On the Shanghai Exponanza!

Stuck at the Shanghai International Airport waiting for the free Wifi to work. It doesn’t so I’m writing as a draft and publishing later.

The last three days were spent pushing my dad in a wheelchair around the magnificent Shanghai Expo. My dad is almost 75 you see, and can no longer walk long distances. Hence, I volunteered my services instead of letting my 64-year old sweet mom do the work. Now I have the muscles and tight butt to prove it. Not bad for 3-days work and no appreciation! 

It’s not that bad though. Pushing your dad in a wheelchair does have its benefits aside from being a great daughter. For example, you get to cut the lines and enter each pavilion without suffering the 1.5-3-hour line ups. You see, the Shanghai government implemented a terrific policy of giving elders the respect they deserve by operating an easy-access line for VIPs and those over 70 years old. That means, for most of the exhibits, so long as you are over 70 years old or in a wheel-chair, you get to enter immediately without lining up, much to the chagrin of all the other younger visitors.

There are downsides though: many of the exhibits had steep inclines and steps. Hence, it was a bit of a push to get my father to see all around the exhibits. Sigh, well better me than my mother. As for the steps, we learned the hard way that for manageable steps, you needed to pull the wheelchair butt first for the passengers’ optimal safety.

However, the Shanghai Expo was a joy to participate in. 🙂

Expecting to trump the Japan Expo 5 years ago, the Shanghai Expo runs 6 months from May 1st to October 31st 2010. Around 70 million visitors are expected to visit, a highly reachable goal given that during our visit alone, we were there with around 300,000 visitors as well. The Germany Pavillion for example even had to close their doors for those with wheelchairs early in the afternoon as they’ve run out of seats. Their pavilion alone had entertained an average of 30,000 guests a day, or 10% of the total attendees, that Saturday. Lines can unsurprisingly last till over 3 hours!

And yet the Chinese still wait, rain or shine (e.g., it rained on Saturday and yet the lines were still impossibly long), to see the 200 pavillions/exhibits at the Expo. The Expo were segregated in two areas — Pudong and Puxi — and by countries, cities and companies. If you have limited time (2-3 days), I would strongly suggest that you focus your efforts on the countries first, the companies next and the cities last. Cities merely emphasized renewable energies and clean living, and not too much about their countries themselves which was slightly disappointing. As an avid traveler, I am more keen to know more about these countries’ tourist spots than their efforts on water and energy conservation. But that’s just me.

The Chinese government held nothing back when spending the USD55 billion at the Shanghai Expo. Imagine relocating 18,000 families and 270 factories to make way for land at the Expo. Good thing that the Chinese government owns everything so can easily sell it back to another ambitious businessman for a profit after the 6-month run. These are prime properties, ladies and gentlemen! Close to the river!

Anyway, it was a joy to attend. Though the insides of most pavilion fail to impress, my eyes popped when seeing the UK (looked like a boxed porcupine), Spain (e.g., a big rattan cage), China (a huge pagoda) and Korea (playful Korean words in white walls). From the inside, I was haunted by the Spanish pavilion, teared up at the Thailand Pavilion and loved the atmosphere created by the Turkish and Polish pavilions. 

Big disappointments were France’s, Italy’s, Germany’s, Philippines’, Singapore’s, Switzerland’s and Malaysia’s. If you have limited time, just skip these as they feature many LCD screens, cut board presentations but nothing much else.

I think given what these countries had spent, many could’ve done so much better. Although the external facades caught our attentions and took our breath away, they should’ve equally placed much attention in providing the meat in their exhibits. For example, instead of Russia spending a fortune creating a fiber-glass childish wonderland in their exhibit, it would’ve been better if the content was more in educating us the beautiful sights in Russia, the main products that one can export and what else do they want us to do instead of gape and awe at their exhibits. 

Many of the countries have lost the essence and importance of the Expo.

Imagine, 70 million unique visitors will see your booths. Do you have anything important to tell us? Would you like us to want to visit your country? If so, please don’t highlight to us what Russia, Bosnia, or your country has invented. Instead, show us the beautiful sights in our country so that we’ll call our travel agents immediately to book our flights!

Many of these countries failed to intrigue us to visit them.

For example, Austria is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to. It’s very romantic, full of beautiful museums and the centre for classical music. Can’t the Austrian booth do more than highlighting winter activities (e.g., I doubt Chinese tourists will go to Austria just to ski), and offering a 3-minute modern interpretation of classical music? Bah! Show us how romantic and beautiful your cities are and we will go!

Thailand does it best by emphasizing that their workers are all Thais because they want to be more welcoming to visitors. They repeatedly invite us to visit their country by showing beautiful videos of their sights, their food, their traditions, their festivals and their people. Now that’s the way to do it!

Overall, it’s been such a great experience. Despite the large crowds, mediocre food, and Chinese insanity (you cannot imagine just how rough/tough the Chinese are! I’ve been screaming at them for their rudeness over the last three days), YOU STILL HAVE TO VISIT AT LEAST ONCE if you can.

I came away from the Expo very much humbled over what the Chinese can accomplish with their huge purses and resources. Though I’ve highlighted the downsides repeatedly in my post, the Shanghai Expo is truly an experience. And I am forever happy to have had these moments with my parents.

P.S. If you do visit the Expo, try their Maglev (magnetic) train that takes you from the city to the airport within an impressive 7 minutes. The tickets are CNY50 one way, and CNY 80 round-trip, and offers a 20% discount if your flight occurs on the same day. While I rode it just for the experience, the speed came up to 302 kilometers an hour.

OMG. Wonderful!

On a great critique of the Expo, click here.

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