Beijing 2008

Ahora voy a presentarles un post donde el principal argumento es "una imagen dice más que mil palabras", entonces, solo pondré fotos. Me encantaría poder describirles la gran experiencia que fue asistir a las olimpiadas de Beijing, pero la premura con la que debo de terminar el libro sobre Expos que publicaré en China me lo impide. Espero que les gusten, se aprecían los comentarios, incluso sobre mi look olímpico, que al final de cuentas resulto ser una estrella por cada medalla de oro obtenida por México. Se que puede parecer un poco contradictorio que justo en el 40 aniversario de la matanza de Tlatelolco ponga unas fotos que promueven las olimpicadas, pero bueno, aqui se las muestro.

Let me present a post whose main argument is "one image says more than a thousand words", so, there will be photos (besides this lame explanation, of course). I would love to have the time for narrating you my wonderful experience at the Beijing olympics but publishing a book about Expos requires all of my time. I hope you like them, comments are highly appreciated, including about my olympic look, where at the end the two stars were for each gold medal Mexico obtained. It is actually a bit contradictory because this post showing a good experience in Olympics is published on the 40th anniversary of the Student Massacre previous to Olympics in Mexico City... anyway, here we go.


EXPO Zaragoza - 1 (ENG)



Without any doubt, 2008 was a great year for Spain, besides winning in European Football Championship and Wimbledon, this country held an International Exposition. Under the theme "Water and Sustainable Development" and from June 14th to September 14th, The city of Zaragoza hosts this great event. The fairground was erected next to the river that gives its name to the Iberian Peninsula, the Ebro. This place was optimal for an event whose main goal is to place the water as the starring of XXIth Century. This is Fluvi, the official mascot.

Spain has good experience in hosting Expos, they did Seville '92, which certainly has been among the most important of all times. Now, 16 years later, the capital city of Aragon defeated Trieste (Italy) and Thessalinica (Greece) to win the right to host the Expo from the B.I.E (The equivalent of FIFA or Olympic Committee)

For those not familiarized with this kind of event, they should know that together with Olympics and FIFA World Cup, the Expos are the events with the largest influence in culture and economics on a World Scale. Expos started half a century ago as showcases for the progress of imperialist nations. Then, last century they refocused for addressing particular themes in a wide scope of subjects.

Now the Expos have a truly global perspective, where problems related to sustainable development can be discussed and experiences in progress can be shared. Besides, countries have a wonderful opportunity to promote their national image. It can be described as a mix of Interactive Museums, Theme Park, United Nations, Culture Forum, Art Gallery and Spectacles Centre where visitors can know better the world and learn about something in particular.

The expo has many attractive stuff, besides the national pavilions, there are the thematic ones. They show in a very creative way stuff related to the Expo Theme. Also there is a huge variety of spectacles, those that every countries brings, and also those that organizers present. Perhaps the most seductive things is to appreciate the enormous cultural and anthropological richness of our planet, to be able to meet people from all over the World.

In the cities that host an Expo, it usually becomes the water shed in their urban desing and even in its history. Paris built the Eiffer Tower for their 1889 Exhibition. Montreal, Osaka, Seville or Lisbon, all keep un til today the legacy of their Expos. For 2010 Queretaro, a city in Mexico, bid for hosting the Expo, but lost to Shanghai. After that, the next ones will be Yoesu 2012 in South Korea and Milan, Italy 2015.

Zaragoza 2008, or just ZH20, is easily reachable from Madrid and Barcelona thanks to the AVE, the high speed train. When you arrive to Delicias Station you realize the big effort Spain has made in developing the infrastructure for Expo. The fairground is just next to it, so you can walk for a short while, or even better, take the sky cabin and enjoy the view from the heights.

EXPO Zaragoza - 2 (ENG)

The first thing to stand out is Pabellón Puente (Bridge Pavilion), a metallic and geometric structure desgined by famous iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. Inside it, there is a display that makes you think about the enormous amount of water humans consume, how uneven is its distribution in the World and how important is to use it rationally.

My attention was drawn by this computer that made you a test and told you how many litters of water you use in one year.

Then, on the left, there was Palacio de Congresos (Exhibition Hall), a modernist building used for cultural events but closed to the general public.

