The Saudi Arabia Pavilion is one of the popular, if not the most buzzed about pavilion at the Shanghai Expo. Ever heard of the infamous 9-hour wait just to enter the pavilion? We cleared that up and much more with Dr. Abdulhamid Hasan who is the Director of the Saudi Arabia Pavilion (and who I should add has one of the nicest office interiors at the Expo).
Here are excerpts of our interview–
CNReviews: What is the theme of the pavilion?
Dr. Abdulhamid Hasan: Ok, the general theme. I’ll let you know. We have our pavilion in the shape of a boat. We call it a moon boat. As you know, a thousand years ago we have this Silk Road, a merchant silk road. It traveled between China and Eastern China to Middle East. And we also have a sea route for the same purpose. So we are taking this moon boat from Saudi Arabia, taking the same old sea route of silk merchant, and embarking here on the banks of Huangpu River to take our Chinese friends and all other visitors to go on visit Saudi Arabia.
CNR: The Expo talks about having “Better City, Better Life”. How are you connecting your theme with the Expo?
Dr. Hasan: Of course, of course. Our theater—the main show. Well, let me start from the beginning. We have our entrance. We have the Chinese Great Wall and the Saudi Mud Wall at the same time. So that represents the friendship between the 2 countries. And also we have the flower garden. It has the Chinese flowers and also the Saudi Arabian flowers which represents the friendship of the 2 governments and the 2 people. And the main theater that we have, it shows the cities of our great country—how modern it is—all the modern cities, industries, commerce, agriculture; and also we show the people of Saudi Arabia. So we introduce the Chinese people and the rest of our guests to our cities and people.
CNR: I have been reading about the Saudi Arabia Pavilion. It supposedly is the most expensive pavilion at the Expo. Could you confirm this?
Dr. Hasan: I don’t think it is the most expensive one. But we spent good money to represent our country and make this participation one of the most successful in the history of World Expo because of the friendship between our government and China.
CNR: What is so special about the Saudi Arabia Pavilion? Like why do you think there are so many people lining up outside?
Dr. Hasan: It is because of our show. The high technology we are using in our show. People who go in our theater will have a feeling of riding a magic carpet. So you will actually feel that you are flying with us through the city, through the desert, the landscape, and also the mountains, and the sea of Saudi Arabia. Red Sea, for example.
We also have the corridor of art which when people come in they will see on the walls. We have invited Saudi artists to do some calligraphy because of the connection between the Arabian calligraphy and the Chinese calligraphy. Both of them are very artistic.
CNR: How long did it take to construct the whole pavilion?
Dr. Hasan: The whole project started from scratch 3 or 4 years ago. But the actual construction took about 9 months. Regarding the design of the pavilion, we chose among 20 countries who submitted proposals. And we chose this one specifically, because it represents our idea more closely.
CNR: So after the Expo, what’s the plan?
Dr. Hasan: We hope this pavilion will stay for a longer time. Because we have a feeling that many of our Chinese friends didn’t have a chance to see it yet. So to close it after the 31st of October, we feel very sad. We would like to invite more Chinese friends to visit. Our capacity is 5 million, 6 million, 7 million maximum. That’s not even half of Shanghai residents. So what about other Chinese friends in other counties, other cities? The proportion is very small.
CNR: About the oasis on top, are the palm trees directly brought from Saudi? I just read this somewhere. [Here is another source.] People say a lot of stuff about your pavilion.
Dr. Hasan: The palm trees are artificial. The reason for that is the concern of the safety of the people. In Shanghai during summer season, there are typhoons. If you plant a new tree and it is not deeply rooted, it can be blown away and hurt somebody. So we decided to have artificial date trees.
CNR: Have you also heard of the news that people lined up outside for 9 hours?
Dr. Hasan: I heard that. But as I told you, this is not real. The maximum we recorded is about 4, 5 hours maximum. We are trying to improve on that by adopting some new methods. We are talking to the Expo Bureau. And very soon we will apply some other adjustments to make the wait shorter and more enjoyable for people.
CNR: What kind of adjustments?
Dr. Hasan: We may consider advance reservation slots like the China Pavilion. So we will have time slots, so people will only queue for the time slots.
CNR: But the reservation tickets might also be a problem. People will race for them.
Dr. Hasan: No, I think this could be solved; because the China Pavilion has been doing it successfully. In the beginning they have problems, but now they are doing it with no problems at all. We also want to benefit from their experience and how they deal with it. (UPDATE: This has been implemented already.)
CNR: Ok, last question. This is my first time to visit the pavilion. What’s your advice?
Dr. Hasan: First of all you have to relax and be in a good mood. *laughs* Don’t rush and run. Take your time. Look around. Because some of the people I noticed do not pay attention to the artworks on the wall. We have the video screens, the LCDs. We have creative messages, cartoons. We also have a photo competition. We have a lot of activities.
Our goal is to deliver friendship between Saudi Arabia and China. And to show that Saudi Arabia is a diverse country but with unity. So please, enjoy!