Expat Magazine

137. World Expo

By Martinfullard @MartyFullardUAE

You may not believe this, but I am a cynic. Not just your every-day “urgh I don’t eat foreign food” cynic, but a real cynic. In fact, my cynicism is my way of life; it is the default of my very nature. I find it far easier to scoff at something I know nothing about rather than turn around and praise something I know equally nothing about. I prefer to ask questions until I understand something and until I do I don’t like it. I like things to be clear, if I have to read something more than three times then it is not worth knowing. It has failed to arouse my interest and therefore has no right being in my brain library.

I also enjoy being negative. Nothing makes me vomit quite like those who gush at everything they see and hear. “Oooh! That’s amazing” they say as they play with the cup holder in your car. What next? Are they going to start chasing shiny things or claiming that Kim Kardashian is actually a good role model for young girls? There are many names for this kind of person, the most politically correct of which is “idiot”.

Those who come to the UAE and see nothing beyond the high-rise leviathans and countless malls are blind. Do they not notice the rusty buses ferrying the labor classes to and from their holiday camps? Do they not look at a road intersection and think “My God, they really f****d that up.” Or is this just me? Do I only see all the negative stuff before I convince myself that there are positive facets out there? Perhaps.

Anyway, returning to the matter at hand; I like to clearly understand the point of something, and when I don’t I like to research it until I do. So today’s question is: what is the point of the World Expo? You can’t have failed to notice that Dubai is bidding for the 2020 installment of an event that I don’t fully understand.

Since I was not wowed, and even more confused, by Wikipedia’s explanation of the event, I turned to the private internetters for clues and sadly I have reached my fifth paragraph in today’s epistle and am still none the wiser. A World Expo, or World Fair, is an event held seemingly at random in a pre-designated city. The attractions of this fair vary according to what the host city wants. Generally there will be many other countries showcasing their own lands as tourist or investment destinations. There will also be some people walking around saying how amazing the host city is. It sounds like jolly good fun and on the face of it, why not?

Well, we didn't need Crystal Palace anymore anyway...

Well, we didn’t need Crystal Palace anymore anyway…

But let us take a step back and look at things from a different angle. The first ever World Expo took place in 1851 in London. For the event a grand structure was created; the famous Crystal Palace. The giant greenhouse burned down before too long and its only living legacy is the south London football club who bears the name. The Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace was not a success and it financially ruined its owners. One reason was that it was closed on Sundays, the only day people had off work back then.

But things were different in the Victorian era when Britain was at the height of its imperialist ventures. We had men trekking all over the globe, exploring, learning, conquering, and stealing and so on. The British public was craving knowledge of the world after previously knowing nothing beyond those French rascals over the water.

A World’s Fair to showcase the Empire, foreign lands, treasures and different cultures was a sensational idea. It was a chance to show the British people what the imperialists had been up to. This became a regular event with other nations soon joining in.

Today we live in a different world to Henry Kitchener and Queen Victoria. If you want to see what a country is like you can do so at the click of a mouse. You can ask random strangers on Twitter, you can read reviews by Michael Palin or you can simply type whatever you want into Google and you will be presented with all you need.

It is a genius way of doing things that brings the whole Expo business into question: what is the point? Have you seen the plans for the Expo complex? It is insanely big and, obviously, insanely expensive. There is a big push for this to happen but again I do not understand why. My research concludes that the cost of hosting a World Expo far outweighs any financial benefit. They have all been fiscal flops. What kind of business model is this? Don’t forget that Dubai still owes billions of dollars to neighbouring Abu Dhabi after the 2008 collapse. Can it afford to go throwing money around willy nilly?

Why bother going to all the trouble of hiring an expensive architect, finding a builder with some cheap workers, putting together a massive building complex and filling it with things from other countries and then tearing most of it down afterwards? The internet is omnipotent and cannot be beaten, it has all the information. The concept of the World Expo is as archaic as carving out your shopping list on a stone tablet.

Maybe it is just the cynic in me or maybe I am right. But I find it hard to swallow that money should be spent on such things when no benefit will come of it. I can think of many different, better things to spend the money on, such as new buses for the labourers, or a security gate at the airport that keeps out idiots.

Labourers who are looked after a bit better and the extraction of idiots from society: now there is a showcase the UAE could really be proud of.

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