At the very end lies Torre del Agua (Water Tower), with 76m, is the tallest building in the fairground.

Inside the tower, he most important thing is "Splash", a 21 meters long sculpture that represetns an explosion of water.

Among the 108 participant nations, the only pavilion that is not inside prefabricated cubic modules is, obviously, the host country. Spain had a pavilion with elegant architecture, featuring long columns that emerged from a small pond. The journey began with a spheric screen cinema, went on with a kind of Museum of water, dioramas of diverse environments and Spanish proposals on sustainability.

In the next picture you can see 3 thematic pavillions

(左LEFT) Pabellón Sed, Thirst Pavilion, an artistic display about the lack of water. It featured 2 rooms with audiovisuals.

(中CENTRE) El faro, The lighthouse, a pretty interesting pavilion for NGO's. It was built with ecological techniques for temperature isolation. Quite outstanding that it was the space that criticized the most the uneven access to clean water for poor people and it even mentioned several cases of social denounce related to water.

(右RIGHT) Agua Extrema, Extreme Water, a building of caprice architecture whose main attraction was a simulator that made visitors feel the experience of a Tsunami, a Hurricane and Flooding. It was a bit disylandesque, however, I must point out that it was among the best things in Expo. For a moment, I experiences the danger and anguish of those the survivors to those meteorologic phenomenon.

Other thematic pavilions were;

--Acuario Fluvial, River Aquarium: The largest in Europe, exhibiting the aquatic life of five rivers: Amazon, Nile, Murray Darling, Mekong and Ebro. To tell the truth, I think it was a bit flavourless and even lame. Maybe for small children is fine, but I think it is not worthy making such a long queue for something quite dull.

--Oikos: Agua y Energía, Oikos: Water and Energy: A pavilion that looks more like an Interactive Science Museum, showcasing the water as a power source.
--Ciudades de Agua, Water Cities: A photo exhibition about cities whose design is according to water. There I found this picturesque spot. The models are two Spanish friends that I meet that day and that we spent the day together. They show that in Expo there is always room for love.

Aragon, the host autonomous community (Spanish equivalent for region or state), had one of the most distinguishing pavilions. Its structure was shaped like a Basket, indeed in the nighttime they put some blow up fruit. The journey ended in a room with 8 screens showing a documentary about Aragon's natural and cultural heritage. In the next picture you see Aragon Pavilion behind the international pavilions building.

Very close to Aragon pavilion was a building that in the lower floor it had pavilions of all the Spanish autonomous communities, Andalusia, Catalonia, Galicia. Madrid and all the rest were there. In the upper floor there were institutional and sponsoring companies pavilions.

EXPO Zaragoza - 3 (ENG)

Some of the most outstanding national pavilions were:

Japan had an anime film about water use traditions in that country, the best thing was that the screens could move and the end was kind of spectacular. After that there we some multimedia maps about droughts and floods in the world and an exhibition of Japanese photographers. Something else really cool was that the pavilion featured Morizo and Kikoro, the mascots from Aichi 2005, this gives continuity to the legacy of former expos and fosters a culture of its own in Expos.

Germany's highlight was a Disneyland-style ride, with boats taking you on a journey whose theme is water conservation. The germans achieved good by being able to build the ride within the prefabricated cubic modules. At the end there was a display with interactive stuff about the proper use of "Wasser"

At an end of the national pavilions building, and with the theme "Somos Agua" (We are Water), there was the Mexican Pavilion. This pavilion was among the most alternative and innovative in the Expo, also it was one of the few with two floors. The idea was to break the traditional stereotypes and offer a modern image. So, there no sombreros or fiesta caliente.

The journey started with a roof screen showing the many natural beauties of Mexico. Then there was a tunnel with artistic projections that led to the main room, where multimedia stuff showcased a contemporary and progressive view of Mexico. There was also a Promexico Business Center and Contramar seafood restaurant. As an adtional fact, the opening day of the Expo was also the Day of Mexico, it featured the visit of Felipe Calderon (Mexican President) and singers from that country.

