Today was the first – but undoubtedly not the last – special activity dedicated to the 2010 world fair. The big event was a photo op with expo mascot Haibao.

Haibao is now ubiquitous in Shanghai. There are topiary Haibaos, stuffed Haibaos, Haibao statues that are placed center stage at even the most glamorous venues in town. A picture of Haibao is posted outside every construction site in the city — as if it were somehow responsible for the coming transformation. All this and we are still over 350 days away.

He/she? is supposedly based on the character 人 ren (meaning people) but is more commonly associated with toothpaste or with the American character Gumby (with whom it bears an uncanny resemblance).

I am vaguely hoping that – as happened with the Fuwa – Haibao starts to accrete a gothic, cosmic underpinning, which lends some gravitas to its apparent, absurd appearance.

Perhaps this is already happening. After the photo session Zoe’s classmate pointed to Haibao and whispered to us with certainty: ‘that’s a monster.”

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