Friday, July 16, 2010

Shanghai Social Diary

The China Pavilion (The Crown of the East) is a bold design with its roof made of traditional bracket. The color red reflects Beijing’s Forbidden City.
by Jeanne Lawrence

Shanghai Expo 2010’s opening ceremony capped years of planning and a frenzy of building with a spectacular firework and laser light display that could be seen and heard all over the city.

On May 1, when the gates opened to the public, more than 240,000 people surged through. With nearly 22 million visitors by July 1, Expo seems likely to end its six-month run on October 31 with more than the estimated 70 million visitors, of which the majority will be Chinese citizens.

The ubiquitous Shanghai Expo 2010 mascot Haibao (literally, ocean treasure) is modeled on the Chinese character for “people.”

The tradition of world’s fairs—that’s what Expo is—began with the 1851 Crystal Palace in England. There have been about 50 since, the most recent in Spain in 2008 and the next is 2012 in South Korea.

The Shanghai 2010 Expo is the largest ever, with over 50 international organizations and 190 countries—from the largest to the smallest—represented in 150 pavilions, and 20,000 artistic and cultural events.


Expo’s theme, “Better City, Better Life,” is a nod to the fact that most of the world’s population lives in cities. China is making a big effort to move its huge population (1.3 billion, compared to our 300 million) into urban areas, and Shanghai, it’s most economically viable and vibrant megacity (population 20 million), was the ideal venue for this event.

In preparation, Shanghai invested $59 billion and endured years of constant construction and urban redevelopment. The results include a new subway line, new roads, new tunnels, a new airport terminal, and a renovated Bund, the historic riverside promenade.

When there was talk of the Olympics coming to New York, I was initially opposed. (We have enough traffic!) But seeing how the 2008 Beijing Olympics and Expo 2010 jumpstarted urban renewal and provided jobs, I’ve changed my mind.
The crowd control at the entrance is well designed and the security staff was polite and friendly. “Thank you for your cooperation. Please enjoy! ” they said in English.
Expo Axis is decorated with six inverted-cone shaped steel structures and the world’s largest stretched membrane (“white umbrellas”) that allows in sunlight yet gives sun protection.
The two-square mile Expo site is laid out on both the Puxi and Pudong banks of the Huangpu River, between the Nanpu and Lupu Bridge.
On the Pudong side, the map shows Zone A (China, Asian and Oceanic pavilions); Zone B (theme pavilions and performance centers); and Zone C (European, American and African pavilions).
Jeanne Lawrence with visiting New Yorkers Robyn and Ken Joseph. Expo’s theme is “Better City, Better Life,” and over 70 million visitors are expected to attend during the 6-month run.

On the second and third day of Expo, I was invited to join friends from New York, Ken Joseph (who does business here) and his wife, Robyn.

We had tickets in hand, and a private guide to shuttle us around. But we hadn’t realized that our visit coincided with a local three-day holiday—the equivalent of the U.S. Labor Day weekend—and it seemed all of China was there with us.

Imagine Disneyland on a big holiday weekend. My friends say the Chinese have a different sense of space than ours and they’re more accustomed to crowds and standing in line, so they didn’t seem to mind.
The Asians, unlike Americans, are not sun worshippers and they huddled under umbrellas for sun protection.
And the temperature was in the 80s and humid (One local described the pathways as “a concrete frying pan”) with no shelters or places to get out of the sun, although many Chinese carry umbrellas for shade.

To their credit, Expo official listened to the complaints and within a few days had added additional sitting areas, umbrellas, overhead vinyl awnings over lines, and water sprayers to cool everyone down.


Incidentally, though you hear about spoiled only children—little emperors and empresses—I never spotted any child crying, fussing, or cutting up though they had to walk for miles and wait in line in such heat. They were amazingly well-behaved. (Of course, quite a few of them were sleeping—no doubt exhausted by it all!)
USA Pavilion is in the shape of a “Flying Eagle” with open wings that represents the national emblem and a gesture to welcome guests.

We had our lists of pavilions to visit in hand beginning with the China Pavilion and the U.S. Pavilion at the top of our list.

The China Pavilion, the star attraction, dominated the scene, as is appropriate, since it is the host country. Its inverted pyramid of a building, “The Crown of the East,” could be seen from every vantage point.

