nations to showcase themselves based on a specific theme often proposed by the host city. It all began in London in the mid 19th century, and I'm sure anyone who attended that specific Expo would be in awe and possibly suffer cardiac arrest if they came to an Expo today. I say this because of the technology present, which is best exemplified by the "Expo Digital Gallery." It's the largest interactive screen I've ever seen in my life, and I can easily picture someone from that 1851 Expo fainting or possibly calling it the work of Satan if they were teleported beneath it.

 Now before I begin recreating my experiences at the international pavilions for you, let me express my profound disappointment in the fact that Canada did not participate in the 2012 Expo. Stephen Harper - you should be ashamed of yourself. I would use far stronger language, but I don't fancy ending up on your "radicals" list, which is apparently growing rather quickly. I mean, Turkmenistan had a pavilion. No disrespect to the fine people of Turkmenistan, but surely Canada could have mustered up something. The theme was based on aquatic life, water, and sustainable practices. I really don't think I could have picked a better theme for us to participate in. I would have even been satisfied if we had a beaver playing in a kiddie pool. That still beats putting nothing together, and it sure would have put a smile on my face. It was wonderful to visit the diverse array of pavilions from around the world, but it was also a tad painful for this very fact.

I've decided that I'm going to declare this blog a two part post. (two part post...has a nice ring to it don't you think?) I say that because I'm looking at my trusty notebook and realizing that on day one, Bri and I visited 17 different pavilions as well as several shows. On day two, we managed to keep up the pace and tally another 16 different pavilions. Thus, I'll separate the blogs, rather obviously, into two parts for the two respective days. We walked out of the Yeosu train station, and our journey at the Expo began with unexpected immediacy. Of course I should have known that Korea would build the new train station practically connected to the World Expo. If it's logical and efficient, then the Koreans have thought of it. While that was unexpected, my choice to visit the Norway pavilion first could have been entirely anticipated. If Canada didn't have a pavilion, then I was sure as hell going straight to my home away from home - Norway.

In sum, I'm a Canadian holding a Norwegian flag, wearing a shirt from Amsterdam, while living in Korea. It's alright if you're confused - I am too. The Norway Pavilion itself wasn't remarkably impressive in retrospect, but I had nothing to compare it to at the time. Mainly, it was a video presentation set in a "futuristic" aquatic room and highlighted Norway's commitment to sustainability and general love of excitement and nature. The excitement installation came on behalf of Norway's incredible "squirrel men" who wear suits based on the aerodynamics of flying squirrels and tear through the sky at astronomical speeds. For me, it was wonderfully nostalgic to see Norway's beautiful coastline again, which is a puny 28,000 km. I left the pavilion in good spirits to say the least. I should really submit my blog to the Norwegian government to see if I can recuperate some money for the free marketing I've given them over the years.

Next, we ventured to explore the Peru Pavilion. Essentially, we wandered around trying to spot which pavilions didn't have horrendous lines and Peru happened to be quite accessible. We walked in and helped ourselves to some delectable Peruvian cuisine. I wasn't sure I understood exactly what Peru was going for, but then I instantly did. They were going for the shock factor - big time. A sign is located on the stairwell that says "giant squid 2F." What you don't realize is that it's merely the vantage point that's on the second floor for something you didn't quite notice on the first floor. In the midst of the kitchen there is a giant squid positioned inside the table. It's one of those moment where your eyes open wide and the words "holy shit..." unwillingly fall out of your mouth.

The Sweden Pavilion was next, and to be honest, I really expected more from them. It was more or less a large open room with seemingly random facts about Sweden on the wall. It reminded me of a 3D version of Sweden's Wikipedia page. It was geared to people who were hearing about Sweden for the first time, but that was likely a good idea for the Korean population who visited. On a bright note, there was an attractive looking Swedish woman on the outside of the pavilion whose image was blown up about twenty feet tall.

I found the Switzerland Pavilion to be arguably the most impressive pavilion that I visited while at the Expo. Firstly, in true Swiss fashion, all of the attendants at the pavilion were of Swiss descent, but also spoke fluent Korean. I personally couldn't get over how typically Swiss that is that they would all speak impeccable Korean. The Koreans themselves also appeared surprised. I'm not sure I really got a photo that captured what the Pavilion was all about. The first section was unique in that it was completely dark, but at certain instances along the tunnel you could put your hand under a light and could see a moving image on your palm that corresponded to a fact on the wall in front of you. Then you walked into a giant, freezing room with mirrors all around it and a giant projector displaying some of Switzerland's magnificent snow-peaked mountains. Then, you walked into a capsule that had glacial ice which actually predates Korea as a country. As a proverbial cherry on top, you exited from a room with astonishing visuals, then drank a glass of Swiss purified water.

