Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Where in the world are Nicole and Andrew?

When we arrived in Shanghai, we somehow managed to figure out the crazy metro map and make it to our hostel, the Mingtown Hiker Youth Hostel, which was centrally located right near the main shopping street and the Bund. We reluctantly paid the bill for three nights, which was more expensive for two dorm beds than we had paid for our private double in Guilin, but hey, it's Shanghai, you can't expect much. After showering we took a walk down to the Bund, stopping for dinner along the way. We pushed through the throng of people there to catch a glmpse of the two sides of the river. On the right bank you have the modern Pudong skyscrapers, while the left bank is home to the old embassy buildings. The contrast between classic and modern was really interesting to see.
Right bank
Left bank

We shuffled behind the line of people (did I mention there are 1 billion people in China?) down the quai before turning around and heading back to the shopping street, where we came to our senses and remembered that when in doubt, eat dumplings. Thus fortified, we dodged the hawkers selling (faux) designer bags, watches, and IPods before heading to bed around 11:30pm.
Nanjing Rd. Shopping Street

The next morning we woke our roommate early in our departure for our raison d'etre, the World Exposition. So just what is the Expo, you might ask? Well, the Expo used to be known as The World's Fair. Sound familiar? We weren't sure what exactly to expect either until we arrived. Each country, or area, if the countries are small and/or poor, designs a pavilion according to the year's theme; in our case, Better Cities, Better Life. Mostly the pavilion is a chance for the country to highlight their touristic opportunities and attract investors. This year, most of the pavilions seemed to focus on the idea of environmental sustainability. There was also an Expo mascot, the Shui, or water droplet.

not a sperm, Mom

We arrived at the Expo at 8:00am, an hour before it opened, and waited in line until 10:00am along with 627,000 other people (this number is not exaggerated; I checked).

Through the gates it was a mad dash for the pavilions. We knew it was a lost cause going to China or the USA, so we ran into the first pavilion that didn't have a line: New Zealand. It was a good choice, as I enjoyed the "natural" feel to the pavilion as we appeared to climb into a tree while watching images of Kiwi life on flat screen TVs.

We were out of the pavilion in less than ten minutes and on to the next, Cambodia, whose displays of temples and statues hidden in the jungle inspired me even more to visit someday. At this point we realized that everyone had these fake passports that they were getting stamped at each pavilion. We joined the cool club and $5 later we were ready for our first stamp: Indonesia. Unfortunately, the line was very long, and we waited an hour in the hot sun, snickering at the hilarious signs posted. However, people didn't seem to understand me when I said, "Polite sharing! No challenging!" to those who tried to cut in front of me. Thankfully there were some line police, a necessary force in China, where inevitably someone tries to cut in front of you, no matter where you are. Having spent so long in line, we decided to maximize our time in Indonesia.

I think we read every sign and label in that pavilion. Afterwards, there was a convenient restaurant outside serving coconut curry chicken at a Disneyland price. We indulged and split one serving between the two of us before venturing back into the heat and crowds. A quick glance around told us that the golden time in Asia had passed, with most lines exceeding a two-hour wait. A similar walk through Europe revealed the same thing, with even Belarus (our fall-back pavilion) filled to capacity. Here we made a crucial decision that would form the backbone of our Expo-strategy for that day and the next night. We decided to skip the bigger, individual pavilions, and just go to the larger, area-specific pavilions.

Our first stop was Africa, where we didn't have to wait in line to gain access to almost 50 small pavilions. Of course we stopped by Mali and wowed the locals with our Bambara skills before hitting up all the francophone countries just for an excuse to parler francais. For me, this was the funnest part of the Expo: cruising around the little pavilions, asking questions about the different countries. I think this was a highlight for those there, who had traveled hundreds of miles to live in Shanghai for seven months, but whose main job seemed to be stamping passports, which was all most people were interested in. I'm guessing there was some sort of prize for most stamps, because people were literally just running up to the booths with their passports and then leaving again. Many clever countries had even started putting up signs that said, "What's the name of this country?" to elicit some sort of guilt from the visitors. It didn't work. But we were rewarded for our conversation skills with small gifts of pins, bags, coffee, cookies, and tourist brochures. In addition, we learned a lot about the countries. For example, Maldives doesn't allow visitors to wear bikinis. I mean, I know it's a Muslim country, but come on, it's a tropical island! We were worried for a while that my chattiness would limit the number of pavilions we could see, but we still collected a cool 70 stamps in our passport, which doesn't include the pavilions that refused to give out stamps to begin with. I'm guessing we actually visited about 100 pavilions.

Having toured the continent of Africa, we lucked out and got into Argentina without a long wait, just in time to see a live tango show, which Andrew loved, of course.

Then we hit up Brazil and the Americas pavilion, where we gathered another handful of stamps before agreeing to the wait for Mexico, which was made worthwhile by the cool masks on display and the Mexican restaurant attached to the pavilion. Here we spent about $40 on horchata, Corona, a huge beef burrito, and tacos. The chef even came out and gave in to my plea for a little bit of free guacamole. Delicious!

Our luck continued throughout the night, and after Mexico we decided to try our luck at some of the bigger pavilions now that the crowds had dwindled down to a manageable 300,000. Denmark was on top of our list, and our patience was rewarded with the girl herself, the Little Mermaid! She was carefully removed from Copenhagen and flown all the way here. As Andrew remarked, she probably has a better chance of not having her head sawn off here than back home (this has happened to her a few times).

We also visited Norway, where we fell in love with some of the music, prompting a CD purchase, and we finally got into Belarus, whose earlier crowds were well deserved as the exterior and interior were lovely.

We were lucky enough to make it into Australia, one of the most popular pavilions. At this point it was after 10pm, and most of the pavilions were closing up, and we lucked out by being the last people admitted to Australia. I liked the exhibits inside the pavilion, and there was a cool show that's really hard to describe but used a lot of interesting technology.

At this point I felt that my feet were going to fall off, and since the park was closing, we limped back the metro, which didn't go all the way to our destination because of the late hour, so there was more walking involved before I made it home, whimpering in pain.

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