Sunday, October 10, 2010


369,300; that is how many people went to the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai on the same day I did which seems like a lot until compared to the Expo’s peak day, the 15th of June, which saw 518,000 people attend.
The exhibition, which opened on 1st May and runs until the end of October, has been seen as Shanghai's chance to showcase itself to the rest of the world. In spending a reported $46 billion spent on the Expo, China has invested more money in it than the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Official figures have predicted 70 million visitors will flock to the 240 pavilions and exhibitions staged by participating countries and organizations, spread out over 2.5 miles of Shanghai's Huangpu riverbank. So far 58,386,600 visitors have visited the Shanghai expo. While most come from China itself some, like me (technically), are overseas visitors.
I had gone to the expo briefly with Aya in June when we were here for a couple of days, but because of time constraints we only went in for a couple of hours and saw just two pavilions. I only remember one, Israel, which I thought was rather disappointing. The building itself looked very cool from the outside, but the main portion of the inside was dedicated to a movie showing the advancements in technology Israel has made and connections with China. In my eyes both subjects were forced and not very interesting.

This time around I went alone. I intended to spend a whole day, but arrived a bit late around 10am and then left a bit early at 4pm because me feet were starting to hurt and lines were getting monstrously long. This time around I went to 5 pavilions, the African Shared Pavilion, the South American shared Pavilion, the Cuban pavilion, the USA pavilion, and the New Zealand pavilion.
The Cuban pavilion was terribly depressing and the only thing I remember from it is that there was a man selling bottles of rum, or some kind of liquor. There wasn’t even a line, just two open doors leading in and out of the pavilion. I guess you can’t have a line if there is nothing to wait for. The African shared pavilion and the South American shared pavilion had some interesting points, but also some very shabbily put together areas. At some times I imagined that a class of 6th graders had been put to task setting up displays. The New Zealand pavilion was neat. There was a giant green stone in front for visitors to touch, nice displays of NZ life and overall a cool design. The USA pavilion was by far my favorite, which feels boastful for me to say because I took pride in what the USA pavilion focused on in contrast to what other pavilions focused on. In every other pavilion I saw the focus was on physical achievements like mining, exports, advancements in technology, or the unique regions of a country. All those are fine things to be proud of and showcase, but America’s pavilion focused on something intangible.

Yes, I can barely believe it myself, American’s did not focused on the goods they make, the land they have, or the advancements in technology. Rather they were focused on ideas. Yes, ideas. As the pavilion’s site says, “The Pavilion presents the U.S. as a place of opportunity and diversity where people come together to change their communities for the better.” There were three films in three different rooms of the pavilion as a group of a couple hundred people we were moved from room to room. The first film had an array of ordinary and not so ordinary Americans, including Kobe Bryant, Tony Hawk, and Michelle Kwan, attempting to speak to visitors in Chinese(for the record Kwan has no trouble speaking Chinese). The takes are not perfect and visitors get to see the many mistakes that people make trying to say something in Chinese. It was great. It set the audience in a playful mood and got everyone smiling. Next visitors are led to see a second film featuring the likes of U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Here they and a group of children talk about the innovative ideas that Americans will come up with in the future. Kind of a ‘Promise of Tomorrow’ type film. The third film features a story on urban landscapes with moving seats for thunder and a sprinkling of water for rain when those parts come up in the narrative.
At the end of the second film the audience cheered! Can you believe that? Cheered! I never saw anything like that at the other pavilions. No one cheered the guy selling rum in Cuba. The Green stone of New Zealand was cool, but no one laughed. Pointing out the connection between Israelis and Chinese was nice, but didn’t get any applause.

I could feel the emotion from the films and the emotion from the audience around me and I could see, for the first time here, the way that some Chinese people look at the United States. Outside waiting in line I met a young girl who I talked to for the 30 minutes or so it took for us to get through the line. She told me about her family, her upbringing and her desire to study in the U.S. Inside the pavilion I met two young men who were anxious to speak to me about what I thought of the US pavilion. Listening to them I was put into the perfect mindset for what I was about to see.

The Expo’s slogan is ‘Better City, Better Life’ and I have to imagine that if the estimated 70,000,000 visitors come to Shanghai in the course of 6 months that indeed the city will become better. The government will be forced to clean up, for at least 6 months, and the economic activity visitors bring with them will improve the city of Shanghai. No matter what happens, I can take away a little peace of mind. A reminder to myself that even with all the wealth of land and achievements that America has the potential of America's future might be more valuable than all of that.