What do you do with empty Olympic facilities to try to make them useful once the Games are over?
Why, open a World Chocolate Wonderland, of course.
That’s what the Chinese have done. In a hangar-like building next to the Bird’s Nest a team of innovative chocolatiers have taken 80 tons of Belgian chocolate and turned it into replicas of the Great Wall, the famed terracotta warriors, and even more unlikely icons, such as a Louis Vuitton handbag.
The show opened Friday, and organizers say they expect as many as 1 million visitors over the next 10 weeks to pay a hefty $12 each to marvel at what they call “a combination of Chinese tradition and chocolate creativity.”
They will have to pay extra to eat anything, though, and the terracotta army is protected by a high glass wall. To make up for it, ticket-holders will be able to gaze at the largest lollipop in China, about four and a half feet across.
The exhibition’s manager, Zheng Yaoting, found it hard to explain exactly why she assembled such a bizarre collection of fantasy objects. But she says she hopes the display will help boost the chocolate market in China, where “qiao ke li” culture is still exotic.
The Chinese eat only a few ounces each of the stuff each year, compared to the 10 pounds or so that the average American gets through. “Chinese people don’t dislike chocolate,” says Ms. Zheng. “They just don’t know much about it. We hope to change that.”
Not that the average Western chocoholic would recognize many of the exhibits as having anything to do with their favorite chocolate bar. In fact they are designed to look as little like chocolate as possible.
“We want people to come and say ‘Wow, wow, wow,’ ” explains Lin Zhengzong, the show’s artistic director.
It is astonishing what you can do with chocolate if you have enough of it, and let your imagination loose. A 30-foot section of the Great Wall, built from individual bricks of bittersweet chocolate held together with white chocolate “mortar,” is only the start.
The 560 warriors, standing a foot high in serried ranks, have each had their facial expressions individually carved. In a display case nearby, labeled “Handed Down Classic in the Long History” are sugar-glazed replicas of blue-and white-Ming vases, cast from chocolate, that look like museum pieces.
It is when you reach the hall displaying aspects of modern life that the show reaches its most surreal heights. Sitting on a coffee table, between an outsized chocolate mobile phone and an electric kettle molded from chocolate, is what looks like an ordinary bar of chocolate.
But it’s not. It is actually a bundle of real USB flashsticks made to look like chocolate.
After that, items such as a life-sized chocolate basketball player suspended from the ceiling in mid-dunk, or a plate of painted chocolate sushi, or a pair of chocolate thigh-high boots, or even the Louis Vuitton handbag molded from white chocolate, seem almost mundane.
By the end, it had ceased to amaze me that the bunch of flowers on a shelf, or the sports car on a plinth, or the painting on the wall were not what they appeared to be, but were in fact chocolate artifacts.
But I still did not understand why.