May 5, 2010

Shanghai World Expo 2010 (or how I lost 500 calories and gained 2000)

As the lack of Internet leg room annoyed me, so did waking up at 5. Why? Because to make it to the Shanghai World Expo without waiting too long, early bird = win. That said, the thought of attending something as big as this sort of blew my mind. I was excited. We had the whole afternoon and 2 additional days to make the most of all the world literally had to offer.

The night before, we were told that the expo would definitely have to involve long 4-hour queues, so we prepared ourselves with a portable (read: bread) lunch. Now, to be fair, we had a heavy breakfast for energy, so we thought we were all prepared for the big exhibition.

We were wrong.

Yesterday, I said that the weather was cold. Today, it was the contrary. In fact, it became somewhat intolerable to stand in line for even 30 minutes under the heat. Truth be told, it wasn't Philippines-hot, but it was hot enough to make people irritable. I guess my slowly-forming sore throat was indicative of the climate change.

Whatever the case, we rode the bus till we reached the edge of Pudong- near the strait separating Pudong and Puxi- and walked to the entrance. A bit of waiting later we gradually got inside. It was still 8am. The Expo opened at 9. An hour to kill.

It was there that I discovered that IBC-13 had been following our tracks the whole time. "First and biggest tourist group in the expo," he said, "barring that other Korean group of course, but we outnumber them so it doesn't matter".

After that diversion, the gates opened and we had to go through unnecessary turns just to get to inspection. Like the airport, bags, belts, jackets and gadgets had to be x-rayed. No shoes required.

Gate 8 was basically beside the US exhibit, as well as the South American ones. Now, these exhibits aren't necessarily set up in booths in a big hall, most of the exhibitors are given their own buildings that they can decorate and fill up. Depending on the budget (and sponsors) a country has, their buildings could be as big and as wide as an SM mall, or as small as a store inside said mall.

A lot of the attention is clearly on China's own exhibit hall, but other countries do stand out quite a bit, some more than others. Now, we don't actually get to see the East Asian and Business-Oriented sectors till tomorrow, but for now, I'll enumerate the buildings that made a great first impression.

1) Thailand - a majestic temple with dancers who'll entertain those who wait in line
2) Philippines - not exactly anything gaudy nor standout, but it's got a sense of simplicity and minimalism, especially at night
3) Singapore - a commanding symbol of a future-oriented country, pretty much the Expo's mantra to a T
4) Australia - an understated but nonetheless striking brown structure that is as minimalist in the morning as it is at night
5) Indonesia - a lively hub that features a fusion of greenery and technology
6) Germany - asymmetrical and uniquely designed; has a bar too
7) Romania - a unique wiry building formed to look like a green apple
8) Switzerland - dangling red thingies surround the building
9) Hungary - wood and tubes of flowing water give off a sense of simplicity

These are all I remember liking, for now.

However, much of the exhibits, especially Portugal, Italy, England (which I didn't get to see on the outside), Switzerland, Singapore, Australia and pretty much every other major European nation (BELGIUM DAMN) had their hands full. If you were at the end of the line you would have to wait four straight hours before being able to access the inside. I don't think anything is worth that, except maybe for Switzerland, where white things resembling vehicles slightly jutted out of its roof, driven by some dude.

Biggest disappointment was Hungary. Wooden sticks going up and down with lights attached on the bottom and some weird object perched on a pedestal with nary a description, not even a caption. Not exactly exciting (but then there was no line either).

Best one we actually got into was Thailand. Aside from the entertainment while waiting in line, you get access to not one, not two, but three exhibitions, each one outdoing the next. First was a presentation inspired by falling torrents of water, then there was a panoramic movie, and taking the cake was a 3D short film. Yes the effects were the on-your-face kind but the level of polish each one had was impressive enough, considering that, like Azerbaijan or Moldova, exhibitions in their most barebones form consisted of TV screens with text on the bottom.

Throughout the expo area, buses and electronic cars roamed the area. As tempted we were to rest our feet, we made our way from the entirety of Europe to the ASEAN part... and back. Suffice it to say, you can't underestimate the compact nature of a map, especially when it involves exhibits from more than 200 countries.

From psyched, I became just plain irritable. Heat and the long lines ruined the mood and the walking was just getting exasperating. We were ready to call it a day. We checked the time. 3:30. Oh dear.

Getting free time under a tour package has its advantages and disadvantages. Advantage was that we could do anything we wanted at the given time. Disadvantage, in this case, is finding virtually nothing to do when time is still bountiful. We were to assemble at 6, what to do with the rest of the 2 hours and 30 minutes?

We waited, we sat on benches, we ate the rest of our light lunch and finally decided to go to Africa's exhibit.

What's different about Africa is that it's actually pretty much the opposite of all the other exhibits. Instead of assigning one part of the country each a separate building, they are all congregated in a huge hall dedicated to Africa- kinda like SMX.

No lines, no fuss, maybe this should've been the Expo's format. Then again, the ambition would be lost and China wouldn't have its pavillion to brag about.

Despite our previously bought light lunch, we still found ourselves giving in to something heavier. And what better way to support a global expo than to support your own country's exhibition?

Yep, we ate inside the Philippine exhibition.

There wasn't much of a line, and when we got to the door a few countrymen rushed in to welcome us along (in both English and Chinese), and there I saw someone who looked familiar. Hell, I think I've seen him attend MASCKS plays before. I don't know him personally but I'm sure it's that guy.

Familiarity aside, the exhibit wasn't particularly anything special. A little sponsor pimping (Oishi and Bench PinoyLab), a band singing "Manila" with all the Chinese people clapping and a spacious place to eat.

It's not bad, but it's not impressive. Nothing particularly distinctive culturally except for the food.

6pm. Time to walk with agonizing pain to the coach.

Apparently, someone (else) is paying for the dinner again, and thankfully, it was much better than last night's. Still, I have to admit, the courses were so damn many that I felt guilty after the 5th one was served, not because of dieting, but because I was so full that I felt guilty about that potential dish that could've been served to someone homeless instead. That's how full I was.

Nevertheless, I felt like I gained some weight, which is bad.

Going down the elevator of this particular restaurant though, may have been the longest 10 seconds ever. You see, there was a smell. It was gas. Unlike Hong Kong, anyone could light a cigarette at any given place without consequence. But maybe the fatigue got into my head.

Then my father said, "LPG ata to ah."

Liquified petroleum gas. Were we gonna die there? Was someone on top of the elevator planning to light a match?

Conspiracy theories started dominating my thoughts. Paranoia settled. Claustrophobia was ready to pounce at me.

And then the doors opened. Everything was fine, but I couldn't help but feel like the building would explode like the Glorietta. But it didn't. It was my fatigue this time.

Before going back to the hotel, we went for a brief tour of Shanghai's night spots. Basically, spots that look insane at night. Most obvious place would be to go to the famous Bund. It's been 6 years since I saw it and it hasn't changed a bit.

Beautiful.

- mobile blogging mode

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