Yeosu Expo 2012: Lines and Leaders

Written by on August 6, 2012 in Travel, Worldwide Korea Bloggers

* This post is written by Chris Mitchell, one of the Korea Blog’s Worldwide Korea Bloggers.

Marcus Aurelius, the former Roman Emperor, once said, “Here or there makes no difference, if wherever you live you take the world as your city.” I read that line when I was reading his philosophical dialogue with himself known only as Meditations. I wrote it down in my notebook a while ago, and it randomly came to me as I sat down to write the second part to the first post that I wrote on the Yeosu World Expo. It occurred to me that the Expo is the perfect place to “take the world as your city,” and appreciate how incredibly dynamic and diverse the world truly is. It’s also a place to make future travel plans internally with the imagined money from your surprisingly large, and of course pretend, lottery winnings. Evidently, the first post on the Expo went over quite handsomely, as “The Korea Blog”, of which I’m a World Korea Blogger, picked it up a few days later and featured it on their site. So, it’s with fervent enthusiasm that I’ll proceed to write about my second day at the incredibly intriguing Expo.

We woke up rather startled at how late the preceding night’s events had carried on, but we were determined to get there nice and early. A scrumptious breakfast at the Belgium Pavilion accompanied by a potent espresso was enough to get us on our feet and visiting pavilions around 10 in the morning. Bri and I had a train scheduled back to Suwon for around seven in the evening, and our Canadian pals Graham and Stacy were shooting to leave a little later than that. Oh the beauties of beginning work at 1 in the afternoon. Sunday isn’t nearly as daunting, as travel plans take rightful precedence over occupational concerns.

The Kazakhstan Pavilion was located right next to Belgium’s Pavilion, so we decided to pop in for a peek. Well, the officials there certainly had other ideas, and we were more or less locked into a 20 minute affair. It actually significantly exceeded my expectations, but I’m not entirely sure what my expectations were to begin with. We were led into a rather large auditorium where a high quality video outlining the general magic of Kazakhstan began to play. It focused on a little boy with what appeared to be a rat-tail, and seemed to be covering incredible distances of the country in the swoop of an eye. After the video concluded (but not actually), Kazakhstani dancers gave us a show of their own. It was still early and the auditorium only had about eight people in it, which made me feel uncomfortable, but also somewhat elitist as well, as if the show was put on only for us.

Surprisingly, the lights dimmed down again and the little rat-tailed fellow was back to his big screen adventures. Even more surprisingly, after that was finished there was another performance, but this time it was a singer. I slowly clapped with a raised eyebrow after the show because she was so clearly lip-syncing, but it still maintained some entertaining value. Then came my absolute favourite part. The lights dimmed down once again and the prime minister, Mr. Karim Massimov, gave us some parting words. He politely asked us to come visit Kazakhstan, and I really think I’d like to one day. Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, looked like an interesting city, and the whole pavilion was actually quite charming. Mark my words – I’m going to Kazakhstan in my life. The prime minister invited me, after all.

After that, we were bound for the Indonesia Pavilion. Bri and I were eager to see what they had in store, as we’ll be visiting that fine country in a little over two months’ time. They had a unique auditorium on which the projections stretched themselves onto the floor. It was a little difficult to capture with a photo, but I took a few mental pictures for my future travels. There appeared to be an enormous wealth of nature to explore among over 17,000 islands. I’m truly expecting Indonesia to be one of the highlights of our forthcoming trip through Southeast Asia.

Despite the lines, it was off the USA Pavilion, which, like Kazakhstan, also featured an appearance from their proud leaders. Mr. Obama an Mrs. Clinton both graced us with a short, inspiring speech at the beginning. I happen to be a supporter of Barack, or as some would say – I like to Barock’n'Roll. However, at one point I’m fairly sure he said “the diversity of our oceans is only surpassed by the diversity of our people.” After briefly throwing up in my mouth, I could only think that should have been something that would have been said at the non-existent Canadian pavilion. There were three separate components to the USA Pavilion that were fairly well done. I wasn’t overly impressed, but they deserve a lot of credit for sticking close to the themes of the Yeosu Expo (aquatic life, water sustainability, etc…). Our next plan of attack was to head over to the Hanwha Aqua Pavilion, which was a major attraction at the Expo. First, we stopped at the Oman Pavilion to check out their 4D experience theatre. It was entirely random, and I’m fairly sure that Bri and Stacy were mildly electrocuted during the process, but it was unquestionably memorable. We walked across the grounds of the Expo until we reached the Aquarium, and that’s when I saw it – The longest line I’ve ever seen in my life.

