Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shanghai World Expo 2010 - Day One

Who would have that that an expo bringing together the whole wide world would be so... ... ... big?

Thinking back on the day that I just went through it's hard to keep everything straight. It's hard to remember what I saw, what I liked (good thing then that I took notes, huh?) And it's even harder to get the energy to write about it all. But if I don't write about it now I'll just have two, then three, then four ridiculous entries to deal with in the days coming. No – there's just no way around it. I'll have to write now: May 13th, 9:03pm. 21:03 for those who like to be sure.

At 7:03 my day began. In theory it actually started at four in the morning when the worst Snorflog since Milan (but not worse) led to an entire dorm turning on their bedside lamps to see just how one person could be snoring in five different ways at once. Somehow though, after half an hour of contemplation, I fell asleep. Did he stop snoring? Did the pillow over my head muffle the noise? Was it just exhaustion? Who can say for sure – but I ended up asleep. At one point I figured I'd just grab my computer and watch movies, there was no way to ignore this beast.

Seven.

I woke up. I went back to sleep.

Seven forty five.

I woke up, and headed out to the subway station. I love being city entrenched. Head to the corner, grab some delicious baked goods on the way, and then subway off to wherever you need to be. For me if was four stops south.

Getting off there I followed the crowds. They knew what was what, and next thing I was being herded into pens and chained off, secure – no hope of escape. The only way to go was forward. Through security – not as painless as other places. They had the metal detectors turned way up here. My pocket clock thing... it almost got taken away. What? Anything with a clock must a-splode?

But once inside, oh yes, once inside then it all began to happen. I walked through the entrance gates and found myself standing – in the middle of a road. I'm not sure what I expected, but of course this is just a part of the city the same as any other. There are roads, traffic lights, and buses that take you from one end to the other. This is a working breathing part of the city.

What happened to the things that used to be here?

I had a map of the different pavilions in hand, but faced with so many choices how could I ever hope to know where to first dip my toe? The longest journey, single step, blah blah blah – but at that rate I'd set myself off on a perpetual stroll that would lead nowhere, ultimately leaving me tired, bored, and with little to show save for a collection of hopes for the future. No – I could not plan future days, I needed to make the most out of what I had now, here, in the moment. I jumped on the bus and headed to the only place where this could really begin:

Canada.

It was early enough that the lines had not yet begun to fill. They would. But for now, they were just annoyances – a maze to be stepped through delaying my entrance. A video screen promised real French-Canadians to answer any Canada related questions I might have. French-Canadians? Isn't that like filling the Chinese pavilion with Taiwanese and Tibetans to answer any and all questions? But never mind that.

I was home.

Kinda. Sorta.

I was as home as I had been for the last eight months, and if home happened to sound like the future from Bill and Ted's excellent adventure, complete with trippy lighting, well then so be it. An animated film ran when bicycles were peddled, and through the doorway into another room, a story was told with still frames set to sad music on wall sized projector screens.

I'm not going to say I 'got it', but seeing images of Yonge Street? That brought me back.

As I left the building, passing up a 40RMB can of Moosehead (lunch would later cost me a mere 33) a thought hit me. I bet no other country puts a Unicorn on their passport. And if they do – I bet they can't get away with it the way we Canadians can. Canada. Unicorns. Awesome.

Next up, Brazil. Video screens showed images of their country under a ceiling of soccer balls. One room, video projector, only the best aspects displayed. This would become standard for most of the pavilions I visited today. Some added a bit here or there, but the arms race for the best projection technology is clearly at work here.

Columbia added something which I'd only seen on television, and in science fiction movies. Touch screen computer tables. That's the best way I can describe them. You've seen them too – they have virtual documents on the table, and you can move them around, size each window, rotate them, shift them to someone else, and then manipulate the contents of each inner frame. Columbia: bringing you the future. And cocaine. They'll probably bring you cocaine too.

Headed back to some place I'd been before, I entered the Peru pavilion and was punched in the face by images of Machu Piccu. Curse you flooding – curse you! Sure they had some artifacts too, but it was all just too much to bear. I picked up a 'passport stamp' here though. Asians love stamps, and they have these fake passports that they get stamped. I don't know where they get them, or why they have more than one – but they do. I just collect the stamps on my map. It's a good a thing as any. Seeing the Nazca hummingbird on the stamp I remembered that there was more to Peru after all, with an audible, “oh yeah,” I smiled to myself and headed out a happy traveller.

And now the lines would begin. I had had enough fun, and games, and straight shot entries. Russia would require thirty minutes standing in line. But no worries, I had the teachings of Richard Branson to keep me entertained as I waited. And the wait to get inside Russia was most definitely worth it. To be frank, this is as close to walking on Pandora (Avatar) as you're ever going to get. Black light luminescent plans crawled through the second floor, while pathways led you through the reconstructed jungle. Waterfalls covered the inner sanctum, and strange semi-holographic children dressed as spacemen rambled on in Chinese.

It was beautiful, and magical, and raised the bar for any and all challenging pavilions.

As there was no line I headed into Croatia – I'd hate to say it was just for the stamp, but being little more than a glorified tie shop, if I didn't enter thinking that, I certainly left that way.

