Putting Seward on the map at World Expo in South Korea
Courtesy of Willard Dunham
Willard Dunham, former Seward mayor, visits one of the two ports built for the 2012 World Expo in Yeosu, South Korea. The sign points to places around the globe.
Former Seward Mayor Willard Dunham managed to attend the opening of the world’s largest trade fair in South Korea, and feels he didn’t disappoint. As Seward’s “ambassador,” with city council blessings, Dunham recently attended the 2012 World Expo in Yeosu on South Korea’s southern coast, representing Seward, and indeed Alaska, which was missing, during the immense fair’s opening ceremonies and events.
Dunham gave a PowerPoint photo presentation of his trip at the June 25 council meeting. The council invited Dunham to attend because he strongly supported the idea as mayor, and promoted its importance to Seward. He even traveled there at his own expense in 2009, and made contacts with its organizers during a pre-event promotional session. Plus, when the time came to book the tickets, no other city officials or elected representatives volunteered to do it.
A proposal to bring along some Seward entertainers, as most invited delegates were expected to do, failed however. As Dunham put it, he was therefore required to make the opening toast and welcome speech at the expo’s all-cities event. Dunham also was given the honor of sitting next to Yeosu Mayor Kim Chung-Seog during the expo’s opening performances. Chung-Seog had replaced the former mayor who was relieved of his duties and jailed for misuse of contracting funds for the world expo construction.
The Living Ocean and Coast was the expo’s theme. Its most ambitious attraction was a massive new aquarium, the largest in Korea, replete with numerous fish species and marine mammals including three beluga whales, donated by Russia. The Expo Digital Gallery featured a 218-meter long and 30-meter wide LED screen covering the central concourse ceiling with digital whales swimming through the ocean and created from visitors’ photos.
There were featured displays on desalination; proposals to create biofuels and plastics from seaweed and other marine resources; and models of floating homes and underwater cities. Many of the Yeosu fair exhibits reinforced the importance of exploration while also promoting sustainable technologies. Several pavilions featured new-age computer animated films that suggest that the undersea world is a kind of outer space with alien creatures and strange crafts exploring dark worlds, according to one media account.
The expo is expected to see eight million visitors from its start last month through its end in mid-August.
A World Fair is often the first opportunity for millions of people to learn about another country, which can result in tourism, educational exchanges and the potential for greater world harmony and significant business opportunities. As South Korea is one of Alaska’s largest trading partners, along with Japan and China, and the fair would offer numerous opportunities to put Alaska in a good light, Dunham felt Alaska should be there, even if he didn’t manage to convince state officials, who visited Yeosu earlier, of that.
Especially jarring for the longtime Alaskan was an admittedly impressive exhibit in the Russian pavilion. That display put visitors on the bridge of an Arctic icebreaker, as it plowed through the arctic ice, and showcased the Russian ships’ routine use of the Northwest Passage, and its vast ice-breaking fleet.
“Russia was all about the arctic and icebreakers,” Dunham said. They have 26 icebreakers now, and are building 17 more. If you listen to them, they own the arctic,” he said. “Korea is building one, as is China, but Russia and Finland definitely own the northern routes now. Our nation has short-sighted abandoned its opportunity to control the northern routes. What a shame.”
Climate-change driven changes in the arctic will make shipping through the Northwest Passage and other arctic routes possible, so it holds great promise for Alaska shipping lanes, deep water ports, marine resource development and scientific research. Alaska already is a major transportation hub for goods being flown from the United States and Asia.
The corporate-sponsored U.S.A. Pavilion meanwhile, the only country of the 67 represented that did not have a government-sponsored pavilion, also encouraged exploration, stressing that oceans take up 70 percent of the planet, while only 5 percent of the ocean bottom has been explored. Various American faces are shown claiming, “It’s my ocean,” and emphasizing that saving the seas is a personal responsibility. However Coca Cola used its display to remind expo-goers that they deliver “an ocean of beverages” (1.7 billion servings per day) around the world, in 200 countries as it “fulfills consumers’ daily hydration needs.”
“Alaska missed a golden opportunity by not being part of the U.S.A. exhibit,” Dunham told the council. He was repeatedly made aware by those he met that they felt slighted by Alaska’s absence. In 2009, after being part of the ground-breaking ceremony, Dunham asked Ian Dutton, the former executive director of Alaska SeaLife Center, to stop by Yeosu on his trip to a conference in China to meet with the expo developers. Dutton did visit, and was convinced that Alaska should participate, and perhaps play a central role in the program, Dunham said.
“The primary argument for Alaska participation was that Alaska at 35,000 miles has more coastline than all of the other 49 states put together and is greatly dependent on the health and wealth of the Pacific Ocean. We tried mightily to convince the state administration of the value of participation. Our efforts were to no avail. What a waste of an opportunity to showcase our state,” said Dunham.
Courtesy of Willard Dunham
Representatives of five of the eight Yeosu Friendship cities gather for a photo session at the World Expo. Back, from left; Yeosu vice mayor, a member of the general’s staff, a four-star general in the Sourth Korean Guard, Yeosu Mayor Yeosu Kim Chung-Seog, two members of the general’s staff. Front; Willard Dunham, the representative from Queretaro, Mexico, the mayor of of Vanino, Municipal, Russia, the mayor of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Mayor Sakai Karatus City, Japan.
Nevertheless, Dunham forged several relationships with the international delegates who he met at the expo. The Queretaro artists were very interested in Seward’s Mural Society, and the annual placement of new murals around town, he said. Dunham passed along their contact information to the Seward Arts Council. Mayor Sakai of Karatsu was interested in Seward’s Obihiro exchange program, and wanted to know more about the Jujiro Wada awareness project between Japan, Yukon Territory and Alaska. He also was interested in the Iditarod Trail, which Wada helped blaze, Dunham said. InJae Kim, Usibelli Coal Mine’s Far East Representative in Korea and China for coal sales and development, who at one time lived in Seward and worked for Sun Eel, which ran the coal facility, helped Dunham avoid making mistakes in behavior, and helped him to understand the South Korean culture and ways.
Dunham informed the council of the gifts he had given on behalf of Seward, several soapstone carvings with an Alaska theme, and a video about Seward. In exchange, Seward received gifts such as a handmade doll, two cartoonish stuffed figures, Yeo and Tsu, who represent the expo, a china tea set, a medallion, a book and a map. Dunham also asked the council for permission to make his trip the starting point for further talks on the subject of trade opportunities with Alaska.
“There’s a lot of opportunity. I appreciate you for taking the time to listen to me, and for sending me. I don’t believe I wasted your money,” he said.
Council member Christy Terry thanked the former mayor on the city’s behalf for being such a good representative on their behalf. But next time, the council should spring for tap shoes, she joked.