Monday, August 25, 2014


(Author's note: For some background on the Shanghai Expo mentioned herein, see the previous post).

Ever wonder what happens to those vaunted “World Expositions” after they close? China put on a gigantic one in Shanghai four years ago (Shanghai Expo 2010), which I attended and wrote about afterward. During my current stay in China, I had a rare chance to see how one part of Shanghai Expo has been recycled.

The former Romania pavilion at Shanghai Expo
 To be brief, I was hornswoggled into accompanying my kids to a Shanghai amusement park called Chocolate Happy Land. And what do you know--when we emerged from the subway, we were standing among the disused and decaying national pavilions of the former Exposition--a fact I found much more compelling than Chocolate Happy Land itself, which occupied a row of these forlorn structures.

Now, China is hardly known for the quality of its chocolate, most of which tastes like brown-colored paraffin, so chocolate is a strange theme for such a place to begin with. But stranger still were the attractions inside: Objects of every conceivable kind, all replicated in white, dark, or colored chocolate. There were goofy cartoon figures, to be sure, but also a full-sized couch (“the world’s largest chocolate couch,” as the placard stated), and a full-sized 1934 Mercedes SSK roadster--yes, made of solid chocolate. 

But there were even lesss plausible chocolate objects offered with no further explanation: Leopard-skin bikini tops and bottoms, matching tea sets, designer purses, watches, and silk slippers. There was a white chocolate scale model of the entire Forbidden City, as well as several full-sized copies of Xi’an warrior figures. I was certain I’d find a colossal chocolate Mao Zedong lurking around a corner somewhere, but he never showed up.

Main gate, Chocolate Happy Land
All of this may sound like pretty good fun, but experiencing it with all five senses was another matter. For one, the fact that Chocolate Happy Land occupied a haphazard group of disintegrating ex-Shanghai Expo buildings lent the place a rather tawdry air to begin with. Some of the buildings still carried the decorative themes of their former Expo occupants; this, no doubt, explains why the chocolate haute-couteur clothing was being displayed in what appeared to be a Moroccan palace.

While the idea of entering a building in which everything is made of chocolate might seem an olfactory delight, this was not so. The park had already been operating for two years featuring the same exhibits and the usual Chinese disinterest in maintenance. So rather than the rich fragrance of chocolate one might expect, all the buildings carried the indescribable odor of, I presume, rancid cocoa butter--a smell I hope never  to encounter again. 

All this leads one to the reasonable question, Why would anyone pay good money to visit a place like this? The answer lies, as it so often does, in the ingrained sense of Chinese mercantilism. China’s one-child policy has created a market in which adoring parents will lavish their children with anything they desire. And there are lots and lots of children in China to lavish things on. Chinese entrepreneurs have craftily learned to play these doting parents like a Stradivarius. Throwing together a park like this one is a quick way for some clever investor to pull in a few yuan before the buildings are knocked down for more apartment blocks.

In the meantime, sweet dreams in Chocolate Happy Land.

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