I got the lucky chance to get a sneak peek into the Expo before it opened. The Shanghai World Expo officially opened the first of May; it’s already had about 17 million visitors out the the projected 70 million. That’s a lot of people.
Some background on the Expo would be a good idea I think:
- The first World Expo (or World’s Fair) took place in London in 1851, mainly as a way for Britain to show off how awesome and powerful it was (this was the height of British Imperialism after all). It has long since left that behind and now is touted as a way for countries to come together and share their respective cultures with each other.
- The Shanghai World Expo is, to date, the largest World Expo in its history. The grounds for the expo span 2.6 square kilometers, which is larger than most small to mid size cities (my dad likes to compare the Expo grounds to the city of Alhambra in northeast Los Angeles).
- Hundreds of thousands of people visit the Expo each day, so it can get extremely crowded. Lines for the more popular pavilions have taken over 4 hours to get into the building. Many of the pavilions have a shorter wheelchair line.
- Food is everywhere in the Expo, but again, expect long lines during lunch and dinner time. I’d recommend either bringing your own food or waiting until non-peak hours to eat.
- Shanghai is disgustingly hot and humid in the summer. Temperatures can climb into the 90s. But the Expo grounds have cooling mists installed everywhere that supposedly lower the temperature inside the grounds.
When I went, the Expo wasn’t opened yet, so many of the European pavilions were closed or not yet finished (which was cutting it close, as I went the week before the Expo officially opened). I got to take photos of the outside of many a pavilion though, and got to go into the China Pavilion. To be honest, the inside of the the China Pavilion is not that spectacular; I’d say just take a picture of the outside and avoid the 6 hour line in front (there is a reservation kiosk for the pavilion in the Asia section of the Expo, Zone B, but they only allow a certain number of reservations a day, and that also has an unreasonably long line). 50,000 people also attended the Expo with me, and already there were reports of food shortages in the restaurants. This problem most likely would have been fixed by now.
The Expo is divided along Shanghai’s Huangpu River; 2/3 of it is located in the Pudong District, while 1/3 is located on Puxi. Pudong has all the big pavilions, so expect lots of crowded areas. When I went, my father jokingly recommended that I take a page out of Chairman Mao’s book and “push when others pull.” Basically, he told me to first go where others don’t want to go and then go to the more popular places, when the crowds die down. So, I recommend taking either the free ferry or the line 10 subway across the river to Puxi, which is much less crowded and, to be honest, more interesting. Puxi’s pavilions are not sponsored by countries, but are either corporate pavilions or pavilions dedicated to the Expo’s theme of “Better City, Better Life.” So there are pavilions dedicated to sustainable development as well as general world history.
My favorite pavilion on Puxi was the Pavilion of the Future. It’s all about sustainable development; how to improve housing and lower the carbon footprint of the world. They also had an exhibit on the upper floors that deal with the history of industrialization around the world. All very fascinating.
On Pudong, I really enjoyed looking at the UK Pavilion (who doesn’t? It’s like a giant spiky fluff ball) and the Poland Pavilion.
Of course, the China Pavilion is also in Pudong. It’s architecturally impressive, although I found the Macau Pavilion next to it to be much more adorable.
Do you see what I mean?
Of course, there are lots of other pavilions to look at and visit. I would recommend starting at the Africa Pavilion first. There’s a 95% chance that you won’t have to wait in line (my dad likes to say that this is because Chinese people don’t think Africa has anything to offer, so the locals stay away. Totally false). Expect long lines at the European Pavilions and the US Pavilion.
I think the ugliest looking pavilion goes to Japan, it looks like a pink (or purple, when it decides to change color) beached whale with harpoons embedded in its back. I think of a pink Moby Dick that Captain Ahab finally conquered (I’m waiting to find the old captain dancing in joy around the pavilion).
I wasn’t able to go in, since the pavilion was closed. Maybe it has some redeeming qualities inside. I hear that their toilets are amazing.
All in all, the Expo did remind me of Disney Epcot, although not as superficial as the latter. But the ideas are similar: create a mini-country that tells people unfamiliar with your culture what you’re all about, provide a taste of the country’s most popular foods, and sell a couple of authentic souvenirs. The theme of “Better City, Better Life” is also reflected in the “Imagineering” that goes on at Disney’s theme parks.
I’m going back to the Expo at the beginning of July, after I tour the Yunnan province. Expect updates soon. 🙂