Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tour de Axis of Evil

Just as the Chinese used the Expo as an opportunity to "visit" countries they'd never get to see in real life, so too did I pretend to play visitor to nations abroad, including: Iran, North Korea, and Cuba -- an "Axis of Evil" type tour, if you will.

PRINCE OF PERSIA: Relations between China and Iran are slightly better than those between the Middle East nation and the United States. Posters and pictures displaying Sino-Persian friendship were prevalent in the Iran Pavilion.

INSIDE IRAN: The Iran Pavilion was actually really impressive. A blend of ancient and modern Middle Eastern architecture was all around, as well as Iranian innovations

PERSIAN PAVILION: The Iran Pavilion was located right next to the North Korea Pavilion. Ironic?

HELLO AYATOLLAH: A large picture of one of Iran's clerical leaders hung on the wall outside the VIP room.

AMAZING PAVILION: The North Korea Pavilion.

NORTHERN PRESENCE: The actual North Korea Pavilion was somewhat impressive. The pavilion tried to display what life in North Korea was really like (cough, cough)-- rainbows, bright lights and other aspects of a modern communist society were present.

CHILDREN OF COMMUNISM: A water fountain adorned the center of the North Korea Pavilion.

FIRE SPIRE: The ever-burning flame of communism -- is made of plastic.

FORBIDDEN ISLAND: Since I'm not allowed to visit Cuba in real life, I figured a quick stop at the Cuba Pavilion would be a nice substitute.

REALLY LITTLE HAVANNA: The inside of the pavilion was decorated like a Havanna street. The main attraction: a bar selling Cuban liquor and cigars.

TOTALLY LEGAL: A nice photo of my "visit" to Cuba.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Line, line, everywhere a line

I looked at the line zigzagging off into the distance, wrapping its way around the ship-shaped Saudi Arabia Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo and weaving along the sidewalks. A sign near the line’s entrance was written in Chinese, but I could make out the unmistakable numeral that foretold the length of time in hours these people would be waiting. And that magic number was eight.

The night before, I had to decide between seeing this, with an expected queue time of about three hours, or the Japan Pavilion, at only two and a half hours. I’d opted for the shorter of the two. Now, the queue time had almost tripled, leaving me to ponder: How bad did I really want to see the Saudi Arabia Pavilion?

Really, the line’s length – in visibility and wait time – wasn’t a big surprise. I’d come to the Expo expecting to spend most of my three-day visit waiting in one line or another. A line for each pavilion. A line for food and beverage. And probably a line to use the bathroom (although thankfully I didn’t run into this problem too often). That’s what would be waiting for me at the global event set to draw almost 250,000 people a day.

For the most part, I thought the Expo’s queuing arrangement was well organized. Lines wrapped around each pavilion and rarely stretched out into the busy walkways between the uniquely designed and decorate structures. At most of the pavilions, some form of shade provided shelter from the sun. In the close queue quarters, I chitchatted with people around me, especially when children pointed and said “waiguoren! (foreigner)” And each line moved along at a steady pace. I rarely stood for the full time I was told when entering the line.

Over the course of my three-day Expo world tour I was able to see the pavilions I’d wanted to visit – Germany, the United States, Japan and Spain. I knew seeing the China Pavilion would be nearly impossible, since getting a special ticket for the massive red center-piece pavilion would have required me to be in line by 5 a.m. before the Expo opened. Photos aside the pavilion would have to suffice

But the line for the Saudi Pavilion still irked me. Why would anyone wait eight hours to see, well, anything? Eight hours was a full workday. Eight hours is how long I sometimes sleep at night. Eight hours is a flight from America to Europe, and even that can be accomplished in less time.

The more I thought about it, the more the realization set in that these pavilions were more than just buildings – they were gateways to other countries many Chinese simply wouldn’t be able to visit. I remembered the difficulties Chinese friends and colleagues told me about traveling abroad. Paperwork and passports aside, a trip to the United States or Europe could put a serious dent in the average Chinese person’s savings. But a three-day pass to the Expo costs 400 RMB.

Granted, visiting the German Pavilion and visiting the German nation are two drastically different experiences, but the ability to see a nation’s innovations, enjoy its fine cuisine at special restaurants and catch a glimpse at certain aspects of its culture can be a somewhat fulfilling alternative.

Getting your exclusive Expo souvenir passport stamped after visiting each pavilion also adds to the experience of “visiting” that nation.

