Last year at the beginning of the year, or maybe even earlier, Tomo and I were walking through Nagoya Station and walked past a bunch of images of some of the country pavilions for the upcoming World Expo in Shanghai. They looked really cool, and we decided that we would visit Shanghai and the World’s Fair in 2010. Tomo did some quick checking, and we booked a trip in June. It is really easy for Japanese to travel to China – they just get on a plane and go. Americans still need to get a visa. I was quite fortunate that I had a trip to LA coming up, so I was able to arrange for my visa there. Otherwise it would have been much more difficult and slightly more expensive to get in Japan.
In the end, we had to cancel our trip in May due to work scheduling conflicts. Everything was refundable except for our Expo tickets. After some investigation, we decided to give it another shot and book again in October. We were minutes away from cancelling again due to scheduling conflicts, but decided that the proper work / life balance was more important. In the end, there was no major issue going, but sometimes you just don’t know.
We figured that the place may be less crowded in October compared to May since the initial excitement of the event would be over. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. We were wrong.
But first, before we even got to the Expo, we were in Shanghai and that was cool in itself. We were staying at the Portman Ritz-Carlton, which sounds a lot fancier than it really is. Sure, it is a very nice hotel, but it isn’t a small, little boutique hotel. It has over 600 rooms. However, I am not complaining.
I had been to Shanghai before, and there were definitely some areas that I wanted Tomo to see. We started walking, and Tomo had picked out some interesting places along the way too. The goal was to walk from the hotel, eventually getting to the walk street area of Nanjin Road, and then ending up at the Bund for a view across to Pudong. From there, the night would be whatever it turned out to be.
10 years ago, on my first visit to China, walking along the streets of Shanghai was amazing to me. The fact that I was actually in China, walking down the street, was cool enough in itself. Now, I live in Asia, and everyone around me is Asian, and walking down a street in Shanghai is kind of like walking down a street in Japan, or Taipei, or Bangkok, or Singapore, or …. Of course, the cities I mentioned are extremely different, but they are all starting to merge into a similar style of “major Asian city.” Still, even on this trip, I found it exciting to be in Shanghai, walking down the street.
We first stopped at a restaurant that served soup and dumplings. It was incredibly cheap, and really good, and soon got very crowded. If you can imagine, I was the only white guy to be found.
We made it to Nanjing and continued to walk to the Bund. The last time I was here was during the day, and I got some interesting pictures at that time.
Of course, when we finally made it to the Bund, the experience did not disappoint. The old of the bund contrasted against the new of Pudong across the water. Interestingly, I found the view to Pudong very interesting the first time I was in Shanghai, and yet at that time there were only a few buildings, primarily the TV tower. Since then, other buildings have been built that are quite spectacular.
While we were wandering around, we split up taking pictures. As I was peering across the water, I was approached by three girls who started chatting me up. They had just graduated, were from Xian, had been to the Expo that day, and so on. I’m always a little cautious of wily strangers but I chatted back. Tomo joined me and they continued to talk and next thing we knew they were inviting us to a cultural exposition just down the street. Why don’t we come with them? Ahhhhh, no thanks. I have no idea where that was actually going, but I think they probably weren’t from Xian, probably didn’t go to the Expo, and were out gathering people for something. I doubt it was anything to serious, but we elected not to go. Instead, we went to a restaurant / bar on the Bund for a light snack and a great view at a sky high price. It was worth it though.
We wanted to check out the view from the Pudong side as well, so we rode a really cheesy “train” underneath the river to Pudong and enjoyed the “art” exhibition on the way. After accomplishing our mission, we returned across the river, to the subway, and back to the hotel after a remarkably full first day.