Almost an hour and half later we made it to the beautiful entrance of the Hanwha Marine Life Pavilion-Aquarium. From what I understand, it will continue to be an attraction even after the Expo and will be known as the Hanwha “Aqua Planet.”

The exterior speaks volumes about the money that was also splurged on the interior. However, it was mighty crowded (as the line outside would suggest), so I think that overall I enjoyed the famed Busan Aquarium a little more. The aquarium was centered around the premise of underwater tunnels. There were vantage points leading up to a main interior chamber on pillars, and then you proceeded to follow that path yourself. I imagine that may be a little difficult to envision, so here’s a picture of the interior structure from a quality angle. I believe you can see the enormous glass capsule through the large aquarium viewpoint. It reminds me of something straight out of Star Wars.
We followed the hoards of people towards the capsule, and I can now decisively say it’s not a place for the claustrophobic.

Overall, I thought the concept of the aquarium was innovative, but the line-up is enough to massacre your optimism. Luckily, I’m an overly optimistic individual who had plenty of optimism left over for the day. Next up was the Robotics Pavilion. This place has single-handedly convinced me that South Korea will inevitably and inexorably take over the world.

The answer to your question is definitively yes, those do happen to be robots acting out the role of a Korean boy band to a popular K-POP song. “Yes” would also presumably be the answer to the question, “Was is as fantastic as it looks?” My enjoyment from events like these makes me worry that I’ve been in Korea for a little too long. Only moments before this display, we were spectators at an all robot soccer arena. The pink team and black team squared off with all their robot might. The robots even wound up for a little kick once they reached the ball. Korean technology is simply beyond me. Although, that’s not saying much considering I majored in English in university.

The robot soccer match was also outstanding. The clear bonus being the fact that we were pink team spectators, and they finished off the match with a 1-0 victory. The fun wasn’t over yet either, not even close. I spent my entire time at the robot pavilion in perpetual fascination and bewilderment of the utmost variety. We were brought into a large modern auditorium where a depiction of what “robotic oil extraction” from the future could look like. It was obviously quite doctored for entertainment, but the whole show set-up would have cost them a small fortune. Again, money just didn’t seem to be an object at the Expo, and that’s likely because money flooding in from Korean corporate sponsorship.

As if this wasn’t already impressive enough, they had one final exhibit as we were exiting the pavilion. Of course, they were laser guided robotic fish. You know, just your run of the mill exhibit. Realistically, these fish swam with such grace you could swear they were not robots at all. Their tails swept them through the water almost with an effortless smoothness.

I feel as if the entire Robotics Pavilion was one hour of South Korea showing off just how far it has come as a nation. No jokes aside, North Korea must see what an incredible world spectacle the South has put on and realize that they mean serious business. Without question, South Korea is one of the foremost emerging nations, and if you haven’t learned that yet from my blog, then you’ve only been visiting for the pictures. Actually, you may even be able to deduce that from the pictures. Time was winding down on our splendid Sunday, but there was still more to be seen. The four us decided to have a last supper of sorts at the Russian restaurant.

I can assure you this was accompanied by a splendid, deep red Borsch soup, but we also enjoyed a Russian beer and Graham and I couldn’t resist the imported Russian vodka. Was it necessary? Absolutely not. Do I regret it?Absolutely not. We walked next door and entered the Russia Pavilion, which I felt probably had some of the best visual effects at the Expo. A frozen tunnel led us into a room with the hull of a model Arctic ship on our right hand side. In front of us were stunning visuals that utilized the floor, ceiling and both walls. It made the room feel enormous, and my mind felt as if it wasn’t in a room at all. You’ll notice the pillar in the middle of the room, but other than that it was practically seamless.

Russia’s pavilion was well put together, but I didn’t get the same feeling from the Spain Pavilion. It wasn’t particularly bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn’t great either. More or less, it consisted of a dark room with clear tubes with blue lights scattered around the room. However, the Denmark Pavilion displayed an immense amount of effort and ingenuity. Nothing showed this better than the giant wave they made out of LEGO, which is of course a Danish invention.

