Clear facts of success
[b]‘Better City, Better Life’ was the slogan of the World EXPO, which finished in Shanghai on October 31st. Each participating country had the rare opportunity to show the best of itself, creating its image for the world community[/b]It was the first time that Belarus was taking part in such an event, boasting a separate pavilion entitled ‘Building a Future on the Traditions of the Past’. Cosy cities, nestled between clean lakes and green forests, where people live happily, is how we wish to be perceived; it is how we hope those who visited our pavilion at the EXPO now see us. We attended to see how our Chinese visitors liked our Belarusian values.
It was the first time that Belarus was taking part in such an event, boasting a separate pavilion entitled ‘Building a Future on the Traditions of the Past’. Cosy cities, nestled between clean lakes and green forests, where people live happily, is how we wish to be perceived; it is how we hope those who visited our pavilion at the EXPO now see us. We attended to see how our Chinese visitors liked our Belarusian values.
The World EXPO in Shanghai was of global importance, with every participant keen to show themselves to best advantage. China was eager to demonstrate its international influence, as at the Beijing Olympic Games of 2008. These two grand events had diffe-rence agendas, of course. During the Olympics, China wanted to show itself pleasing the world community; at the EXPO in Shanghai, the rest of the world wanted to impress China. At the Expo Park, countries arrived ready to show their achievements; competition for the attention of the host country was a serious business.
China has underlined its desire to occupy a leading place in the developing world, acting as a patron. With a record number of states participating — 192, joined by 50 international organisations — it’s clear that the world is ready to concede this role to China. Even the poorest countries took part. The People’s Republic of China allocated significant funding to allow the poorest countries from Africa and Asia, South and Central America to take part, paying for their pavilions. North Korea, for example, was taking part in such an event for the first time.
Why did China do this? The answer is simple: it’s keen to benefit from African resources while taking on the role of a world leader. Of course, other countries also had their own goals but interests were primarily economic. Although EXPO isn’t VDNKh (Exhibition of National Economic Achievements) or an industrial trade fair, the promotional event undoubtedly boasted a trade-economic accent. The Expo Park was daily visited by Chinese businessmen and foreign delegations, each searching for potential business partners. They discussed projects and set up contacts, forming ties which could bring real benefits in the near future.
Many countries would like to take on the role of a bridge between China and other regions worldwide. The Regional Development Agency of Spanish Catalonia organised its ‘Catalonia — Gateway to Europe’ presentation, while the Portuguese pavilion noted that Portuguese is spoken in Brazil and parts of Africa. The Head of the Foreign Trade and Investment Agency stressed that his country can help Chinese enterprises gain access to the EU market, alongside that of Brazil, and Portuguese speaking Africa. Estonia and Cyprus emphasised their geographical advantages, with Estonia ready to become a trans-shipment base for trade between China, the EU and Russia. Meanwhile, Cyprus launched a major campaign to attract investments, called ‘Cyprus — a Bridge between Europe and the Middle East’. It’s truly beneficial to be a bridge.
Some countries can never become brid-ges, because of their geographical location, so presented other attractions to China. Mexico, for example, conducted a ‘Week of Mineral Resources’, inviting Chinese mining enterprises to invest in the mining of rare minerals, promising privileged terms. South American Chile, despite being rich in natural resources, offered the joint development of forestry, rather than its minerals and metals. Columbia was offering $18bn of state infrastructure projects, alongside franchising projects in energy and mineral extraction. The Chinese, keen on resources, were taking great interest.
Naturally, when the whole world gathers in a relatively small space, a competitive air ensues. Shanghai saw states battling for visitors’ attention, with queues waiting for hours to view some pavilions. Several celebrated their millionth visitors, showing their popularity. Some fascinated visitors with the latest technologies or an extraordinary appearance; others tempted guests with their cuisine. Many set records during this competitive struggle.
The Spanish pavilion looked rather like a very expensive basket, with almost $30m being spent on it; 8,000 wicker panels in brown, beige and black were hand-made by craftsmen from the province of Shandong, forming a material symbol of Chinese-Spanish friendhip.
The British pavilion was among the most alluring and distinguished, looking like a fluffy dandelion or hedgehog. ‘The Seed Cathedral’ consisted of 60,000 rods measuring 7.5m in length, each thin and transparent and containing seeds: a symbol of preserving life on the planet. After the exhibition, the seeds are to be planted throughout China, becoming a symbol of Chinese-British friendship.
