I’m in Shanghai at the moment, hence the gap in communication. Yesterday I trekked out to the World Expo (the typically anodyne theme: “Better City, Better Life”), a frenzied display of national industry, easy-to-digest cultural narratives, and pinpoint logistics (all those teams of marching soldiers, all those Disney style queue management systems). I began with the choreographed uplift of the USA and finished, reeling from the sun, with an earnest summation, from some rump sub-deputy minister, of all that Turkmenistan, that curious Caspian outpost rich in natural resources and the government corruption that goes along with it, had to offer (in short, architecturally decadent monuments, nice rugs, and pipelines — miles of pipelines; and now, Air Turkmenistan).
Where most countries went with grand, overarching messages of prowess, benevolence, and inclusivity, the day’s most rewarding experience had to go to the Danish pavilion, designed by Bjarke Ingels (who’ve interviewed several times in the past). Rather than overwhelm with several dozen messages, the approach at the Danish pavilion was simple: A white circular building, with perforated brise soleil style apertures, housing a white corkscrew ramp, rising from a pool containing Copenhagen’s famous Little Mermaid, up which one could walk — or, as pictured above, cycle (and that’s me, rather baking in the Shanghai sun) — along the way picking up a few discrete messages comparing Denmark and China across various indices. The whole way up, meanwhile, a long curving bench ran along the edge of the bike path, so people could sit, drink a Carlsberg, and watch the bike and pedestrian traffic go by, much like in Copenhagen itself (and I know Mikael from Copenhagenize will object to the helmets accompanying the bikes, but they were very nice helmets). It was charmingly low-key (yet somehow dramatic at the same time) and a more purely enjoyable experience than the multimedia fireworks going on elsewhere. I was wishing I could take the bike with me when I left — the Oman pavilion, so close on the map, was endlessly far away.