In this way, the Expo serves two purposes: one is to display China’s growth and innovations, as well as advances from nations worldwide; and the other is to provide Expo-goers the chance to get a first-hand glimpse of cultures from across the globe.

And based on the pavilions and live performances I saw, I’d say it did a pretty good job.

I ended up passing on the Saudi Arabia Pavilion. I just couldn’t bring myself to waiting a whole day for one pavilion when there was so much more to experience. Instead, I used my final day at the Expo “visiting” countries I’d probably never get to see (for political reasons) – Cuba, North Korea, and Iran. And while these pavilions would never be able to truly present their respective nation’s culture and history, they gave me an idea of what I could expect and provided me with some interesting photo opportunities.

ARABIAN NIGHTS: The line for the Saudi Arabia Pavilion averaged 4 hours. But on the Monday morning of my three-day Expo visit, it was 8 hours -- and people were still eagerly lining up. The Saudi Pavilion was one of the main attractions at the Expo, with one of the world's largest interactive IMAX screens inside.

WAITING TO SEE MOTHER: Tourists line up outside the [Mother] Russia Pavilion.

SEEKING SHADE: To hide from the sun, people used umbrella, newspapers, Burger King bags and an assortment of things to prevent sunburn. Most lines had some kind of covering, although it was difficult to hide from the actual heat each day.

EVERYBODY LOVES THE EXPO: More than 200,000 people, on average, visit the Expo each day. But on my three-day Expo stay, that number was closer to 300,000.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Expo Extravaganza

Over 190 countries and 50 international organizations had pavilions or some sort of displays at the 2010 Expo. Here's a few more pics from around the Expo site.

PART OF THE THEIR WORLD: The highlight of the Denmark Pavilion is the Little Mermaid statue found in Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital. For the Expo, the Danish Government decided to relocate the statue to Shanghai for the duration of the Expo.

OH, CANADA: I have a good laugh at/with my northern neighbor’s pavilion.

GOOD ‘AY MATE: The Australia Pavilion was another interesting looking pavilion, but did not include one crucial element to attract tourists (myself included): Outback Steakhouse.

GRAND PAVILION: The China Pavilion, the largest pavilion at the expo, is the centerpiece of the 2010 World Expo. It’s basically the equivalent of the Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World in Florida.

SOUTH OF THE BORDER: The Mexico Pavilion was meant to look like a series of kites flying in the wind. They also provided much needed shade from the relentless sun.

VIVA LE PAVILION: The France Pavilion’s line deterred me from visiting. Had they offered crepes during the wait, I may have reconsidered.

SPACEY SINGAPORE: Didn’t get to visit this pavilion, but the Singapore Pavilion looks like it borrowed a few design elements from the Death Star.

HELLO EXPO: The Shanghai World Expo 2010 is expected to attract 70 million people by the time the event ends later in October. Each day, some 200,000 visitors fill the Expo area – and I can confirm that on each day of my visit all 200,000 showed up.

MOTHER RUSSIA: People line up outside the Russia Pavilion. Lines usually stretched all the way around each pavilion and then some.

NEEDLE IN A NEEDLE STACK: The United Kingdom Pavilion, nicknamed the “Seed Cathedral”, features more than 60,000 transparent acrylic rods containing seeds. During the day, the rods help illuminate the interior and at night they cause the structure to glow (at least in theory).

NEEDLE IN A NEEDLE STACK: The United Kingdom Pavilion, nicknamed the “Seed Cathedral”, features more than 60,000 transparent acrylic rods containing seeds. During the day, the rods help illuminate the interior and at night they cause the structure to glow (at least in theory).

TURKEY TIME: The Turkey Pavilion provided an interesting look at Turkish culture, past and present. And at the end of the pavilion – free ice cream!

POLISH PATTERN: The Poland Pavilion’s exterior is covered with cutouts that, under proper lighting conditions, display different patterns inside the pavilion.

DRAGON DANCE: Although I wasn’t able to see any dragon parades during Spring Festival, on numerous occasions at the Expo I saw the long, elegant serpents dance up and down the streets, entertaining all.

PANDA PALS: In one of the parks, Panda shrubbery offered the perfect opportunity for a fun photo.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Around the World in an Afternoon

I started the day in China, then moved on to Germany before making a quick stop in America. By mid-afternoon, I’d seen Turkey and parts of Africa. I ended the day with a night tour of Spain.

