Civic works in progress

Introducing a Pacific Rim sensibility

Published: Sep 19 2016, 01:01:am

Sunday, August 24, 1986.

HONG KONG AND SINGAPORE have much in common. Each is a former outpost of Britain’s Southeast Asian empire grown into a major modern city-state.
    Their Expo 86 pavilions have similar purposes. Both offer multi-projector audio-visual presentations designed to give fairgoers an impression of their immediate vitality.
    Once the lights dim, though, their approaches could hardly be less alike. The eight-minute Surprising Singapore show takes place in a circular stand-up theatre with 11 screens surrounding the audience.
    Its 33 slide projectors offer a rather staid look at the history,  population, commercial importance and touristic features of a tiny, multi-ethnic state that boasts “no less than seven New Years in every 12 months.” Narration, delivered in a sonorous mid-Atlantic accent, contains the standard civic brochure information.
    By contrast, the Hong Kong pavilion adopts an effective music-video approach. Its long, 220-seat theatre arranges its visitors in front of a huge 14x40-foot screen for Expo’s liveliest audio-visual extravaganza.
    A pop song and a commissioned musical score celebrate “a city of wonder, a city of action, a city of joy,” as 60 projectors provide a rapid-fire succession of images. Hong Kong’s production assumes —  rightly, I think — that fairgoers are already familiar with the visual shorthand of such shows and dispenses with the narration.
     Hearty laughter invariably follows when a shot of domestic farm ducks is suddenly replaced by row upon row of freshly barbecued waterfowl. For much of the nine-minute presentation the back-projected images form a backdrop for a trio of young dancers who provide a live interpretation of the pavilion’s theme: “from silk to silicon.”
     As fairground entertainment, Hong Kong’s package hits just the right note.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1986. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: An equatorial island at the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula, Singapore was established in 1819 as a trading post by Britain’s East India Company. Occupied by Japan during the Second World War, it was returned to Britain in 1945. Self-government came in 1959, followed by independence in 1965. At the time of Expo 86, Singapore was famous as an “Asian Tiger,” one of four economies — the others were Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan — that were enjoying exceptionally high growth rates. Prominently featured in its Expo presentation was Singapore’s most storied landmark, the 103-suite Raffles Hotel. Built in 1887, and named for the colony’s founder Sir Thomas Raffles, it was named a National Monument in its centennial year. Globalization being the multinational wonder that it is, this Asian institution is currently the flagship property of Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, a management company headquartered in Toronto, Canada.
     Unlike Singapore’s relatively peaceful assumption into the British Empire, Hong Kong was taken by force. Located on China’s south coast, it became a British Crown Colony in 1842, the most lasting of the spoils of the three-year-long First Opium War. In 1941, Canada’s commitment to the defence of the Empire meant that nearly 2,000 Canadians were among the British troops overwhelmed by the Japanese in the Battle of Hong Kong. The Brits returned in 1945, eventually entering into talks with the People’s Republic of China for the peaceful return of the Crown Colony to China. The details were contained in 1984’s Sino-British Joint Declaration.
     At the time of Expo 86, the clock was counting down to a July 1, 1997, “handover,” an act that symbolized the final setting of the sun on London’s Empire. Vancouver, with its own history as Canada’s Pacific gateway, enjoyed particularly close relations with Hong Kong, and benefited from a wave of economic immigration ahead of the handover. Today, our city is an ethnically mixed, culturally diverse community, a 19th century European settlement getting used to the idea that 50 percent of its citizens are Asian.

See also: The eight articles included in this, the fourth of four Expo 86 special reports, explore the pavilions of:

31: Expo 86 CP/GM (Bob Rogers)
32: Expo 86 Telecom Canada
33: Expo 86  Air Canada/CNR
34: Expo 86 Islam/Christianity