Around the Shanghai Expo: Afghanistan Pavilion

Posted: July 19, 2010 in Interpreter
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My latest missive from the Shanghai Expo for the Interpreter – this one took a while to get there for a variety of technical reasons. At least one more to come in this series.

Around the Shanghai Expo: Afghanistan Pavilion

by Raffaello Pantucci – 19 July 2010 6:35PM

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, where he is working on an EU-funded project on EU-China relations.

Unlike most of the nations covered thus far, Afghanistan does not have its own pavilion and is instead crowded into the ‘Asia Joint Pavilion II’, adjacent to the Yemeni pavilion (and Bahrain, Jordan, Palestine, and Syria apparently, though I cannot recall seeing them all).

There are a number of these sorts of communal areas highlighting the more unfortunate parts of the globe, mostly sponsored by the Chinese government. According to someone working in the Afghan one, the Shanghai government paid $600,000 for theirs, which apparently included the rent for the space.

Aside from a couple of strategically-placed pictures of Hamid Karzai looking majestically into the distance, there is little to distinguish the nation which the pavilion is intended to represent (and I suppose unless you are aware of who he is, this is also not a useful indicator).

When I asked an Afghan running one of the carpet selling stalls inside the space whether Chinese visitors were interested in Afghanistan, he reassured me that they were only interested in getting a picture taken and a ‘visa stamp’ in their expo passports. Only foreigners wanted to know more about the country, and those were mostly individuals who had previously served on deployment in the country.

According to the website, the space is meant to be a reconstruction of the Blue Mosque at Herat — something of a far-fetched comparison in my mind, though I have admittedly never been to Herat. In fact, there is little evidence of Afghan history or culture in the pavilion beyond the array of stalls selling Afghan stuff. In the center a couple of South Asian women do henna tattoos on visitors, while a tent in the corner is as close to a cultural exhibit that is offered.

Photo (1) by Flickr user nozomiiqel, used under a Creative Commons licence, and photo (2) by the author.

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