Contrary to the advice of everyone and their mother, we decided to visit the Shanghai Expo. For those who haven’t heard already, the Shanghai Expo is a world fair in the tradition of the Great Exhibition of Industries of All Nations held in London in 1951. Countries from around the world put up pavilions to showcase their industrial strength, technological development and culture.
World Expos are held every two years but this one is drawing record crowds. The organisers expect 70 million, making it the most visited Expo in history, and going by the current crowds it seems well on its way to achieving that. The Expo has seen millions of visitors (around half a million a day during the summer holidays), with people queuing up for up to six hours to visit the popular pavilions.
When I visited Beijing I realised that in China you’re most likely to run into scores of local tourists, unlike other countries where tourist attractions are swamped by foreigners. This is because few Chinese have the opportunity (or the means) to travel abroad. Besides, there’s tonnes to see in their own country. So, the Expo has become another of those must-sees in China, with people from all over the country flocking to it. Again, since many of these people will not travel abroad, the Expo is a good chance for them to encounter foreign cultures. All-in-all, despite complaints from foreigners about the crowds and the queues, the Expo serves its purpose by introducing the world to masses of Chinese people.
I am allergic to queues (and I can probably travel to many of the countries instead) so I don’t know why I wanted to go. I’m pregnant, it’s extremely hot in Shanghai, and with the massive crowds, it was probably wiser to give it a miss. .. but having missed the Beijing Olympics I felt it would be lame to miss this one.
6. Another one we were lucky to get into was France. They did a good job of creating a sensual atmosphere (as that was the theme of their pavilion) and the car displays seemed to attract a lot of interest, as did inexplicable a corridor with Louis Vuitton logos. The highlight was the impressionist and post-impressionist art they brought down. From afar, I identified a Renoir, Cezanne and Gaugin… and a crowd had surrounded a sculpture I think was a Rodin.
7. The much sought after China pavilion requires reservation to enter. However, I was able to enter the China provinces pavilion, where each province in China has a mini-pavilion inside. Though many of these looked good from the outside, they were pretty mediocre from the inside.
8. Our final stop was Poland. They had a rather interesting corridor with cut-out depicting icicles but that was it. The highlight, I guess, was a 3D film on the history of Poland but they told me I had to queue up so I decided to call it quits.
The pavilions that I tried and that did not let me into the fast lane on grounds of pregnancy – Japan, UAE, and Germany. Boo! Ok but to be fair… these pavilions had people queuing up for around six hours so I’m not really complaining. Just really grateful to those that did let me in.
We ended our day eating at the restaurant attached to the German pavilion. Surprisingly, the servers were German. The food (obviously German fare) looked quite stylish. The Chinese, even the more rustic looking ones, seemed to be happy to taste the elegantly presented stuff as well as the different varieties of beer.
India and China – a short comparison
For some reason, India and China always seem to be mentioned in the same breath in the media today. I think this is optimistic. Take this Expo as an example:
1. It is a huge event and China has managed to pull it off brilliantly, despite initial hiccups, similar to the Beijing Olympics. Having visited the Expo, it is far less chaotic than the media would have you believe, though the queues are insane.
2. The loos. They were pristine. And they are public loos being used by masses of people.
3. There was seating everywhere. Honkys look down their noses at Mainlanders because they tend to squat whenever they are tired. Because word of the queues got out, people brought along these brilliant portable stools (I got one too! ) but really, most often there was somewhere to sit without them. Much of the seating was shaded and there were even sprinklers to help cool people off. Public events in India never provide enough seating… so these stools would really come in handy.
4. Water fountains were provided here and there. People were not allowed to bring in water for security reasons but you could buy a bottle and then fill up. Despite the heat and the crowds, the water did not run out… either at the fountains or at the push-carts.
5. All the infrastructure worked well – from the buses to the escalators to the sprinklers to cool people down.
A few observations on social behaviour. I mentioned that there is much similarity between Indian and Chinese people in a crowd. There are differences too:
1. There is pushing and line-cutting but not on the scale that goes on in India. People still leave that one centimeter of space between your body and theirs.
2. Again, given the throngs, men do not take the opportunity to feel up women at will. Granted, I may have had a better experience being a foreigner. However, foreign women in India are felt up in crowds too. So Chinese men get kudos from me for keeping their hands to themselves.
Some Expo facts:
More than 190 countries and more than 50 international organizations have registered to participate in the Shanghai World Expo, the largest ever.
Haibao is the mascot of the Shanghai Expo 2010. It means treasure of the sea. It is based on the Chinese character for man or person, “人”.