22 August 2010

World Expo 2010 - I Survived!

29 countries across 6 continents in 3.5 days on foot... a feat made possible only because of the World Expo.Once every few years, the nations of the world come together to celebrate their differences and give every man, woman and child a rare opportunity to experience the rich diversity of humanity (and body odour), all in one place.

Welcome to the world

I’m very grateful to be one such person given the chance to come to this playground of cultures… the World Expo 2010 held in Shanghai, China. Although this was a training cum learning trip paid for by the company, DigiMagic Communications Pte Ltd, where I part-time as a copywriter, I totally cherish every moment of this bitter-sweet experience.

It was bitter because exploring the more than 200 pavilions was daunting with the huge crowd and searing heat, yet it was sweet because going into each pavilion was like opening a treasure chest, I didn’t know what gems I would find.

Larger than life experience

Of course not all pavilions were great and worth the queue time, but even from these nondescript pavilions, there’re things to learn about the countries and cultures, and what not to do if you want to put up an engaging, interesting exhibition.

Needless to say, the most rewarding would be experiencing some of the cutting-edge exhibitory techniques used such as large format projections on irregular screens of varied materials, 3D and 4D filmlets, and the creative use of interactive media to helm a complete experiential journey. Even encountering the distinctive architectural style of each pavilion was a sight to behold. Some of these pavilions were so huge, the sheer grandeur of them were mind-blowing.

Not enough time

World Expo Quick Facts :

• The term ‘World Expo’ was a recent conception. The first such gathering of the world’s cultures, economic, scientific and technological showcase was the Great Exhibition of Industries of All Nations held in London in 1851.

• The World Expo is likened to the Olympics of cultural exchanges, but unlike the Olympics that’s held once every 4 years, there’s no fixed timeframe for the expo to happen. Currently, the prescribed timeline is a period of at least 5 years between 2 expos. This made the opportunity to attend the Shanghai World Expo even more precious.

• The Shanghai World Expo is the biggest, most expensive, and most attended to date in the roughly 160 years of the expo’s history. The theme for this expo is “Better City, Better Life” and runs from 1 May to 31 Oct 2010 (6 months).

• Ticket prices fluctuate but the benchmark is RMB160.00 (approx. S$32.00) for a single day pass.

Feel the rush

World Expo Queue Times :

Popular Pavilions : Although the expo is open daily from 9:00 am to 12:00 midnight, last entry into the venue is 9:00 pm. By the last entry time, queue duration for the popular pavilions would’ve been much shortened or no queue at all. The average queue time for the popular pavilions such as Australia, Germany, South Korea, USA, etc is about 2 or more hours.

Super Popular Pavilions : For super hot pavilions like Saudi Arabia and Japan, the average queue time can be 6 hours or more and the queue cut-off time is 7:00 pm. People queuing at these pavilions tend to be more kiasu and pushy so be prepared. I missed seeing these pavilions but I was told they are worth the wait.

Ultra Popular Pavilion : Unless you’re prepared to start queuing at the venue at 4:00 am, you can forget about visiting the China Pavilion. For this pavilion, you have to queue to get a reservation ticket (预约券), which will be distributed at all the gates to the expo. The tickets are snapped up within 5 minutes of the gates opening.

Turn up the heat

Surviving the World Expo :

Dressing : A lot of time is spent queuing so comfortable footwear is a must. Shoes are better than slippers to protect the feet when being stepped on. As the weather was very hot during my visit, the natural inclination is to dress in singlets and bermudas. However, I find that cotton long sleeved tees and light long pants provided more comfort. For one, it covered the skin from the stinging sun and you feel cooler; and secondly, when you come into contact with other sweaty bodies in the queue, you don’t have to rub skin-to-skin with them.

Essential Accessories : Umbrella, fan, wet paper towels, water bottle, mobile entertainment (mp3 player, portable games), and sunglasses. Sunglasses are important because it not only for cutting out the flare of bright weather, but to protect the eyes from being poked out by the umbrellas when queuing. Also bring along medicated oil to rub behind the neck for a cooling feeling, and below the nose to mask the body odours around you.

Bring in the rain

Load and Release :

I’m talking about food, drinks and toilet facilities. There is no lack of F&B outlets at the Expo and you can try the local cuisines of the country pavilions, or the foodcourts and eateries offering Chinese fare. A meal at the pavilions will cost more than the Chinese eateries.

Maybe I didn’t eat at the right places because I find all the noodles, rice and pavilion food that I tried to be tasteless and of poor quality. Even the KFC there had their meals pre-packed so by the time I bought mine, it was cold and the Pepsi was flat with all the ice already melted. The best time to have a meal is after 2:00 pm as the lunchtime crowd would have thinned and it’s easier to get a seat.

Pangs of basic desires

It’s easy to stay hydrated at the Expo. The queue lines come with misting sprays and there’re many drink carts around. A bottle of mineral water costs RMB5:00 (approx. S$1.00), while carbonated and isotonic drinks go for RMB15.00 (approx. S$3.00). I had water most of the time because the sweet drinks were always not cold. I had a warm Sprite and to this day, my tongue still shudders at the thought of it.
There’re also many drinking fountains and water dispensers to fill the bottle with. The water tastes somewhat different from what I’m used to but it is not unpleasant. With putting some many things in, my next worry is the ease of letting them out.

As it turned out, I have nothing to worry about. There’re many toilets at the Expo and the thing that impresses me was that despite the hoards of people using them, they were kept very clean, neat and smell-free. It was really amazing! And the public toilets outside the Expo, lining the perimeter of the venue, even came with speakers that played classical music!

Evolution to civilisation

Overall Thoughts about the Shanghai World Expo

Even though I titled this post “I Survived…” which has a kind of negative connotation about the whole Shanghai World Expo experience. But the truth is, yes, the crowd, queues, and hot weather may be a bother, but the wow-factors in many of the pavilions, especially the European ones, made the inconveniences all seem minor.

I went alone on all days to the Expo, but I never once felt bored. There were so much to observe about people and so many visual excitements. I had a chance to hear myself think and evaluate some of the preconceived notions I had of the different nations.

It felt really great to come to this realization that no matter which country we are from, no matter where we stay, no matter what differences we may have, we are all the same. We share common challenges and aspirations, we share the same sky, the same oceans, tha same needs… and the best way to achieve a successful, meaningful life is by working together, embracing peace, celebrating differences and helping each other fulfill our potential. Well, easier said than done, but I felt the expo provided a platform for this spark of realization to ignite.

Very extremely tired

Before I arrived at the Expo, I’ve heard countless horror stories about the torture that awaits in terms of long queues and the uncouth behavior of the Chinese visitors. Well, the stories were true, but they weren’t as bad as I imagined.

And once I got over the initial shock of the amount of people there and accepted the long queue time, I began to really enjoy what the Expo had to offer – the splendid colours, the stunning lights, the awesome designs. I must say that the Chinese authorities have done a really great job in the organization and execution of this mammoth event.

I will do it again

At the end of spending almost 12 hours a day at the Expo for a few consecutive days, I was really tired. But if I had I more time, I would still keep going back. This is really a world event not to be missed. And more than just seeing what the different countries exposed about themselves, let’s see what the Expo exposes about you!

Here’s a listing of all the pavilions I went to in the order of visitation, which I’ll also be sharing more about in upcoming posts :

The World, My Playground

For more photos, please visit my album Shanghai World Expo 2010. The album will be updated progressively in tandem with the blog topics here. Hope you’ll have a better idea about the Expo through the stories here and the photos.

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