Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shanghai World Expo 2010 - Day Three

Five thirty is far too early to start any day.

Once more our local Snorfie came in handy – when that tragic racket is set a going err-lie in the morning it's hard to go back to sleep even if you wanted to. So why not get out of bed, pull on clothes, give the ol' hair a brush, the underarms a deodorizing, and then punch on out the door.

I headed straight to my local subway stop – the doors to it were closed. Now I could have waited and hoped they'd open at six, but there was no way to be sure. Instead I headed down to the people's square stop. Which I reached. At six. Ugh – but down the stairs I descended and buying my ticket, one yuan more from this stop, I jumped on board for the five stop ride.

Getting out – the running began. Everyone ran out the stop, and some – foolishly – ran up the stairs. I hopped up the escalator still making better time than them, and then I continued to run, now with bonus added huffing and puffing all the way to – the gate. Not the gate to the Expo mind you, but the gate to the gate to the expo. Five lines were set up, with five more in the process of being chained off. I became person ten in line three. It was 6:10. There were about fifty or sixty of us here, and we all waited for them to let us in so we could take our place at the real expo gate.

And why were we so keen on getting in early? Not just to line up for the super-busy pavilions, I can assure you of that. We were in line so that we could grab one of the ellusive China Pavilion tickets – handed out to the first fifty or so people through each entrance. They say that 20 000 are handed out to individuals a day. I don't know if I believe this – I mean the Chinese say it, so it must be true. All I'm saying is that the last two days I've been very early and never seen such things. But today would be different. I was front of the line. All they had to do was open the pre-gate so we could go in an sit down in the real line. After all, that's why we were all here so early.

Why weren't they opening the pre-gate? By 6:30 the crowd had triple. By 6:40 five times more. By 7:00 the sidewalk was jammed with people, spilling down the streets an around the corner. Why weren't we being allowed in? This was genius Chinese planning at it's best (read: worst.) Yes, they could have set up their troops inside, and allowed us there, but no – they were inciting madness. From past experience, I knew the real gates were about three minutes, or more, from here. And when they started checking tickets, there was going to be a terribly mad rush unless they had something smart planned. This is the sort of thing I'd do with my students on assignment sign up day.

They had nothing smart planned. At 7:16 they opened the pre-gates, and checked tickets. Being tenth in line I had a head start on the people behind me. But not much of one. Off and running we were. I was stuck behind an old couple, and then a mother with child. I don't want to say I pushed them out of the way, but if they were pushed when I tried to sidestep them, well they had no one to blame but their government.

How the Chinese expect anyone old or young to get to the Chinese Pavilion is beyond me. I ran, and then walked, and then ran, and then hobbled, and then ran – and then wanted to die. But there in front was the gate. The real gate. Bonus steam and slam, the first round gate door was slammed shut just as ten more people clamored in behind me. It was seven twenty. The worst was over. Sure we still had a good hour and forty minutes before we could see if our efforts bore fruit – there was that mother with her child, just behind me – how could they have possibly made it through that rush?

I saw on the ground and read Vlad, the novel I picked up from a fellow traveller in Xi'an. Think of it as the “Wicked” for Dracula.

Eight forty eight. That's when things started happening again. People got excited. They knew what would happen in twelve minutes. No longer could I sit. The shoving had begun. and then – nine – the gates opened, I ran to security, got a quick mag scan, and set off all sorts of beeps – but clearly the lady knew the importance of getting in fast and just let it go (hot tip for people up to things no good) and then I scanned my ticket, burst through, and Success! I grabbed a Chinese pavilion ticket. The day was mine. Victory was mine. And thanks to the breakfast I had eaten in line – purchased the night before - was in good spirits. Off to Japan.

There was more running – before I just said screw it. It was going to be a long day (the visiting time on my ticket for the China pavilion was 8:30 – 9:00pm.

By the time I made it to Japan the line had already begun to grow. But I was passing through most of it in a constant walk. Step, step, block the line jumpers, unless they are me, and then – halt. Just shy of the forty minutes from here sign is where I stopped. For the next hour I would stand, sit, and read in line. Fans were handed out just for fun. Paper advertising fans. I took three. I can't resist free things – you should see the number of maps I always grab.

And then the waiting paid off. Passing under the sign, now reading, “current wait time: 4 hours 00 minues,” I was inside.

The Japanese pavilion started with the traditional, scrolls displaying important aspects of the Japanese history, and then a traditional home, with mats on the floor for sleeping. As I walked through the building, electrical fans built into the floor to cool the air, and keep the temperature oh so comfortable, I couldn't help but feel that I was, partially, back there. And there are few places I would rather be than Japan. Even the staff spoke Japanese – words and patterns I could make out, and try to comprehend.

