Saturday, May 29, 2010

Expo Fever

Shanghai's all abuzz over the World Expo. “Have you been to the Expo yet?” is the standard greeting. The TVs on the trains and buses run continuous Expo news. And that Expo theme song is playing everywhere—I catch myself humming it and want to scream. Am I the only person in this city that doesn't have Expo fever?

If I had to fork over the 150 RMB for the ticket, I wouldn't go. But I've got a free ticket and a ride on the school bus, so I go.

Expo Park is packed, although no more so than an other street in Shanghai. And I refuse to wait in line, which means I only go in the really bad pavilions.

I learned in the DPRK pavilion that North Korea is a “Paradise for People.” Vistas of beautiful Pyongyang, videos of happy people frolicking at a water park. There are those, I suppose, who actually believe this.

The Iran pavilion reminds me of Disney's “Alladin.” Lots of carpets for sale. Maybe I can fly away on one, I think.

I keep getting messages from Expo Central. (Yes, if you use your cell phone, they really do know where you are!) The weather report says partly cloudy and hot, as if I didn't already know. And then I'm told the wait for the Saudi Arabia pavilion is eight hours. Eight hours? Put me on a plane, and I can fly there in that time.

The Bangladesh pavilion is a delight to the nose, the scent of curry wafting from the restaurant in back. Too bad it's only ten o'clock and I'm not hungry. (I make a mental note to return for lunch, but by noon I'm on the other side of the park.)

I'm surprised by the Uzbekistan pavilion, or rather by the long line outside. What could possibly be so interesting about Uzbekistan?

By afternoon I'm in Europe. True to geography, the Czech and Slovak pavilions are neighbors. No queue for the Czech pavilion, so I go in. It's a snooze about Czech contributions to science and technology. And it's bizarre, because everything's on the ceiling and you have to look up all the time. Dvorak's “New World Symphony” is blasting the whole time. The Slovak pavilion must be more exciting, judging from the line outside. But I don't do queues.

There's also a long line for the Portugal pavilion, but I rest for a while in the shade outside. Suddenly it dawns on me, the Chinese name for Portugal means “grape tooth.” (I'm learning the Chinese names for lots of countries, so this is an educational experience.)

One incentive for going in the pavilions is to escape the heat, but there's no air conditioning in the Bulgarian pavilion. However, I do learn Bulgaria is the “Birthplace of Civilization.” (Are these guys buddies with the North Koreans?)

The Cuba pavilion is done up as a Havana street. It looks like Hengshan Road, the street in the French concession with the expat bars.

Perhaps I'm a jaded traveler. Expos just don't excite me. However, I can understand the value of such an experience to a person who's never traveled abroad.

I also understand the symbolic importance of this event for China. The 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai are coming-of-age events for this country. They show China has matured as a nation, joined the world community. In that sense, I'm glad to have been part of it.

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