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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

World Expo: That's a Wrap

The Shanghai World Expo came to a close on October 31st. There was a big to-do that was broadcast on all the TV stations & in public areas around the city with dancing & singing, & foreign dignitaries offering Shanghai congratulations on a job well done. It was all pretty typical for a closing ceremony. Now that it's done, I think I speak for almost everyone when I say, thank goodness that's over with.

In the six months that the Expo was open, I went twice, once by myself & once with my parents. The first time I went, I was excited to see all the countries' pavilions - the architecture of the buildings & the displays inside each of them. I had visions of taking a mini world tour right here in Shanghai, & I think that's what it was originally intended to be.

But then the people came - millions of them. We're in China, after all. They came from far & wide, pushing & shoving their way to the front of the line so they could get a stamp in their Expo passports.

Many people had stacks of ten or twenty of the passports, which they took to as many pavilions as they could, sticking out their elbows to keep their place in front of the stamping stations. Some of my students said that the people with bundles of passports would probably then sell them to those who couldn't afford the 160 RMB (about US $25) ticket price to go to actually the Expo.

Amid all this stamping & stomping, no one seemed to be looking at any of the pavilions themselves. They snapped a quick photo - look, I'm in front of the Qatar pavilion - & then hurried on to the next building to get another stamp.

The only pavilions that people seemed to take notice of were those with 3-D movies or acrobats flying through the air. People wanted entertainment & they were willing to wait in line for hours to get it.

Throughout the six month run of the Expo, South Korea, Germany, Saudi Arabia & Japan consistently had four-hour wait times to get inside. I couldn't imagine what could be inside those pavilions that would be worth waiting half the day for. What's so special about 3-D movies & acrobat shows? But many Chinese people have never seen any of those kinds of spectacles, & the Expo was likely their only opportunity to see anything like that first-hand.

Instead of waiting in those crazy lines, I chose to visit the pavilions with no wait time at all. I saw the displays at the Maldives, Timor-Leste, & Kyrgyz Republic pavilions - all very low-key but interesting nonetheless. I was happy to casually browse their exhibits & be away from the mad crowd.

That first time at the Expo, I spent about seven hours walking around & visiting pavilions with no lines while the rest of the crowd waited hours to see the bigger-than-life baby inside the Spanish pavilion. I went home exhausted but satisfied with my visit. I can't imagine how those people felt who waited in line all day.

My second time at the Expo, I went with my parents who were here in Shanghai visiting me. My dad had the idea to just go & walk around looking at the buildings & the people rather than trying to shove our way inside any of the pavilions. What a great idea! The weather was perfect that day - the sun was shining & the temperature was pleasant. We spent the morning strolling around the Expo site & didn't have to deal with any of the crowds because they were all waiting in line.

When I ask other people about the Expo, "How'd you like the it?", they invariably answer something like, "It was okay - crowded." But I wonder if you could ever have an event like this in China that wasn't crowded. I mean, there are people everywhere here. It's too bad because it had such potential to be great.

Or maybe it *was* great. It gave millions of people the opportunity to see something they would never otherwise see, & it brought a lot of attention & investments to Shanghai. China is growing by leaps & bounds, & the Expo was just a small part of the bigger picture.

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