If you haven't heard, the World Expo's taking place right now in Shanghai, the same time that South Africa's hosting the World Cup. Assuming you had to pick one to visit, to which would you go?
I'm a fan of an educated decision, so let's look at the stats:
Stats de Excess
- Shanghai's spent forty-five billion US dollars on the event, more than was spent on the Beijing Olympics.
- South Africa's spent over five billion US dollars, nearly 2% of its GDP.
Stats de Exasperation
- If you head to Shanghai, you'll have to deal with long lines, over-booked hotels, and Gumby's googly-eyed Chinese cousin , Haibao, plastered all over the city.
- South Africa promises long lines, over-booked hotels, and a cacophony of 127-decibel traditional horns that they will guilt you into tolerating.
So, as far as excess and exasperation indicators go, they're running neck and neck. What to do? Please allow me to offer the determining factor: their official songs.
In the South African corner, Shakira and Freshly Ground (China link). In the Middle Kingdom (Corner), Quincy Jones, Tan Dun, Alfredo Rodriguez, and Siedah Garrett (China link).
It's a battle of platitudes, and who wants to get into that battle with Shakira? The first time I saw the World Cup video, I was sitting with my girlfriend, who immediately wanted to go to Africa (after she asked me if Shakira was a natural blond). The second time I watched the video, I wanted to go to Africa.
Shanghai will give a billion dollars to anyone who was motivated to go to the Expo after hearing "Better City, Better Life" (or who can give an coherent English interpretation of what the phrase "Better City, Better Life" is supposed to mean).
But it's not Shanghai's fault. The Olympics, the World Cup...these are things that can be hyped and over-hyped and still retain their magic. With a World Expo, Shanghai's got something that's past its prime, and lavishing it with $45 billion dollars-worth of trappings somehow makes it seem smaller, and, ironically, makes it seem cheaper, like a really fancy trade show. That's something that even Quincy Jones couldn't mask.