The World Expo. That mere phrase has a certain aura surrounding it. In fact it’s a concept that came to me at a young age when I worked on a production of Meet Me in St. Louis, a movie and Broadway based on the excitement surrounding the 1904 World Fair.
Now the World Fair certainly has lost the luster it had in the bygone years where it brought us such landmarks as Paris’ Eiffel Tower and Seattle’s Space Needle. Despite Walt Disney’s desire to create a “permanent” World Fair at EPCOT Center at Disney World (“The World Showcase”) who hears about the World Fair anymore these days anyways?
As luck would have it, the World Fair is still around (though these days it’s called the World Expo) and it was to be held in Shanghai this year. Considering that I was already in China and had rearranged my trip to fly home from Shanghai, I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend!
As the world learned with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China does nothing on a small scale and the Expo is no exception.
Held on a sprawling site of prime property on both banks of the Huangpu River (which used to be something else, no doubt), the Expo is simply massive. Three bus lines, multiple river ferries, a vehicular tunnel and a subway line are all available to help you get around for free. There’s so much space that despite the 100 or so pavilions, it doesn’t feel terribly crowded…that is, until you get in line for the pavilions…
The massive China Pavilion
Now what is there to see exactly? Well, the Pudong (new town) side of the river has all the country pavilions, generally organized by continent, while the Puxi (old town) side of the river maintains corporate and other pavilions, all of which build on the Expo’s theme, “Better City, Better Life.”
Many of the countries used their pavilions for shameless tourist promotion, some even bringing dancers and musicians to give visitors a feel of their culture and even offering up a chance to taste (pricey) treats from their homes. But what I thought were far more interesting were the ones who actually embraced the theme with open arms. Like Chile, whose message was to get to know thy neighbor, or Holland, who inspired to build a better vertical city.
The Dutch Pavilion
A wall in the Joint African Pavilion
I’ve always been a fan of architecture, and in that regard, the Expo did not disappoint. Simply mind blowing structures dot the landscape, especially the UK Pavilion, which resembles a an oversized Koosh Ball (the “Seed Cathedral”) that you can step inside…each of the rods jutting out impressively has a seed in the middle!
The UK Pavilion
Interior of the UK Pavilion–“The Seed Cathedral”
A seed inside a rod at the “Seed Cathedral,” UK Pavilion
The Expo was a forum for the display of fancy new technologies, like future prospects for green technologies and improved city design (especially at the highly impressive Future Pavilion). And for the future of home technology, who better to demo some stuff than Japan. It’s sponsors showcased their latest creations, like Toyota’s new “personal mobility device” that was a heck of a lot more efficient than a Segway and a robot that is capable of playing the violin (quite well, I might add!).
Japan’s violin playing robot!
The Future Pavilion
But despite all the glitziness, beautiful architecture, fascinating performances and high technologies, the Expo was a bit of a victim of its own success. Despite the Chinese government’s best attempts to hide the fact from the general public, the Expo has become synonymous with lengthy queues. And by lengthy I don’t just mean a line for a ride at Dinseyland…the wait for the Japan pavilion was nearly 2.5 hours, as it was for many of the big countries with big pavilions. Due to the excessive queues, one could attend the Expo every day for a week and not see everything.
I took the opportunity to visit the pavilions that lacked lengthy lines (Japan and the U.S. being the exception) and do feel that I got a sufficient Expo experience in my 2 days of visiting (I was pretty Expo’d out by the end of Day 2 and frankly didn’t feel like waiting in any more long lines!).
Did it live up my expectations? Absolutely! It was great to see all these countries putting their heads together and coming up with ways to build a better city, though I couldn’t help but notice the irony in sustainable development being a major Expo theme when nearly the entire Expo would be torn down in a mere 6 months!
Was it quite as thrilling as witnessing electric lights for the first time as those folks in 1904 did? No, but for a fan of unique architecture as I am (see: my blog from Hong Kong), this Expo did not disappoint!