The Shanghai World Expo

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August 24th 2010
Published: August 24th 2010
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WARNING: LONG BLOG AHEAD. If you don’t have 20 minutes to kill, just skim through the photos.

It was my great luck to happen to be training in Shanghai while the World Expo was taking place. Any world expo would be a sight to see, but one in China, now that has got to be a show. China seems to be treating the expo as a sort of “Olympics: Part Two”. The whole country has expo fever. Statues of the Shanghai World Expo Mascot - Haibao (that’s pronounced “hi” as in “hi, how are you doing” and “bow” as in “please bow before the emperor”) - are seen everywhere you look, TVs play never ending commercials showing children from around the world playing together, and as soon as the dusk of evening falls the sidewalks become full of hawkers displaying all sorts of Expo 2010 paraphernalia. I thought that maybe the World Expo advertisements would ease up after I left Shanghai, but so far Fuzhou has been similar; so far the only thing it is lacking are the Expo information booths that can be found at every Metro (subway) stop - but that is because Fuzhou also lacks a metro.

Anyway, having never been to a World Fair or Expo, I was hoping to take advantage of the fact that one was taking place only an hour and a half from my hotel. Luckily the Colorado China Counsel was two steps ahead of me and we already had tickets for one of the Saturdays during the training program. We left Jiading in the late afternoon after hearing stories of intense sunshine and heat (Shanghai has had a relatively hot summer this year) and frustratingly long lines during the day. At first I wished that we had gone a little earlier, but after 5 exhausting hours of running all over the expo, I am happy to say that there was much wisdom in Tim’s plan. There was absolutely no line to get in, we breezed through security (side note: like airports you weren’t supposed to bring any water into the Expo, but unlike airports all you had to do was sip some of your water to show that it wasn’t some form of explosive and then you were good to go - pretty cool), and suddenly found ourselves in front of the larger than life China pavilion.

So what do you see first at a world expo? The countries you’ll probably never be allowed to visit in real life of course. Peter, Greg, and both of the Alex’s had the same general thought, so we made a beeline for North Korea and Iran. Throughout the entire expo were large elevated walkways that provided excellent views of the different pavilions and all of the crowds running around. While not as crowded as it likely was during the day, there were still tens of thousands of people there for the spectacle. The majority were Chinese tourists - guided groups, families, students - but there were a good number of foreigners as well.

We stopped by the Nepal pavilion on our way over to the forbidden countries because it looked so cool and there was almost no line. Nepal was one of the few the few pavilions that wasn’t some form of a glorified box. Many of the pavilions, while decorated quite distinctly, were essentially one main square (or occasionally circular) building that was used as a single large room displaying multiple exhibits. The Nepal pavilion, on the other hand, was made of a small collection of buildings done in Nepalese-style
Shanghai SkylineShanghai SkylineShanghai Skyline

way off in the distance
architecture surrounding a giant white stupa. The best part was the spiral walkway that curved up to the top of the prayer flag covered stupa and afforded beautiful views of the surrounding pavilions and the distant Shanghai skyline. We happened to arrive at the top just as the sun was setting, and the view was spectacular.

After Nepal was North Korea. What can I say? Compared to the other pavilions it was rather small, with dim lighting, and an abundance of loud patriotic music. There were big-screen TVs displaying national dance, singing, and marching performances. I got the impression that it was as much show as a restricted budget could buy, and it seemed to very much in the style of a national parade or civil holiday celebration. Overall the pavilion didn’t really increase my desire to visit the actual country of North Korea for enjoyment, but more for the spectacle.

Iraq was much more interesting. The inside was decorated in beautiful tile mosaics, and included a fountain and technology and culture displays on the first floor. And the second floor was … one giant carpet store and tea shop. My first reaction was “of course, they try
In line for NepalIn line for NepalIn line for Nepal

The queues were packed and every couple minutes warm mist that did little besides make you more moist and sticky rained down from above
to sell us carpets,” but some of them were quite beautiful and by the end of the day I had decided that authentic Arabian carpets were much more interesting than the kitschy key chains and t-shirts that could be found in most other pavilion stores. On the other hand we did find a carpet-Haibao, once again proving his diversity of displays.