France had a relatively simple pavilion but with a highly attractive proposal. The façade was a collection of water themed pictures from all over the world. Inside there were some interactive displays and they offered water tasting (like with wines, but from different types of water). Another interesting point was some space dedicated to Midi - Pyrénées, the French department that borders Aragon, and some other French departments. This drew my attention because countries seldom give space to their own regions/states.

It's also worth mentioning:

Russia: They had one of the best documentaries of all shown in Expo, they talked about the fundamental nature of water and its omnipresence in our lives, mentioning even is mystic - religious side. Also, there was a children's simulator of a submarine and displays promoting the natural resources of the world's largest country.

United Arab Emirates: It began with computers showing pictures and doing trivia about this Gulf Monarchy. Its movie was worthy because it showed the big effort that Dubai has made to progress and the value of water within this process. Paradoxically, this is among the countries with the highest water consume levels globally.

Kuwait: Another of the Gulf Monarchies surprised by offering a well structured pavilion. Besides the regular displays, pictured down, there was a 3D simulator; it was a fun way to show their nature, heritage and proposals.

South Korea: The organizer of Expo 2012 decide to repeat the formula of Aichi 2005 and have an animated film as main attraction. The movie is very nice and besides, the pavilion had drum-shaped multimedia displays and a desk for the promotion of Korean literature.

Austria: They had one of the best graphic designs of the Expo, actually in the store they even sold stuff with the logo of the pavililion. The main attraction was a Walts performing show inside a giant bubble. As a matter of fact, I took part on it. The Austrian staff was very friendly.

Other pavilions worthy pointing out for their quality for showing a message were Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Mauritania and Lithuania. Countries like Portugal or Poland paid a lot of attention to their graphic design, particularly to their stamp. Actually, one of the main attractives is to buy the Expo passport and get all the stamps from the participant countries. There is even who take very personal the stamp thing and get them in the skin.

There were also countries with insipid pavilions offering only a handcraft flea market and a small food stand, like Yemen, Pakistan, Nepal or India.

The countries that "shined because of their absence" (I'm translating some idiom from Spanish) were US, Canada, UK and Australia.

EXPO Zaragoza - 4 (ENG)

The entrance fee to Expo 2008 is 35 Euros for one day and 70 for three days. There is also a nightly pass, so people can enjoy the Djs and the agreeable Expo environment in the nighttime. The fairs offers a wide range of spectacles, such as "El despertar de la serpiente" (The Awakening of the Snake); it goes throughout the fairground and it is performed by Cirque du Soleil.

The other main shows are "Hombre Vertiente" (something like Pouring Man), made by an Argentinean company; and every night above the waters of Ebro River, the amazing show "Iceberg".

Besides, Expo offers 4 "Animated Showcases", and they stage a varied array of theatrical presentations. As for concerts, among the big names there are Björk, Lila Downs, Bob Dylan and Alanis Morrisette; plus other famous mexicans like Café Tacvba or Los Tigres del Norte.

The organizers expect to have a total of 7 million visitors during the 3 months. Some sourcessay that up to 90 million Euros have been spent in advertising, plus many more in tourism campaigns. If one of the visitors needs help, can ask for it to any of the 40,000 Volunteers that have been registered. Among them there are this 3 Shanghainese:

The Expo in Zaragoza meant a huge movilization of resources so that the required infrastructure for this kind of event could be ready. Among new highways and a High Speed Train Station, there were some rehabilitation projects in the Ebro River. There was also investment in hydric projects, the Garrapinillos Airport enlargement and nightly lighting of important buildings, such as the magnificent Basilica of Pilar.

Now that you have the general idea of the majesty of Expo, I think I should mention some criticizable points

1.- Not everything was ready on the Opening Day, it seems there were some areas with materials still to be removed. Also some pavillions, like Nigeria, opened its doors weeks after June 14th, the Expo inaugural day.

2.- Some people question the environmental impact of Expo, pointing out the irony of ecological degradation produced by an event whose goal is to promote conscience. Besides, a couple days before the opening there was some unexpected floodings in the Ebro River. Following there is an image of Parque Expo, which is the extentention of the fairground.

