Sunday, 5 June 2011

Expo Day 1 (17th of September)

Leaving the hostel bright and early we took the metro close to one of the southern entrances to the World Expo 2010. First we joined queues to purchase tickets, three day passes were no longer available so we just had to get day tickets. In the humid heat we then joined another very long queue at the entrance. We'd obviously got there before the gates opened so we had to wait probably about an hour before the people started trickling through into the Expo. We were surrounded by hundreds of Chinese people, many well prepared with an assortment of colourful umbrellas and plastic stools to sit on in the queues. Despite that the scene reminded me a lot of the Axminster cattle market.

First we headed to the Australasian pavilions. The Malaysian pavilion made me furious, extolling the nutritional benefits of palm oil and the advantages of its use in non-food products. Palm oil is used in at least 1 in 10 products apparently. And now all the Chinese are going to think it will make them live forever. The Indonesian pavilion informed us that their country contains 10% of the world's flora species and 12% of the mammal species. No mention of what palm oil is doing to it though... They'd be keen for us to believe that they have taken a 'wholehearted stance to save our earth' and practice 'sustainable forest management'. All the same it was good for us to learn a bit about Indonesia, since we're a small portion Indonesian.

Excitement about going into the WWF's small pavilion was short-lived, as we found it closed. They were missing out on a good opportunity to educate the Chinese. The 'International Network for bamboo and rattan' pavilion was interesting enough-keyboards, bikes and windturbines made from bamboo. We found a massive and very interesting pavilion about environmental problems and solutions, with information about recycling, not using disposable chopsticks, saving energy such as putting lids on pans and using energy saving lightbulbs, eating local and a sign telling all to 'Avoid aeroplane travel! It produces tons of CO2 and is damaging to the climate'.

Getting into most pavilions involved a lot of queuing, which in China is synonymous with pushing and shoving, and moving up quickly because someone might think you're not queuing and jump in front of you. Signs were trying to educate the Chinese in the fine art of queueing though: 'polite language and no noising' and 'polite sharing and no challenging'. Occasionally we would get stopped for photo opportunities, but the people of Shanghai seemed more accustomed to the 'laowai' than most. Jenny was accosted by people in the Brunei pavilion though and tried unsuccessfully to pass the buck to some Australians. For many at the Expo it was all about getting stamps in your Expo passport, with many Chinese people running around just to get the stamps. Rumour had it that there was some kind of prize or incentive from the government for having lots of stamps. I think we learnt less about the countries exhibiting at the Expo than we did about the Chinese people.

Having dual citizenship has its uses and we managed to get into both the Switzerland and United Kingdom pavilions without queuing. The Swiss one was a bit of a dead loss because the chairlift that went round it was broken, but the Chinese seemed to appreciate all the photos of mountain scenes. Outside the UK pavilion some French people became our 'friends' so that they could get in without queuing up. Inside was an area of fake lawn, a statue of David Beckham and this giant glass seed pod thing which you could go inside and contained thousands of seeds encased in glass rods. No free t-shirts like they had at the Expo in Hannover, but then again there are a lot more people in China who would want the t-shirts. At the Dutch pavilion we found some food we could eat- fritte and poffertjes.

We happened upon a procession in the afternoon, a bit too much of a Disneyland-type affair for my liking presumably with people wearing costumes from different parts of the world or China. In the Norwegian pavilion they were playing 'secret garden' music (we had thought there was going to be a garden inside) and according to the man working there photos of beautiful white people, because that's what the Chinese like to see. Marimekko t-shirts, father Christmas himself and what might have been an attempt at northern lights, were found in the Finnish pavilion. In the evening there was another procession with many a lantern-like float. As it got closer to closing time the queues died down a bit and the Expo visitors picked up their paces, rushing around to fit as many pavilions in as possible. Those who had time to sit still long enough in the Australian pavilion seemed totally enthralled by a video story of three children with models that rotated and popped out the ground. It was rather endearing to see the audience gasp and whoop with excitement at this technology as though they were watching a firework display. It also made us sad to realise how blasé we as westerners have become about this sort of technology.

After being shoved in the back all day and standing on our feet for about 17 hours we hobbled our way on to the metro (accompanied of course by the masses) and back to the hostel. In the moonlight (we still hadn't had time to buy our tickets to Qingdao during the moon festival) we sat on the all and cooked our pasta in the trangia.

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