The U.S. Pavilion was funded thanks to the efforts of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who strongly supported U.S. representation at Expo. She motivated corporations and individuals to come up with over $61 million (a bargain compared to the $140 million reportedly spent on the Saudi Pavilion.)
Singapore Pavilion is constructed of recyclable material.
Spain Pavilion. The “Spanish Basket” has an exterior made of 8,500 hand-woven rattan panels.
Romania Pavilion. Nicknamed “Greenopolis,” it looks like a green apple and symbolizes a green city.
Estonia Pavilion. Expo is huge, with so much to see. Even wearing my comfy Pumas, I got blisters.
Thailand Pavilion reflects the country’s national architecture.
But we soon discovered this was not to be the case. The Chinese, U.S., Japanese and Saudi pavilions—the most popular—had four-hour lines. Being New Yorkers, we never wait in line.

We looked for ways to maximize our time and get V.I.P. treatment like you can get at Disney—to no avail. Instead we headed for the pavilions with the shortest lines and here’s what we saw.

Australian Pavilion showcased 50,000 years of its history and provided a high-tech video in a huge auditorium that seated 1,000. (We enjoyed it especially since it offered our first air-conditioned respite!)
The Australian Pavilion’s curved walls are covered in red-ochre colored metal that brings to mind Ayer’s Rock, the continent’s natural wonder.
The Pavilion highlights 50,000 years of Australian history.
The theater seats 1,000 people for the multi-media show, but we had to push our way in. A high-tech video focuses on three children who represent the different ethnicities that populate the continent.
Scuba Divers appear to be swimming in the air.
Belarus Pavilion. “Let’s go,” Ken said. “My family is from Belarus.” I learned that Belarus, whose capital is Minsk, was formerly part of the Soviet Union and has a population of 10 million.

Russian Pavilion featured 12 towers decorated with traditional motifs and modern touches. Walking amid the colorful, oversized, child-like flowers and trees—meant to suggest looking at a city through a child’s eyes and inspired by the children’s author Nikolai Nosov—is like being inside a fairytale storybook.
The Belarus Pavilion is charming with colorful artwork on the ceiling and walls and displays of cultural and historical relics.
Russia Pavilion is a fairytale castle with 12 towers that resembles the castled towns of the ancient Urais.
Visitors look at cities through a child’s eyes, inspired by Russian children’s writer Nosov’s fairy tale—a city of flowers and fantasy.
A bountiful selection of Russian nesting dolls or a “Babushka Doll” that won a bronze medal at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900.
Nepal Pavilion with its wooden exterior copied from the traditional buildings of Kathmandu.
Jeanne Lawrence and Sarah Monks admire the folk houses representing styles from different periods. Nepalese art.
Nepal’s centerpiece is a replica of Kathmandu’s Bodnath Stupa that is the largest stupa in Nepal and one of the holiest Buddhist temples.
India Pavilion is inspired by the Sanchi Stupa from the Maurya dynasty (c 321-187).
Over 172,000 volunteers at Expo, plus another 1.97 million around Shanghai, wear these green/white/grey logo uniforms.

The dining choices range from dumpling kiosks and KFC to elegant sit-down meals prepared by some of the world’s best chefs, on hand for the occasion.

We were grateful to lunch in the air-conditioned comfort of a Cantonese restaurant, where we had a private room and banquet food and service. (For Ken and me, this was the day’s highlight!)
Lunch Time. When Expo officials realized that many visitors, especially families, were bringing in picnics, they lowered the restaurant food prices.
We enjoyed a lunch in the air-conditioned comfort of a gourmet Cantonese restaurant, where we had a private room and banquet food and service.
A Chinese tea ceremony demonstration.
Tempting menus prepared by some of the world’s best chefs, on hand for the occasion.
The dining choices range from dumpling kiosks and KFC to elegant sit-down meals. One of our contributions to the world.

Re-energized, we headed toward the closely-grouped Asian Pavilions where we went straight inside as there were no lines.

We visited the exhibitions of Afghanistan, Bahrain, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, and Yemen one after another; each interesting in their own way.

At six p.m., we called it a day—ten hours of walking was enough!—and retreated to the Grand Hyatt for refreshments and air-conditioning before going off to a gourmet Chinese dinner at Wampoa on the Bund.
Asia Joint Pavilion I and II
Bahrain Pavilion, a classical design, showcases its history and its modern achievements. Afghanistan Pavilion design was inspired by the Blue Mosque of Herat, built in 1200.
Inside the Afghanistan Pavilion is a bazaar offering handicrafts, dried fruits, spices, and local wares.
Robyn Joseph found some lovely silver ethic jewelry for her daughters. Enjoyed by all ages.
The mini-museum of carpets and textiles, photos of archaeological sites, and over 400 antique treasures.

On the heels of the Josephs, two journalist friends arrived to stay with me: Edie Lederer, the Associated Press Bureau Chief at the United Nations, and Hong Kong journalist Sarah Monk.

Determined and intrepid travelers, they had booked three-day passes, and I joined them. This time, there was a delightful breeze and (since the holiday was over) only some 85,000 or so visitors and the lines were shorter.