The next day, a Thursday, we planned on going to the Expo. The weather was pretty miserable in the morning. Rainy and not so warm. That did not deter us, or hundreds of thousands of others as well. What we had heard turned out to be true, the place was PACKED! The grounds are huge, so at first it seems pretty wide open. But then you start making your way to the pavilions and it is crazy. Of course we went to Japan first, and the girls had told us that you can jump the line if you have a passport of that country. Japan did NOT have that policy. The same treatment for all people. And the line was about 4 hours to wait. That didn’t sound fun and we were living in Japan anyway, so what’s the point? Next up, Saudia Arabia. 6 hours, and jammed packed with pushy people. That didn’t look fun either. At this point, there was a little tension.
The line for some exhibition.
I got a big kick out of the signs reminding people of proper manners. As if it would help.
Thank goodness for New Zealand. They were our gateway to smaller, more accessible pavilions. We finally started going into some of the smaller country pavilions and at this point I can’t remember all the countries we visited. I will try: New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Finland, Croatia, Slovenia, Canada, USA, Mexico, Brasil, The Netherlands,
For my space geek friends out there, Slovenia.
Architecturally, Finland was my favorite. Australia had the best “show” but Canada’s Cirque de Soleil designed experience was cool as well. Slovenia had the coolest exhibition, Croatia’s was by far the cheapest and most lame, and Brasil was disappointing as well. Mexico was very interactive and fun, the Netherlands was just trippy, and the USA tried really hard to be gracious.
In and around Finland.
I will say that the passport trick worked really well at the US pavilion, and while others queued for a long time, I waived my US passport, got a friendly, “Where are you from?” and was given immediate access, +1.
One of my biggest excitements, which I paid for dearly later, was discovering Mexican food at the Mexican pavilion. Ooops. The Mexican pavilion was full of interactive art.
In spite of the rain, we had a long and complete day in the country pavilion area of the expo. To say it was huge is an understatement. Am I glad we did it? You bet.
Prior to going to China, everyone was telling me to bring Immodium or some other intestinal troubles masking agent. I told myself I would be careful, I was only there for a few days, I was in a major city, and there would not be any problem. Until Friday morning. Yikes! I was miserable and could not keep any food in my stomach. Nothing like spending a vacation day timing trips to the bathroom. I ended up sending Tomo away to do his own thing because I could not imagine being away from the room. Fortunately, I started feeling better and by 3:00 pm was ready to risk an adventure in the city.
Tomo really wanted to go to another restaurant in his excellent Japanese guidebook. Since I couldn’t find any English language guidebooks for Shanghai in Nagoya, how could I overrule his request. We took a taxi to the general area and arrived to see that the entire block where this restaurant was supposed to be was now a giant construction zone. That’s progress! And also really frustrating. With guidebook in hand, we went to a different restaurant in a different part of Shanghai that turned out to be right where we were the night before. Anyway, the food basically was a great choice, and was basically chicken and noodle soup. My stomach was on the road to recovery.
Not an easy menu to choose from.
Coca-Cola products, Coke and Sprite.
We still had one more ticket for the Expo, so we decided to go to the technology and commercial side of the Expo across the river. We had heard that it wasn’t crowded. Whoever told us that was completely mistaken. It was even MORE crowded, perhaps because it was a Friday night. The most popular pavilion? The Coca-cola pavilion – a 5 hour wait. We wandered through a few pavilions, and then wandered around the grounds for a bit, and decided we had saturated on the Expo.
Other interesting pictures from the commercial pavilions.
Our plan was to go back to Pudong and go to the top floor observation deck of the Shanghai World Financial Center. I never imagined walking across a glass catwalk at the 97th floor of a building, but I did. For someone who doesn’t like heights (me), it was surprising easy. Maybe it’s only open heights that bother me. I think it is a beautiful building.
At that point it was pretty late, and we were tired and hungry, so we ate at some western place on the lower levels of the building. Whatever I ate was good for my stomach so I was happy.
Our last day was easy, we took advantage of the hotel spa and then went to Din Tai Fung, this time in Shanghai and right next to the hotel, and were able to meet up with ex-colleagues of mine who are now living in Shanghai. That was cool.
Not quite 430 km/hr at this time, but close.
Again, a very good trip – one of the great advantages of living in Asia is to be able to take a long weekend to Shanghai.