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- weekly report from the World Exposition in Aichi, Japan

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Week twenty-six (September 18, 2005)

Expo highlights roundup

This week I will summarize my personal Expo highlights - in contrast to many official guides or Expo guide web sites, this will include not only the Japanese presentations but all, and will focus on both the positive and negative aspects of my Expo experience and what I have seen here. This has finally become a kind of "Best of" summary, since the Expo is almost finished by now.

· Favorite pavilions (foreign country pavilions)

Well, my favorite pavilions. While most of the presentations were rather mediocre and forgettable, there were a few pavilions I found really impressive. Let's first take a look at the country pavilions. As I reported before, for the first time in Expo history, the country pavilions were housed in 18x18x9m modules, a move that heavily restricted architectural extravaganza. Of course, this also has an impact on the atmosphere of the presentation - everything is confined to the cubic base design of the outer hull. This not only constricted unusual building architectural designs, but also the freedom of creating inordinary presentations.

To be honest, most country pavilions were of the standard variety and nothing to write home. However, a few countries still managed to create outstanding presentations. First of all, my absolute favorite is Singapore. Even though not quite on the mark in regards of the Expo nature theme, they put up a generally interesting presentation with new surprises around every corner and also a good restaurant - I wish I'd had more time to spend inside the "Memories of Singapore" library.

Singapore pavilion

Library (Singapore)

Herbs gallery (Singapore)

Design display (Singapore)

Another really good pavilion was Qatar. You could sense that they had plenty of budget by all the free give-aways (badges, stamps etc.) they constantly had on hold. The part I liked most were the three screens titled "Past, present and future", showing movies and illustrations of the history of Qatar. However, the actual footage of the "present" part already had your mouth open in awe about all the futuristic skyscrapers - no need for a "future". What's also quite funky when you think about it is that Qatar is the only country in the world that titles itself "state" (State of Qatar) - no Republic, People's Republic, Islamic Republic, Kingdom or similar.

Qatar pavilion

Qatar entrance

Past, present & future (Qatar)

Traditional/modern performance (Qatar)

The pavilion of South Korea was not only very beautiful inside, it also featured a quite intriguing show titled "Tree Robo". This 3D movie had very strong visual cues and a haunting message. It was about a solar-powered robot and a human child living peacefully in a remote valley until they were separated by the big badass robot mastermind who recruited the robot for the war the humans led for earth's resources. The robot, lagging behind the big robot army when the nuclear explosion strikes, is partially destroyed and lies deactivated in the fallout of the nuclear winter. Much later, a small seed settles on top of the robot and reactivates him through its solar energy. He takes on a long, hazardous journey back home where he and the human, now an old man who tries to plant new trees, meet again, and by their reunion restore the natural beauty.

Korea pavilion

Red Box (Korea)

Paper tiger (Korea)

Lamp cubes (Korea)

Other pavilions, while being rather mediocre in general, did have one part that was absolutely outstanding. This was true of the Japan pavilion, where attendants constantly ushered you onwards to the next exhibition area without giving you the chance to view at your own pace, but had a fantastic 360 degrees theater ("Earth Room"). Very much the same was the case with France, of which only the quite critical 360 degrees "Immersive Theater" was worth watching.

French movie

French movie

· Favorite pavilions (Japanese pavilions)

Now let's take a look at the Japanese pavilions. Due to the restrictions imposed by the Japanese corporate and governmental pavilions (no easy access for staff or even no entry at all without a regular ticket), I didn't have a chance to visit any of them until the last month of the Expo. I guess my favorite pavilion was the Mountain of Dreams "Open Your Mind" show, a very atmospheric presentation.

Mountain of Dreams "Open Your Mind" entrance

"Open Your Mind" show

"Open Your Mind" show

"Open Your Mind" show

The Hitachi pavilion was also quite funny and had the hairs standing on my back because I was feeling rather uncomfortable having the virtual animals coming quite too close. We also had a good laugh at the Mitsui-Toshiba pavilion. They scan your face at the entrance and make you appear as the cast of the 10-minute long science-fiction animation movie. For some reason, I didn't appear in the movie, but one of my colleagues played a major role and made us cry of laughter because of the solemn look on his face throughout the whole outrageous plot of the film.

Hitachi pavilion

Mitsui-Toshiba pavilion

Even though not that spectacular, I really liked the Wonder Wheel. The short animated car videos in the exhibition area, even though really short and otherwise weak on content, were quite interesting. Also, the night view of the Expo site was spectacular and the staff very friendly and made us feel welcome - even serving tea and handing over commemorative presents.