Edie Lederer, AP Bureau Chief at the UN, was impressed with the flower displays.
During the day, we toured the pavilions of Bangladesh, Maldives, Moroccan, Mongolia, and Hong Kong (requested by Sarah since she lives in HK) and Macao—both located in the shadow of the Chinese Pavilion.

Afterwards we “did” all the “Stans”— Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan — all especially interesting because they offered me a taste of countries I’ve never visited.

As we left Expo that day, Edie remarked. “Expo is a showcase of how countries of the world see themselves, not always how they are.” “The approaches are very different, and the designs are sometimes aspirational and sometimes inspirational,” she continued.


What a wonderful and singular experience this is for China’s populace. As organizers anticipated, I saw very few Westerners at Expo. The Chinese visitors came from every walk of life from city dwellers, from every province—farmers and factory workers as well as businesspeople and students.

I know that in Shanghai the government distributed free tickets (Expo admission is 160 Yuan, about $23 US)—perhaps as thanks for the dust and construction they’ve endured these last few years.

I always kept in mind when viewing the Expo to look through the eyes of the Chinese visiting and not my eyes as I’ve already seen much of the world. To them it was fresh, new and an introduction to the world.

How wonderful that the people who live here but who may never travel abroad have such an extraordinary chance to sample cultures from all around the world. Shanghai has brought the world to them!

I can’t wait to return as there’s so much more to see!
United Arab Emirates, UAE, is inspired by sand dunes and designed by architect Norman Foster.
Artists present traditional Arab dance and music for entertainment at the UAE Pavilion.
Yemen Pavilion. Another bazaar with handicrafts and jewelry for sale and models of historical cities, renovated villages, and local landscapes. Syria Pavilion displays include the folk houses of Damascus, an Arabic library, and the history of the West Silk Road.
The Palestine Pavilion featured the olive branch—green for sustainable development, and a symbol of peace and friendship.
Saudi Arabia Pavilion, a “moon boat” elevated above the ground with 150-planted date palms, is said to be the most expensive. One of the most popular there is often a 9-hour wait.
Schoolchildren from all provinces of China visit.
The children were well behaved even in the worst of circumstances. Dressed for the day.
Jeanne Lawrence joins in the singing with the Latin musicians.
The electric buses were almost silent and carried people between zones. I hope New York will buy them soon.
The Hong Kong Pavilion and the Macao Pavilion lie in the shadow of the Chinese Pavilion.
Mongolia Pavilion.
The yurt was a big hit.
Morocco Pavilion, a three-story tiled architectural gem, is a calming and cool oasis—in contrast to the 80 plus degree temperature outside. The enchanting traditional interior courtyard with water elements, U-shaped arches, and geometric pattern decoration.
Inside, historical videos played, and tribal costumes and artifacts were on display.
Finally, we did some gift buying at the Expo Shops located throughout the grounds, which carried an extensive and colorful selection of tempting souvenirs.
Most with the Expo logo.
Edie Lederer and Sarah Monk found some goodies.
Late afternoon some visitors head home, while others stay until midnight when Expo closes.
Over 4,000 new and larger taxis are available and waiting. The drivers even wear white gloves ... how spiffy.

I’ll be returning to Expo, since there is yet so much to see, but now I have some touring strategies that I’d like to share.

• Before you go, do your research. Get a map and official Guidebook, check out the website and plan your day.

• Use the government-sponsored Shanghai Call Center hotline if you have questions. Dial 9682288. Operators can help in 17 languages.

• Get to Expo around 10 a.m. to avoid the subway rush hours and the peak time for arrival. (The Expo line, 13, runs inside Expo and is free to Expo ticket holders).

• To avoid the crowds, go to the Puxi section in the morning and Pudong in the afternoon, and plan to eat earlier or later than conventional mealtimes.

• Try to cover just one zone at a time to cut down on unnecessary walking. Enter the gate closest to the zone you want to see.

• Wear your most comfortable walking shoes and clothes and bring an umbrella for shade, an MP3, and maybe a folding chair.

• Best of all, go at night. It’s cooler, the crowds are smaller, and the night views are impressive.

• Be sure to enjoy at least some of the daily parades and theme shows.

• Be realistic. You probably won’t manage to visit every pavilion. But just taking a look at the outside is a treat, since most were created by prestigious architects and designers.

•Most important: Go with the right attitude. Yes, you’ll probably get tired from all the walking and yes, you’ll wait in line. But there is plenty to enjoy from just wandering around, taking time out to enjoy the quiet places, and soaking in this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence. New York based Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in Shanghai and San Francisco, and wherever else she finds a good story.