Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shanghai World Expo 2010 - Day Four

Today began at a merciful nine thirty.

Other days I'd have already been up for hours. I'd have already been to the expo for hours. But those were in the days of pass seeking. Today no China pass was required, and I could go at my leisure. And my leisure would bring me there at ten thirty.

I would not stop at the countries side and check out what there was to see there. No, today, I would stop at the Puxi side – one stop earlier, one stop north, of where I normally disembarked. Today I would explore the corporate side of the World Expo. Hey – it had to be pretty good right? I mean, that's why there were no lines, and no one walking around – because of how fantastic it was, yeah?

Also there was rain. Not enough to drown you, but a constant misting that had a cumulative effect that worked its way into your clothing. Especially if you chose to wear a cotton t-shirt. A most fabulous yellow, Canada, cotton t-shirt. Where, but the world Expo, would a shirt emblazoned with the name of your home country, would be more appropriate for such duds? The only problem? My beard covered my country's name. That was fixed by braiding my beard into three strands. Awesome fashion statement one and two.

Grabbing a most delicious salad bacon wrap from the bakery I was well nourished and ready for a day looking at things, I knew not what. It's strange – I had become so used to the one side of the river, than being on the other was very disorienting. I didn't know where to go, I didn't know how to get there, I didn't know what I was looking for when I arrived. But as I stumbled through the maze of confusion I'd constructed for myself I saw a line – a great big line for the CSSC building. No I didn't know what the CSSC was, but if all these people felt strongly enough to get behind it, well then it seemed like a good a place as any to start.

Into the line I went.

As it would turn out CSSC – I believe – is the ship docks that used to be located here where the two corporate zones are. I was told this before, that the Expo was being hosted at the old dock yards. New ones were built. Apparently some villages were taken down too – but new ones were created for those who lost their homes. Most are happy about this – we are told.

Inside a movie shows the past present and potential future of the Chinese ship building. They also illustrate plans for a Rapture-like underwater expanse. I'm not sure that any of these underwater cities would ever work – nor do I think they'd be a great idea. After all, what would an Earthquake do? Once again though, if anyone was going to pull something like this off, it would be the Chinese. There's little you can't accomplish with a communist government and a workforce totaling more than one billion.

As I walk around, it's hard to think this is the same country where people drowned their children if they had the misfortune of being female. And where were the beggars who rented special needs children? Were these all myths – or are they out there, outside the World Expo gates?

When the video finished, a hallway where models were displayed for an armada that would act as a functioning city. There were farm ships, and power ships, and cargo ships – refrigerating, entertainment, and more. It was like the armada in Battlestar Galactica – but less travelling through space, and more floating on water. There also didn't seem to be a battleship amongst them either. Surely, were this floating city ever put to the test, one would be included. Yarg. Pirates there be matey.

Finally there was a creation the length of the USS Enterprise. An entire city on one ship, with apartment towers, and playgrounds, and even airplane landing strips. It was a dream – but once more I got the feeling that's all it would ever be. A dream. Where are the plans to make these ideas a reality? When could such a thing ever hope to come to pass?

On the other hand I got to control mouse cursors by moving my arm through the air, and that was fun.

The next building I checked out was called 2049. I expected this to show me the future 39 years from now. It's going to be a different place by then. I don't mean in the great future tech way of things, I just mean – the people around me. Friends, family. Some will change, some will be added, others lost. Thirty some odd years doesn't seem all that long, and yet – some day it will be far too long to ever hope to see. But these were not the thoughts I came for. I came for machines, and more robots, and -

apparently I came for monkeys. Saving monkeys. The expo is doing wonders for making saving animals seem sexy. I wonder if any of these governments cared before now?

Once we learned about the monkeys we were herded to a 360 movie with sand art, and the like. It was quite interesting – the telling of a story by drawing pictures with sand – and I'd like to see more of it. It has a shadow puppetry feel to it. And it's something I'd never really thought of before.

And then I learned about recycling. Specially in Taipei, where the garbage was such a problem until good ol' Uncle China stepped in and fixed their back water ways. I wonder how terrible it was? Were the streams really over run by refuse? Honestly, I'd not be surprised either way.

From there we were give choices of which two cylindars we wanted to go into first – D or E. I choose D, as it was said to have a thirty minute line, but looked pretty short – which meant that if anyone else stepped up it would become far longer. E had a short line, but a lot of people, meaning that they could deal with the masses. So into D I want, the Ant Colony.

