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Published: August 2nd 2010
Beijing is littered with signs of China’s imperial past. In contrast everything in Shanghai points boldly towards China’s future as a global hyperpower. The city’s benefited massively from the economic reforms of the 90s and has become china’s financial centre. This year it’s hosting the World Expo, announcing its arrival on the world stage in the same way Beijing did with the Olympics. Again unlike Beijing the sky’s not clogged with pollution and there’s an overall sense of the city is still completely liveable. In many ways Shanghai is coping with hosting this major international event than Beijing does on an average day.
I hadn’t realised what a big deal the Expo was and by the time I arrived it seemed all the trains in and out of Shanghai had been booked weeks in advance. I managed to get a bus from Beijing but even standing room on 18 hour trains was sold out! There was no chance of getting a train to Hong Kong but I tried for ages to get a train to somewhere nearby. Between the heat, the lack of English and the constant queue skipping Chinese I just gave up and booked a flight! So the overland
part of my trip is over. Cairo to Shanghai by bus train car and ferry is still pretty good going though I think!
After the stress of the train station I checked out the heavily restored old town & Yuyuan gardens. It’s about as genuine as Disney Land but worth and visit and the gardens are surprisingly peaceful right before closing time. I went down to the Bund area for sunset which still has some European style buildings now completely dwarfed by the gleaming skyscrapers in Pudong. I Left before it got dark, saw it that night on the way home from a club, but most of the lights were off at that stage.
Since the expo had caused me so much grief I felt obliged to visit it. It definitely wasn't as bad as expected. The queues into the pavilions are horrendous but getting an entrance ticket took less than 5 minutes. Again it's nearly all Chinese tourists. I was stopped by people about a dozen times asking if they could take a photo with me. You know you've been travelling too long when this seems totally reasonable.
The Chinese were very strategic in designing the
layout. China lies right in the centre, taller than any other country. The country's eternal foes Japan and the US lie at directly opposite ends of the park. Not lacking a sense of humour Iran and North Korea stand side by side. Some pavilions say more about their respective country than they intend. Iceland obviously cutting costs is merely a prefab. Belgium accepting the reality it's not a country shares a pavilion with the EU. Depressingly, a group of African nations were given large sums of money to produces stands for a joint African pavilion but where the money actually went is an absolute mystery.
I was looking at the park map for ages and couldn't find Ireland anywhere. For a moment I was worried the changing climate had landed us in the joint European pavilion with the likes of Moldova and Azerbaijan. Fortunately it looks like this was budgeted for pre-recession. Overall not bad: standard photos of scenery with impossibly good weather and Enya music playing in the background.
The queues for the most popular countries (Japan, China, Korea) were over 4 hours. Saudi Arabia was over 7 hours. Unless they were giving out free souvenir barrels
of oil I cannot see how it could have been worth it. To put the visitor numbers in perspective the French pavilion in Shanghai is currently the most visited French public building in the world, more visitors than even the Eiffel tower!
That night I went back to the bund to checkout the skyline lit up. Just when I thought shanghai was coping incredibly well with the crowds I arrived on east Nanjing where the swarms of pedestrians had taken over a lane on each side of the highway. At the riverfront it's a dog eat dog fight to get close to the water. As soon as I'd got a photo I was out of there.
Afterwards I met up with a friend from UCD who I hadn't seen in about a year. It was so good to talk to someone without having the generic hostel chat: “where are you from?”, “where are you travelling?” blah,blah blah ad infinitum. We went to an €8 all you can drink bar. About an hour in we were convinced all the alcohol was watered down. An hour later we were proved wrong in a dramatic fashion...
I think I’ll end
this entry here.
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