And then the old became new. Classical accommodation were replaced by biofuel cells, and videos of futuristic transportation devices, and robots. Always robots with the Japanese. This was a small one pointing out, and talking in Chinese, all the various things to see around you. Staff tried to tell people that pictures were not allowed to be taken. Good luck with that. Did they not realize there was a robot?! I mean, come on – Japanese asking Chinese to stop taking pictures would be like – well – Chinese asking Japanese to stop taking pictures. Like either would listen to the other. As for me? I just did what the masses did. It seemed a safe bet. Then two large doors opened, and we were all rushed inside.

On three large wall screens a video played detailing the Japanese struggle to save a species of Ibis from extinction. They failed. Buy years later the Chinese discovered seven, and with the help of the Japanese scientist they bred them, manging to slightly up the population. This was a story of two nations coming together for the greater good, and while it may have seemed a strange tale to watch, it would be the thread that linked the entire population together.

In the future we were shown houses equipped with the Panasonic Life Wall (the three screens before us) These were touch computers the size of a wall, with impeccable resolution. Cameras were used to take photos of the audience, with facial recognition places each person in their own frame, which could be moved, sized, spun, rotated. Then the presentation continued, with the grown scientist looking for the birds he'd helped so long ago. Travelling down a path in his iRide, a single person mobile chair, he called home – a video talk screen opened on the Life Wall there.

When this device had been fully demoed, becoming so much more than Back to the Future 2 had prepared us for, two people in iRides came on stage and moved around in a choreographed dance, to music that seemed out of time, yet quite perfect for the occasion. Finally from off stage walked in a human sized robot. With a violin. Which it then played.

For three minutes I watched a robot play a violin.

Yes I know that it's little different than pushing buttons at the right time, and that player pianos date back ages, but this was still impressive. Robots! Almost as neat as dinosaurs. Almost.

Next we entered a room where, running to the front, I scored the best seats available. A surreal piece of performance art, and singing, was played out before us – a young girl, a man, and a woman, each taking part while images played across the screen behind them. I believe the theme was connectivity, and bringing us all together, though I cant' be sure. It was terrifying, and beautiful, and otherworldly. When it finally ended I was shaken from the trance it had laid upon us all, and descended down and out of the pavilion. One hour had passed us by.

As I considered what to do next, I found myself lured into the Japanese stage area. I had found myself into the world of Saturday Morning children's shows. Handed a piece of paper with a large heart on it, the audience was put on screen. The camera recognized the shape, or colour, or something and shot sparks from them as we all watched, delighted. One by one characters came out in brilliant costumes, filled with hyperactive personas and personalities. They sang, they danced, they defeated an evil with with the power of love, and all the whie we filled a meter by shaking our pages on cue sending out heats, or stars, or flowers when required.

For forty minutes I was not myself, but something much more free and unrepresed, as is often the case when grated the opportunity. I've often thought I should be part of a children's show. And in some small ridiculous way, here I was.

Two giant green cactus things saved the day in the end, and the power of love prevailed. Better city; better life. Better world; better life! This and E – I – so – suh; Hi – E – ah were repeated over and over again throughout the show. Children love these things, I am told. And then we got a pin. Ohh!

At noon I finally made my return to the world. With so much before me, I decided I'd swing by the China pavilion to see if I had to be in line by the time stated, or inside at that time. Then I'd head to BK for lunch. Mmm Whoppers. My way, right away, at Burger King now.

The girl at the pavilion let me in on a fabulous secret. Though the ticket says you must enter during that time slot, it is not enforced, and you can go whenever you want (and they wonder in the media why there are lines, and why no one is sticking to their time slots.) Well – lunch could wait a wee longer.

I shot through the China line, only to find that the real line is up the escalator underneath the building. This line took a wee bit longer, but it wasn't all that bad. The elevator was decked out to look like a train, video screens acting as windows as he transported ourselves to – China. Which was a wee strange as that's where we began, but never mind. Stepping out, I was in a 'station' which I quickly exited, and fond myself being ushered into a movie theatre.

A movie showing the speed at which China has built up cities, and come together as a country was played, with time stopping during 2005. The moment of the Beijing earthquake, frozen. I, myself, had all but forgotten it ever happening – but for the people here the moment was still fresh, and the displayed images powerful to me, must have been so much more to the ones who lived through it.