The Luxembourg pavilion struck me as strange and unusual, constructed out of steel intended to rust a captivating brown, it was far larger than any other building I'd yet come across. And this was for Luxembourg. Now I can't be sure, but I think this building might be bigger than the entire country itself. While it may not be 1:1 scale, good ol' Lux hardly ever comes out more than a millimeter square on even the largest maps. It's one of those countries that has it's name attached with an arrow, the text hanging out in the middle of an ocean somewhere. Or in Germany. That's a country big enough to load up with all sorts of text.

The outside, once you'd entered through the gate after waiting in another terrible line, was covered with different flowers. It also offered a glimpse of the great spiky ball just off yonder. Said ball would turn out to be...

The United Kingdom Pavilion. I may have skipped this – the line was not a short one – and many people were saying it was impressive from the outside, but that there was little inside. Still, another claimed it was a must see, and having stepped through the doors I would have to agree. Amongst many contenders, UK took my vote for favourite of the show – provided that anyone is paying attention to what I think.

Not only part of the World Expo, it is also the worlds largest seed bank. Stepping inside the globe is like walking into the Titan project. From the outside, giant plastic spears skewer the globe. From the inside, the tips of all those violent intrusions can be seen. And within each? Three or four seeds. Thousands of spears, thousands of different plants. And each tip is lit, collecting the sun from the parts outside. To see them is to understand how diverse this planet is, and how everything starts as something small. I don't want to end up taking this more seriously than I feel I should – and I wont – but it was impressive. Just as a visual it was truly something to behold.

At this point I had seen all the obvious choices in my current area (except USA. While its line was large when I entered into Canada, assuming it would soon shorten was obviously a foolish notion. The que had doubled, perhaps tripled, by the time I returned to it.) With no obvious destination I headed into the Africa pavilion. Yes, it did feel like something out of the Toronto Zoo.

This was a stamp collectors dream. I'll just start by saying that. Inside were well over two dozen countries – and each had their own stamp (provided that there was ink, or employees to man it.) The first signs of ink running out were seen here. People reverted to writing the country name by hand. And those that had ink were stamped by people with looks of such pain and boredom on their faces. A constant rush of people kept them busy with no ques to hold them back. Many people grabbed a stamp and left, not even bothering to look at the area.

This was also a wonderful way to spent an hour and a half. You could walk around without lines, just going from one destination to the next. I popped into Zambia and looked at their images of Victoria Falls. Next door was Zimbabwe, they too had images of Vic Falls – looking rightfully more impressive, at that.

Then there was Botswana... look – it's not that I wanted to scream BOTSWANA! at the top of my lungs, to the delight of some, and horror of others. It was just that I really didn't have a choice. You're in Botswana, it's what you have to do. Fact! Just ask Chef. She'd know.

There were a number of other African exhibits showing the delight of places such as Somalia, and Rwanda (uh huh?) and a number that I didn't have time to go into. I will say, though, that if I got a stamp I looked around.

I've heard it said that these pavilions are built for the Chinese, and being in China that makes sense. But what does that mean? It means all flash. Lots of pretty pictures, and neat things. You'll watch them go in, take a good three dozen snaps in a matter of minutes and then rush out, barely taking anything in. And the problem? I started to do the same thing. It was to the point that I think this was the only way to experience these things. If you put too much thought into it you realized there was little substance. Still – it was pretty. And think of all the African (fair trade?) coffee I could have purchased.

Not all African countries were within this building. Some stepped up to having their own, which sadly meant more lines, but some were shorter than others, and I was quick to jump on this, even if I had no intention of vising them before.

In Lybia the staff were trying to keep a smooth stream going through, asking me to keep on truckin' and not look around. Nuts to that. I went beyond their line that others had kept to in such an orderly fashion. Look – beyond that line were stands with writing on them. If I wasn't meant to go back there, they wouldn't have put small print talking about the capital city there would they? No sir they would not. And as I stepped over, and refused to head back until I was done reading, chaos broke out. If he's doing it, I'm doing it syndrome took over and people rushed everywhere (which they really ought to have been doing anyway) and with a smile in my heart, and tune on my lips, I skipped on out.

Nigeria contained a map of their country. Good for Nigeria.

I went into Angola because there was a line – you'd think this counter productive, but none of the other places had lines. When I reached the front I discovered it was a line for a movie. Could I see the movie? No I could not. I needed a ticket. Where could I get this ticket? No one seemed to know. Which was a filthy lie, as they all had them, but I grew weary of this game, and headed off. Tunisia was calling.

I'm going to honest. I didn't even know there was a country called Tunisia. But now I do, until I forget. There was a cool jumping fountain here. No Magic Fountain in Barcelona, but – you know – it was cute. And lit up. I dug the lit up factor.

In line for Egypt something terrible happened. And it wasn't the rain that caused a relatively few amount of the Chinese to put up umbrellas (still enough that I got nailed right good in the eye) it was – I finished my Richard Branson book. From here on out lines would be... lines. Just a que of nothingness. And it was awful. So awful.

