Shanghai Expo May 13 - 17, 2010

The Shanghai Expo 2010 leaves us with mixed feelings. On the one hand it is rather cool experience: first, the venue and facilities are well organized and kept in excellent condition, there are enough restrooms, food and drink outlets, gift shops, and secondly some exhibits are just outstanding and designed with good taste, a lot of thought and skill, while others are pretty lame, or some even plain boring. On the other hand, it is kind of disturbing to see some countries praising their nation's peaceful character and unique culture, when it's no secret that they are unstable societies that struggle with devastating domestic problems, ranging from genocide and dismal human rights violations, to poverty and corruption and severe natural resource management malpractices. As a very recent example one can mention Malawi's decision to jail a gay couple for ... hmm, being happily married?
We do our best to ignore the dark sides of the human nature and enjoy the best each country has to offer. And it is quite interesting which aspects they have chosen to bring forward, whether it is the rich cultural heritage, or the long an interesting history, or variety of ethnicities and people, or the future and technology, or some subset of these or all of them!
During the first two hours of our first day we visit Cambodia, Brunei, Philippines, Finland, Estonia, and Monaco. Afterwards we visit the "Irish pavilion" Porterhouse Brewing Co. for a beer. It is just about a time to escape the rain which turns to be a heavy drizzle at its worst.
Since the major attractions like Poland (Poland!?), Germany, and France have very long lines we visit some "smaller" European and Central Asian pavilions: Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Albany, Macedonia, Cyprus, San Marino, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Belarus. Ukraine's pavilion hosts a small restaurant that serves borscht, which is not available for 30 minutes, though. We opt for a couple of glasses of Italian wine and salads instead.
The next pit stop is at a Czech restaurant where we have pints of Budejovichy Budvar (light and dark) and some more light food, goulash and a green salad. After the break we continue to Bulgaria, Georgia, and Hungary. At 6pm. we call it a day, our first day at the Expo. Finland's, HUngary's and Armenia's pavilions have been the coolest so far. Finland is about design, Armenia about future and cultural exchange, and Hungary about a 'simple" geometric form. Fascinating!
We have mostly enjoyable time at the Expo, except that the locals' behavior gets to our nerves sometimes. Politeness is not something the Chinese are famous for, and since a lot of time is spent waiting in lines, they probably show their worst side: in the entrances they rush in like in a panic evacuation, and when the line is not moving anywhere they push, elbow, and step on our feet trying either to run over us or make us close the 20 centimeter gap in front of us! And they are really talented in jumping lines, too. It happens several times when being the next one up waiting for a restroom or a ticket machine, that someone just takes it in front of our eyes.
The second day at the Expo begins with long lines to the security check. By the way, even at the metro stations all the bags are scanned before we are allowed to enter the trains. With the Asian systematicity and efficiency, we are through the checks much sooner than we think based on the size of the crowd.

Taiwan pavilion has attracted a significant line even if it is not open yet. We skip it and skim through Nepal, which is quite a disappointment. We spend our longest wait in the line for Uzbekistan pavilion, and it is worth it. Then we cruise through Korea DPR, Iran, and Lebanon, which have non-existent or minimal queues. We find a small cafe on top of Lebanese pavilion that serves some warm sandwiches and Lebanese wine. After the break we visit Maldives, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Timor Leste, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Vietnam has a really impressive pavilion constructed of bamboo, whereas the others look like travel agencies.

We end the day cruising through Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Turkmenistan, and Sri Lanka, which also has a restaurant. We have some chicken curry with vegetable salad and rice for late lunch, downed with Suntory Brewing Co's beer.

On our day off we first visit a "Hong Kong: Creative Ecologies" at the HK Design Centre in Luwan District. Quite an interesting display. We take a metro to YuYan Gardens. This time we find the gardens, but it takes some time. For some reason we are invited to attend a tea ceremony, which we leave with an expensive package of tea leaves.
We leave the gardens and head to the riverfront walk in Bund. We are not the only ones with the same idea in mind. What we are really looking for is a place to eat. We find ourselves at Nanjing, the major shopping street in Shanghai, but it is not a place to find decent food. Plus it is also super crowded. We fight our way to People's Park and take a metro to our neighborhood. Once again we find ourselves at Paulaner Bräuhaus in French Concessions. The food is not outstanding, but at least the place is more peaceful than Nanjing. Then we find a cute little coffee shop The Cottage Cafe nearby.
The rest of the night is quite strange, but kind of interesting. Earlier today we got tickets to a Sino-Finland co-production of Spin the Musical which is playing in the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre quite close to our B&B. This is a musical originally produced by Svenska Teatern (Swedish Theater in Helsinki), and subsequently staged in Russia, but now first time in China, also presented in Chinese (the original screenplay is in English). During the intermission we meet the director of Svenska Teatern and his wife. After the show they invite us to have a couple of drinks in a nearby cafe and then to join them to a jazz club that features a Swedish-Danish jazz ensemble. We are quite astonished and amused by the fact that our host does not pay any of our drinks even if he liberally orders them for us, but actually make us pay some of his. The Swedes!
It is our last Expo day and we make a strategic mistake. We get off of the train two stops earlier than before thinking we'll have an easier entry to the sites we wish to visit, but no way! We end up walking a long way before reaching the entrance gates. We also get stuck in the crowds formed by numerous groups entering the Expo. Once we are past the group entrance, it is a breeze for us to enter the venue.
First we visit Argentina, which is not too interesting, but we are happy to find a restaurant inside. Then we line up for South-Africa just before its opening. Given its potential, the World Cup coming and everything, the pavilion is rather unimpressive. Tunis and Angola are much more interesting. We also visit Libya and Algeria, and Nigeria before entering the South and Central America's joint pavilion: Peru, Columbia, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Uruguay ... somehow they have succeeded in taking all the excitement out. We finish our Expo experience in the African joint pavilion which is rather enthralling, lively and colorful. Before heading back to our B&B to pack, we have a lunch at the Argentinian restaurant, a steak with mashed potatoes and Argentinian red wine, of course.