The final scenes showed a city in the future with building architecture out of a science fiction imagining, and landscapes un-thought of. Anywhere else I would have claimed this to be nothing more than fantasy, but looking around the city of Shanghai you get the feeling that if anyone is going to bridge this gap between urban present and urban future it will be here, in China.

When the movie concluded we were let out into a hallway where an animated scroll crept along the wall. Within a room the actual artifact could be seen, taking fifteen seconds to traverse from one end to the other on a moving platform. I had heard that the piece would be removed, replaced by the first jade chariot from Xian, though clearly it had not been. As for the Jade chariot? I'm not sure where it is. The people of Xian no longer have it – a sign there said it would be here. Interesting.

Other priceless pieces of pottery, jewelry, and sculpture lined the room – unseen by most of the local population, on display as it rarely has been before.

Under an arch I entered the “Land of Hope.” Lit up trees, and city lights merged as one. The combining of rural space and city space to make a better world. Better cities, better life. That is the motto of this Expo, and slowly I'm starting to see some buildings actually cared to theme themselves around it.

From there a hallway lined with children's art led to “The Dialogues.” A seven minute rail ride through colourful landscapes leading, at the end, to a vision of heaven, where white shrines sat on clouds, the city seen far below. And then I was in “The Vision.”

Here were biofuel cells, solar panels, and wind turbines on display, being modeled as a practical way to power ones life. There is so much talk, and demonstration of the world becoming a greener place here – but will anyone act on it? Models and simulations are one thing, but where is the proof? Where is the actual creations? Where is the promise to move forward?

With that thought we were led down a large escalator to the park outside accessible only to those with a ticket. And within the park was a gift shop selling China Pavilion items – elite pieces of clothing, and head gear, that could only be purchased by those who managed to get inside. And then, there, right near the exit was what many held so proudly. The China stamp. There were two – round and square. And people were stamping just about everything they could get their hand on. Including their other hand. It was a mad scramble, but this had been foreseen. Rather than one person stamping all day, twelve stamps were placed for people to use on their own..

And like that, one hour after I entered, I exited. Three oh five. Time to get on with the day. Time to get some lunch.

Heading off to the land of America I attempted to grab a burger. But disaster struck! BK was out of burgers! How could this be?! What had happened. With the cheapest food in the park gone, I chose, sadly, to forgo my meal. There would be other chances. Now was my chance to look through the European Joint pavilions and see some more countries (and claim some more stamps – working to fill the entirety of my map.)

Picking off a number, all blurrng into each other save for Moldova, where a blonde worker was being crowded for photo after photo – and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan... I will never go to this country. So speakith I! When I attempted to get my map stamped I was told, no – they only stamp passports. Excuse me? They only stamp the things that people want to sell on ebay, but not a map that I'd keep for myself?! Listen here Azerbaijan, you are a crap little country and you should be doing all you can to gain tourist acceptance. Not stamping a piece of paper in some cases – especially when Eastern Europe is full of teeny tiny countries that area all pretty much the same to outsides – can be enough to get yourself black listed. Moldova? If I'm in the area, there I'll visit – but Azerbaijan? Forget you buddy. You keep your nine million people (really? Wow – that's a lot) and your driving on the right (good for you) and your 994 area code. Sorry Baku, but I'm just not that into you.

The stamp collecting continued as I pushed through the Pacific Islands, grabbing over a dozen there, working to almost fulfill my quest. No longer had I patience to look at things or read, but Samoa was interesting – as it was staffed by Samoans. Which was – awesome.

At this point I was tired, hungry (which might explain my rage with Abber-baby earlier), and achy. But being this close to so many other pavilions I had wanted to see – well, I knew I wouldn't be back. So one more push.

New Zealand was lovely, mostly because of its plants and geyser outside. They also had a song and dance by some of their native people.

Cambodia reconstructed Angkor Watt – which was weird, as it looked oh so similar in some places. I could easily name the temples I was looking at.

Indonesia – now this was a pavilion. A museum all on its own right. Three floors of real information about the country. And had I seen it days earlier? I would have loved it. Now I just wanted to press through, say I'd been there, and go home. The Tuk-Tuk display with many different kinds for show was pretty sweet too.

But not before seeing Brunei. Blue floor. Pretty colours. Great. Lets go.

Ohh good – the United Nations pavilion – well I had to wander through there, but then – then! - it was really time to go. On to the bus, onto the subway, quick stop for hot dogs at the station (better and bigger and cheaper than New York – but that doesn't say much. Give me more toppings and it might kinda sorta be acceptable. Though the spicy dog did taste good. They were New Yorkish with their toppings – mustard and ketchup. At least they didn't look at me strange when I asked for both.

And that was that. Three days down – one more to go.

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