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Our Fair World

Next May, my wife Doreen and I are going to be taking a trip to China. It’s always been a goal of mine to see this country, one of the most beautiful on Earth, for myself but I must admit that the impetus for this trip is the World’s Fair, Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

I’m a bit of a Worlds Fair junkie, I must admit. My mom and dad took me to the New York World’s Fair back in 1964 which, quite frankly, I remember nothing of. There are pictures my mom…or dad, I’m not sure which…took of some elephants parading near one of the entrance gates to the fair, but strangely they either put their camera away or were too dazzled to take any further photos. In any case, the pictures of the elephants are all I remember of that fair.

In 1986, while I was living in San Jose, Expo 86 came to Vancouver and I made plans to go see it. My father passed away a few months before I was scheduled to go; after some soul searching and urging from my mother, I decided to go anyway. I brought a camera with me, determined to take pictures. I took several badly out of focus shots with my cheap camera, then promptly became too dazzled to take any further pictures.

As a 26-year-old man, I remember being caught up in the magic of the fair. I went from pavilion to pavilion, looking at the various modes of transportation that were available. I rode a couple of rides, took in the Spirit Lodge in the GM Motors Pavilion (it was moved after the fair to Knotts Berry Farm in Buena Park where I believe it remained until recently) and loved every minute of the experience. I went near the end of the fair, so it was a bit bittersweet in many ways but from then on I was determined to see as many of these things as I could.

Unfortunately, all the rest have been on different continents. I have not attended a single Worlds Expo since 1986, but given the magnitude of the new one going up in Shanghai, I felt that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. My wife Doreen has never seen one of these things, so I convinced her that this was the one to see.

Many Americans remain blissfully ignorant about the whole World’s Fair thing. They figure that they can go to EPCOT in Orlando if they need to see international pavilions and while I admit that there is a bit of the Expo in EPCOT, the two just don’t compare. It’s a moment for the international community to come together and take pride in their accomplishments; to marvel at the wonders on the horizon that will soon become a part of daily life.

Skeptical? Keep in mind that such devices as television, high-speed trains, video phones, hot dogs, ice cream cones, personal computers and GPS devices all made their debuts at Worlds Fairs. In more recent fairs, technology has taken the forefront as we see changes in architecture, information exchange and building materials as the nations of the world move towards environmentally responsible living spaces. The theme of next year’s Expo is “Better Cities, Better Living” as meeting the challenges of 21st century urban life is explored. We will see how different nations are dealing with problems like overcrowding, resource distribution, traffic congestion, and quality of life. We will see what the cities of the next 50 years are going to evolve into, or at least aspire to evolve into. Hopefully, we’ll be able to take some of these ideas back to Apopka and maybe put a bug into the ears of our elected officials if we see an idea that’s especially inspiring.

Yes, seeing the Great Wall and the Forbidden City are on our agenda and I’m very mindful that China’s ancient culture is worth exploring at length, as well as their status as a modern emerging nation that is poised to be a global leader in the 21st century. It is in our best interest to get to know her better.

Still, the fair is important in ways that go beyond the excitement of flying to China. We, as Americans have had a tendency to remain aloof from the world community. In Europe, where you can drive through two or three nations in the course of a day or two, they are keenly aware of the need to be a part of a greater whole. Here in the States, we have that cowboy mentality that is all about self-reliance, to the point of being more like Greta Garbo than Marshall Dillon. We don’t need anybody; we’re just fine after all.

Except we’re not fine. Far from it, as a matter of fact. Our country has been run by greedy CEOs and short-sighted politicians for far too long. We need to realize that we all share the same planet, and that we need to be united as a species to protect it, nurture it and revive that which we have shamefully allowed to be poisoned. We need to look towards exploring the frontiers of our horizons; end hunger, cure disease and better our living situations. We need to push the envelopes of science and use it to understand the universe we live in, explore distant worlds and use our resources wisely. In short, we need to join hands with the world and march confidently into a better tomorrow.

If that sounds all Carousel of Progress, well that was from a World’s Fair too. If we want our economy to get better, we need to improve our trade with other nations and learn to work co-operatively instead of competitively. We need to get out of this moronic mindset of maximizing short-term profits and instead plan for the future. We are moving whether we like it or not into a global economy and if we’re going to remain relevant as a nation we are going to have to find a way to work within it instead of trying to exploit it.

One big step would be for the United States to re-join the Bureau of International Expositions. The 2012 and 2015 fairs have already been awarded to Yeosu, Korea and Milan, respectively so by the time the next Worlds Fair hosting opportunities come up, it will have been more than 30 years since a World Exposition has been held on U.S. soil. Think of the opportunities for improving trade and establishing new trading partners with emerging nations that our businesses could have. The World’s Fair infrastructure is geared for that; nearly every international pavilion has a V.I.P. area for business leaders from other nations to meet with trade officials from the pavilion host to better facilitate trade. These are opportunities we are missing because of our own mulish tendencies.

We have always patted ourselves on the back about the quality of life here and the high standard of living. We have found out the hard way that those things are highly transitory, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be a nation to be proud of again. We can be a world leader by learning to co-exist in the world, and lead it through respect for our wisdom and our compassion – or we can continue to be the world’s bully and watch the inevitable slide into history with the fallen empires of the past. Personally, I’d prefer the first option – but the people of America need to change their mindsets first. A visit to the fair is a good way of opening your eyes – and if you can’t make the fair in person, there will be an extensive online version that will help you get there. You can go to the official site of the fair http://en.expo2010.cn/ to find out more about it.


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