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Taipei Pavilion lets Expo visitors feel the heartbeat of this city

Taipei Pavilion was designed by Japanese designer Hiroshi Ishida and built on the former site of a power plant.It was a warm summer noon in mid-June. Visitors to the World Expo Shanghai were lining up to enter Taipei Pavilion in the Urban Best Practices Area (UBPA), most likely out of curiosity. Taipei is a city they have definitely heard of, but have never been to.

Since its opening on May 1, Taipei pavilion welcomes between 3,800 and 4,100 visitors a day, a total of 160,000 by mid-June. The number increases by 10,000 every 3 days, said Pavilion Director Chen Ching-an in an interview on June 16.

UBPA is located on the west bank of Huangpu River, where the Puxi Park exhibits 18 corporate pavilions and 76 city pavilions. Taipei is the only city to have two proposals selected by the UBPA International Selection Committee, one on wireless broadband Internet, and the other on waste management strategy, namely the “zero landfill” and “total recycle” methods.

“Taipei Pavilion is situated at an excellent location in the UBPA. Visitors lay their eyes on it easily from City Square, where visitors enjoy performances,” said Chen.

“Terry Guo, CEO of Foxconn, personally came twice to choose the location,” he added. Foxconn is the sole sponsor of Taipei Pavilion. He made the investment upon Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin’s invitation.

Experience Taipei in 6 minutes

Chen Ching-an, Director of Taipei Pavilion, enlarges a photo on the touch screen in the Interactive Gallery.The first thing visitors see in the Taipei Pavilion is a P3 LED screen that claims to be the world’s only and largest display screen (width 5.382 m x height 3.2 m). Ranked the highest grade, definition, and the least pitch (3 mm), viewers are invited to sit down and watch a short film showing Taipei as a model city for urban living.

The film has popular singer Wang Lee-hom singing “I smile whenever I see you”, the theme song Wang produced for Taipei Pavilion. It is an adaptation from one of the oldies of Teresa Teng. In the new song, Teng’s voice has been collected from the vinyl records and made to sing a duet with Wang.

The audience is then drawn to smile at a bunch of children shouting “welcome to Taipei” with their most innocent voices, before they are given 3D glasses to enter the 101 3D Theatre, where they enjoy a virtual tour of Taipei in 6 minutes.

Six minutes is hardly enough time to show Taipei City, but director Hou Hsiao-hsien has managed to do that in his film shown at the 360 degree theatre. Besides displaying 3D images of Kuandu Bridge, Yangming Mountain, Longshan Temple, and fish markets, Hou also introduces Eslite Bookstore, MRT system, National Palace Museum, street artists in the Xinyi District and Ximending, and the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre.

“The goal was to make the audience experience a day in Taipei in 6 minutes, but I think a day has been expanded to a year, because the film shows people setting off sky lanterns during the Lantern Festival at the beginning of the year, and the Taipei 101 fireworks display at yearend,” said Chen.

If Taipei at present wows visitors with a mixture of modernity, convenience, food, art, and culture, Taipei in 10 years shown in the Theatre of the Future touts an upgraded version of the present and the concept of sustainability.

Made of scale models, the microcosm of the Taipei Basin is seen in a glass pyramid. Audiences are advised to take their seats at any of the four sides and watch another Hou Hsiao-hsien film projected in the pyramid. It makes no difference which side they’re on because the film looks exactly the same from any angle, thanks to its use of holography.

The Theatre of the Future shows a film of futuristic Taipei displayed in a glass pyramid. Visitors can also see the audience on the other side through the glass.Uses of RFID (radio-frequency identification), such as for distance education, long distance communication and surveillance are introduced in the futuristic view of Taipei while its people keep family ethics and values as usual, such as care for the elderly.

“Technology can be used in different ways; it doesn’t necessarily destroy human relationships as is often suggested,” Chen said.

The end of the film sees dancer Sheu Fang-yi dancing gravity-free, looking all graceful and elegant. Sheu underwent diving training to be able to hold her breath while dancing 3 to 4 meters underwater, as divers held cameras to film her. The less than two-minute dance took a dozen hours to shoot, and many more on post production.

“Taipei has gone a long way to achieve what we show in the pavilion today,” said Chen, who has served 12 years in the Taipei City Government, a significant part in 2 decades of his life as a public servant.

“It makes me proud to take the post of director at Taipei Pavilion, because I get to explain to visitors unfamiliar with our city how Taipei has evolved through the years,” he added.