Shortly after this, we stumbled across the Romania Pavilion, and subsequently decided to take a peek inside. A peek would be an accurate description of the time we spent inside. I'm going to go ahead and crown Romania's pavilion as the most underwhelming one that I visited. However, it still beats Canada's pavilion, which as I mentioned earlier, didn't exist in any way shape or form. On the bright side, there was a fairly popular Romanian restaurant connected to it. We went from a little below average to closer to average with the Uruguay Pavilion. It was really pleasant enough, but so is watching Everybody Love's Raymond. And we all know how tiring that show can get after only one episode, or perhaps even half an episode. The redeeming factor lay in the fact that it was located directly beside the German Pavilion, which promptly served us beer straight from the Hofbrauhaus and a home-style German feast upon our exit. We actually visited the pavilion the second day, but our taste-buds experienced it a little sooner.

Next on the agenda was the Thailand Pavilion, which was of special interest to Bri and I seeing as we're leaving on an extended trip through Southeast Asia in about a month and a half. This pavilion appeared to always have an extended line-up, but we decided to tough it out. It really wasn't that unpleasant considering the interesting talking robot that was out front. It looked very much like what I thought a mythical Thai dragon robot might. Inside the pavilion were two more video performances that were quite interactive, which I generally appreciated. Mainly, it appeared as if Thailand really put forth an effort to provide information and simultaneously entertain. Personally, I thought that the exterior of the pavilion was probably the most intriguing. That's certainly worth something at a World Expo.

Short stops into miniscule Monaco and also Qatar led us to the Singapore Pavilion. I breezed through the two aforementioned countries because, on the whole, there's not really a ton of noteworthy information. Singapore, on the other hand, produced potentially my favourite pavilion overall. I say this particularly because of how unique and creative it was. I tried to post a video on here from their incredible visual display, but it is over the MB limit for videos. Thus, I'm currently attempting to upload it to YouTube, then transfer it over here. Hopefully, there'll be a video up here soon enough. Anyway, Singapore actually turned garbage it had found in the oceans into a peculiar, yet intensely interesting, exhibit. There was a definite artistic touch to the whole pavilion, and I thought it was sensationally abstract.

Cambodia, Vietnam, and Brunei were also of interest to Bri and myself, as we're planning on visiting the three of these countries in the near future. They were intriguing to me, but I'm afraid you wouldn't have found them terribly interesting. Realistically, these countries just don't have the budget that other countries possess (ie. Switzerland and Singapore) to make such a splash at the Expo. However, the Australia Pavilion was nearby for a visit that we were both expecting to be top-notch. True to Australian form, the exhibit was relatively relaxed, fun loving, but also creative. A sign appears at the entry that asks, "Australia: The World's Biggest Island, or Smallest Continent?" Now there's some food for thought. However, I was thinking about food, so I was relieved to see some heavy Australian meat pies awaiting me at the exit. Along the way, I appreciated the wooden art, as well as the abnormal digital display, which portrayed Australian landscape, as well as more conceptual images.

I promise you that I'm almost finished recounting this extensive investigation of pavilions. And I always keep my promises. Well, at least Bri would say that I always try to keep my promises. I'm a well intentioned being at least who was off next to the Philippines Pavilion. There are few countries I'm more excited to visit on our upcoming Southeast Asia trip than the Philippines. I'm not entirely sure why, but I have the sense that I'll fall in love with it. I also sort of fell in love with their pavilion. It was a pocket-sized pavilion, but it had a lot of character. They had catchy music playing in the background, and bizarre cylindrical probes that played video in several places across the floor. To be honest, it reminded me of something out of The Matrix, and I was grateful for that.

Malaysia came next as the darkness came upon us, and then there was a brief stop in at the Lithuania Pavilion. The attendant seemed quite ecstatic when I mentioned that I'd actually been to Lithaunia's capital city, Vilnius. On second thought, it was probably more a look of shock and surprise. Lithuania's pavilion didn't seem to have a whole lot to do with water, but it was interesting. It featured amber from about 50 million years ago, which actually has creatures in it that had been frozen in time. I was quite blown away by all of this. Without further adieu, here's a lizard from 50 million years ago.

The night sky began beckoning for an outstanding visual performance, so in stepped Yeosu's "Big O." The "Big O" is centrally located on the grounds of the Expo site, and is an astonishing dream maker. For me, it is the single biggest attestation that South Korea means business when they host an Expo. The "Big O" ensures that no one goes home disappointed at the end of the night, as if that were even a possibility.

If a day like this doesn't impress you, then you're either a) a grumpy pessimist or b) blind. I never could seem to stop moving with so much information and oppurtunity to be had. The following day would be much the same, except a little bit slower due to the lineups. We also moved a little slower because we ran into our Canadian pals Graham and Stacy and decided to go for drinks. A few hours later, they were sleeping like babies on our hotel room floor. It was a magical night to say the least. Nonetheless, we woke up nice and early to eat some breakfast at the Belgium pavilion around 9:30 in the morning. They seemed equally disappointed about the lack of Canadian presence at the Expo. But we had to hand it to the underdogs from Turkmenistan who I never expected to see there. Well, as we say in Canada "goodbye," or as they say in Turkmenistan "sag bol." Sag bol, my friends, sag bol.


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