This Phileas Fogg-inspired journey, while possible only in great works of fiction, can be achieved – if you happen to be in Shanghai, China, for the 2010 World Expo.

The Expo is a world celebration; an event where nations from around the globe gather to present their culture and innovations. Think Disney’s Epcot, without the rides and screaming kids but minus the general fun factor of being in an amusement park.

This year, China played host to the global gala, and much like the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing the nation spared no expense in creating a truly awe-inspiring experience.

Expo 2010's theme of Better City, Better Life was meant to introduce people to new technologies and ideas for living in an increasingly green and environmentally friendly global community.

Where amusement parks have rides, expos have pavilions built and operated by individual countries. In Shanghai, some 190 nations were represented. Visiting them all would have been great, but my three-day visit limited the time available to see the world.

The German Pavilion was impressive in content and design. The outside was metallic-looking and futuristic, and resembled a 3-D puzzle about to be put together. The inside featured numerous displays on how to create a city in balance between people, environment and all aspects of urban living. German innovations and methods of living a green lifestyle made it seem foolish to not live a more environmentally friendly life.

The USA Pavilion -- and not to sound unpatriotic -- failed to impress. Where Germany had physical objects to interact with, America “wowed” pavilion goers with three short video presentations featuring citizens, celebrities and politicians, including President Obama, who encouraged people to embrace and live greener, low-carbon lifestyles.

As the euphoria of being surrounded by 100 percent Americanism wore off, I felt gypped. I expected cool new green inventions, gizmos with lots of gadgets, anything that shouted: “Look what amazing things America has!” But unfortunately that would be reserved for the Japan Pavilion and its amazing, violin-playing robot, floorboards that generate electricity when walked on, and world’s largest interactive personal organizer called the Life Wall.

The Spain Pavilion, while somewhat straying from the Expo’s theme, provided a taste of Spanish culture. Cameras projected lively scenes of the running of the bulls onto the pavilions grand chamber walls as a woman performed a seductive Spanish flamenco dance on a raised platform. But a giant robot baby near the pavilion’s exit was something of a curve ball. How were 21-foot tall, animatronic infants pertinent to Spanish culture or the Expo’s green theme? Even so, it made for a fun picture.

The Shanghai Expo, while technically a theme park, by no means is a place to take a relaxing vacation. From waiting in long lines -- some with queue times of more than 4 hours-- to the mass influx of people -- almost 250,000 people daily -- a day at the Expo was more exhausting than a full week of work. But the chance to walk from nation to nation, checking out advanced in modern green technology and seeing masterfully designed pavilions was worth the minor inconveniences.

ICH BIN EIN BEIJINGER: The Germany Pavilion was one of the more impressive buildings at the expo, staying true to the theme of Better City, Better Life. The four main areas in the pavilion showed how to maintain a balance between city and environment in order to live a low-carbon lifestyle.

BOOKS THAT READ BACK: One of the displays in the Germany Pavilion was a stack of books that read to you, much like an audio book. But you have to ask: Is a book that eliminates the reading aspect really a book, or a way to further dumb down society?

MACHINE MAMMALS: Robot penguins. Enough said.

BIG RED: I wasn’t able to go inside the China Pavilion during my three-day visit to the Expo. To get in, I would have had to get up at 5 a.m. to wait in line for the Expo to open at 9 a.m., then rush to a special ticket office to get, essentially, a golden ticket to the pavilion.

BASKET DESIGN: The Spain Pavilion looks like a giant whicker basket.

BIG BABY: Baby MiguelĂ­n is a large electronically animated infant on display in the Spain Pavilion. What this has to do with Spain or the Expo, I’m not quite sure, but it was cool none-the-less.

DANCE, DANCE: A woman performs a seductive flamenco dance as a crowd of Chinese tourists looks on in awe.

TURNING JAPANESE: The Japan Pavilion was one of the more popular pavilions at the Expo, with wait times averaging four hours. Luckily, I only waited two and a half.

ROBOT GREETER: One of the robots in the Japan Pavilion waves and says goodbye to tourists.

ROBOT PRODIGY: The main attraction in the Japan Pavilion is a violin-playing robot. At the next expo, Japan will most likely unveil a whole orchestra of instrument wielding metal men.

U-S-A! U-S-A!: Although it failed to impress as much as other pavilions, it felt good to be “home” for my short visit to the USA Pavilion. A short film featuring words of wisdom from Barack Obama sent shivers down my spine.