Shanghai readies to welcome the world

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The Independent Online

With under 40 days to go until the start of the World Expo, Shanghai is relishing its role of hosting the world.

Only two years after Beijing was turned upside-down by the Olympic games, Shanghai has pulled off a remarkable transformation of its own in the run-up to the World Expo. Stretching across 5.28 square kilometers on either side of the Huangpu River, a remarkable showground is taking shape - China has built a microcosm of the earth itself.

From the elaborate fort constructed on the Pakistan pavilion to the fairy tale towers of the Russian pavilion, the sleek lines of the Japanese pavilion to the haphazard architecture of the Dutch pavilion, the scale of the exhibition is breathtaking.

Each pavilion measures approximately 20,000 - 25,000 square meters - and there are 200 of them spread across the five zones of the showground. Alongside the national displays will be an amusement park, a wetland park, restaurants, galleries, theaters and shops.

In the center of the pavilions stands the enormous clam-shaped Culture Centre, a rival to Beijing's iconic Bird's Nest complex and one of only five structures that will remain after the rest of the exhibition is torn down. It offers 120,000 square meters of space, an 18,000-seat stadium, a public ice skating rink, a bowling alley, and a live music club. Alongside China's national pavilion it is the jewel - perhaps the pearl - in the crown of Shanghai's Exposition.

Given that London's Crystal Palace, the Eiffel Tower and San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts were all borne of World Expositions (1851, 1889 and 1915 respectively), it is no surprise that Shanghai is keen to make a splash. Seventy million people are expected to visit during the six-month event, which would make it the best attended exposition the world has ever known.

The Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), which regulates biennial expositions, is keen to stress that such spectacles must be centered on a theme of "universal concern to all humanity." China has selected "Better City, Better Life" as its theme, dedicating 15 hectares to showcasing urban best practices.

Topics such as urban culture blends, urban economics, urban/rural relations and urban innovation will be addressed by the exhibitors. Amongst them, Belgium will focus on scientific innovation,whilst Australia's AU$83 million (€56 million) creation focuses on creativity. South Africa has chosen the rise of modern economies for its pavilion, showcasing its vibrant sports, fashion and music industries through live performances and displays.

Reading through the descriptions of pavilions on the Expo website serves as a reminder that World Expositions are - and have always been - a global showroom. But when the showground, new roads, subway lines, train tracks, airport terminals, ferry piers and tunnels are finally complete, the biggest display of all, of course, will belong to Shanghai.