If you read blogs or media about Korea you will probably start noticing a lot of talk about the Yeosu EXPO in the coming months. The New York Times has already run a semi-puff piece about the “ambitious environmental, cultural and educational exhibitions from 104 countries and 10 international organizations (including the United Nations)” and Korea’s official tourism blog is junketing rotas of bloggers down there.
My conclusion is going to be a bit different as I went to the last big one in Shanghai and thought it was one of the best things I had ever done (here). It was so good it was actually worth visiting China from abroad to do. There was a unique combination of architectural brilliance which could be seen in the UK, UAE or Chinese pavilions etc. which when combined with China’s largesse it made it unmissable.
Yeosu is simply not on this scale. The Shanghai EXPO you had to see via satellite as it was so big. For Yeosu, the two pictures above capture most of the site and its centrepiece ‘the Big O’ (which can’t have been named by an English speaker or a woman). Still what does this mean? Does this mean the Yeosu EXPO is good or bad? Well here is my breakdown of the pavilions we visited:
Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Cambodia, Congo, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Monaco, Nigeria, Norway, Netherlands, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Turkey.
Germany, Lithuania, Lotte and Samsung.
Republic of Korea and Switzerland.
The problem with following China is pretty much what the UK is going to experience with the Olympics: it is impossible. No-one else has the financial clout or actually cares enough about these kind of things to match them. Moreover, this is not a ‘World’ EXPO which means that it was only partially and half heartedly attended. The country who blew everyone away at the Shanghai EXPO was the UK with the Heatherwick pavilion. It didn’t even turn up to Yeosu.
Indeed, none of the countries who attended bothered or were able to build their own pavilions so the architectural shock and awe which made Shanghai so impressive is entirely absent. One can also see that even those who attended did so on a budget. The only substantial edifice was the main entrance in the picture above which had a massive LED screen embedded in it. However the EXPO authority didn’t seem to want to bother with commissioning any proper 3D and instead featured content reminiscent of a 1990s screen saver: swimming badly animated fish.
However, being Korea the EXPO wasn’t just about countries and is inevitably about the chaebols or corporations who actually run Korea. Thus the most magnificent and munificent pavilions were actually all corporate ones: Samsung (pictures below), Hyundai, Lotte (picture above), POSTCO, LG etc.. Their pavilions featured bespoke architecture and obvious who has the biggest d&*k competitions. I would say it is worth going for anyone who lives in Korea just to get a concrete idea of the power, wealth and control these chaebols have. The EXPO really becomes a demonstration of chaebol might.
Still for all their might the chaebols forgot something about why EXPOs are important and can be worthy. Let’s take Samsung’s pavilion for example; the idea was brilliant: a custom built ‘ark’ which was like a hollowed out municipal car-park inside so 500 people can watch dancers interact with projected media (picture below). Unfortunately, it had nothing to do with Samsung and nothing to do with Korea as it appeared to be a Cirque de Soleil or an equivalent production. Korean dancers? Korea culture? Korea drumming troupes etc.? Nope.
Only two pavilions got this aspect right. The first was Switzerland who was the outright star of the EXPO with its Swissness: an ice-core from a Swiss glacier; animations which opened on your hands in the pitch black (see the ice crystal below); audio-visual brilliance and cups of Swiss water at the end.
And, fittingly, Korea. The first half of the Korea show puffed out Korea’s history, its hanboks, its dancing along to the backdrop of what I think was a folk song. People sang along happily and Korean children were taken up to interact with the 2D/3D animation and performers. Perfect.
The second half was a let down and touch imperialist thought as it featured a badly done 3D animation about how Korea was going to stop African from dying of drought and elephants would thereafter breed like rats. Oh and the theme of bad 3D continued as I’ve seen better Wii graphics.
So, all in all would I recommend going? Yes, absolutely, but only if you live in Korea. The Swiss pavilion alone is worth a visit. We didn’t get to see the Chinese or the Japanese pavilion but I would suspect they are pretty magnificent as well. So it is an EXPO which defeats the point of EXPOs; a de-International Exposition.
And also, the food, the next post is all about that because the food in Yeosu and Jeollanam-do province rocks.