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September 27, 2009

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Mascot Haibao started life as a sketch on a coffee shop receipt

DESIGNER Wu Yoken scribbled and scrawled on the back of his receipt in a coffee shop until settling on the initial sketch for the Expo mascot Haibao, Tan Weiyun reports.

There's no escaping now that blue, vaguely dental-looking creature that is springing up everywhere in Shanghai. The figure and image of "Haibao," the 2010 World Expo mascot, is now rapidly taking over the city.

Its smile can be found in Metro stations, on the walls of buildings, along the elevated roads and on key rings and school bags as a fashion ornament of young students.

But few people know the unusual origins of the cute little creature that is becoming the signature icon for the 2010 Expo.

"It was actually born in a coffee shop," said 41-year-old Wu Yoken, the mascot's designer from Taiwan, showing a coffee receipt where a hasty, scratchy sketch of an embryonic idea for Haibao sprawls across the paper.

The "coffee - 18 yuan" is on the front, while a sketch of the small figure is on the back. The original image that Wu created was the Chinese character "£§?," pronounced da which means big, massive or great, instead of today's final version of ""?§", or "people" in Chinese.

Now the "historic" receipt is carefully mounted in a photo frame and is placed in the designer's Shanghai office.

The idea was inspired by the aroma of coffee. On a morning in 2007, Wu was sitting in the coffee shop he visited everyday. While waiting idly for his order, the designer scrawled aimlessly on the receipt.

With a few quick, absent-minded scribbles, a colorful figure shaped like "£§?" appeared. It had a smiling face with little eyes.

Its hands were extending widely, as if welcoming guests while its hair was inspired by a breeze. He named it "Dabao."

"Shanghai is a big city where the East meets and combines perfectly with the West," Wu said. "It is the attitude of greatness and generosity that exactly fits the meaning of the Chinese character da."

During the month after he returned from the coffee shop with the receipt, Wu and his team revised "Dabao" several times, and then sent it to the Shanghai World Expo's mascot committee.

Two months later, the designer suddenly got a phone call from the committee, telling him that his work had been short-listed. It stood out from the other 26,655 entries in the international selection competition.

Another two months later, Wu was organized to meet the Shanghai-native designer Shao Longtu, who revised Dabao for three months into today's Haibao.

There had been a lot of public conjecture about "who is the real father of Haibao" and it stirred up a lot of media coverage at the time. But Wu is not concerned.

"There is no problem about the intellectual property rights. Everything is clarified," the Taiwanese said. Wu is the designer of Haibao, while Shao is the reviser, according to the Shanghai World Expo's committee.

Wu didn't take part in the revisions. "It was a great pity that I was not part of it," he admitted.

"But I respect the decision of the committee. It seems that Haibao looks smarter and cuter than the original Dabao."

Haibao, revised into the shape of the Chinese character "?§ (pronounced ren, meaning people), stands for "the treasure of the seas," as Shanghai is a city close to the ocean.

Ren with two strokes symbolizes support and teamwork. Haibao's hair was inspired by an ocean wave, while the expression on his face is confident and friendly, welcoming visitors to the Expo.

The mascot Haibao gave the Taiwanese designer a great boost to his career in Shanghai. He soon earned fame on the Chinese mainland and has become extremely busy.

However, he was a successful designer in Taiwan before his Expo creation emerged and his talent was recognized at an early age as his achievements show.

He was the winner of the Global Poster Competition at age 18; he was the youngest designer invited to attend the International Illustrators Exhibition at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum; he is a consultant of the Taiwan Graphic Design Association, Taiwan Art Design Association and Taiwan Poster Design Association.

Wu first came to Shanghai in 2003, because he "had no other alternative." "Before that, I was transferred to Guangdong Province by the design company I was then working for. That was a small place with no cafe, bookstore or decent restaurant," he recalled.

After four months, the office was relocated to Shanghai and Wu followed to a city where a new page of his career and life unfolded and he settled down.

In 2003, Wu quit his job and set up a design company with a friend in Shanghai. The business grew so strongly that it rapidly expanded to many big cities. But a conflict between the partners forced Wu to leave the company in 2006.

"It was quite a big setback for me because my life was always smooth and successful before that," he said.

But Wu didn't give up. In 2007 he founded another design company and rented a more than 100-square-meter flat in the Hongqiao area as his work studio.

Then came Expo's mascot selection competition and the fame that drove his career to such a high note.

Wu has since designed the Sky Frog mascot of the 21st Summer Deaflympics Taipei 2009, the "Teeth Baby" for Shanghai Jing'an Dental Clinic, the logo for Brown Coffee and many others.

Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin even invited him to help plan the Taipei Hall at Shanghai World Expo.

Wu has recently completed after three years' work his Shanghai Impression series of 26 oil paintings that depict various slices of life in Shanghai.

They show typical scenes in the city including the busy Lujiazui Financial Zone in Pudong New Area, the famous pedestrian walkway Nanjing Road, the unique housing known as shikumen, featuring strong Shanghai-flavor architecture, and even the first bowl of rice Wu had in Shanghai.

An auction of the works will take place tomorrow with some of the funds being donated to victims of Typhoon Morakot, which slammed into Taiwan in August and claimed hundreds of lives.

In addition, the Taiwanese are planning to bring orphans from Wu's birthplace to next year's Expo using the funds from the charity sale of the oil paintings.

"I hope they can take home in their dreams an idea of what future cities should look like, and create better lives when they grow up," he said.


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