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May 1, 2010

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Hangzhou's taste of water world

Water is the lifeblood of Hangzhou. The importance of water is highlighted at the city's pavilion in the Urban Best Practices Area at the World Expo. Wing Tan takes a look inside.

Water is the essence and the spirit of Hangzhou, a city which is blessed with its hundreds of crisscrossed rivers, lakes, creeks and canals.

Boasting five main waters -- the Qiantang River, the West Lake, the Xixi Wetland, the Hangzhou Bay and the ancient Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal -- it is a city which thrives on water. And now Hangzhou is bringing that water to the World Expo.

Covering an area of 400 square meters, the Hangzhou Pavilion has the theme "Harnessing the Five Waters" and is in the Urban Best Practices Area.

Divided into four sections -- reading, telling, hearing and tasting -- the pavilion displays a vivid story of how Hangzhou people have made use of the water for centuries.

"It's a pavilion that we think can reflect the spirit of Hangzhou," says Zhou Gang, the pavilion's general designer from China Academy of Fine Arts. "And it's our pleasure to show the happy life of Hangzhou people to the world on this global stage the Expo provides."

More than 160 cities in China competed for a seat in the UBPA, struggling hard to display their urban images during the World Expo 2010 Shanghai.

"It seemed that Hangzhou had no chance to fight its way out from other rivals because it is not the biggest, richest or oldest city in the country," Zhou says.

However, the city finally won the fierce battle and became one of just six Chinese cities to set up their pavilions in the area, due to its great achievement accomplished in urban development during the past three decades since the reform and opening-up policy in the late 1970s.

A recent poll among foreigners living and working in Shanghai shows that what they pay the most attention to is the development in the Yangtze River Delta region and the city they care most about is Hangzhou.

"We've been living in Hangzhou for so many years. We're the residents, beneficiaries and constructors of the city. We have special emotional attachment to it," the designer says.

The outside wall of the pavilion is made up of hundreds of water bricks with five colors, which stand for sea, lake, river, creek and pond.

The materials are eco-friendly and will be recycled and moved back to Hangzhou after the World Expo is over.

On stepping into the pavilion, visitors will be greeted by a giant wall featuring 500 photographs of people's smiling faces taken randomly by the lakeside, the riverbank or on a boat. The wall is 7 meters tall and 24 meters wide.

"This is the wall of telling water. A total of 500 people, young or old, locals or newcomers, tell their stories about the Hangzhou waters in their eyes," Zhou says.

They are foreigners, Hangzhou locals, students and tourists from all walks of life. On the back of every photo, each one has left their best wishes, impressions or good-will suggestions about the city in short sentences.

"It's my first time to travel alone. Hangzhou people are nice," writes Liu Kai, a 22-year-old student from Chongqing.

"I'm so proud of the city when seeing it becoming better and better," writes 56-year-old Hangzhou native Wang Yongsheng.

Looking down, visitors will notice the twists and turns of the city's water system since the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) to today are recorded on the ground, such as the relocation of the Yongjin Gate near the West Lake, a pond that was dug during the Kingdom of Wuyue (AD 907-978).

Life-size sculptures

Moving into the central exhibition hall with traditional Chinese music playing in the background, visitors can see a set of interesting life-size sculptures in the center.

A grandfather in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) is reading the "Memorials of Qiantang," next to whom a grandmother is holding a big bowl of Dongpo pork (a famed Hangzhou dish named after the great Song Dynasty poet Su Dongpo), while their son, a young man, dressed in a Western suit in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) is taking his little daughter by the hand, who is typing skillfully on a laptop.

Out of the window, a large bird's eye view of the new Hangzhou city is unfolding.

"We make people get together at different times from days of yore to today's modern era into one family, trying to convey a message to visitors that Hangzhou is evolving with high speed but it still keeps the tradition," the designer says.

Each visitor to Hangzhou Pavilion will get a bottle of water. The bottled water shares a similar appearance with the decorative water brick on the outside wall.

"Information about Hangzhou's five waters and the details of Expo are printed on the bottle," Zhou says. "When the guests leave the pavilion with the bottled water, they also take away the best wishes of our Hangzhou people. What's more, the unique shape of the bottle is a good promotion of Hangzhou."

It is estimated that during the Expo, about 70 million people will come to Shanghai and about 38 percent of them will travel around the Yangtze River Delta region. Hangzhou will launch a series of tourism promotions to attract these travelers, such as distributing tourism cards with discounts to many scenic sights to the visitors who come to Hangzhou Pavilion.


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