3.- For what I heard from some "maños" (nickname for Zaragozans), out of the hotels, few local people has been directly benefited by the Expo, in the way that the impact of toursim in the city has been lesser than what was promised. This circumstance led me to create a new term: "Swallow Tourist", which only visits the Expo and does not go to the rest of the city. Actually, it would be hypocrite if I do not mention that in Zaragoza I was one of them, and it was not the first time because Lisbon '98 was the same case.

3.- Por lo que escuché de algunos “maños” (zaragozanos), fuera de los hoteles, son pocos los locales que se han beneficiado de la Expo, en el sentido de que el impacto turístico sobre la ciudad en sí es menor de lo prometido. Esta circunstancia me ha dado la idea de acuñar el término “turista golondrina”, el cual va sólo a la Expo pero no visita el resto de la ciudad. Sería hipócrita de mi parte no mencionar que yo fui uno de esos… y no es la primera vez, ya que en Lisboa ’98 mi experiencia fue similar. Hannover '00 and Aichi '05 are the opposite case. Since I do not have a picture related to this point, I will show you the Korean pavilion façade.

4.- The official concession for hospitality was totally given to one Company, that made some people think that the variety of food was plain and monochromatic. In other Expos there was a special section for the restaurants brought by the national participants. Here, out of France, Japan, Belgium, Mexico or Uruguay, there were few countries that featured their own restaurant. Actually, Uruguay went too far and relegated its pavilion to a small stand in the Latin American common area and gave the individual module space only to the restaurant. Mexico delighted its visitors with exquisite seafood made at Contramar.

5.- It is unavoidable that there will be long queues and human agglomerations, but still the Fast Pass System was kind of disappointing for some visitors. That system was invented at Disneyland, consists of getting a pass that tells you at what time come to the pavilion. The problem was that passes finished very quickly and it was necessary to form in two lines, first for the pass and then to access the pavilion.

6.- It was kind of simple that all national pavilions were prefabricated cubic modules, in contrast with the rich architecture and creative buildings in Expos like Seville '92 or Hannover '00, where countries with resources were free to do any building they wanted. Of course, the module system makes easier to reuse the fairground, indeed half of the business park that will emerge from what Expo leaves is already sold.

To complement the former points, I want to point out some good stuff from ZH20:

1.- In all the Expos that I have seen, this one achieved the best the application of the expo general theme in the actual content of the pavilions. Of course, the water theme was more precise and left less space for subjective interpretations compared to other Expo themes such as "Nature's Wisdom" or "The Age of Discoveries". Anyway, the idea is that the theme was wisely chosen and coordinated with the national selections and the thematic pavilions. A friend from the Mexican pavilion told me that she liked how Lithuania managed to showcase the ludic side of water:

2.- This is the Expo that has made the best effort to show more equity with African nations, in the sense that there were a lot of sub- Saharan countries that for the first time they had their own pavilion separated from the African general pavilion. Nigeria, Mauritania or Angola were example for this. It was quite particular that no Latin American country, except for Mexico, of course, had their own individual module. At the same time, the African pavilion façade was for sure one of the nicest in the whole fairground, specially at nighttime.

3.- Same thing with the Caribbean countries pavilion. I think it is a bit hard that Caricom will have soon a pavilion as attractive as the one they had at Zaragaoza. It had 2 screens, the first showed touristic promotion and the second simulated rain and hurricanes. More less related to this, that other countries like Afghanistan, Mongolia or Argelia had their own pavilions. The second and third points in the criticizable section are directly related to this point.

4.- A special recognition for Sociedad Española de Exposiciones (Spanish Society of Expositions) and for the city of Zaragoza, given that being a metropolitan area with a population of less than a million, they managed to win the bid of this event. Besides, many zaragozans with season pass go frequently and enjoy highly the Expo.

At last but not least, another comment... the scarce originality for the desing of the mascots. I mean, Despite the fact that Fluvi looks like a mix of ET and Gil ( Expo Lisbon '98 Mascot), he has his own charm. His name comes from the acronym of "Flumen Vitae" (River of Life in Latin). At the end, you can see Haibao, Shanghai 2010 mascot... Is it just me? or do they actually look all very similar?

The Expo is an event that fosters cultural interchange and friendly relations among countries, that is why it is worthy keeping an eye on them. Thanks for taking some time for reading my posts and allowing me to share the enormous enthusiasm that Expos produce me.