Friday, May 28, 2010

Shanghai World Expo Guide for Dummies

Shanghai World Expo is huge, grand, massive and crowded. There are other adjectives that might be appropriate to this venue but I spent only two exhausting days there and barely scratched the surface. I can liken my Expo experience to the group of mahouts milling around the elephant, each only getting a partial and possibly less than accurate view of the animal.

On my first day, I visited Zone C which consisted of pavilions from the Americas and Europe. Next day, I tour Zone A which included the China pavilion and others from Asia. I did not spend time in Zones B, D or E except passing though E on my way to the exit. I also did not visit any of the theme pavilions, entertainment venues and by-passed popular pavilions with a long queue of people waiting to get in. For sure, I did not see much of the gigantic beast known as the Expo. Nonetheless, I made some observations and generalizations that I want to share with my readers.

All the popular pavilions metered the admission of visitors by letting in one group at a time. In some cases, the frequency of admission was dictated by presentations on discrete time segments and in others the control of visitors was just to avoid congestion at the beginning of the exhibition hall. In the less popular pavilions, we simply walked in, looked and walked out.

In general, I found that most countries focused on presenting a striking external appearance but may not have exhibitions inside commensurate with their fancy exterior. UK was one that came to mind. The exterior looked at a curled porcupine with thousands of acrylic rods sticking out. The inside consisted of the other ends of the same acrylic rods, the end of which had embedded seeds. One might have to queue for an hour or more to get inside the so-called chapel for a head-scratching bewildered “huh” response that could not justify more than a 3 minute stay.

Another enigma was the Spain pavilion. The outside of this pavilion was covered with overlapping rattan mats that gave the appearance of brown fish scales up close and intriguing mottled shades of brown at a distance,--all in all an interesting looking building. Alas, the promising allure of outside was unanswered inside. The visitor, after a long queue and finally being admitted, was visually assaulted with projection of images on the walls including that of a live flamingo dancer. The parade through the halls ended in a large area featuring a huge robotic statue of a sitting baby. The head of this baby turned, eyes opened and closed as did its mouth. I expected drool to come out which thankfully it did not. There was no way to understand the point of the many times life-size and homely doll. My best explanation was that it was an attempt to encourage birth control—and darn effective a message at that.

Admission into the China pavilion, by far one of the most popular, was impossible. The visitor first had to obtain a ticket with an assigned time slot for queuing and then return to queue for admission at the assigned time. Most of the tickets were gone almost immediately after the door to the expo opened. I did manage to enter the ground floor of the China pavilion where the cluster of pavilions of the provinces was located. These provinces actually made some of the most creditable presentations, many emphasized the tourist attractions that resided within their provincial borders.

The 4D presentations at Jilin and Liaoning pavilions were quite entertaining. The 4th D consisted of blasts of air, rocking chairs and wires that whipped against the spectator’s legs designed to take his/her breaths away while viewing 3 dimensional projection. These special effects were significantly superior to the presentation at the U.S. pavilion, though the American presentation had a touching story line while the story lines of Chinese presentations were weak.

Here are some general guidelines I would recommend to would be Expo goers:

1. It’s not necessary to get to the venue early in the morning when the Expo first opens. Early arrival simply means you’ll run out of gas earlier in the day. If you arrive in mid afternoon, some of the early goers may already be too tired to last and in the process of leaving. This way you might have some stamina left to see the Expo under the lights and might be able to get into some pavilions when the lines are not too long.

2. The local paper, such as the English Shanghai Daily, will have a summary of events planned for the day at different venues. You might want to plan your schedule to take in some of those.

3. Tickets are readily available, perhaps even at your hotel or you can simply purchase the ticket at the kiosks by any of the entrances. The tickets can be used at any time and remain valid until machine punched at the gate. I did not see any provision for re-entering the fairgrounds once the ticket has been punched.

4. Read about various pavilions as much as possible so that you can decide as to which ones are worth your while to queue and which ones to skip. I heard (but did not try myself) that local tours include a selected number of pavilions where it is possible to join the group tour line and avoid the long queue for individuals.

5. I also heard that to encourage visits to less popular pavilions, the Expo authorities will allow a visitor to jump the line after collecting a certain number of stamps on their souvenir Expo passport from the otherwise unattended countries. Domestic visitors were enthusiastic collectors of foreign chops on their Expo passports.

6. Zones A, B and C are located in the Pudong side of the Huangpu River while Zones D and E are on the Puxi side. There are frequent ferries, free of charge, to take you from one side to other. There are also free buses that go from zone to zone.

7. There are 8 major gates into the Expo grounds. You should pick the gate closest to the area you want to spend your time. For example, No. 5 and 6 gates are closest to the China pavilion while No. 8 gate is closest to the U.S. pavilion. The taxi cab can usually drop you off closer to the gate while the metro will require a longer walk.


Gavin said...

Thanks, really helpful! Looking foward to attending.



Audrey said...

Good tips. Even though I'm not enticed to go myself after reading it, :) I'll definitely share what I learned here with famiies and friends who're going. Thanks.