MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
The troubled U.S. pavilion at Shanghai's massive World Expo opened today. The U.S. was the last country to confirm its attendance after funding difficulties. The building itself is controversial. To U.S. officials behind the effort, it is meant to resemble an eagle opening its wings in welcome, to critics, it looks like a car dealership.
So, what do Chinese visitors think? Well, NPR's Louisa Lim visited the U.S. pavilion to find out.
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Oh say can you see...
LOUISA LIM: The morning began with a team of photogenic U.S. volunteers singing for the audience. They're expo ambassadors handpicked for their fluent Mandarin. And then, as with all openings, the speeches.
A Chinese official referred to the aptness of the U.S. theme - rising to the challenge. Indeed, the U.S. pavilion has struggled to raise $61 million from the private sector, since those responsible say federal funding can't be used for world expos.
Mr. JOSE VILLARREAL (Commissioner-General, U.S. Expo): Our pavilion building saga is really a metaphor for who we are as Americans. And once we set our mind to something, we get it done.
LIM: U.S. Expo Commissioner-General Jose Villarreal.
Mr. VILLARREAL: American corporations stepped up to the plate. That, too, is a powerful example of the values that we cherish as Americans, which is the importance of corporate social responsibility.
LIM: And a wall of corporate sponsors is the first thing visitors see in the pavilion. A short film then plays showing Americans greeting visitors in Chinese. As we watched, Fan Weiming, a city planner from Jiangsu, confides to me that he's worried about Sino-U.S. ties.
Mr. FAN WEIMING (City Planner): (Through translator) I don't think the U.S. paid much attention to the World Expo. It doesn't compare well to other countries, like Japan and Australia. We feel uncomfortable about this.
Unidentified Woman: Children inspire me...
LIM: The next hall shows another film, this time about American values. It features several sponsors, such as executives from GE and Pepsi. A final short film describes a young girl bringing her neighbors together to create a community garden. Its special effects include rain inside the theater, at which point the audience puts up their umbrellas.
Questions are being asked about the cost of the three shorts. Together, they cost about $23 million that's more than the Oscar-winning film, "The Hurt Locker." Fan Weiming isn't satisfied by the shows.
Mr. FAN: (Through translator) It's far from enough. I want to know more about U.S. politics and how the country was built without internal chaos. That's what they should tell us.
LIM: Other visitors are enthusiastic, like engineer Zhang Deping, who says it's one of the best pavilions. He's fascinated by the final salon, devoted to corporate sponsors.
Mr. ZHANG DEPING (Engineer): (Through translator) I like the commercial flavor. I want to know how U.S. has taken the lead in the economic field, and in science and technology.
LIM: But outside, a visitor who gives his name as Mr. Huang, is not impressed.
Mr. HUANG: (Through translator) There isn't enough to see. No advanced technology, even though the U.S. is such an advanced country. There are only films. We can see those at the cinema.
One thing is clear: Chinese visitors are fascinated by the U.S. and how it became a world leader. Some like the upbeat spirit offered by the U.S. pavilion, but others seem keen for hard information rather than fuzzy, feel-good messages of optimism and collaboration.
Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.
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