After grabbing some overpriced food, we walked to the USA pavilion. As the Middle East was located at the far northern end of the expo and the US at the far southern end (pre-emptive prevention of intra-expo conflicts, perhaps?) this meant walking the entire length of the grounds. I was completely exhausted by the end, but it was worth it to see the spectacular light displays that the different pavilions put on at night. Every few “blocks” there would be some sort of a stage or show, and we got to see some excellent South Pacific island dancing as well as some sort of American(?) “multi-cultural” parade comprised of dancing Chinese girls dressed up in islander, top hat, and native American headdress costumes, singing what I guessed to be the Shanghai expo equivalent of “It’s A Small World
No ChallengingNo ChallengingNo Challenging

The queues did have some highly entertaining instructions though
After All.”

We finally made it to the USA pavilion, which was our pre-determined meeting point with the rest of the group. Before visiting the expo I’d heard a lot of different stories about the USA pavilion - that a few months ago the government was in a crunch because we didn’t budget any money for the expo, let alone come up with a design for a pavilion - that the displays were a letdown to everyone but the Chinese , who thought they were great - that Barak Obama was prominently featured - and that the wait to get into the pavilion would be hours long. From the outside it was clear that at least this last bit of information was true. There was no way we would make it through the long queue before the expo closed. But we soon discovered that the USA pavilion was American in act as well as name. As American-passport-holders we got to jump to the front of the VIP line and join the next massive mob of people entering the exhibit.

So what did the US do with limited time, budget, and interest in partaking in a world expo? Why, what Americans do best, of course: make movies. Instead of wandering around multiple exhibits, USA visitors were shunted along through three massive movie theaters. The first movie was by far my favorite - it played up to the general conception that Americans are awful at learning languages (which we are, compared to many other parts of the world), and showed different Americans from all walks of life trying to greet the world expo visitors in Chinese. It was really well done, the entire audience was laughing, and it was fun to see so many different parts of the country that I won’t be in for the next year. The second and third movies were not nearly as good. The second was about our hopes for our children’s futures, and was basically a bunch of multinational corporations trying to look environmentally friendly and pose next to cute kids (this was the one Obama appeared in, to the audience’s delight). The third was a dialogue-free movie about a girl trying to build a garden in a dirty neglected city lot. It was sappy, and predictable, and the only fun part was when it started to thunder and rain in the movie and all of the seats in the hall shook as mist started coming down from the ceiling. The idea was clear though: build more parks and community bonds and the world will be a better place. It would have had a little more positive impact on our international image if the third movie hadn’t let people directly out into what amounted to a sponsor room of all sorts of American corporations from Intel, to Marriot, to Wal-Mart.

And so ends my long description of the World Expo. My next couple of posts will simply be photo journals to share some of the sights and experiences of Shanghai and Jiading, and then the real blog begins with my life in Fuzhou!

Additional photos below
Photos: 41, Displayed: 28



The India pavilion was also beautiful - and had zero net carbon imprint
India 2India 2
India 2

It was also mostly covered in vegitation
Saudi Arabia and IndiaSaudi Arabia and India
Saudi Arabia and India

Saudi Arabia also looked really cool. The screen going around its rim was constantly changing color and patterns.
Sunset at the expo (and a little bit of Alex's face)Sunset at the expo (and a little bit of Alex's face)
Sunset at the expo (and a little bit of Alex's face)

The skies were beautiful that night. Rumor has it that, like during the Olympics, many of the factories around Shanghai have been shut down or subjugated to limited schedules for the summer, to provide clean air for the expo.
South KoreaSouth Korea
South Korea

The exterior design of this pavilion was one of my favorites at the expo.

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