South Korea’s new international expo offers a glimpse into the high-tech future of the world’s marine resources.
THE exhibition halls are fully booked and impossible to get into, says our tour guide, Jinny Kim. And it wasn’t even opening day at the International Exposition Yeosu Korea 2012!
Our group, though, has special permission to enter, as we are there to report on this extraordinary expo. Even before we get in, though, we hear details that are jaw-dropping: The expo, which began on Saturday and runs until Aug 12, will draw 10 million visitors, and its expected economic effect will be 12.2 trillion Korean won (RM32.7bil) as well as the creation of 80,000 new jobs, explains Yeseul Oh, a spokesperson for the expo’s organising committee.
To draw all those visitors, the 93-day expo will be jam-packed with over 3,000 cultural programmes, with 40 performances and events daily!
The venue is Yeosu’s 2.71sq km New Port development where the expo site covers an area of 250,000sqm. The result of four years of work and US$10bil (RM31bil) in investment, Expo Yeosu is the country’s second international fair since Expo Taejon (Daejeon) in 1993.
While that event was about development, this year’s theme is “The Living Ocean and Coast” and emphasises the importance of the marine environment. To quote the expo’s website, the event “will provide an opportunity to enhance the international community’s perception of the function and value of the ocean and coast, share knowledge on the proper use of the ocean and coast, and recognise the need for cooperation in the marine sector.”
In keeping with that very green spirit, the entire expo site was constructed using environmentally-friendly methods and recycled materials to produce the least amount of waste possible. All preparations and events are designed to leave a limited carbon footprint.
Basically, the expo forms a model city exhibiting the low-carbon lifestyle of the future. It is an open-air gallery housing artworks of architectural grandeur and providing a glimpse of a high-tech city circa 2050 against the backdrop of the sea.
The construction and operation of the expo facilities and exhibitions are based on South Korea’s cutting-edge information technology allowing for novel experiences involving virtual and augmented reality.
The major exhibition facilities are the Theme Pavilion, the Korea Pavilion, and the International Pavilion, which comprise a joint pavilion hosting 56 developing countries and the individual pavilions of 49 countries.
Among the areas our tour takes in on the expo’s second pre-opening day are the Aquarium and Japan Pavilion. (Our guide informs us that the Malaysian Pavilion would be worthy of a visit but that it is, unfortunately, not ready at this time.)
Just getting to the International Pavilions is fascinating because a supersized LED screen with fantastic digital shows stretches over the walkway; the 218m long by 30m wide screen is part of the Expo Digital Gallery, which is a pedestrian mall offering a variety of electronic art.
After that experience, we head to the Japan Pavilion where we are treated to footage of the beautiful seas around that country and receive sobering information about the sea’s connection with forests, cities and the March 2011 tsunami disaster. There is also a screening of an animated story about a Japanese boy, Kai, a tsunami survivor who rides a magical flying bicycle to see residents restoring their hometowns.
Visitors are also introduced to Japan’s advanced ocean technology that help people enjoy the bounties of the sea.
If you can’t make it to every facility at the expo, do be sure to get to the Aqua Planet Aquarium – it is definitely worth a visit. It is the largest in South Korea – comprising a 6-tonne water tank – and displays 280 species of fish and rare marine species such as beluga whales from Russia. It’s awesome when you walk through a transparent tunnel and find marine life teeming around you – makes you wonder just who is in the tank!
This facility has three zones: The Coastal Life zone allows visitors to see rare ocean animals such as white whales, Baikal seals and sea dragons; the Marine Life zone can be viewed in all directions, the first of its kind in South Korea; the Eco-Terrarium zone recreates the ecological system of the Amazon and houses rare South American freshwater fish such as the pirarucu and piranha.
While we can’t get to it, we hear that the Climate & Environmental Pavilion is a hit with visitors too, as they get to experience the extreme cold of the Arctic ice-edge in the Arctic Glacier Experience section.
A myriad of futuristic robots await visitors at the DSME (Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering) Marine Robot Pavilion. Meet Navi, the tallest robot ever introduced in South Korea. An adult comes up just knee-high to the 6.5m tall, 1 tonne machine.
Led by Navi, a fleet of robots present the performance of marine resource exploration and mineral mining in a 6,000m-deep virtual underwater environment.
There is also Ever, a feminine robot that has 30 different facial expressions, and Mero, which dances to famous songs by Korean boy band Super Junior. Also, a seven-colour robot fish and robots from other countries such as the United States, Britain and France, join a total of 73 robots on display.
The Sky Tower, the tallest structure at the expo, is a monumental piece of art, recycled and redesigned from a pair of abandoned 55m-high cement silos. It has a harp-shaped exterior, an embodiment of giant waves, but really, the tower is a fully functioning pipe organ that plays tunes related to the sea!
The Ocean Experience Park is part of the city’s concrete shore-protection project that has been turned into an eco-friendly park. It is a great venue to learn about the significance of coastal ecosystems while lapping up the pristine beauty of the sea.
And at Energy Park, you can have hands-on experience with the latest technologies using renewable energy sources such as wind and tides. This eco-friendly park also offers a place to rest while exploring these green technologies.
Apart from the different pavilions and other facilities, the expo also offers large scale events such as the state-of-the-art Night Multi-Media Show of a dazzling display of laser lights. The Big Ocean Show is a weekly performance that uses the sea, beach and ships to create different performances that reflect the expo’s theme. And the World Ocean Performance features artists on a floating stage, thus using the sea as a platform for cultural activities.
Celebrities gracing the Big-O shows include nine-time Grammy Award winner John Legend and a host of K-pop stars such as the Wondergirls, Dynamic Duo & Simon D, Beast, Jay Park, Apink, BTOB, Busker Busker, Leessang & JeongIn, 2AM, B1A4, 2PM, MissA, Infinite, Shinee, Super Junior, CNBLUE, MBLAQ, Ailee, FTIsland, and ZE:A & c.
And if you are separated from your travel companions amidst the throngs of people and carnival atmosphere at the expo, the Big-O is the place to converge. This 48m-tall round steel structure is the iconic centrepiece of what is truly an amazing expo.
For more information about the International Exposition Yeosu Korea 2012, go to eng.expo2012.kr.
The writer was part of a eight-member delegation comprising representatives of the Malaysian media, Korean Air and Korea Tourism Organisation that toured the expo before it opened. The trip was organised by the Korea Tourism Organisation and supported by Korean Air.
Related Story: More info on the International Exposition Yeosu Korea 2012