And then, once inside? O.K. if you were Chinese and never going to leave your borders this would be amazing. There were real three thousand year old artifacts. But my first thought? Hey, shouldn't these be in a British Museum (poor poor Egypt.) I'd seen this all before, and I quickly made my way out. But there was a crazy white curvy interior that juxtaposed the darkness quite well.

The Netherlands was pretty good. There were sheep. Sheep to sit on and do terrible things to. Not that anyone did terrible things. But I imagine some thought about it. It was an outdoor ramp that offered great views of the whole park. And there was a water station. Free drinking water for all! It was broken. Vinnie Van Gee also represented (I call him this a.) because it is awesome, and b.) I don't know how to spell Gogh. Well I guess I do. I guess it's just 'cause of the awesome factor then.) Also Miffy, often mistaken for Japanese, was here.

From this point on the lines were terrible. France, Germany, Poland, Switzerland. This was a block from hell. I would not wait for these. I would come early another day. Yes that would be my plan. A good plan. An excellent plan. One that will see me holding a novel to read.

But there in front of me was Iceland, nary a line to speak of. This did not mean I was in fast though. Iceland was a 360 movie that lasted thirteen minutes, and there was no wandering in and out. You were in for the whole thing, which means if you didn't get in straight away you had a thirteen minute wait. I just made the cut off for the next showing.

Sitting down I decided that laying would be best. Once more, seeing me do it, some followed suit. I had perfect view of the main screen, the left screen, some of the right, and the ceiling. I felt I was doing pretty good for myself. And it was so relaxing. After all this wandering it was more than needed. I saw Geyser, and volcanic landscapes, and sheets of ice, and beautiful vistas, and oceans stretching on and on. I was left with a feeling of awe for the place that started my journey all those months ago. And an understanding that there are apparently a lot of attractive girls in bikinis in Iceland. Why you throwing so much eros at me Iceland? They showed a girl in the thermal pools under the cave, and my first thought was – I busted up two people having sex in that location when I was there! The way the girl on the video sauntered in, turning to a sultry silhouette, I assume that was to occur again. Sultry sauntering silhouette – say it five times fast, and then six times backwards.

Just when we were all lulled into thinking the film was at an end the volcano erupted spilling ash and lava into the sky. It was magnificent, and powerful, and terrifying. This was the first image I'd seen of the eruption, and what images to see, fully surrounding me with sound to reproduce the horror. Once more, Iceland – what a wondrous place.

Lunch was Burger King. 33Y whopper combo. So good. So cheap. So dangerous.

Next up was one from the list of 'must sees' I cobbled together. Ukraine. Sigh – there was no Chernobyl stuff. What's the point of the Ukraine without that? There was a yin yang city here. I don't know what else to say about it. Moving on.

Sweden. This one had a line, but I couldn't afford to get lazy. Also it was only half the line it was ready to manage. Still – forty minutes, that's how long it took to get through. Forty minutes to walk into a big Ikea. This is what it was. A giant huge Ikea, complete with slide – but you couldn't slide down it – and restaurant – which was not Ikea priced. Now was it really Ikea? I didn't see the brand logo – but you knew what it was. Forty minutes. Help whoever waits the full two hours. Pippie Longstocking was everywhere though. So that was fun.

Finland was next in line (not-ta fin-rand!) You spiral up some stairs, there's some chill music, and a guestbook with camera screen to take your picture, and leave a message. It was a nice orderly line leading up to it, all until the person in front of me came up, then it became a Chinese line. And getting anyone out of your frame? Impossible. On the plus side they put in a lovely background using a blue screen, and I was wearing a blue shirt, so I ended up just being a mysterious floating head, and the people around me the crafty onlookers. Also – since my eyes are the most darling shade of cerulean you've ever seen, they two became gaping holes leading through to the Helsinki skyline.

After Finland I could feel myself entering the home stretch. The sun was setting and the lights were all coming on. I jumped into the Estonia pavilion. It was a magical karaoke land. And the music? Chinese. I watched one and sang quietly as it was going on. I could handle this. Sure I don't know Chinese, but it was slow enough to phonetically manage. I stepped up. The big screen announcer claimed we would be switching to an Estonian power song. Oh good – fast. Word to the wise, never karaoke in Estonian. Still – I think most people were more wowed by my beard that they didn't concentrate on the vocals (more on this ongoing phenomenon to come). And the mic was turned way down.

Turkey? Turkey. Turkey! (And you could win a trip to... sigh... Turkey.) That's where I was. Lots of crazy lights in the dark, and things under glass panels like a Squaresoft Store Sepheroth. This was one of the pavilions you could actually lean a thing or two in. But by this point my legs were tired, and I ached. I had no patience for knowledge. Over to Ireland.

In the emerald land I ran through making the most of what I could see. Pictures of famous people, and videos of who knows what, all to the backdrop of U2. Ugh. And that was that. Expo done.

I jumped on the bus, and took a ride past the China building (to get in, you need to show at the gates around 7am, and hope to get a ticket, and maybe fail. That's the only way. Bonus tickets or nothing.) took some photos, jumped on the subway, and headed home.

Sweet god – I can't believe I have to go back and do this again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. Amazing.

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