Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Shanghai PRC: Expo 2010 Day #1

[Weds 2-Jun-2010]--  We returned yesterday after spending a (long) weekend in Shanghai, an impulsive but rewarding trip with a primary intent to attend Expo 2010.  The Expo is similar or same as a world's fair.  The Expo, along with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is the coming out debutante party for the People's Republic of China (PRC), proving to the world that China has come of age in the modern world.  Having grown up through Mao's cultural revolution, the ping-pong diplomacy of the Nixon years, Tiananmen Square, and most recently the 2008 Olympics, China has made a lot of changes in my time.  Admittedly it felt a little odd to be planning this trip, as memories from my youth of the closed society of the PRC carried over.  However, upon arrival, it felt no different than any of the other countries we have visited.  Shanghai is of course, a "special economic zone" of the PRC which may make the difference.  Some future trip to Beijing and/or the rural areas of China may display something considerably different.  However, from this perspective, Friedman is correct-- the world is flat.
A visa is required to visit PRC, which we were able to acquire in Singapore.  Most other countries allow up to a 90 day visit without a visa, however PRC is not one of these.  The visa is inexpensive for most foreigners, e.g. S$30 for Singapore citizens.  However, if you are from the U.S.A. get ready to pay--  the visa is S$180 (about US$125).
Shanghai is a city of about 20 million, substantially larger than Singapore.  It is about a 5 hour flight from Singapore, or would be if you flew direct.  We purchased discount tickets, so our route and flight time was substantially longer--  a set of flights stopping in Bangkok, Thailand and Hong Kong before reaching Shanghai.   Fortunately there were no political disruptions at the airport in Bangkok, as this stop was not well advertised on our ticket at the time of purchase (The flight time WAS suspiciously long).  And, of course our flight from Hong Kong was late to leave, thus causing us to arrive in Shanghai and finally reach our hotel in downtown Shanghai at about 3 AM.  (The Pudong airport is a 40 minute taxi ride to downtown Shanghai).
The view from our 19th floor hotel room.  Our hotel was very well located--  across the street from Century Square, and four blocks from People's Square, a major subway hub and station.  (Apparently nearly every major city in China has a "people's square" or park).  Century Square is located on Nanjing Road, which is a pedestrian-only street with many POSH shops, stores, and restaurants.  This is THE place to be in the evenings-- there are many people making the walk.  Nanjing Road runs into The Bund  (literally translated-- The Beach) which is actually a levee walkway along the river.  This is a spectacular area at night, and a common destination for tourists.

Century Square and Nanjing Road.  Not so many people on it during the day.

After a few hours sleep, and a StarBucks coffee (they are everywhere-- including PRC!) we were awake sufficiently to head for the expo.  This required getting to the subway station, purchasing a ticket, and getting on the proper train.  This turned out to be extremely simple.  We traveled four stops and arrived at the station located at the main gate of the expo.  As we entered the expo site, we were very optimistic--  there was infrastructure in place to handle extremely large crowds at the gate, but none were present.  However, once in the gate, and up onto the main arena (away from the subway entry gate) our optimism was dashed as we saw enormous queues of people.
The cattle chute gates at the main entrance of the Expo--  The expo officials are obviously anticipating huge crowds at the gates-- which thankfully for us were absent.  (Little did we know that they were actually already at the expo!)

The expo site is enormous--  it is arranged in five sections (A through E), with one of the sections (section E) on the far side of the river.  Everything is in large scale--  large buildings and an extremely long elevated steel walkway, with signature towers with tall awnings.   It is a design achievement, and amazing.  It represents an approximately US$6B investment for China.

Expo 2010 Map
The expo opened at the beginning of May, and attendance at the expo has been down substantially from the anticipated and hoped (actually required for a break-even investment) for crowds of about 300,000 people per day.  To boost attendance, residents of Shanghai were given free tickets.   Our decision to come to China to the expo was made around a thought that the expo would only become more crowded as the summer wears on-- the show runs through October.  On this day-- our first day, as luck would have it, the expo reached its all-time-to-date best attendance record of 550,000.  I might have guessed  larger-- it seemed like all of China, or at least the entire population of Shanghai was there.  Each of the pavilions, particularly the larger countries, and in particular the Asian nations had large queues-- some would require waiting literally hours to get through.  We learned that it was possible to get reservations for some of the pavilions at reservation machines, but never saw one-- only the signs for their existence.  We later learned that these machines also required queuing very early in the morning, to secure a reserved entry time at one or more of the pavilions.
Despite the large crowds, we managed to get into many of the pavilions, and have lunch at one of the restaurants, with little or no wait in queue.

No-- this isn't Smurf Gumby.  This is Haibo, the mascot of the Shanghai Expo 2010

In Singapore, it is relatively easy to get about without speaking or reading Chinese-- English is the official "administrative" language.  In Shanghai it is possible (we did it) but a little more difficult, as there are fewer places using English.  It was perhaps on par with our language barrier in Japan.  Shanghai is a very strong center of commerce (hopeful to be the financial/commerce hub of Asia) so English is very prevalent-- street signs are in both Mandarin and English.  I am certain that outside of Shanghai it is more difficult to get about without knowing some Mandarin.
Our trip, although brief was great fun and well worth our time.  I will provide some pictures and details of our visit in the remainder of this post, and on subsequent posts.

[Saturday May 29]-- On this first day we visited the pavilions of some of the Asian nations-- Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, Timore, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Maldives, and saw several others from the outside. We quickly gave up attempting to visit the China and Japan pavilions, as these were enormously popular and were extremely crowded, as were nearly all of the major nation pavilions.

The China Pavilion-- one of the largest and most visible pavilions at the Expo.  Nope--  we didn't get inside, as we would likely still be waiting in the queue.  Just a few of the attendees at the expo.

One of the boulevards at the expo and a few visitors, as viewed from the elevated walkway that dissects the center of the expo site.  Note the assembly of people with parasols  (hot day!).  These folks are queued to get into the Japan pavilion.  Japan was popular, as its theme featured Transformers, a hit with the children. 

 Nepal Pavilion

Inside the Vietnam pavilion.  This pavilion was well done, with a wonderful decor of bamboo.

Wood carving at the Vietnam exhibit.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) pavilion.  On this day in the news, North Korea was taking a lot of heat from world governments for allegedly torpedoing a South Korea navy corvette, creating a scare in the world markets, and a real possibility of war.  No queues at this pavilion-- it was closed on this day.  Coincidence? 

The expo site actually spanned the river, with Section E located on the far side of the river.  With our limited time we chose not to go to this section, which featured a number of corporate pavilions, such as Coca Cola and General Motors.  One means of reaching Section E is via ferry, although there is also an entry gate from the city.  Given the density of people on the ferry, I think I'm OK that we skipped this.  The Coca Cola pavilion was apparently quite interesting-- a operative replica of one of their bottling plant in action.  Do you suppose they were making the Coca Cola recipe available?

No comments:

Post a Comment