Wow, what a fantastic experience. Thanks Shanghai for having us at your party! We loved the Shanghai Expo. We only got to spend three days and one evening there but wish it had been more. Our 19 year old says we have already made her a junkie for Expos. When thinking of the Shanghai Expo remember that this is a party China has thrown for its people and not necessarily visitors. And if I was the government for such an energetic group I'd want to keep them busy also. We are, as foreigners, along for the ride.
Some thoughts not in any particular order:
Line jumping:: Rampant -- we spent some great time in the Belgium beer garden with a Belgium tour guide (and some Belgium beer-my 16 year old's first-which he didn't like) who is married to a native Beijinger and lives in Beijing and she really helped us understand (but for some of our teenagers, not necessarily accept) the situation better. She explained that these were prosperous farmers etc. from rural areas and that the only way they had survived was by being aggressive. Travel restrictions, she said, were just being eased and more people were having the chance and money to travel for the first time in their lives. Honestly, this did change our view. The line jumpers were to pardon the expression "Hicks from the Sticks". They were more like over-stimulated teen groups than middle aged tour groups wearing amusing matching hats. My daughter was actually kicked hard enough in the arm by a line jumping elderly man to have a raised knotted bruise. By day 3 into the Expo, she was impressed with the man's agility. Thanks to the guide from Belgium for her great insight. Don't be offended by the line jumping; just remember to play defense. Shanghai Disney will be opening in the future and Mickey is one bad-ass and will throw people out of the park for behavior we saw. In the meantime--- chill fellow westerners!
Passports -- We didn't want to waste any Expo time so we settled for "stamp" books we found in the "Expo Axis" downstairs the first morning. They worked the same -- so no problem. Some of the stamp lines were brutal--hand to hand combat to get in. Don't be shy. Superior height helps a great deal. I saw my 5'9" daughter just insert her's over the crowd. The Chinese visitors are enthralled by the concept of the stamps.
Photography -- We didn't anticipate the interest our family group would have for the Chinese visitors. In particular our 6' 4" son and our 5' 7" 13 year old (wearing a Mongolian hat bought the first day!) They were virtual rock stars among the visitors that haven't had much interaction with westerners (see above). Some sneaked photos and some asked (mimed) to have their photos taken with them. I told them to be good ambassodors for the US and they were gracious and stopped and posed. They were bemused by the whole thing.
English -- I had many parents encourage their children to try out their English on me in line. I would converse (good opening line "How are you?" "I am fine!"). After the first day I carried all our US change and and complimented them and gave them an American coin. Which, we all recall, having a crazy interest in foreign coins when we were young so it was a big hit.
The US Pavilion -- Took some doing to convince my group to go (if you haven't traveled with two strong minded 19-year-olds--you haven't expanded your horizons). By day three even they saw that the main thing we would learn at the Expo was the Chinese reaction to the pavilions. So off to the US pavilion. It was tacky in the OVERWHELMING corporate presence by US standards but I'm not sure that the Chinese felt the same. They seem to view 'name-branding' with respect. My take--thank God- finally a pavilion that provided seats. A la Disney--they efficiently moved people from each area in volume appropriate to the crowd. (I couldn't convince some I spoke to that the length of line had any correlation to popularity--I think some were inefficient and unprepared for the shear volume of people and not more popular). The US pavilion moved groups through efficiently and relaxingly (note: SEATS). The films were well received by the Chinese. You would have thought Obama was addressing them in person. The crowd really enjoyed the third film. Not much like it at the fair that I saw. That was different in that I remember several wordless stories at Seville and Vancouver. The crowd was really into the story and the people leaving were relaxed and smiling. Whoever did the films had some understanding of the likely visitors to the Expo. I wasn't embarassed by any means. Which is good as I had a Shanghai University reporter interview me in the gift shop. 'Did I feel that the America pavilion 'represented' us?' Talk about pressure. I explained that as a resident of a university town it did. We have 'Habitat for Humanity' in our town and many people from many places and that we all need to make our corner of the world better. The only thing that really irked me was the worker's outfits.... did we really need to dress them as corporate drones? The line workers also were not loaded with personality as some of the others. But in those outfits who can blame them for avoiding the crowds. Shanghai was like a fashion show and they were dressed in the dregs. We need some personality out there. SOS Ralph Lauren or any American designer Please offer your help!!! Our pavilion lacked a sense of fun in outfits which hurt the whole experience.
Hotels--I booked on line with Holiday Inn Express in both Shanghai and Beijing. Great prices--great breakfasts (Hey--you feed four teenagers!) They spell out how close to the sub lines you are etc. It was a comfy-cost efficient choice for us. Warning the beds are very hard. I laughed when I heard some took inflatable pool mats with them but now I see the light!
Favorite pavilion overall-- The Spanish pavilion just tickled us from live dancer (16 year old was VERY interested) and movie till the surprise ending which was hysterical. The workers had crazy outfits and the whole thing was a riot.
Phones--Our Sprint lines worked although we only used once. It said that it would be $2.50 a minute but worth it if you were lost. Take your Sprint phones. Worked in both Shanghai and Beijing.
Trash-- Some complaints I've read about the site have been the trash. The real problem is lack of trash cans IN THE RIGHT LOCATIONS. The lines that provided addition trash cans were clean. You get your snack and get in the line and then later no trash can for your wrapper. In other words rookie mistake on the Expos part. Slowly being fixed by individual pavilions via trash bags tied to the line.
Now some notes from the other half of Randomwalkers:
We left home at 2 a.m., intending to stay awake for the drive to the Kansas City airport and the flight to Newark. Once the long flight to Shanghai started, going to sleep would put us close to Shanghai time. That was my sleep engineering plan. I was the only one to try, and it worked for me. I didn't have any significant jet lag.
We took the maglev, high-speed train from the Shanghai Pu Dong airport into Shanghai. It tops out at 431 kilometers per hour (266 miles per hour), and it doesn't have to stop for traffic, so it is considerably faster than the alternatives.
Besides, how often do you get to ride such a fast train?
The train ends at Longyang station, and we took taxis to our hotel. We were a group of 6, so we had to split into two taxis. This was the first real problem in our trip. We had brought two printouts from the hotel's website that included the hotel's name in pinyin, but not in Mandarin. It took 5-6 taxis before we found two that would take us.
This surprised me. At first, I thought the lack of Mandarin directions was the problem. However, I don't think that was the whole issue. Even in Beijing, where we did have printouts in Chinese, and the hotel was only 6-7 blocks from the subway station, we were refused by multiple taxis. I think part of the problem was that the taxi drivers didn't necessarily speak or read Mandarin. As in the united states, taxi driver is a low-end job--many drivers here don't speak good English. The second problem is that some drivers just plain don't know where some destinations are. There didn't seem to be any radio that the driver could call headquarters and get directions given an address.
The Expo was huge, both in terms of physical size and the number of people visiting.
Please send any questions our way--happy to help out in any way we can. In the meantime load up your mate and progeny for a fantastic trip. Maybe not what you expect but fascinating from beginning to end. Have you ever attended an event with over 500,000 people there also? Unbelievable.