Oct 04 2010

Shanghai Expo 2010

Published by at 10:00 am under Scott's Adventures,Uncategorized

A perfect October morning in Shanghai. Against all advice I’m determine to see the city’s heavily advertised World Expo.  Advisers warn of lines unacceptable to the “western mind” coupled with lots of offensive smells, bumping, spitting… how bad can it be?

North gate #2; ticket lines are nearly nonexistent, especially surprising given this week’s National Day holiday bringing 8 million more souls to the city, many (most?) expected to visit The Expo.  I’m directed to walk the skyway to the cross-river tunnel bus, (the bulk of the expo pavilions are south of the river). The skyway’s a raised 50ft wide pedestrian walkway (which crisscross the expo) but appear sparsely used as the expo streets only have a few buses on them.  Ground transport (and potable water) are free, a nice perk, there are 5 sq km to cover.

Reaching the southern expo grounds, I discover an ocean of humanity.  Dress code is American teenager, regardless of age; T-shirt/jeans might to be required for admission… but then sunny 23C (Yank: 73F) encourages light, easy apparel. I’ve landed by the Iranian pavilion… line-less — I foolishly give it a miss (also North Korea’s) assuming I’ll be back once I’ve gained some expo legs.  I pop my “pavilion experience” cherry in the Uzbekistanian pavilion. A nice sampling of Uzbek wear, cultural artifacts and a healthy dose of propaganda (ref: Iran/NK regrets 🙂

I’ve googled “must see” pavilions, and I tag the nearest.  Most pavilions are sponsored by a specific country, but there’s a sampling of .org ones (think UN, global warming).  Saudi Arabia’s $200 million pavilion is a huge, floating silver bowl, engulfed in an equally impressive line… hundreds of feet wide, 10+ rows deep (more on this later), and doesn’t appear to be moving. At. All. Ouch, moving on.

I spot the pink “eared” Japan pavilion (sushi!), and see further acres of people.  Clearly, pavilion size determines line length. Must think smaller.

Much effort has gone in to the external design of these pavilions, and even if I can’t enter some, standing before these monstrous creations more than justifies modest entrance price.  I determine to see at least a few on my “special” list, and decide to head towards the China pavilion.  As I approach what I think is the line, a teenager intercepts me and asks if I have a “reservation” — No, no reservation, just a need to find the end.  “You must reservation for line” he informs me; oh dear, I’m definitely in over my head here.  “It’s Ok, I have one sell you!”  My scam feelers start to twitch, but more chatting (and a quick web check) confirm that yes, actually, the China pavilion requires a limited standing-in-line ticket which must be acquired first come in, yes, another line.

I also learn that the line I’m staring at is the line for the Saudi Arabian pavilion!  I’m a good half kilometer from the beginning, and yet it continues all the way back here.  “More than 8 hrs,” the early riser pipes up, “more today.”  I watch these poor souls move forward in a spurt, clawing at each other and the handrails, pushing a grandmother to the ground only to have her forced along with the throng; it’s loud, it’s high pressure, and looks dangerous.  “I have a ticket to bypass the Saudi line!”  $250.  I can see why.  It can’t be that good, can it? I pass, and opt for China. We negotiate $35 for it; I figure I’ll never get up at 3am for this, so what the hell.

The reservation works (I had doubts, but was willing to risk it), and I’m shuttled into a cattle run of perhaps 50 people, stacked next to parallel cattle runs, perhaps 20 in all… but they’re emptying routinely.  No problem.

20 minutes, and we’re in; not bad.  I’m scolded for taking pictures in front of the pavilion (not allowed here, only at the top of the escalator… huh??), we head up and then I get a view of “the rest of the line.”  An acre or more of people in the area below the pavilions floating inverted red pyramid… packed in tight, snaking back and forth for as far as I can see.  It takes a reservation to get into this?!?

I look around, not a non-Chinese face in sight.  This expo is definitely for the locals, not the tourists.  And they’re are perfectly comfortable in line.  Nobody’s on the cell phone, no one’s reading, listening to an ipod, or basically doing anything but standing in close quarters and perhaps chatting with their neighbors.  And do they ever stand close! I have my backpack with me, and the people behind me are pressing on it.  No personal space here. Less than none. I have an ipod, and lots of things to listen to; I feel self conscious with my ear buds, and wonder if it’s some kind of faux pas to sport them… I decide I don’t care, I’ll be here for hours.

There’s a limited stage show up towards the front of the crowd, a megaton displaying a guy dancing now, and girl playing the flute next.  Not high art, but it’s better than just crowd noise.  Most people watch.

2 1/2 hours, and we’re in a lift.  Another big room… we’re lining up again.  Good lord.  Doors open, people race into an auditorium and the lights dim long before people can sit.  Three screens light up with a video (subtitled in English, but below eye height) glorifying the migration of Chinese from the countryside to the cities, building the futuristic city, and enjoying the fruits of their creation.  Very patriotic.  People are beaming when the lights come up; there’s pride here, loads of it.

We round a corner to view a huge wall-height, animated scroll hundreds of feet long depicting a 12th century village brought to life.  It’s very well done, but most people race past it.  I’ve been in line for hours, so I linger and watch the small caricatures wander the streets of this ancient town.  I’m basically alone for a bit.

The following rooms have a new “super-rice” display and an odd room full of light poles (why?); next up, a spread of children’s drawings depicting China (I think). Many are really excellent, some so good I question if the 11 year old credited could have accomplished it… but then China has a billion people, there’s probably quite a few 11 year old Picassos.

We’re in line again! Most people seem to have run from the last line to this one, and I wonder if there’s some unofficial race to the exit.  This line feels like the Saudi looked… humanity pressed tight enough to constrict breathing. I wonder how often the compression results in injury. We’re loading onto a Disney fun ride styled tram next.  It paths us through a series of rooms whose purpose completely escape me, a room of bridges, one filled with stylized trees lit in rotating monochromatic colors, and so forth…

The final room is dedicated to green tech.  Walls display CO2 emissions for travel by car, train or air. Light bulb techs are compared, and so on.  There are promises that China will lead the world in green tech.  I hope so… the math otherwise is ugly.

And unceremoniously, it’s over; an escalator down over the the ocean of reservation holders.

I stick to smaller pavilions after that, especially enjoying the Chilean (lots of wood, and an excellent wine bar, all recommended by a French Canadian couple I met at the Russian vodka bar).  Many pavilions have spectacular designs, (eg. the Belgian with small houses hanging in a chaotic stack over a brightly lit kids playground), but most defied description, which is just as well, as I think I’ve written more than enough on the subject.

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