Sunday, May 27, 2012

EXPO 2012 Yeosu Korea


I decided to come to EXPO 2012 on the last day of EXPO 2010 in Shanghai.  I had such a fascinating time at that fair I resolved to attend the next fair, wherever it was.  I was delighted when I learned it was in Korea since I had never been here before, other than a stopover at the airport...a most impressive airport I might add.

The fair is being held in Yeosu, a medium sized (300,000) port city on the south coast, about 3 hours from Seoul on the fast train and 5 hours on the slower train.  The theme is The Living Ocean and Coast: Diversity of Resources and Sustainable Activities. (I'm sure it sounds better in Korean) Sub themes are described as coastal development and preservation; new resources technology; and creative maritime activities.The logo is quite for the ocean, green for the environment, white for the flow of water, red for living creatures, in a circle that represents earth.

The fair is considerably smaller and  more modest than the Shanghai EXPO; but then again, it was the largest in the history of world expos.  Unlike Shanghai, foreign pavilions are not stand-alone structures. Rather they are incorporated into four large 'international pavilion buildings' which are linked by a central concourse. At first, I was a bit disappointed with the overall look of the fairgrounds and buildings.  But during four days and nights, I became quite enchanted with the expositiion. I could have spent another day since I missed a number of the pavilions.

Despite some interesting shapes. most of the buildings are covered in a grey metal siding. (perhaps the intention is to re-use it, in the spirit of sustainability...a very dominant theme of the fair.) A bit more colour might have livened up the site in the daytime, although as you will see, at night the grounds look quite spectacular.
The corporate pavilions are more varied and adventurous. 
While the outside of the theme buildings are a bit disappointing, most of the inside displays are not. They offer a mix of information and entertainment. I say most since I was disappointed with the main Theme Pavilion. But then again...I'm not the target market for most of the displays which have been designed to appeal to Korean families with children.  In fact, I could count on two hands the number of Caucasian visitors I saw each day.
105 countries are represented, but two major countries declined Korea's invitation because of financial reasons...Greece and Canada. I can understand why Greece isn't there, but Canada? UK is also absent, but that may have more to do with the Summer Olympics.
While I can understand why some federal politicians may be reluctant to spend money on an international exposition, I can't understand why we didn't do what the Americans did...they organized all the necessary funding from a variety of private sector companies.  By all accounts, the US pavilion has been well received..and it did something the Koreans forgot to do...offer some well designed and reasonably priced merchandise for sale.

I'm not joking...the only male adult item of clothing offered for sale in the official souvenir shops is a black t-shirt with white lettering that says EXPO 2012.
No reference to Yeosu. Nada. There's not even a golf shirt! It's astounding, especially after wandering around Korean street markets where you can buy virtually anything made anywhere in the world!

(I also think the organizers have made an unfortunate mistake with some of their pricing. While most things throughout the fairground are reasonably priced (a 500ml beer is 3000 Won or $2.60), a plain baseball cap is over $25. That's too much, especially for the typical Korean family.)

I would strongly recommend to EXPO organizers that they quickly produce more T-shirts, golf shirts, sweatshirts, etc with the creative logo. Just sell modified versions of the wonderful gear the volunteers get to wear. I am convinced there is a lot of money being left on the table!

The fair is naturally targetted to Koreans. The attendance is projected at 8 million over the 93 days (I would guestimate 70,000 on weekdays and 100,000 on weekends). There were some long line-ups while I was there, but nothing like Shanghai where some pavilions had line-ups of over 3 hours.  I am told that 110,000 were in attendance on Sunday.Fortunately, I was able to avoid most line-ups since I  pre-arranged Media Accreditation thanks to colleagues at the Vancouver Sun. This also resulted in introductions to some wonderful guides, especially in the Singapore, Marine Civilization and City, SK Telecom, and Posco Pavilions. In each case, the guides were bright, elegant and charming and all had attended school in the US or Canada! "You're from Vancouver...I live in Toronto!"

As for language, all of the important signage is in Korean and English. However, the attractive and well-priced guidebooks (a large one is a very reasonable $17) has all English headings, but no English text. While I appreciate that to date there may not have been many English speaking visitors, I would suggested to the organizers that they print some inserts with a limited amount of English text and make them available since hopefully more English speaking visitors will attend as the fair progresses. Moreover, this is an international event.

Before describing the contents and substance of the EXPO, a few organizational details.  I flew Korean Air and it was an easy flight. Michael Penelosa of Thomas Consultants who regularly flies to Korea advised me to sleep no more than 4 hours and this was excellent advice. I managed to avoid any jet lag throughout my 8 days here.

In terms of accommodation, I tried to book hotels from Canada back in January but did not have any luck since new hotels near the EXPO site were already booked.
 Not knowing where the other ones were, I decided to wait until I got to Seoul where I fortunately found Jeong Jin Ok in the Korea Tourist Information Centre. She booked me into the Hae Beach Hotel  one of a strip of mid-rise hotels overlooking the water about 20 minutes from the EXPO site. It was very reasonable ($110 a night) quite new and very clean. Moreover a shuttle bus stopped right in front and ran every 15 minutes. You can also book hotels at

Before posting about the fair, I do have to comment on a couple of unsual things in the hotel.
The lighting in the room was spectacular...lights under the bed, in the cove needed a degree in electrical engineering to operate all the switches. I don't think I was the target market for this hotel!
Like all the other hotels I stayed in, it had a high-tech toilet, along with a few other nice features...a computer, instant hot water for tea and coffee, filtered water and a vast array of toileteries.  However, the towels were tiny, I mean more like hand towels, although beautifully wrapped each day...and there were no glasses or cups other than some tiny paper cups.  I would have discussed this with the very amiable fellow at the front desk, but this would have been challenging given my Korean and his English.

I am very glad I decided to come here. I met some wonderful and helpful people throughout my stay in Seoul and Yeosu. However, I am not sure I would recommend that someone change their summer holiday plans to attend this EXPO (as I did for the Shanghai EXPO). But for anyone planning to come to Asia, or  particularly interested in the oceans and innovative ideas related to them, and wonderful displays and multi-media shows, (including 218 metre long LED screens) Yeosu would be a good place to spend a few days to a week.

The EXPO is on until August 12th. Much more information can be found at


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