Shanghai, China
October 2010

We arrived from the neighboring city of Hangzhou on a painful train ride. Who knew that when you buy train tickets in China, you’d have to ask for a seat? Apparently if you don’t, Chinese logic dictates that you’d prefer standing up through the hour-and-half ride for the exactly same cost. And we found that out the hard way.

We took a taxi from the train station to our hotel, supposedly a short distance away. Things became suspicious when the driver entered the highway. I decided to track our route on GPS, and realized we were practically circling the circumference of the city. We were no experts of Shanghai roads, so upon alighting we paid the driver and asked for a receipt, to which the driver gave a gloomy expression.

At the hotel, we spoke to the receptionist who became excited that our taxi had overcharged us, and immediately made a call to file a complaint with the taxi company. Turns out, any driver caught doing so is made to pay a fine five-times of the fare back to the passenger. The processing, however, would take five days and we’d gone by then – and our gleeful receptionist would probably pocket the money when it arrives at the hotel.

Shanghai World Expo 2010

The Expo ticket which I foolishly purchased from the official booths

The next day, we made our way down to the massive Shanghai World Expo 2010 site. It’s the greatest show on Earth, With over 200 dazzling pavilions in a 5.3 square km site. And every day you’ll get to witness how 500,000 Chinese citizens, a mere 0.04% of the population, behave when they get an opportunity to attend a world-class event. That, as you can imagine, is not pretty.

After all, it’s said that if you don’t go to the Shanghai Expo, you will regret it. And if you do go to the Shanghai Expo, you will regret it even more.

A single-day ticket costs RM 160 from the official ticketing booths. Or you can easily save half of the cost by buying your ticket from one of the many touts at the entrance. Makes you wonder why the official booths are still in business.

The key to enjoying the Expo was to visit during the autumn. When the Expo opened in May, the summer crowd rushed in and endured the blistering heat. It was a horrible experience for many, and it discouraged many others from visiting. Including, well, my family.

I’d imagine the most boring flag raising ceremony possible

A record number of countries – 192 of them – are represented at the Expo, because apparently China has the most friends of all the countries in the world. So you see, you don’t need to be friendly to have friends. You just need to do all the dirty work that all your friends don’t want to.

Since it’s opening, the image of the Expo has evolved from the stunning architecture of the pavilions to endless hordes of people, and it’s very real. The queues are unimaginable until you see them. The truth is, the Expo was mainly intended for the Chinese citizens, majority of who never stepped outside of their province, and much less their country. By bringing the entire world to Shanghai, everyone finally has a chance to see what goes on beyond their borders.

The incredibly long lines are just the start. It’s unfair to say that the Chinese are not civilised, because they are civilised like a community of velociraptors. They push. They trample. They spit. They chat louder than an iPod at full volume. They urinate and defecate in queue because rejoining the queue after a trip to the washroom is not an option.

Military intervention in action

And so you’ll see people falling down and being walked all over. Or like the lady in the photo, had her shoe slipped off just a few metres back, but it’s nearly impossible to recover it.

Perhaps the best idea of the crowd and queues is best explained by the measures implemented. When you need to have the army to manage your Expo, you know it’s comparable to Jurassic Park.

Coming to the Expo, my family had only one objective – to see what we won’t be unable to see. My family is quite well traveled, so we skipped the usual UK, Japan, France, USA, Italy, Australia and more. We figured that there’s no point in viewing the pavilion when you’ve already seen the real thing.

Instead, we went straight for the rogues states and war torn countries. Because China has diplomatic ties to places like North Korea, Iran and Cuba, this could be the only chance of ever visiting them. So here’s North Korea, humorously positioned next to Iran at the Expo, and the area is given the nickname ‘Axis of Evil’.

North Korea – Paradise for People!

My trip begins with a visit to the North Korean pavilion. The queue is short, and you’ll get in within 3 minutes. Elsewhere, announcements on the Expo’s speakerphones warned about 5 to 7 hours of queuing time at the popular pavilions. Since nobody knows what North Korea is about, and North Korea doesn’t want anyone to know either, their pavilion is decorated with happy blue skies. Inside the pavilions, I saw the first thing that made me chuckle.

We made our way around the Expo. It was quite clear by now that that some countries had put in an immense amount of effort into their pavilions, while others saw it as a street-side wasteland.

Found at the Indonesian Pavilion’s wall fountain, Malaysia is happily peeing on Singapore. An accurate representation.

There was Japan’s Pavilion, which I think is designed to look like Hello Kitty’s tomb or something; Spain’s Pavilion, which either looks amazing disgusting or disgustingly amazing; Serbia’s Pavilion, where the world’s rejected lego stock ends up.

Admittedly, some of them actually turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Morocco’s pavilion looked like a scaled-down five-star hotel. Perhaps one of the more underrated pavilion’s at the Expo, it’s pretty amazing inside. Some pavilions like Turkmenistan look spectacularly boring in the day, but in the night it comes alive with lights.

Oman being classy

United Arab Emirates’ sand dune pavilion was really attractive from the outside, so I tried to join the queue. I followed the line… and found the end of it. And then looking ahead, I noticed that there’s another segment of the queue. And following the line… leads to another segment… and another segment… and another… and I just gave up. Walking that distance at my normal pace felt really far. I can’t imagine queuing for that distance.

The Expo Culture Centre is unbelievably huge. And by huge, I mean it’s really goddamn huge. You could squeeze a theme park in there, and people would pay the same price as the Expo itself just to visit it.

Easily half of the pavilions, like Brazil here, overuse projectors and digital displays. You can watch shows and programmes on the ceiling, the floor and the walls. It’s an extremely immersive experience, but loses it’s novelty after a few pavilions.

Just to make sure that they covered all their grounds against Disneyland, there’s also an Expo parade worth catching. And even if nothing interests you: whether is it the 250 pavilions, or the international selection of food, or the world-class performances and shows on display. There are live concerts performed by bands from around the world. So even the party animals can’t say it’s boring.


Photos of Shanghai World Expo 2010

Photos of Hangzhou & Shanghai 2010