In 1999 the city government implemented its 2-phase plan to build the infrastructure of a wireless cyber city on the one hand, and to inculcate its citizens with concepts such as “frequent the Internet and free the road”. Taipei became the world’s largest city with wireless Internet connectivity.

As for waste management, a seemingly unpopular policy has brought about much public good. Since July 2000, the policy required Taipei citizens to buy designated plastic bags for their trash. Four years earlier, they were asked to dispose their trash directly into the garbage truck at certain times of the day, rather than just dump them on some corners for collection later.

A 14-liter bag priced at NT$7, has the capacity for trash a family of 4 produces in a week. The total amount of trash Taipei citizens produced shrunk by 67% from 2,970 metric tons a day in the year 2000 to 1,009 metric tons a day in 2009. Meanwhile the recycling rate rose from 2.4% to 45%.

“We found out that citizens recycled more to cut back on trash bag purchases. They gradually formed the recycling habit ,” said Chen.

Smiling Angels

Jiang Peiyan is one of the guides, or “smiling angels”, in the Taipei Pavilion. She is from Hunan Province and joined Foxconn about 2 years ago. When she heard that the company was recruiting volunteers for Taipei Pavilion, she applied along with several hundred employees for the 150 slots for volunteers to introduce the exhibits in both Mandarin and English. The first hours of the day need 80 instructors to serve an average of 52 groups of visitors.

Hardly any of them had been to Taipei, but they introduce Taipei’s Shilin night market, Longshan temple or Eslite Bookstore like they had just returned from there.

“We spent time studying Taipei, from the material provided, the Internet, and co-workers from Taipei,” said Jiang, “we learn and improve from practicing repeatedly.”

“I think it is necessary to introduce the exhibits to visitors,” she added. From an initial 3 months, Jiang has extended her service at the pavilion to 6 months. When the Expo ends later this year, she will return to her original post in the information department of the company.

“You can easily detect the sense of mission in them. They esteem their task, and consider it an honor,” said Chen who frequently interacts with the instructors, “It is a once in a life time opportunity after all.”

Taipei Culture Celebration

The audience uses fluorescent sticks to cheer Min Hwa Yuan’s Legend of the White Snake.Besides the contemporary face of urban development shown in the Taipei Pavilion, the Taipei Culture Week just concluded on Sunday with the last show on stage, “Can Three Make It” by Ping Fong Acting Troupe at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre.

Despite the title, Taipei Culture Week lasted almost a month, featuring a comprehensive selection of Taiwan’s visual and performing arts, in addition to the 4-day exposition bridging cultural and creative industries from both cities.

The program is the baby born of the 2 year collaboration between the Department of Cultural Affairs of Taipei City Government and the Taipei Culture Foundation, in return for the Shanghai Culture Week launched last October in Taipei.

The scale of this cultural exchange is so far the largest between Taipei and Shanghai. Seven performing arts groups had 12 shows in different venues in Shanghai from mid-June, featuring their most popular or classical repertoire. The number of participants from Taipei exceeded 1,000 in Taipei City Government’s estimation.

The Taipei Culture Week was musical in terms of concerts by Taipei Symphony Orchestra and Taipei Chinese Orchestra; theatrical by the shows of Contemporary Legend Theatre and Guoguang Opera Company; hilarious by the stories acted out by Ping Fong Acting Troupe; captivating by U Theatre’s drumming; and lots of fun with Ming Hwa Yuan pouring 400 tons of water on the aisles of Hongkou Soccer Stadium.

Moreover, those who visited the Shanghai Art Museum in June must have felt they traveled to Taiwan in the artistic sense.

Winter in Penghu by Chen Jing-rong in 1990.“Touring Taiwan” exhibited a selection of 50 paintings from Taipei Fine Arts Museum’s collection, varying from oil on canvas and watercolor on paper to ink and color on paper or silk, on scenery in all areas of Taiwan. They included the mountains of Jioufen, seaside view from Yehliu, Chikan Citadel and Confucius Temple of Tainan, Sunset at Fangshan in Pingtung, and outlying islands including Green Island, Orchid Island, Penghu, and Kinmen.

Some of them are realistic, others are surreal, and some others are somewhere in between reality and imagination.

“The paintings reflect what the subject is like in artists’ minds as well as the training they receive domestically, or abroad,” said Chang Li-li from TFAM when she gave a tour on June 18, “there are paintings with impressionist style colors often seen on porcelain.”