In line I explained to a Chinese woman the difference between beard and mustache. She was the first person over forty who asked to take a picture with me. Barrier crossed. Right as I was about the get into my novel people started shouting E-ka-Ren-da. I had no idea what was going on, but they were all looking at me, and then pushing me to the front of the line. Apparently they needed a single person to enter into the pavilion. Now that I think about it, I had discovered that Ren (the logo for the Expo) meant people/person, and E I believe is one. But at the time? Just weird.

Still – up I went, and inside I saw why – it was a little bit of a ride. There were seat belts and everything. The only problem with that, I felt like Alan Grant in the helicopter landing on Jurassic Park. I had only two female ends. There was nothing to clip them together. And they weren't long enough to snap together. Finally the woman beside me saw her mistake and hooked me up with a male side of the belt, and off we went.

O.K. up we went. Very slowly up. But it was interesting, cartoon ants explaining what lessons we had to learn from animals when it comes to building and creating. Some malls in Africa have used their techniques to air condition, with a constant stream of fresh moving air from outside. What other secrets does studying this animals hope to reveal to us?

And then down down down we went, and off to the final building within 2049. This we sat in a motion simulator chair, but all it did was let us lie back to see a movie projected on the ceiling, and then sit up when we were to look at the walls once more. The environment is in trouble. I got that part. We can save it. Blah blah blah. But it was pretty.

I consulted my new map (not the one covered in stamps – the rain would have hurt it oh so much. It's in rough enough shape from constant use as it is.) There was a big Future Pavilion in front of me. It was one of the ones you needed to make a reservation for, and I did not – but getting close I noticed that there as a small line for the non-reserved. Ten minutes there, and I was inside ready to see what the future held. And apparently what it holds Hollywood has already shown me.

The Island, Moebius Strip, Ghost in the Shell, and Metropolis had clips playing detailing what these cities of the future could be like. Some thoughts crossed my mind – The Island? Really? That's what you choose to show? Ghost in the Shell – man I need to finish that, jut not on a plane. And then watch 1st and 2nd gig as well. Moebius Strip? What is this movie, and why have I never heard of it. I must seek it out. And Metropolis – after over a decade of hearing how I need to watch it, fine – maybe I'll get around to it now, then, alright? Happy.

And I was left with the wounded though of – why no fifth element? That was a great future society all figured out in full. Well whatever. Through the door, and on to the fuuuuuture (echo echo echo).

Walking through tunnels covered in text, I was shocked that I could read everything. There was no problem with trying to understand. Once more I discover how fantastic it is to speak and read English. Were you from Germany, or France, or – well anywhere – and you didn't know English or Chinese, that's it, you'd be screwed. You'd have no idea what anyone was saying. I don't think that pavilions even translate in their own home language – which seems like a silly thing. You'd think the Spanish could at least enjoy Spain but in this case, I do not think that is so.

As I wandered the future it was more promises of a greener environment and things to come, without proof of anything at all being done to take us there. This was getting as silly as all the pavilions just showing off their great projector technology. I quickly made my way out.

I was on to the Case buildings. I didn't know what they were – but there were a lot of them. Join pavilions, and single ones, and – luckily I had stopped my stamp collecting madness, if only because I was running out of space. Now I just grabbed ones I care about, or one from where I looked around.

Hong Kong was first – stamp stamp – and I was given a bracelet to open a door, and then use on some screens to gain tourist information (that's what the Case buildings are for!) and then to open the exit door. While I wasn't told, I wonder if the chip in these bracelets could be used as an octopus card? It's too bad it will be quite some time until I'm given the chance once more to find out – provided I don't lose this somewhere along the way. Which I probably will.

Then onto Montreal – where there was a whole lot of nothing. Fitting for such a city, I'd say. Vancouver I wanted to check out – but they were closed with guards at the door. Did they not notice my b right yellow Canada shirt? I mean – come on! - let me in. Most people, finding I'm from Canada, think I'm from B.C. anyway, so it could be my home town. Why do they think I'm from B.C.? They wrongly assume I'm a hippie. Hippies... ugh. I shower! With soap too – not that biodegradable stuff that still leaves you smelling, no matter what your vegan friends might tell you!