It immediately put a smile on my face to see what a marvelous feat this wave was. It was constructed with over 685,000 lego pieces and took the construction team over 1,300 hours to build. In my opinion, the effort put forth speaks volumes about the way in which Denmark wants to be seen around the world, and it’s also an attestation to their determination and creativity. I know we’re not talking about the Eiffel Tower here, but I used to love LEGO as a child. Correction, I still love LEGO as a man.

The Turkey Pavilion was enormous as far as the standard size of pavilions go, and the interior was modern and impressive. However, it failed to have anything that captured me, such as a giant LEGO wave, but maybe that’s too much to expect from every pavilion. The exterior was enticing, but I wasn’t particularly sold upon entry. The Egypt Pavilion and India Pavilion served as stepping stones back to the central European pavilions. If truth be told, we were running out of time, and there were several pavilions we knew we had to see from our moment of arrival. A large portion of these remaining pavilions were well known European nations, so we followed our eyes to the bright orange pavilion. Any guesses on the owners? Of course, the Netherlands Pavilion.

We entered a room that was filled with replicas of antique paintings that I can only assume were painted by Dutchmen. The rim was dim with an emphasis on history, travel, culture, and navigation. Most importantly, it was a unique concept, and towards the end of your time in the Expo that tends to count for a lot. You end up watching a lot of videos throughout your time which, realistically, can’t be too different. The following room was a sort of digital pathway with projections on either side of you, and it also happened to be quite original. As I was leaving, I heard the employees being instructed on the precise way in which they would greet the Dutch royalty when they arrived, and I was quite happy to be privy to that confidential information.

France has a tendency towards showmanship in my opinion, and their reputation certainly didn’t fail them with their France Pavilion. Even the exterior boasted these peculiar hour glasses that would turn over in unison, and always had a small crowd. France, like the Quebecois in Canada, are always looking for a little attention. Well, they managed to capture mine fairly easily upon entering. A large shiny room has had the capacity to steal my attention since I was born, which I’m sure my parents can attest to. It featured a large aquarium with small robotic fish that swam through famous French tourist sites such as the Arc de Triomphe.

A bizarre neon sculpture, then a dark room filled with disco balls were next on the menu. They had seemingly completely abandoned the aquatic themes of Yeosu at this point. As the crowning depature from the established themes, they had robots programmed to play music together in a band in the final room. It was extraordinarily random, and equally as mesmerizing. Let’s remember that the term avant-garde does happen to originate from France. Unfortunately, the Italy Pavilion was a little too information based (the history of their famous explorers), so we didn’t have time to give it a proper visit. We did, however, elect to make our last pavilion the much talked about Germany Pavilion.

The first room was a small personal presentation done by a German woman with almost perfect Korean (from what I can tell with my limited Korean talent). We sat upon log stumps of all different sizes, and once the presentation was finished the walls behind us opened up in majestic fashion. We walked through the former wall into what looked like the set of a movie should it have taken place on a German beach. At each particular “station” there was information about coasts, and you also had the opportunity to sit inside of these stations. German innovation, right?

The following room had sea life imprints on the walls in both green and red, but their visibility was dependent upon an interchanging black light. Basically, a collection of one or the other imprints would be showing, but both suited the room quite well. The final room was a miniature “IMAX” theatre that took us on an undersea animation adventure in the view of a submarine. It was clear to me that Germany was looking to impress the world with this pavilion, and I believe that’s exactly what they accomplished. The imported draught German beer located right outside the pavilion didn’t hurt either, I can assure you.

Each and every country deserves some congratulations for the show that they put on. However, South Korea deserves some special attention for building such an impressive complex, and putting on a remarkable show.
The whole experience was entertaining, informative, and had an air of prestige and effort that made the whole experience feel like something special. You can spend all day wandering around and never manage to be bored in the slightest. Attending this Expo sparked a passionate interest in me for future expositions. However, it’s difficult for me to imagine that the future expos will nearly as technologically savvy or generally impressive. I’ll have to see where I am when Milan’s Expo begins in 2015, but for now I’ll savour the images that still resonate in my mind from Yeosu 2012.

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The Worldwide Korea Bloggers (WKB) is a gathering of people from different parts of the world, all having affection for Korea. Currently, there are 50 bloggers from 17 different countries and they share their own precious experiences with Korea and its culture on Korea Blog.