World Expo 2012: Korea is Not Quite the Chicago Worlds Fair


Do you remember the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893? 

The Columbian Exposition celebrating 400 years since Columbus “discovered” the new world? I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Edison verses Tesla. Sufjan Stevens sang about it. The hotdog, ice cream cone and hamburger were invented at the Louisana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. Both the Seattle Sky Needle and the Statue of Liberty come from similar World Expositions; they are a big deal. Anyways, these World Fairs are still going on and this past weekend I had the unique opportunity to visit the 2012 World Expo in Yeosu, South Korea. While this year’s Expo was not as ground-breaking as the Columbian Exposition, it did open a dialogue between nations and it gave people a chance to sneak a peak in gift-shops from around the world.

This year’s theme was The Living Ocean and Coast: Diversity of Resources and Sustainable Activities. It is an important theme concerning our most precious of resources; our oceans and our water. One hundred and five nations took part in the Expo showcasing aspects of how their country is protecting their oceans. At least, they tried. It seemed like many countries missed the memo and they just set up a gift shop in an elaborately decorated booth about their country. Don’t get me wrong, it was really fun and artistic, but I am not quite sure what the main message of the Expo was supposed to be.

The entire Expo itself was like that, it was really interesting, but I was not sure how it all tied in to a world effort to protect our oceans. The America Pavilion began with a message from Secretary of State Hilary Clinton followed by a speech from President Obama emphasizing our efforts to work with South Korea to ensure the safety of our oceans and to hinder the threat of global warming; this was followed by a video that was like An Inconvenient Truth thrown into quick one-liners over a montage of Americans and destruction followed by a hopeful message, “We can save it.” And I wanted to shout, “But how America!” Even after some displays by Boeing and Lockheed Martin I was still left with that question.

This could have been my reoccurring mantra throughout the Expo.

I’m glad we can save our oceans, “But how?” No one seemed to have an answer.

The French Pavilion had a great design with some facts about how they conquered the world through the oceans (also, take a look at how much control the French actually still have over other countries, I was surprised). Germany had some great beer; Sri Lanka had some great food; Peru had a giant squid; Hyundai had a long, elaborate, cool commercial in the Company Pavilions; and I’m sure Samsung had some really cool stuff to show too, but they had a two-hour line. It was all really cool and it had this neat sort of festival/ Cirque De Soleil atmosphere about the whole place, but that one lingering question remained, “How do we save the oceans?”

The Expo is full of architectural marvels.

They built the biggest aquarium in Korea just for the occasion and there is the “Big O Show.” This comes in a long line of World Expo feats of architecture; the Statue of Liberty being among them. There was plenty of good food and the festival boasted some really great energy efficient measures, like a fuel cell shuttle and roof gardens. But, there wasn’t much I could take away about saving the oceans. I was still left wondering, “What are we going to do?”

The World Expo is a chance to really put forth some ground-breaking and innovative ways to resolve global issues. This one had an aim, to keep our oceans clean and sustainable for generations to come. It should have been about the fact that we have only explored 5% of our world’s oceans top to bottom. It should have been about what’s in there for all of us. A small part of the expo was, but each country should have been showing that to each other. This Expo should have been all about positive solutions, not just gift shops and good food (although, that should be part of it too).

The purpose of the world expo is to showcase the achievements of humanity as a world community up to this point. The Yeosu Expo certainly showcased a spectacle of architecture as well as some cool stuff with water (the Big O, water-jet packs); it showed off some flavors from all around the world and there was great entertainment. The Expo was a world celebration and it was an optimistic display of people embracing a world community, but the mission statement of this Expo remained largely an allusion and nothing more.

Sitting on the bus at 10 p.m. I was left reflecting on a fantastic day, yet unsure of where countries were heading in our protection of the oceans.

“What’s the plan guys?”