The Xi'an Case was beautiful, and built like the drum tower. Inside was mostly baren. I thought, maybe, the Jade Chariot might be here – but it was not. Enough of these Cases. The day was dragging on, and there were still a few buildings I wanted to check out this side of the river. There was the Future Home pavilion, which on the way to, I purchased some Apple milk. While Apple/Orange milk – no good – Apple milk? Quite lovely, and I think it would go really well on cereal. True story.

The Future Home pavilion had two lines – one for those wanting to see the 3D movie, and one for those who didn't. 3D movie? Two hours. Without, about five minutes. I knew where I was headed. Who knew what the movie was about, or how long it lasted? I have no time for that. So into the building I went. And saw – I don't kn ow – more dreams. It was like a child playing with toys, “this ship can go mach 20 through the upper atmosphere linking anywhere in the world in seconds” Uh huh. That will happen. You can make up whatever specs you want where there's no one to hold you to it. Why stop at mach 20? Why not warp 7, instantly get from area to area? Why not show teleporters on the moon? But maybe – maybe – there's some hope that this will become reality in the next thirty years. We'll have to see what Richard Branson thinks about it.

Last on my list of things to see was the Coca-Cola pavilion. I know, I know, but what could I do? It was there beside me. And people in line were cheering, and getting balloon animals, and being branded (face/hand painted) with the Coca-Cola logo. How could I resist the urge to get in that super-happy corporate joy line?

Inside a movie played showing how coke gets from the vending machine to you, and it is a magical series of mountains and adventures, and weird little cartoon 3d not real miscreants running around. Not just a series of tubes.

They also talked about a new future Coke vending machine which could provide hundreds of different types of drinks – in theory, I'm thinking, that the soda water and the syrup would be inside, and it would mix itself when you select what you want. I am excited for this – as I would create the most vial of all flavours, and claim to love it. Coca-Cola I am ready for your nonsense.

Also – for only $200USD you could buy a glass coke bottle. The gold one was only 10USD – I have no idea why the other was so much more, nor did I ask, for the closer I got the more people seemed to want to help me, which gave me Future Shop syndrome, and sent me running far far away, down to the ferry, where I would cross the river back to the side I'd come to know and love.

Well I didn't run all the way to the Ferry docks. First, I felt the need to pop into the Expo museum.

The expo museum showed the past host cities, and things that were on display there – assembly lines, and light bulbs, and telephones, and wonders of the world. And I got to thinking, what is Shanghai adding to the mix? I mean, yeah, there's lots of hopes and dreams – but what is that one thing that will leave people thinking, “wow – this is it?” Sure there was the future tech in the Japan pavilion, but I'm wondering if it's even possible to have the expo show something off? Would any corporation use this forum as a launch platform? There are so many more ways, so many more places – it seems the time of the expo is growing short, as the world keeps shrinking. Hopefully there will be a place for it – as it was really interesting. But I'm not not sure what to have taken away from it.

And then on to the docks.

For the most part the ferry crossing was smooth – except for docking. Though the waters were still, it took no less than eight attempts to back up, go forward, try to loop the rope around the dock, and then repeat. This was an obnoxious process than went beyond hilarity after try four or five. It was not getting cooler in the boat.

But once all was well I headed off to BK – where, joy of joys, they had burgers again. A spicy chicken and a final Whopper, and I was good to leave the Expo with just one quick stop first. O.K. two, there was no line for the Lithuania building. In I went. And then out. Great. Now to the gift shop.

Buying things was weird here. Heaven forbid you just took your purchases to the front. No – you saw something you wanted, pointed to it (never touching it) on the shelf, were written a sheet for it, took the sheet to cash, paid for nothing, had your sheet stamped, took it back to the shelf, and were given the item you first pointed to. Sure, yeah, that makes sense. Whatever – I had some items and was good to go.

At 5:59 I declared my expo over, got on the bus, and had only one more strange event occur. A girl pointed at my beard, and then said, “beard!” Ahh the ways of these post-high school Chinese girls. And when I was looking away she patted by arm hair, “ohh!” Really? I guess arm hair is as foreign as facial hair. But this was a first for me.

With that, my time in Shanghai, and the expo, was over. I made my way to the subway, back to the hostel, and then to sleep. Tomorrow I'd be flying to Singapore.

Huh – looks like I never saw the Shanghai skyline at night after all. Who could have possibly predicted that?

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