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Taipei City: Flora Expo to highlight Taiwan's 'flower power'

Flowers in different colors are shown at the Taipei Flora Expo site on Oct. 18.

Flowers in different colors are shown at the Taipei Flora Expo site on Oct. 18.

Standing in front of a sea of crimson red petunias with her husband, Chang Chien-hua nods and smiles approvingly.

"I've been walking around the park for almost three hours, and I still don't want to go home, " said the 73-year-old grandmother, who was one of the special guests invited to tour the Taipei International Flora Exposition on the first day of its trial run in early October.

The longtime Taipei City resident said she has loved flowers all her life because they "always put me in a good mood."

"How can anyone get angry when they are surrounded by these beautiful flowers? This is exactly the kind of thing that Taiwan needs right now," she added.

Whether Chang is proved right cannot be known just days before the Flora Expo 2010 officially opens on Saturday. But the Taipei City government hopes the event will not only add much needed hues to the capital city's environment but also solidify Taiwan's place as the world's "Flower Kingdom."

Taiwan was selected by the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) in 2006 to host the prestigious event, the first internationally recognized exposition ever to be held in Taiwan.

The Taipei City government has been working double time to ensure that the six-month festival that runs from Nov. 6 to April 25 has enough substance to hold the interest of visitors, quell critics, and amaze the world with Taiwan's "flower power."

The 91.8-hectare expo site in the northern part of the capital city is spread out over four park areas -- Yuanshan, Xinsheng, Fine Arts and Dajia Riverside.

It will be home to 14 pavilions and more than 800 varieties of orchids, 329 million stems of locally developed plant varieties, from impatiens and bamboos to bonsai trees, and award-winning landscape and gardening designs from 22 countries and 26 cities.

"Although Taiwan's flower industry already enjoys international prominence, the expo is a perfect chance for more people to appreciate the wide range of flower species we have in the country, " said expo spokeswoman Ma Chien-hui.

To make the event truly "Taiwanese, " over 90 percent of the flowers and vegetation on display have been procured from flower farms around Taiwan, injecting NT$2.2 billion into the local flower industry.

Besides promoting Taiwan's floriculture prowess, the event also hopes to showcase the country's commitment to green technology and environmental conservation.

The Pavilion of New Fashion located in Yuanshan Park is the world's first house made entirely from reusable waste. A total of 1.5 million recycled PET plastic bottles were used to build the pavilion's EcoARK, and all materials used during the R&D, manufacturing and construction phases of the project were sourced in Taiwan.

During the six-month exposition, only paper products made of dandelions instead of trees will be used on the show grounds. Doing so will save 3,300 trees and 281 tons of carbon emissions, organizers said.

With the city holding a mayoral election on Nov. 27, the expo has been a target of opposition politicians looking to discredit the city government. They have accused expo organizers, for example, of procuring flowers at inflated prices and said the expo's layout would disrupt traffic.

But during the exposition's 20-day trial period, the 450,000 visitors had a 78 percent satisfaction rate, and what they saw, says Taipei City Acting Deputy Mayor Allan Chu, was just a "sneak preview."

"Just wait until the grand opening. It will be like seeing a woman on her wedding day, all perfectly made-up and ready to present her most gorgeous self to the world," he said.

Political mudslinging aside, however, the expo has been the target of criticism from other quarters. Flower industry representatives contend that Taipei City, though well-intentioned, "completely missed the boat" because the expo will do little for flower farmers and the city's development.

One of them is Lin Chun-hung, the director of the Taipei City Landscape and Floriculture Commerce Association, who was part of the group of Taiwanese flower retailers that lobbied the AIPH for the right to host the event.

He commended the hard work of Mayor Hau Lung-bin and his team but called the idea of having Taiwanese plants make up 90 percent of expo's displays a "big mistake."

"An international expo should give flower farmers and vendors of the host country a chance to see flowers from around the world. It is intended to be an opportunity for flower growers from around the world to exchange ideas and techniques," he said.

"Using mostly locally grown flowers defeats the purpose of having an international expo."

Another purpose of a flower expo, he said, should be to help jumpstart the development of an area, which is why previous expos such as the ones held in Thailand, Germany, and Japan were all located on the outskirts of cities rather than in the heart of a city like the upcoming expo in Taipei.

"In the past, once the expo ended, the plants and related architecture usually remained in place as part of the area's basic infrastructure. But our expo is being held in the middle of an already overdeveloped city. We basically wasted a good chance to develop a part of country that needed shaping up," he said.

According to the organizing committee, the original plan was, in fact, to hold the expo in Taipei's less-developed Guandu area to the northwest of the city, but the idea had to be dropped because of disputes with local landowners.

After the expo, none of the pavilions will be destroyed and all but one will remain in their current location. The buidlings will be converted into exhibition halls for government agencies such as the Council of Agriculture and the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Some other naysayers argue that the expo should not have been held in the autumn and winter, but rather in the spring when the flowers are in full bloom.

Not so, said Lee Tsang-yu, the director of the Taiwan Orchid Growers Association. He said that because of Taiwan's unique geography and seasonal changes, November to April is the best time of the year to see flowers in Taiwan because of its mild winter.

"Japan held its floral expo in April because anytime before that would have been too cold for the flowers and visitors. But Taiwan is just the opposite. If we waited until after April, the summer heat would kill off the plants very quickly," he contended.

As a member of the expo planning committee, Lee said he was hoping that the expo would be as successful as expected because of its importance to Taiwan's national image.

But he acknowledged that the exposition still had many flaws because of the rush to put it together.

"Two years is not enough time to plan and build an exposition of this size, " he said. "What we need to do now is resolve as many problems as possible in the shortest time to achieve a perfect ending."

Updated : 2021-05-07 01:13 GMT+08:00