Another very popular pavilion (to the surprise even of its creators) was that of Saudi Arabia. Some visitors waited for up to nine hours, creating a record for the longest queue, to enter the ‘Moon Boat’, which looked like a boat or flying saucer. Inside, a space the size of two football fields was used as a great, panoramic 3D cinema, with a conveyor belt taking visitors on a twenty minute journey as they watched a film dedicated to Saudi Arabia: its nature, history, traditions and modern achievements.
Another record (for the Guinness Book of Records) was set by the 40 tonne dome of the Indian pavilion, being 34.4m in diameter and made from bamboo. This symbol of Chinese-Indian friendship used bamboo from the province of Jiangxi, soaked in a special solution to make it invulnerable to insects or fire and warmed for a week to allow it be bent into shape.
Of course, the number of visitors was the major record of EXPO. Three weeks before its finish, the number of visitors exceeded 65m (against the previous record of 64m); by the end, almost 70m guests had attended, with a new record of daily visits set: over 1m people on October 16th. The Chinese are curious about nature and are always eager to learn more about the world. Their curiosity generated the unique figures.
Some countries used the EXPO to try and change stereotypes. Russia succeeded particularly well in this, with its pavilion devoid of the usual bears, vodka and ‘matryoshkas’ (Russian wooden dolls). Instead, visitors queued 3-4 hours to see the well known character by writer Nikolai Nosov, Neznaika ‘Neznaika in Sun City’ was the chosen theme, being surrounded by giant flowers and bright colours. The idea delighted everyone, despite being so unexpected.
Belarus’ other neighbour, Poland, chose a different path, aiming to increase the number of Chinese tourists from 100,000 in 2009 to 500,000 at EXPO-2011. Placing the accent on recognisability, the pavilion was made in the technique of ‘Wycinanka Polska’ (paper weaving reminiscent of the Chinese folk art of paper cutting). Their pavilion restaurant offered ‘pelmeni’ (stuffed boiled dumplings), which were also rather familiar to local guests. Commenting on their Polish dragon figure, Slawomir Majman, the Commissioner General of the Polish pavilion, noted, “Our Wawel Dragon has flown to visit its older brother — the Chinese dragon.” China evidently enjoyed the role of ‘older brother’: one it has nurtured in recent years.
Blue lake country in the Heavenly Empire
Belarus had no need to struggle against stereotypes, since none exist in China regarding our country. Rather, as recognisability needed to be improved, our major function was educational. We were keen for all visitors to our pavilion to form a strong opinion of the country. Ivan Naidovich, the Director of the Belarusian pavilion, noted before the EXPO began that forecasts of just 700,000-1,000,000 visitors had been made for the whole period. Naturally, such predictions are made to be broken and modest expectations invite the joy of exceeded hopes. In fact, over 5m people visited in total, with guests being given a definite impression of our state, at once emotional and aesthetic. Belarus is beautiful, bright and cheerful. Now, five million people harbour positive associations on hearing the name of our country. They will recollect our pavilion and smile, thinking, “Good people live there.”
While people are often first judged by their clothes, World EXPO pavilions are assessed by their faзades. If a competition were held for the most photogenic faзade (considering the number of photos taken against its background) then the Belarusian pavilion would be among the leading candidates for victory. The World EXPO was a wonderfully festive event, with visitors returning home with illustrated albums and bags of purchases. As was the case in many others, the Belarusian pavilion had a souvenir shop, with a long queue there every day.
Preparing for our trip to Shanghai, we calculated which domestic goods might sell best as souvenirs. Chinese demand turned out to be both pleasing and surprising. Traditional items made from straw and linen were taken, but the greatest hits were ‘Luch’ watches, crystal ware and spatter glass goods, as well as Dobrush porcelain. The Chinese were eager to buy anything manufactured beyond their country’s borders, since these items seemed exotic. Of course, it’s always viewed as prestigious to own such artefacts; they are material proof of having visited the world famous event!
The World EXPO hosted Belarus’ National Pavilion Day on October 11th — the most vital day for any pavilion. It began with the solemn raising of the national flag. Military orchestra trumpets played the Belarusian anthem and protocols were exchanged between China’s Vice Minister of Supervision, Wang Wei, and our Commissioner General of the pavilion and Belarus’ Deputy Prime Minister, Viktor Burya. Mr. Wei visited Belarus five years ago, but still remembers Belarusian cordiality and hospitality, as well as our blue lakes and green forests: everything reflected in the Belarusian pavilion. “Our friendship has ancient roots,” noted Mr. Wei. Mr. Burya stated that ‘the Shanghai EXPO has been the greatest event in the history of World Expos’ and that Belarus’ participation had been extremely fruitful.
By Inessa Pleskachevskayap
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