Wonder Wheel queue

Night view from the Wonder Wheel

· Russian vs. American pavilion

The two former superpowers of the world have a history of putting up a big show at World Expositions - this is especially true of the previous presentations of the USSR. At the Aichi Expo, their presentations were much more modest - in the case of the USA, it was even questionable if they would have a pavilion after the no-show at the Expo 2000.

The US and Russian Federation pavilions were quite far apart from each other: the American one is located at the farthest edge of Global Common 2, whereas the Russian one is in the southernmost corner of the Expo in Global Common 4 - the place farthest away from the North Gate (does this tell us something about the Japanese-Russian relationship?)

United States pavilion

Russian Federation pavilion

The main attraction of the American pavilion was a movie - after lingering for a while in the anteroom, you are lead inside the movie theater to view the main show "The Franklin Spirit". It is supposed to underscore "that Nature's Wisdom as a key ingredient in America's history." Uh huh. On the other hand, the Russians brought their own mascot, a mammoth. Even though they collaborated with the Mammoth Project in the Global House, they didn't fail to bring their own (unfrozen) one with them - for all the people who didn't want to wait for hours in front of the Global House.

Benjamin Franklin (USA)

Mammoth (Russia)

In the American pavilion, after the end of the movie you entered an area which included exhibits about the Mars Rover, the Cassini-Huygens Saturn mission, the Wrigth Brothers Glider, the GM Autonomy vehicle, hydrogen fuel cells. These were explained by an attendant riding a Segway (which, if you remained until the end, you could ride yourself). The Russians also brought some funky power generation ideas with them, such as encased tornado and tidal wave power plants and exhibits about the "enormous experience Russia has piled up in preventing the effects of natural and manmade catastrophes".

Goodyear tire (USA)

Tornado power plant (Russia)

In the end, you have the space vehicles once again: the American Mars Rover and some Russian Space Shuttle (a six-seater called "Clipper"). But the presentations are a lot more modest than, say, at the Osaka Expo, where the Moon Lander and Sojus satellites took up most of the space of the respective exhibitions.

Mars Exploration Rover (USA)

Space shuttle (Russia)

On the American side, the Benjamin Franklin show ("I wish I were born later") did have its moments, but the message about renewable energy sources and the "incredible potential" of solar and wind energy seemed somewhat over-romantic and hypocrite, considering that the US is the country with the highest CO2 emissions whose government still refuses to sign the Kyoto protocol. What also met the eye was that half of of the official pavilion brochure is taken up by sponsors' advertisements (by JBL, Discovery Channel, ExxonMobil, and individual states) - the lack of governmental funding that had led to the no-show at the last Expo in Hannover 2000 becomes very obvious there.

· Robots

You know, we were promised (and the PR created the image) that at the Aichi Expo, robots would do everything for us: greet us at the entrance in our mother tongue, clean the floors and carry away the garbage, have a chat with us and be our best friends. Actually, none of this robot-utopia turned out to be true. There were a few stupid bulky plastic robots around, but they always had to be supervised by at least two or three bored staff that kept children away from the machines or controlled them by a huge console with joysticks.

Robot demonstration (NEDO pavilion)

Robot demonstration (NEDO pavilion)

Wakamaru (Robot Station)

Cleaning robot (Robot Station)

In reality, these robots could only be seen at special presentations in designated areas in front of the NEDO pavilion or in the Robot Station. The even funkier models could only be observed as paper models or in the pavilion brochures.

NEDO pavilion

Wanpaku Island & Robot Station

· Staff parties

The Expo participants organized a few staff parties, such as those listed in my May events roundup. However, as I mentioned in my Night Activities entry (Week 12), parties at the Expo failed to create the kind of atmosphere I hoped for - this being in part caused by the weak infrastructure of the site without night buses or nearby accomodation and the low numbers of foreigners from different countries at this World Exposition.

During the final weeks, there were two highlights on the party radar. First, the cleverly titled "Common Sense 4 Party" on August 26, jointly organized by the Global Common 4 pavilions, celebrated the onset of the last Expo month. Second, the closing party of the French pavilion on Friday, September 16th became a major event. It was invitation-only and required a 70ies disco dress code. Unfortunately, I was too sick to participate, but judging from the photographs it was "the" party.

As for photographs, Christophe has a quite good overview of staff party photographs and my colleague Manuel has a few party photographs as well. Also, Florian published quite a few staff party photographs in his May entry,

· Next week: The final week at the Expo